THE FWSU STORY: Meet Cathy O’Brien, Fletcher’s Wellness Rockstar!

Note: In late 2017, Fletcher Elementary’s STEM Teacher Leader, Denette Locke, recognized Fletcher Kindergarten Teacher, Cathy O’Brien’s, journey to wellness with a nomination for the “Wellness Rockstar” designation from the Vermont School Boards Insurance Trust (VSBIT). Below is the profile VSBIT created to recognize Mrs. O’Brien’s inspirational story. 

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Fletcher Elementary Kindergarten Teacher, Cathy O’Brien was recently recognized as a Wellness Rockstar by Vermont School Boards Insurance Trust.

“Catherine O’Brien exemplifies the definition of wellness and is a rock star extraordinaire,” said Denette Locke, one of her colleagues in the Fletcher School classroom on the day we visited. “She is a powerful role model who has demonstrated how valuable making good choices and taking care of one’s health can truly be.”

O’Brien has been an integral part of the educational community for the past 24 years and in the classroom, she instills an environment for learning for all,” said Locke. “She engages her students in practicing mindfulness activities, yoga and a variety of other fitness routines to help them succeed socially, emotionally and academically.”

Ms. O'Brien regularly incorporates physical movement into the classroom.

Ms. O’Brien regularly incorporates physical movement into the classroom.

“I do lots of (physical) exercises in school with my students because I know it helps their brains,” said O’Brien. “And as a result, several parents are supporting more movement for their children. “

O’Brien has served in various capacities, first as a kindergarten teacher, then as a first and second-grade teacher, and this year she is working with kindergarten students once again.

“There was never any question about my career, “O’Brien said as she laughed. “I knew I was destined to be a teacher because I’m surrounded by family members who are teachers.”

At three years of age, O’Brien received a diagnosis of Type I Diabetes.  “Though in my youth, I ate what I wanted. I now focus on eating foods low in fat … and have become quite invested in fitness.  For a long time I had put myself on the back burner and was not taking care of myself,” she said.  “Eventually, I recognized that had to change because, as a diabetic, I need regular exercise to regulate my blood sugar.”

Her foray into fitness began with a Jazzercise class.

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Cathy enjoys various forms of exercise including Pilates.

“I was extremely apprehensive about group exercise classes,” she said, reminiscing. “Now, I love them and am a big part of the Peace of Mind Pilates Studio in Essex that one of my good friends owns.  I clean the studio and teach some of the classes. Three to five times a week I participate in Pilates, Barre, TRX, and yoga.”

In the warmer months, you might find O’Brien on a paddleboard practicing yoga poses or standing on her head. “I like being upside down,” she said.

O’Brien is anything but upside down most of the time. She’s moving throughout her classroom and is available to serve as a resource for staff seeking guidance about improving their fitness and reducing their stress. She also coordinates the annual staff wellness initiative at Fletcher.

As a Wellness Rockstar, Cathy O’Brien is a role model for staff and students alike!

Congratulations to Cathy O'Brien, Wellness Rockstar!

Cathy O’Brien is a positive role model for her students and colleagues. 

Congratulations, Cathy!

THE FWSU STORY: GEMS Celebrates Culture

Our January school assembly at Georgia Elementary celebrated the different cultures and ethnicity that make up our school community. Conversations in classrooms blossomed over to a school wide celebration to honor and celebrate who we are. To begin our morning meeting (Pk-4 students and staff), adults and students modeled the different greetings to one another for each grade level to observe in a variety of languages:  “Bonjour”  “Nihao” “yeoboseyo”  “kon’nichiwa” and “aloha”  were all greetings shared pointing out the many different languages that represent our family.   A guided African dance followed “Che Che Koolay”  as a movement activity and for students to gain a  deeper understanding and meaning of how we communicate differently and value different cultures.
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Our Georgia school community is special and made up of unique, diverse, individuals who have different ideas, beliefs, and thoughts from our world.  What we know about one another is that we all belong to our school community and our bond is that of treating one another Respectfully through Responsible and Safe choices.

Middle school students who are part of a film project put together the following video to exemplify our entire community PK-8.  Another wonderful example of the collaborative, thoughtful, work that students exhibit through actions and creations to acknowledge who we are.  Our Innovation Lab students have captured our school culture from day to day.

THE FWSU STORY: FWSU Evaluation Committee Looks Forward

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Six years ago, the first FWSU Evaluation Committee met and began the process of reshaping the teacher evaluation system. The committee was successful and since that time that group has never stopped working on making our evaluation system even more relevant and effective for all of our teachers. This year is no different. The committee has been hard at work updating our system so it remains true to the goal of improving teaching and learning in our districts.

Mindfulness jars!

 The goal of the committee this year is clear. It has been working on making the evaluation system less passive and more evidence based, similar to the the proficiency model we are now building for students. The committee’s focus so far this year has been on how to incorporate micro-credentials into the evaluation system. Micro-credentials are like mini-degrees, or certifications, in a specific topic areas. The topic areas chosen by the committee are the four FWSU Action Plan Targets – Proficiency Based Personalized Learning, Leadership, Flexible Learning Environments and Community Engagement.
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Along with the proposed enhancements, the committee is recommending that many of our current practices stay in place to ensure a model of evaluation that allows for growth. The aspects that will stay the same are our mini-observation model and our stakeholder feedback. What will change is the cycle for teachers will increase from two years to three. Mini-observations are conducted by administrators and capture a brief glimpse into classroom instruction, followed by written (and often verbal) feedback to teachers. Stakeholder feedback is a great opportunity for our FWSU families to share their perspective on their child’s school experience.

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Members serving on the FWSU Evaluation Committee include teachers and administrators,  This year they are Ned Kirsch (FWSU), Heather Skiorsky (GEMS), Chris Dodge (FES), Linda Keating (FWSU), Mariah Mandigo (GEMS), Juliet King (BFA) and Karen Witalec-Krupa (BFA).

FWSU New Teachers discuss.

We set the bar high for continuous learning by our students. We do the same for our teachers. The work of the Evaluation Committee helps to ensure that the process is clear, relevant and supportive of our FWSU educators as they grow and discover new and exciting strategies for facilitating the best learning available.

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THE FWSU STORY: Fletcher Students “Check Out” Positive Behavior

Checking in and checking out is not just for hotels, library books, and airports anymore. At Fletcher Elementary, Check-In Check-Out is an important part of the Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) approach to maintaining a successful school climate.

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A student checks in on their behavior goal progress.

Check-In Check-Out, also called CICO, is a targeted behavior intervention. Students begin their day by meeting with the School Counselor, teacher, or another adult, to review their behavior goals for the day. During this brief conference, the child and adult review strategies for challenging parts of the day and the student receives positive encouragement that sets a positive tone for the school day to come.

Students are supported throughout the school day by checking in with an adult after each academic subject, as well as arrival, lunch, and recess. They receive between zero and two points for each of seven scheduled blocks, based on their success following the school-wide expectations of being respectful, responsible, safe and caring. Each child has a personalized points goal that is adjusted to meet the child’s current needs.

Stickers are used to help support progress toward reaching goals.

Stickers are used to help track progress toward reaching goals.

At the end of the day, School Counselor Sandi Simmons “checks out” with students to tally the day’s points and, if they meet their goal, recognize them with stickers that may be cashed in for small prizes or banked for larger rewards. If a student does not reach his or her goal, the conference serves to talk about strategies for the following day and as a supportive reflection on what went wrong.

“Checking out with students at the end of the day is a favorite time for me. When students reach their goal, they realize that they are not a bad kid,” School Counselor Sandi Simmons said. “They feel proud. Sometimes I am surprised at how such a little thing can  make such a big difference.”

When students are supported in following school-wide expectations, more time and energy is available for academic learning for all students.

“When children feel acknowledged in a positive way, they are not seeking that attention as much negatively during an academic block,” Literacy Teacher Leader Julie Steves said. “For some students, the frequent reinforcement is what’s needed to help them have an overall good day. That creates a learning environment that is more efficient and positive for every child.”

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A student uses points earned to be Principal for 30 minutes and makes a phone call to the Superintendent.

Rewards for students range from small trinkets to being Principal for 30 minutes.

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A snapshot of the behavior goals that students are working toward.

“I love Check-In Check-Out,” second grader, Rylan, said. “I don’t forget about the rules because a teacher helps me remember them every little while. I feel so happy when I reach my goal that I want to do it again tomorrow.”


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Christopher Dodge is the Principal of Fletcher Elementary School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @FletcherFalcon

THE FWSU STORY: BFA Fairfax Welcomes Incoming Sixth-Graders to Middle School with Orientation Guide

BFA Fairfax sixth-graders were off to a great start this fall and spent a lot of time learning the routines and expectations of middle school. Moving from the elementary building to the middle school wing can sometimes be a little intimidating, so the sixth-grade staff always takes it slow at the beginning of the school year to ensure a successful transition.

New sixth graders are welcomed with an orientation presentation designed by their peers and teachers.

New sixth graders are welcomed with an orientation presentation designed by their peers and teachers.

Four students who registered just as school started were a part of this process and received the benefit of our beginning-of-the-year activities. After about a month into the school year, the sixth grade received several new students and teachers and students did our best to make the new students feel welcome. However, after a couple of days, we realized a few things had been forgotten here and there and wanted to do more to help our new students feel more confident and successful with their transition.

Students greet incoming sixth graders.

Welcoming new incoming sixth graders.

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Providing information to new students on how to navigate resources such as the library.

Mrs. Carpenter met with the most recent “new to BFA student” and a couple of other sixth-grade peers to brainstorm the issue. It was decided that we needed a better, more personalized orientation guide to provide to students and families when a new member joins our grade, in addition to the Middle School Handbook.

Getting comfortable with lockers just takes a bit of practice. Here are some instructions to get started.

Getting comfortable with lockers just takes a bit of practice. Here are some instructions to get started.

Peyton Metruk and new student Hailey Shoram took on the project and immediately jumped in with many new creative and outstanding ideas. The two students tailored the orientation guide to the BFA Fairfax middle school and collaborated with Melinda Carpenter (6th Grade Science/Geography Teacher), Principal Tom Walsh, and Nichole Wehman (5-8 Guidance Counselor) to make sure they included everything a new student may need to know or wonder about coming to Fairfax.

Introduction to Science & Geography with Mrs. Carpenter.

Introduction to Science & Geography with Mrs. Carpenter.

Peyton and Hailey questioned each other, peers and adults that support the 6th grade, independently problem-solved and checked in with Mrs. Carpenter for feedback, and then made improvements. Both students demonstrated a high level of leadership by making appointments with staff for pictures and interviews, learning new technology, and by holding themselves accountable for high-quality work with notes and checklists. Peyton and Hailey used excellent communication and presentation skills to complete the 42 slide project and Peyton spent many hours of time outside of school to ensure exceptional quality, a testimony to her dedication and engagement.

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The overview also included details about school lunch.

Specifically, the Google Slides orientation will be used to introduce new students to teachers, learning spaces, expectations, unified arts, voice levels, field trips, flexible learning opportunities, and much more around BFA Fairfax. Toward the end of their work, Mrs. Carpenter asked Hailey and Peyton to reflect on the experience. Hailey, our new student, thought the project really helped her get to know the sixth grade even better and thinks it is a great resource for new kids coming to Fairfax.

Unified arts opportunities like chorus and music were also featured in the presentation.

Unified arts opportunities like chorus and music were also featured in the presentation.

Peyton described her excitement at working on a project that enriched her writing and communication skills, which are personal goals for her. When asked about which step in FWSU’s Action Plan best demonstrated her work with the project, Peyton identified Leadership and Flexible Learning Environments as clear indicators of her engagement in the BFA Fairfax Sixth Grade Orientation Guide. Many thanks to Peyton and Hailey for an excellent and informative resource that BFA’s staff will use for many years to welcome new students!

THE FWSU STORY: Students Design Solutions to Water Bottle Waste Problem

For the seventh grade Project Based Learning class, the students and teacher, Mrs. O’Brien, talked about ways of reducing waste and that one of the big things is water bottles that go into landfills and litter our roadways. Team building activities that centered on our environment were done the first week.

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Students collaborate and explore creative solutions.

The next couple of week’s teams were formed and each team started to design a water bottle to be judged by the eighth grade.

Promotional poster designed by students.

Students share their innovative design in a poster.

The teams went to the Innovation Lab and used Tinkercad to produce scaled-down versions of our water bottles and printed them on the 3-D printer.

Students design their solution in the Innovation Lab.

Students design their solution in the Innovation Lab.

Labels were then designed and the winning design was sent to Zazzle, a company that personalizes items.  Each person in the class received a water bottle matching the winning design.

THE FWSU STORY: Educators Develop Innovative Professional Learning Practice

Identify-Learn-Improve cycle

Several teachers from all 3 schools are wrapping up their graduate-level professional course offered by FWSU. In the Innovation Mindset Through Collaborate Apprenticeship course, teachers explored ways to incorporate innovative ideas to improve learning.

Innovators Mindset by George Couros book cover

Couros, G. (2015). The innovator’s mindset: empower learning, unleash talent, and lead a culture of creativity. San Diego, CA: Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc.

Throughout the course, teachers were challenged to actively design an innovative learning practice for implementation. Participants began by identifying an authentic, practical innovation practice for their own instructional setting that connected with a personal set goal. After some research, teachers selected an idea they wanted to deepen their learning about and agreed to develop a plan through a coaching partnership with the instructor.

All of the learning was completely personalized for each teacher. Instead of meeting in traditional sessions, teachers organized their course schedule around research, planning, implementation, and reflection. A variety of amazing new learning activities developed as result.

In the end, the participants collaborated with colleagues and the instructor to share their creative learning ideas, and most importantly, develop emerging strategies for innovation!