THE FWSU STORY: Student-Led Production Brings Tarzan to Life at BFA Fairfax

Some spectacular middle and high school students successfully brought to life the story of Tarzan last week when the curtain opened on BFA’s fall musical.


Students doing stage makeup behind the scenes.

As with past shows, this primarily student-led production received rave reviews by all who attended. It is impressive that such small town like Fairfax has such a wealth of dedicated and extremely talented students.


Students doing stage makeup for their peer stage actors.

The students auditioned and were cast into their roles back in the spring. Forty-six students came out to audition, and as it is BFA’s tradition to give opportunities to all, each of the 46 was given a role.


Students proudly display their Tarzan t-shirts!

After a week of learning choreography this summer, they were fortunate to be able to travel to Bow, NH to watch another high school production of Tarzan. The recent tradition of providing an opportunity for the cast to view a performance of the show they will produce has been a valuable tool in BFA’s last four theatrical successes. Students become familiar with the story, gain insight into their character, and pick up many artistic ideas for their own show’s costumes, sets, and presentation.


Students enjoyed the Bow High School production of Tarzan this past summer in NH.

BFA can take pride in the fact that their musicals are student-led productions. Adults are present for guidance, but the ideas and the work come from the students. They collectively put in many thousands of hours in preparation for a typical show. The students also help behind the scenes helping with costumes, with hair, and with makeup.


The student cast!

The 27 students in the Set Design class created an artistically designed and structurally sound set. The cast’s time investment in a typical show averages about 72 hours per student in after-school rehearsals.


Students tell the story of Tarzan on stage.

The lead characters spend much more than that memorizing lines and practicing choreography and singing, with most of it being on their own time.


The student cast of Tarzan was amazing!

At the helm this year was their peer and mentor, Annalise, the leader/director/choreographer who was responsible for teaching the cast and guiding them along the way with gentleness, poise, and grace. Only a junior, she has been involved in choreographing the musicals for the past 3 years. Her positive leadership in this production was an essential ingredient in its success.




Tarzan on stage.

Each student puts in this massive time investment because of the love they have for the stage. They exhibit pure commitment towards making their character the best that it can possibly be.


Students performing in Tarzan at BFA Fairfax.

They rehearse and practice to the point of boredom only because each of them has an underlying passion for the theater and for entertaining an audience.


So many students were involved in the production of Tarzan at BFA Fairfax.

That dedication and enthusiasm and passion is truly a gift for BFA and Fairfax!

THE FWSU STORY: Fletcher Students Experience “Out of this World” Learning at StarBase

STEM learning just doesn’t get any more engaging than standing in front of an F-16 fighter jet, poised for action at any moment.

FES student at StarBase VT

“You are going to see some top secret classified things in here. No pictures,” the all-business Vermont Air National Guard sergeant told Fletcher Elementary School fifth-graders earlier this month. We’re not allowed to use the soldier’s name in our blog, but as he guided students through the Burlington-based National Guard hanger, the intricacies of jet technology that he shared most definitely had students on a flight plan for loving science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Fletcher students at StarBase VT

Fletcher students at StarBase VT

Students were on the base as part of a five-day program called Starbase. An affiliate of the U.S. Department of Defense, the Starbase Vermont educational program is located on the Air National Guard base in South Burlington and focuses on teaching students about physics, chemistry, technology, engineering,  and math, with a focus on possible careers in those fields. Students spend 25 hours in the Starbase facility and the instructors also teach lessons at the school.


Fletcher students at StarBase VT

It was Amelia Earhart herself who once said, “The most effective way to do it, is to do it.” In many ways, this has become the teaching mantra at Starbase Vermont, where the lessons are hands-on and include everything from exploring an F16 jet in the hanger and flying planes using flight simulators, to studying gravity through cooperative games and learning about air pressure by experimenting on marshmallows.



Fletcher students at StarBase VT

But, the program teaches much more than science. Its mission includes fostering collaboration and healthy choices, exposing children to cutting-edge technology and building a sense of community. Each “Starbaser,” as they are called, selects a “call sign” like a pilot. The call sign represents them personally and they are referred to by that name throughout the Starbase experience.



Starbase opened its doors in 1994 and reaches more than 1,300 Vermont students annually. There is no fee for schools to participate. During the program’s physics component, students learn Newton’s Laws of Motion through hands-on experiments that include building and launching model rockets. Other topics include fluid mechanics and aerodynamics, much of which is learned through experiments and observations of military planes that enter and exit the base on which Starbase is housed. Exploring the base hanger, which housed two F16s, was a highlight for students this year.

Fletcher students at StarBase VT

Fletcher students at StarBase VT

Building blocks of matter, physical and chemical changes and atmospheric properties are all taught as part of the program’s chemistry strand. Additionally, technology innovations including the latest in mapping, nanotechnology, robotics, and chromatography (a method for separating organic and inorganic compounds to determine their composition) are features.

Fletcher students at StarBase VT

​Three-dimensional computer-aided design (CAD), along with information about the engineering and design processes, comprise the engineering elements of the program, while number relationships, measurement, geometry, and data analysis bring in the math. Among other projects, students used computers to design unmanned aerial vehicles.“Every minute of the Starbase experience is rich with both academic and social skills,” Fletcher’s STEM Teacher Leader Denette Locke said. “At the same time that the students are exploring an F16 jet and learning about aerodynamics they are also being taught the social skills necessary to be part of a group and to be a guest outside of school. It’s a well-rounded experience that not only creates better, more excited scientists, but also more successful community members.”

Fletcher students at StarBase VT

Read more about Starbase Vermont here.

THE FWSU STORY: Students Explore World Traditions and Celebrations in GEMS Innovation Lab

As part of a recent unit focusing on traditions, first graders in Mrs. Dattilio’s class, under the guidance of their student teacher, Jeannine Bissonette, combined many areas of study into one great culminating event.

A student creating with KidPix in the Innovation Lab.

A student creating with KidPix in the Innovation Lab.

After reading books and having group discussions about how different traditions that are celebrated around the world, the students each spent time writing about their own special family traditions.

Students explore traditions around the world.

Students explore traditions around the world.

They took their writing to the Innovation Lab where they used KidPix to create an illustration for their pictures, as well as to create a voiceover recording of their writing.  This work was then compiled into a slideshow presentation. The slideshow, as well as a Thanksgiving Reader’s Theater, were then presented to the families at a holiday breakfast event in the classroom.


Students collaborate in the Innovation Lab to record the voiceover for their writing.

It was a fantastic way to combine so much learning into one very successful family event showcasing student work and the capabilities of the technology available to us.

GEMS students are able to express their learning in the innovation lab.

GEMS students are able to express their learning and creativity in the Innovation Lab.

THE FWSU STORY: New Teachers Focus on Wellness

FWSU’s New Teacher Program is designed to exceed the state’s requirements for mentoring new educators. During this 2-year program, new teachers receive differentiated support from mentors or mentor colleagues based on the level of experience they bring to our supervisory union.


New FWSU Teachers participate in a Professional Practice Forum focused on wellness.

In their first year of the program, all teachers who are new the SU participate in the FWSU Professional Practice Forum. Each year, we use feedback from the previous cohort of new teachers to modify and adjust the program. Last years’ cadre of new teachers recommended a focus on teacher wellbeing. Toward this end, we have crafted a series of live meetings that alternate with online discussions to share new teaching practices featured in the book Teach Like Finland: 33 Simple Strategies for Joyful Classrooms by Timothy D. Walker.  I chose this book because of its relaxed and readable framing of Finnish educational practices which celebrate and integrate holistic aspects of learning, including wellness and belonging. It also aligns with FWSU’s focus on global learning.

New educators discuss the book, "Teach Like Finland."

New educators discuss the book, “Teach Like Finland.”

For new FWSU teachers, this hybrid learning model begins each school year with a focus on becoming comfortable with their mentor, acclimating to their new school, and becoming familiar with Schoology, the Learning Management System we use for Professional Practice Forum.

Teachers review the material for the Professional Practice Forum.

Teachers review the material for the Professional Practice Forum.

In October we held our first live session with guest presenter, Marcy Perrotte. Marcy is a Special Educator at BFA Fairfax whose experiences as a new teacher led her to pursue graduate work focusing on teacher wellness. Teachers were able to weave their learning from Marcy’s presentation together with their initial reading from Teach Like Finland. 

Teachers participate in Professional Practice Forum.

New FWSU Teachers participate in Professional Practice Forum.

Teachers examined the practices outlined in the first chapter of the book that promoted the well-being of students. After their discussion, their assignment for the month was to “try-on” one of these practices in their own work setting. Teacher “try-ons,” which can be described as “high yield, low threat” changes in classroom practice, are a feature of each face-to-face session and designed to promote efficacy.

Wellness Wheel

The Wellness Wheel

After the book discussion, Marcy began her presentation with a “Stress and Wellness Poll.” After each teacher completed their own poll, the group did a quick gallery walk to discuss the findings.  Marcy shared the Wellness Wheel (from Northwest Missouri State University) with teachers, emphasizing the importance of personal wellness and techniques for managing stress.

Marcy ended the session by teaching a simple body scan technique called Stop Breathe and Think that teachers could use themselves and also teach to their students.

Special Educator Marcy Perrotte shares strategies for stress management.

Special Educator Marcy Perrotte shares strategies for stress management.

The session ended with a door prize of a Buddha Board, which Marcy used in her presentation. Marcy showed how simple water-based painting on the board reminds us that nothing is permanent, everything changes. She illustrated several ways both teachers and students could use the board for stress reduction. Mike Malinowski, the new guidance counselor at Georgia Elementary, was the winner.

Our next face-to-face session is in December. We look forward to welcoming FWSU Prevention and Wellness Coordinator Bonnie Poe to speak on the topic of stress reduction through time management.

Linda Keating

Linda Keating is the Director of Curriculum at FWSU. She is a regular contributor to the FWSU Blog. You can follow her on Twitter @Educate4ward

THE FWSU STORY: Meet BFA’s Newest Exchange Students

This year at BFA Fairfax, three exchange students are spending the year with us learning about our school, our culture, and our students. Recently, we interviewed them to help us get to know them a little better.

Yuna is a 10th grader from Japan

Yuna is a 10th grader from Japan

Yuna, Grade 10

Home Country: Japan

BFA Courses: Sociology, US History, Spanish, Chorus

Plans after High School: University for International Relations.

What do you miss most about home?  The food! American food is very bland.

What is your favorite thing about Vermont? Burlington. Church Street has so much to do.

What is the most surprising thing about BFA? People wear t-shirts and short sleeves in the cold weather. It makes me cold!

Do you have travel plans while you are in the US? We may go to Canada in the winter and Florida in February.

Anything else? It is nice to meet everyone!


Celia is a 12th grader from Germany

Celia, Grade 12

Home Country: Germany

BFA Courses: English, French, Forensics, Chorus

Plans after High School: University in an English speaking country.

What do you miss most about home? My parents, families, and friends! Also the convenience. At home, I can be in a city in 10 minutes using the train.

What is your favorite thing about Vermont? Nature. I have already seen a moose.

What is the most surprising thing about BFA? We can’t go outside during the day. At home, we can go outside in between every class.

Do you have travel plans while you are in the US? New York City, Washington DC, Los Angeles

Anything else? The world is pretty small and we have to stay together as one!

Gina is a 10th grader from Japan

Gina is a 12th grader from Taiwan

Gina, Grade 12

Home Country: Taiwan

BFA Courses: Chemistry, Psychology, American dream, Drawing

Plans after High School: College for Psychology.

What do you miss most about home? The food, warm weather, the convenience of life in a city.

What is your favorite thing about Vermont? It’s pretty. There are mountains everywhere and lots of open space.

What is the most surprising thing about BFA? The school is much smaller than I thought it would be. My school has thousands of students!

Do you have travel plans while you are in the US? We may go to Canada in the winter and Florida in February.


Gina, Celia, and Yuna

Working with our Global Partners enriches the high school experience for our students. It is a pleasure to learn from and with Yuna, Celia, and Gina.

THE FWSU STORY: Thanking Our Veterans!

Today we want to thank all of the Veterans in our FWSU community who have served our nation.

Honoring Veterans

We also want to especially acknowledge Veterans among our FWSU staff who have served in the Armed Forces.

Sally Billado BFA Fairfax

Sally Billado, BFA Fairfax Accounting Clerk

Mark Ladue, HS Math Teacher

Mark Ladue, BFA Fairfax High School Math Teacher

Angelique Fairbrother, FWSU Digital Learning Specialist

Angelique Fairbrother, FWSU Digital Learning Specialist

Dave Westover GEMS Custodian

Dave Westover, GEMS Custodian

Anthony Lorenzo, GEMS Early Education Teacher

Anthony Lorenzo, GEMS Early Education Teacher

Tod Granger, FWSU Facilities Manager

Tod Granger, FWSU Facilities Manager

Jasen Boyd, Fairfax School Board member

Jasen Boyd, Fairfax School Board member


Jasmine Tremblay, Fletcher Elementary 6th Grade Teacher

Thank you all for your service to our country.

THE FWSU STORY: Using Self Direction to Solve Problems in GEMS Innovation Lab

This year, GEMS Innovation Lab has a choice class offering for middle school students to explore and design solutions for authentic problems using rapid prototyping. This is the second year GEMS has offered this type of innovative choice class to students. You can review last year’s blog post featuring the class here.

Students review rapid prototyping process.

Students review rapid prototyping process.

Rapid prototyping is the speedy creation of a full-scale model. The word prototype comes from the Latin words proto (original) and typus (model). Prototyping allows the student product designers to design and test their products efficiently avoiding time-consuming and costly production.

Student using sewing machine.

Student using a sewing machine to create a project.

GEMS Innovation Lab provides students with a variety of tools to use for rapid prototyping.

This course allows students to become creative, critical thinkers. Working in teams students develop communication skills to create a dialogue to solve problems. The course encourages students to encourage to move beyond their current methods of thinking and engage in new, innovative methods.

The co-teachers Eric Hadd and Dayle Payne, facilitate the students to be active in their learning through self-guided discussions, questions, and the design process. While both teachers provide guidance in student discussions and questioning, they avoid giving answers to all questions promoting self-direction.


Students solving authentic problems in the innovation lab through rapid prototyping.

This innovative class allows students develop their inquiry skills, and to begin to engage in thinking more independently.