Student Leaders: Climate Action Club

Charlotte Wood, founder of BFA’s Climate Action Club, leading the YCLA retreat at Goddard College on November 17, 2021. 
BFA Fairfax Climate Action Club members gathered together at the beginning of the YCLA retreat.
BFA Fairfax Climate Action Club members gathered together at the beginning of the YCLA retreat.

YCLA stands for Youth Climate Leaders Academy and is a program created by Vermont Energy Education Program (VEEP). The YCLA program is designed to support high school students across the state in planning and implementing projects that mitigate the negative impacts of climate change. During the YCLA kick-off retreat sessions, students committed to pursuing action against climate change are given opportunities to collaborate and connect with other students and a variety of experts on various sectors of climate change action, become more inspired, and have fun. The YCLA retreat includes time for school teams to plan their projects, receive professional project consultations, and participate in various project skill-related workshops. This year’s retreat was led by BFA’s own Charlotte Wood!

The BFA Climate Action Club was thrilled to participate in YCLA for the fourth time in a row. Students a part of the club were eager to dedicate time to climate change project planning, collaborate with other students in similar boats, connect with and receive guidance from professionals, and attend workshops beneficial to both themselves, as individual activists, and to the development and execution of their projects. 

Beatrice Angelino, Charlotte Wood, Adeline Wood, Magda Eckstein, and Csenge Hutkai, members of the energy subgroup, creating a systems map in relation to their project.

Currently, the BFA Fairfax Climate Action Club is actively working on two main projects, which fall under the umbrella of their ambitious long-term goal of one day reaching net zero as a school. First, the energy subgroup of the Climate Action Club is currently working on obtaining solar to charge the school’s electric buses, which are presently being charged through our school’s electric system, which majorly relies on fossil fuels. Second, the waste subgroup of the Climate Action Club has been creating a survey to understand better what areas of waste management/disposal BFA students need to be educated further on. The waste subgroup has also connected with the school’s food group to develop and identify efficient ways to reduce waste at BFA Fairfax. 

Laura Heil, the club’s advisor, Gracie Clark, Makayla Shanahan, Csenge Hutkai, Charlotte Wood, Beatrice Angelino, Magda Eckstein, and Adeline Wood at the end of the YCLA retreat.

During the YCLA retreat, BFA students were able to make meaningful connections with other students from across the state trying to implement actions against climate change, devote time to project planning and development, receive support from experts, and attend workshops valuable to the creation and execution of projects. Additionally, members of the club who attended were able to spend quality time with one another, creating deeper connections and relationships within the club. 

Elizabeth Noonan is the Principal of BFA Fairfax High School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY.

A Fall to Remember AT BFA Fairfax

Today marks the first day of the High School winter sports and activities season at BFA Fairfax. Students, staff, coaches, and families alike have been eagerly anticipating practices, games, and events in their favorite winter co-curricular activities.  As we prepare for those to begin, it is also a perfect time to reflect on our recent Fall season, and the numerous successes experienced by our school community. 

Cheer!

In late October, the middle and high school band, chorus, chamber choir, and jazz band performed their first live concert in nearly two years.  In a gym full of smiles and pride, attendees were treated to the spectacular talents of our student musicians.  This was the first event since the start of the pandemic that has allowed an indoor audience at BFA Fairfax, and we remain thankful for the understanding and cooperation of all attendees in wearing masks, and contributing to the ongoing safety and success of future events.

We are extremely proud of all our middle and high school athletic teams in the completion of a safe and exciting fall season!  The Varsity Girls Soccer team won the Mountain Division, and made an exciting run through the Division 3 tournament, ultimately falling in the state semifinals. 

Varsity Girls Soccer Team

Numerous players made the All-Mountain Team, two players were named to the Division 3 All-State Team, Kali Wooster was named the Mountain Division Player of the Year, and Coach Jojo Lynch was named the Mountain Division Coach of the Year.

BFA Football Team

The BFA/Lamoille Football team advanced to the Division 3 State Championship game, falling to a tough and talented Windsor team. Five players were named to the North/South Football All-Star team led by our own Head Coach, Craig Sleeman.  Coach Sleeman will also be leading the Vermont team in next summer’s Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl. We are most proud that the team was also named the recipients of the Stan Amidon Sportsmanship Trophy for the second time in three years!

The High School Girls and Boys Cross Country team held the famous Fairfax Relays costume race after it was canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic. The annual event highlighting the pride and spirit of cross country running was a welcome return to some normalcy. Additionally, the Girls and Boys teams placed 6th and 4th respectively at the Division 3 State Championship Meet, and qualified for the “Meet of Champions” for the first time.

Cross Country
Varsity Boys Soccer Team

The Varsity Boys Soccer team completed a successful season, advancing to the state quarterfinals against perennial powerhouse Winooski.  Although they lost the game, they received many public accolades for their class and sportsmanship over the course of three games this season against Winooski. Multiple team members were named to the All-Mountain Team, and three players were named to the Division 3 All-State team.

BFA Fairfax also hosted our first-ever Homecoming Fall Festival! The event was a huge success with its wide array of activities for high school students including food, yard games, pumpkin carving, dancing, photo booths, and an opportunity to celebrate Homecoming Week. 

Harvest Celebration

Six BFA Fairfax student-athletes attended the annual Athletic Leadership Conference hosted by the Vermont Principals Association and the Vermont State Athletic Directors Association.  This event provided valuable leadership training by nationally renowned speakers and coaches to students from around Vermont. Students were able to fine tune their leadership skills and bring them back to their respective teams at our school. We look forward to seeing their new skills in action over future seasons.

Six BFA Fairfax student-athletes attended the annual Athletic Leadership Conference hosted by the Vermont Principals Association and the Vermont State Athletic Directors Association. 
BFA Fairfax performance of hit musical Mamma Mia

Finally, the BFA Fairfax performance of hit musical Mamma Mia proved to be one of the biggest highlights of the fall, and was a welcome return to live theater in our community! Attendees sang, danced, clapped and cheered their way through the show-stopping numbers by our incredibly talented performing arts students! 

This truly was a Fall to remember in our school and community.  An enormous thank you needs to be extended to our students, staff, coaches, advisors, families, and fans who contributed to the success, and more importantly the safety, of the season! We look forward to more highlights now that the winter season is upon us! Congratulations to all, and good luck!

Geri Witalec-Krupa is the Director of Student Activities at BFA Fairfax. Geri is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her @GLWit

The Importance of being thankful and kind…

There is nothing easy about the ongoing circumstances that have impacted us all since March of 2020. The ramifications of the COVID-19 global pandemic are profound, wide ranging, and leave us frequently with a feeling that it will never end. This week, as we approach Thanksgiving, I find myself reflecting on all the things in my life that I am grateful for, and the kindness I experience both personally and professionally. 

Research has found that people who regularly express gratitude are healthier and happier. Gratitude requires an appreciation of the positive people and experiences in our lives. It is easy to focus on the challenges and the unfairness that we all have encountered throughout the pandemic. However, taking a moment daily to identify one thing that you are thankful for will result in feeling better. 

I am thankful for so many people and experiences, both positive and challenging, in my life. This was a challenging weekend for my family. My dog of thirteen years peacefully passed away on Saturday and we were all filled with sadness, laughter about funny memories, and a sense of gratitude for the unconditional love Buddy provided us. It was a powerful reminder that we are going through something that others may not be aware of, and the burdens we carry.

After twenty-five years working in public education, I constantly remind myself how fortunate I am to work with amazing educators, students, and families. This has never been more true than over the past two years. I am grateful for all the dedicated staff members at BFA Fairfax who continuously and selflessly meet the needs of all of our students. One of the best parts of being a Principal is the opportunity to engage with students. BFA Fairfax has amazing students who remind me daily about their positivity, resilience, and ability to demonstrate kindness. Finally, I value and respect all of our families for their patience, as well as their gestures of appreciation and support.  

I understand that there is so much that potentially divides us, and we are reminded about this every day in the media. However, I remain convinced that we have more in common than our differences. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your lives, sharing my successes and challenges, and remaining mindful of the importance of being thankful. I hope you all have the opportunity to spend some quality time with the people you love, eat a good meal, laugh, and get some rest over the coming week. I appreciate the ongoing support of this amazing community. Be safe, be kind, and be well!


Thomas Walsh is the Principal of BFA Fairfax Elementary School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY.

Remember to look for the Puff Ball

In August, when I first had the opportunity to meet everyone in FWSU, I shared a quick story about a photographer named Dewitt Jones who, at the time, worked for National Geographic. He shares this story about wanting to capture this majestic image of a field of golden dandelions against the brilliant snow covered mountain in the backdrop of the Selkirk Mountains in British Columbia. Day after day we went to this site and each time something was wrong. The light wasn’t right. Too many clouds. Not enough of this or too much of that! One day he showed up and all of the dandelions were gone. Nothing but puffballs left. Disappointed and frustrated, he eventually got to the point where he asked himself what’s right with this. What deserved to be celebrated? After walking around the field and looking at every possible angle he came across a beautiful image. Not the original image he wanted but a new one of equal value. 

Just as a side note… if you want to see the whole story you can find it here

This year has been anything but predictable. Covid-19 infection rates have been increasing at an alarming rate. Hospitals are starting to evaluate capacity as these rates continue to surge. The Vermont Department of Health dashboard website is unfortunately my top bookmark. This is stressful. Stressful for families, stressful for teachers, and stressful for students. It’s important to acknowledge it is hard, scary, and a little bit overwhelming.  And there are plenty of bright spots and moments that bring a smile to your face that are worth celebrating!

So here are two of my bright spots….

MAMMA MIA! If you were anywhere near BFA the past few weeks you’d see students rehearsing their lines, singing and dancing, and making sets and costumes. Having missed out on opportunities to put on a presentation in the recent past this was a celebration. A celebration of perseverance, passion, and quite honestly tallent. I was impressed. It was also an opportunity for our community to come together and be as one. Not quite the return to normal we all hope for but a step in the right direction. 

Test to Stay! I remember sitting with our nurses in October listening to Governor Scott, scratching my head, wondering how this new program would work. Short staffed on a good day, would we have enough people to have this be successful. Fast forward to November and this program is allowing more of our students to be in school. I’ve had the pleasure of greeting families and am absolutely blown away with their support. We all wish this wasn’t a thing! But here we are and the hope is this program reduces the stress for families and students. Plus more of our students are back in school versus being at home. 

So with a small break just around the corner, I just wanted to share my thanks to the FWSU community. I appreciate every opportunity to connect, listen, and support. I want to acknowledge the difficult aspects of our lives as well as look for the puff balls that are here too. 

Best,

Scott

 Scott Thompson is the Director of Curriculum of Franklin West Supervisory Union and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @Stboatervt

Honoring Veterans at Georgia Elementary

Every day we should thank our Veterans but today, November 11th, is especially important to acknowledge their service.  We thank our Veterans for their sacrifices and the privileges we have, for their commitment to our country, and for always keeping us safe. To ALL who have served and continue to serve… We thank you and appreciate you!

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”

John F. Kennedy

As you enter the main lobby of the Georgia Elementary and Middle School you will notice a red, white, and blue paper chain that decorates the entryway.  A lengthy paper chain that was created by our Elementary students, Pk-4.  A single message crafted by every student, then connected to their peers, producing a chain with hundreds of heartfelt messages. This chain symbolizes the united appreciation and gratitude we have for those who have served and are currently serving.

In addition, our Elementary chorus sings “Thank You” to veterans and their families in the video below.  Our school appreciates you!  Please enjoy this GEMS TV Production and video and the Georgia Elementary School students as they share their gratitude and appreciation of all Veterans.

Gems TV Veterans Day Video

Steve Emery is the Elementary Principal of Georgia Elementary Middle School. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him @Emery_Gems.

Fletcher’s Music Program: Beat Boxing, Boomwhacker and more!

This year at Fletcher school, our new music teacher Katelynn Maher has been building relationships with students while getting to know them. 

Grades 5-6 exploring a beat boxing program called Incredibox

We have had a wonderful time in music this year playing music and singing together. Grades 5 and 6 just finished creating “suspenseful music” projects in a program called Garage Band. Students in grades 3 and 4 have been working on music literacy skills including rhythmic reading as well as learning notes of the staff. Grades K-2 have been working on music literacy skills including steady beat, rhythm, movement, and improvisation. Movement and learning games are so important in our music classroom. Students of all grades have very much enjoyed singing and playing instruments in the classroom. We are currently working hard to prepare for our virtual winter concert that will be sent out in December!

4th grade body percussion and boomwhacker playing

3rd grade playing a game to learn notes on a staff

2nd grade playing a piece to prepare for winter performance

1st grade learning a song on boomwhackers for winter performance

Kindergarten with scarf movement to music

Our goal moving forward this year in music is to continue to build music literacy skills at each grade level, and continue to build a community of music lovers who can express themselves in groups as well as individuals.

Aimee Toth is the Principal of Fletcher Elementary School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY.

Hiram Bellows Day

BFA high school students participated in our annual Hiram Bellows Day of Service on October 13th.  This day of service honors the legacy of the school’s founder and reminds us of the vital role everyone plays in building a strong, safe, and beautiful community. Service activities included working with Fairfax Fire and Rescue, Fairfax Recreation Department, Fairfax Historical Department, and Fletcher Town. 

Students worked hard to beautify the exterior campus, including cleaning busses, painting a sunflower mural, repainting safety lines and benches. They also worked on clearing trails in the woods and recreation paths, gleaning crops from the school farm to donate to the local food shelf, and planting flowers in Ada’s garden. 

Inside the building, students cooked meals for the Spectrum Youth Drop-in Center, organized the drama closet, and participated in the A Million Thanks program. This is a year-round campaign to show our appreciation to our U.S. military men and women, past and present, for their sacrifices, dedication, and service to our country through our letters, emails, cards, etc.

In the community, students washed and cleaned the fire trucks, organized summer camp supplies, worked in the ambulance bays, packed rummage sale items for donation, and worked on various projects with the Historical Society.

I am proud of the giving spirit of the students and their dedication to our community. I wish to extend a special thank you to the high school teaching team that organized this event: Alana Torraca, Becky Harrocks, Chris Cowey, Jenn Hart, and Sara Villeneuve.

Elizabeth Noonan is the Principal of BFA Fairfax High School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY.

We appreciate our principals!

October was Principal Appreciation Month across the nation. FWSU is officially extending the celebration of our principals through today as we take a moment to recognize the work of the educational leaders in each of our schools.

The principal’s job is difficult. Principals handle everything from budgets to professional development to student behavior to the daily schedule. Most days a principal deals with all of those items (and more) before 7:30 AM. 

Our principals spend as much time in classrooms as possible in order to build relationships with students and provide supervision and evaluation for teachers. They are available in the hallways and lunchrooms to monitor and redirect students. They meet with parents and students and teachers before, during, and after the school day.

With the ongoing pandemic, principals have had to take on additional tasks related to student health and safety. They are involved with contact tracing and calling families to advise them of quarantine conditions. Unfortunately, sometimes we learn about a positive case after school or on a weekend, so principals end up at school on their nights and weekends “off”! 

Through all their regular duties and the added responsibilities this year, our principals do their work every day with a smile on their face and seek out the joy in our buildings. Their primary concern continues to be student growth and learning. 

Our former Curriculum Director, Mary Lynn Riggs, described the job of principal as “24/7 in your face and it’s the best job there is!”. FWSU’s principals:

  • Aimee Toth, Fletcher Elementary School
  • Steve Emery, Georgia Elementary School
  • Julie Conrad, Georgia Middle School
  • Thomas Walsh, BFA Elementary School
  • Justin Brown, BFA Middle School
  • Geri Witalec-Krupa, BFA Director of Student Activities  and
  • Elizabeth Noonan, BFA High School

do the job every day with style and professionalism. We appreciate them, not only in this extended appreciation month, but all year long! 

John Tague is the Superintendent at Franklin West Supervisory Union and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @jtague252

Believing in the possibility of a more sustainable transportation future

In the middle of the day on Thursday, October 28, 2021, 6th grade students were playing at recess; elementary students were enjoying PE outside and high schoolers were passing between classes when they noticed an event happening in the parking lot. Several students in the high school paused to take selfies with a special guest in the background. Some of our 6th grade students paused their basketball game and asked if they could meet our guest when he arrived.

Patsy Parker, BFA Transportation Manager talks to the crowd about the new Electric Bus
Patsy Parker, BFA Transportation Manager talks to the crowd about the new Electric Bus

After the cameras were set up and the reporters and observers were organized, Governor Phil Scott arrived to join Patsy Parker and Charlotte Wood, along with representatives from Champlain Valley School District. The occasion was a press conference to formally announce the arrival of Vermont’s first Electric Buses. 

While electric busses may not be news to us in Fairfax, we were delighted to share our excitement with the entire state.  Yes, we have been using our electric busses since the beginning of the school year, however over the last month, students have already begun to work with the data we have been collecting from our charging stations to measure the power usage and incorporate this information into a variety of projects (might solar panels be next?). 

It was a proud moment for all of us to share with the governor in the celebration of this years long process coming to fruition. I am so grateful for our Transportation Director, Patsy Parker’s work to complete the grant application, research along with her tireless efforts to tend to the myriad details that went into spec’ing the buses and infrastructure so that their arrival and implementation was flawless.

I am also grateful and awed by Charlotte Wood’s poise and clarity of conviction as she spoke to the press on Thursday.  She truly speaks to a belief in what is possible. As Charlotte said, and I think we all agree, “I am absolutely thrilled to be one of the three districts in the state to have won this grant award to bring electric buses to Fairfax! Incorporating electric buses into our school district’s transportation system is a huge step in the right direction when it comes to combating climate change and protecting the environment”

Here is one of the several news pieces that aired after our event on Thursday: https://www.mychamplainvalley.com/news/vermont-rolls-out-electric-bus-pilot-program/

Justin Brown is the Principal at BFA Fairfax Middle School. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @jbrownenator

Wednesday Exploratory Experiences 

In the midst of the ongoing challenges presented by Covid-19 in our schools, BFA Fairfax Elementary continues to look for ways to provide our students unique learning experiences that require problem solving, creative thinking, and collaboration. This year we are using our Early Release Wednesdays to pilot a different format to engage students in inquiry activities. We remain aware that we are preparing our students to be citizens in a rapidly changing world, to work in jobs that will require an ever changing set of thinking skills, and for occupations that do not currently exist.  

Coincidently, I recently attended my daughter Gracie’s Family Day at her college. Gracie is a freshman at the Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Throughout the day, I observed many examples of amazing student work and encountered a consistent theme of supporting students in understanding themselves, learning to advocate, and developing employable skills. The focus on students learning from their mistakes, giving and receiving critical feedback, and having space to be creative resonated with me. 

This visit provided many valuable connections to our student learning opportunities, and the skills and dispositions we want them to demonstrate. In Vermont, we refer to employable skills as transferable skills. The Vermont Transferable skills are:

  • Clear and Effective Communication
  • Creative and Practical Problem-Solving
  • Informed and Integrative Thinking
  • Responsible and Involved Citizenship
  • Self-Direction 

As a PreK-12 school we continue to prepare our students to learn and demonstrate proficiency in the Vermont Transferable skills. We constantly are looking for ways to embed learning experiences that foster these necessary and important skills. 

On our Early Release Wednesdays we are piloting a different format and schedule that allows for exercise, inquiry, collaboration, creativity, and fun. On Early Release Wednesday, our students participate in a range of learning experiences that provide opportunities to develop these skills and dispositions in flexible learning environments. Here are some examples of activities in which our students have participated:

  • Stop Motion Animation
  • Google Drawing
  • Insect Investigations
  • Making Applesauce & Apple Cider
  • Kinesthetic Movement To Support A Healthy Lifestyle
  • Ocean Animal Investigations  
  • Building Structures In The Woods
  • Cardboard Creations
  • Coding
  • Autumn Art Projects

This is not a new focus, but rather a different structure that we believe will allow for more student voice and choice, community engagement, and collaboration with community partners. We believe that our students are never too young to drive their learning in ways that foster the development of 21 Century Skills. Our mission at BFA Fairfax remains to ensure all students become informed, literate, critical thinkers who demonstrate responsible social and civic behaviors. Thank you to our staff and community for their ongoing efforts to support our students as we prepare them for a rapidly changing world. 

Thomas Walsh is the Principal of BFA Fairfax Elementary School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY.

Intermediate French Students Get a Taste of Culture without Leaving the State

At the museum, students were able to see works by Edouard Manet, Edgar Degas, and Claude Monet, including the first Monet painting to be brought to the United States. Many were surprised to learn that Shelburne Museum had so many original paintings by Claude Monet. One student commented, “I’m really glad you taught us about looking at the paintings up close and then backing away so that you can see the shapes and images slowly come into focus.” 

On Friday, October 8, BFA’s intermediate French class took their learning about French impressionists beyond the classroom and visited Shelburne Museum. Here they saw the collection of impressionist art housed in the Electra Havermeyer Webb Memorial Building which is a reconstruction of the Webb family’s 1930’s New York city apartment. Before visiting, students spent the week learning about the French impressionist movement, Claude Monet’s controversial exposition of “Soleil levant” at the Salon in Paris in 1874, and some of the vocabulary to discuss the difference between a classical and impressionist work of art in French. 

Many students hadn’t visited the museum since they were children and enjoyed visiting the rest of the grounds, riding the carousel, exploring the Ticonderoga, and soaking in the perfect fall weather and scenery. They capped off the field trip with lunch at the Skinny Pancake in Burlington and said that the crêpes were “délicieux”! 

Written by: Madame Alana Torranca

Elizabeth Noonan is the Principal of BFA Fairfax High School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY.

Thank You Custodial Staff

Image from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lwr/4674849226(collective commons license)

They say it takes a village!!!! True now more than ever. Covid-19 has changed the way many of us do business, but specifically with health and safety. There’s also a recognition that many important parts of our village are not as visible as others. 

Today, I’d like to take a few moments to honor, celebrate and make our custodial staff more visible for the incredible job they all do.  The need for constant sanitation and cleaning has made an already difficult job even more so.

When we show up in the morning, our offices, classrooms, and learning spaces look spectacular. There’s also a piece of mind that they are sanitary and safe. Like many other positions this part of our village is understaffed and yet they show up everyday and work hard without question.

As we take advantage of being outdoors more often we also track in more sand, dirt, and other things than need to be cleaned up. Without hesitation, our custodians sweep in (pun intended) and make sure that our floors are clean, dry, and safe for our students and staff. It’s like a well orchestrated dance that happens often without us even noticing that it has happened. 

Our custodians are also essential with our efforts to minimize our environmental impact. Each night our recycling gets to where it needs to be. My new learning is the same for compost. I was in Fletcher the other day and saw a student asking a custodian what happens to the compost? Sure enough there was a quick conversation and I believe the student was happy to hear his answer. 

Custodians, you are a vital part to the FWSU village! We see you, appreciate you, and could not do it without you. I encourage folks to show your acknowledgement and appreciation as well.

 Scott Thompson is the Director of Curriculum of Franklin West Supervisory Union and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @Stboatervt

GEMS Elementary is Sharing Their Story 1000 Words At A Time on Facebook

A Picture is Worth A 1000 Words” – Fred R. Barnard.

Georgia Elementary Principal, Steve Emery wanted his teachers to be able tell their story on Georgia Elementary’s Facebook Page. To accomplish this goal, he provided a new system where teachers can submit images of the amazing learning going on in their classrooms. Now, teachers have a more direct approach to share the engaging lessons and activities with our community.

Since the elementary school has adopted this new approach, the Facebook page has had a definite increase of interactions with the community. Since the start of the new program on September 23, the total views of the page has increased from 30 to over 100.

And the story is spreading! As a result, the number of likes has increased as well. In the past 30 days, there have been an additional 27 likes

Due to the positive response, this program will soon be opened up to the Middle School Teachers as well.

If you have not already done so, go check out the Facebook page and join in to listen to our story. You will like what you see.

Angelique Fairbrother is the Digital Learning Coach at Franklin West Supervisory Union. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her on Twitter @FWSUtech.

The Good Stuff

After just over 100 days in my new role as interim superintendent for Franklin West schools, I’m taking the opportunity to reflect on the job so far. It’s hard to describe what the superintendent’s job actually is, but the way I explain it to elementary students is that the superintendent “works to make sure that the principals have everything they need to support the teachers so that teachers can do everything they need for students.” The students will shake their heads like it kind of makes sense, so I guess that definition works.

As superintendent, I spend a lot of time in meetings. I meet with principals, central office staff, teachers, other superintendents, parents, the teachers association and anyone else who needs my attention. In these meetings, I want to make sure that the needs of our students are met while maintaining my legal and fiscal obligations to the state and community. We work on professional development for teachers, budgets, grants, testing (both health and academic), communication and any other topic that comes up that will impact our schools and students. 

Every day is different which keeps the job interesting and challenging. However, if all I did was sit in meetings all day every day, it would be easy to lose sight of the purpose of the job. It would be difficult to be a superintendent of schools without spending a lot of time actually in schools. And so, every week I make certain that I am able to be in our schools. This allows me to speak with the principals and teachers to make sure I know what they need. More importantly, being in schools gives me the opportunity to be with students. 

I have played games with preschool students at Fletcher, experienced an all school assembly at GEMS, and researched and shared about “plants in Hawaii that curl up when you touch them” at the request of a BFA first grade student. I’ve read to third and fourth graders at BFA, learned about Alaska with MS students at GEMS, and judged a debate in AP US History in the high school at BFA. Some of those experiences were prearranged, but most of the time I can just walk into a classroom, say hello to students, ask what they are working on, and see how they are doing.  Just this morning I got to see a student’s morning share, catch some math facts work, watch a game of “I Spy..” with letters, learn a little bit about buffaloes, and participate in a movement break.  PS I can’t crab walk! (Yet.)

The superintendent job can be difficult at times. There have been disagreements and difficult conversations. We always work through them due to our shared beliefs about children. My time in classrooms keeps me centered and focused on the needs of all of our students. I make it a point to see what is happening as often as I can because in the words of Kenny Chesney, “that’s the good stuff”. And so far, I’ve seen a lot of good stuff in all of our schools in my first 100 or so days. 

John Tague is the Superintendent at Franklin West Supervisory Union and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @jtague252

First Graders Lead the Charge on Recycling at Fletcher Elementary

The Fletcher Elementary learning community values environmental stewardship.  This month Mrs. Hurt’s first graders have been learning about recycling practices. 

Mrs Hurt read students a wide variety of books about recycling.

Students explored reading Ready to Recycle  together as a class as well as to themselves, and then they got to add color to the book.  The next day the class read a second book, about the three R’s (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) and began sharing ideas for how they can REDUCE (ie. use snack/lunch containers we can rinse and use again, rather than plastic bags) and things they can REUSE  (ie. use clean paper lunch bags to make puppets, use empty jars to hold our pencils). Students were very excited to share their learning and ideas with the other classes. They feel empowered that they will be “teachers” during our school-wide meeting. First grade learning has included: a review of the reasons WHY we recycle (caring for the environment, landfills are getting full, etc), a review of WHAT we can recycle (we have modeled this since the first day of school and practiced sorting items that CAN and CANNOT be recycled), a review of HOW we can properly recycle (noticing any food in a container and rinsing it out first, looking at the list of items and guidelines from the NWSWD (NorthWest Solid Waste District) on classrooms flyers (which we plan to make for every classroom).In addition to this, every day students are applying what they learned as they recycle everything from their plastic lunch containers to scraps of construction paper.  More importantly, they know WHY they are recycling and are ready to teach others about the importance of recycling for the planet.

Aimee Toth is currently the Principal of Fletcher Elementary School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY.

BFA Fairfax Spirit Is Loud and Proud During 2021 Homecoming Week!

The BFA Fairfax community has been alive with spirit and enthusiasm this week as we celebrate 2021 Homecoming!  After nearly two years of modifications, cancellations, and other Covid-related challenges, it has been heartwarming to see the vibrance and excitement of our student body and greater community at various events.  Although still in a slightly modified format to ensure safety, this week has been a taste of normalcy, and served as a reminder of all that is great about High School in the fall.  

Leaders from the BFA Fairfax Student Council established a number of activities for the student body including daily theme days (Class Color Day, Throwback Thursday, Maroon & White Day, etc.) as well as fun Pep Rally activities during Flex Block on Thursday and Friday. 

After a year hiatus due to Covid 19 safety concerns, the ever-popular Fairfax Relays costume race kicked off the week’s Homecoming athletic events on Tuesday, October 5th. This annual celebration of the Vermont running community brings schools and teams of all sizes together for a day of fun and competition.  

Friday October 8 will host the homecoming games for girls soccer, with the JV facing CVU, and Varsity facing Oxbow at 4pm.  Saturday October 9 will round out the homecoming games with JV Boys Soccer facing U32 at 10am, Varsity Boys Soccer facing Craftsbury at 12pm, and Football facing Mill River at 2pm.  

The athletic events of the week are also serving as the Senior recognition games/events, allowing us to celebrate the numerous contributions of the Class of 2022!

Finally, all students in grades 9-12 will have the opportunity to round out Homecoming 2021 at the Fall Harvest Festival being held immediately following the football game on Saturday.  Food, games, prizes, and a live DJ will be on hand to bring this celebratory week to a close.  

Thank you to everyone in the community who has helped make this week a success! We look forward to seeing you at this weekend’s events. Go Fairfax!

| Geri Witalec-Krupa is the Director of Student Activities at BFA Fairfax. Geri is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her @GLWit

Proud Principal Awards

Each month the Georgia Elementary School celebrates the excellent efforts students make each and every day.  The “respectful” interactions they are having with their peers and adults, the “responsible” choices they are making throughout the day, and the “safe” decisions they are implementing through playful interactions and other daily experiences.

During lunch, recognitions are shared and I feel honored to read aloud the great characteristics teachers are seeing in their students. Among their peers, recipients hear their accomplishments and receive a Proud Principal Certificate and pencil.  Friends cheer, adults applaud, and smiles can be seen through different facial expressions.

The best part of a Principal’s day is interacting with students. It brings delight and meaning to our work and makes for a great day.

Here are quotes from Proud Principal Awards:

“You have been a kind and caring friend in the classroom and you are a great role model for your peers.  Thank you for being respectful, responsible, and safe”

“You have a kind heart towards your peers and teachers and you are a great leader for students to follow”

“You are always coming to school smiling and eager to learn.  I love how much you love school.”

“Our classroom community is lucky to have such a great classroom peer”

“You are a respectful listener and active participant in class discussions.  We can count on you to make our class a caring, safe place to be.”

| Steve Emery is the Elementary Principal of Georgia Elementary Middle School. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him @Emery_Gems.

The Spirit of Innovation

One of the most exciting aspects of FWSU is the level of innovation our students get to experience and lead. Two years ago, before joining FWSU was even a thought, I was invited to visit some of the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) spaces across the district. 

Our former Superintendent Ned Kirsch was, without a doubt, a motivating force for innovation and a belief in what is possible. His influence and leadership are very visible today!

Circuitry with Sewing

Who knew this was a thing!

Students can learn about making wearable circuits using conductive thread and sewing machines. Along those same lines, I saw students making cards that light up and play music using the same materials. What a great way to be curious and creative at the same time. 

Design and 3D Printing

Who doesn’t love to watch a 3D printer in action? I remember the first time I was watching one, it was printing a chain link. I could not wrap my head around how it was going to print independent links that were interconnected. Well it did and I’m still not sure how it worked. 

As much fun as it is to watch your design come to life, the process of designing is what we are after. We are fortunate to have several printers and the accompanying software to allow students to again be curious and creative. 

3D Printer

Green Screen (So Much Fun!)

If you haven’t yet experienced a green screen, I hope you get to in the near future. Our students are collaboratively creating news broadcasts, professional presentations, tours across the world, and so much more.

I wasn’t able to get a great picture of our many set-ups so here is a stock photo to help paint the picture. 

And there’s the Transferable Skills!

Perhaps a different kind of innovation. In addition to rigorous academic curriculum, we find these opportunities support our students with transferable skills. We see so many examples of how technology creates opportunities that did not exist before.  

Stay tuned for more ……

| Scott Thompson is currently Director of Curriculum of Franklin West Supervisory Union and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @Stboatervt

Genuine Foods

Dear Genuine Foods,

Today, I’d like to publicly celebrate all your hard work for making sure our students are well fed with locally handmade and nutritious food.  There have been lots of challenges and you have faced them head on and made positive strides. I want you to know we see these efforts paying off. Good food is a universal game changer and you have made a significant contribution to the culture of our schools. There are lots of things to worry about right now but food in school is not one of them. 

Last week I was visiting classrooms in Fletcher and students were having waffles for breakfast. They were so excited! More than most mornings. I asked a third grader what they liked most about breakfast at school and she replied “breakfast is always yummy! Pretty much sums it all up. 

They say you eat with your eyes first. Today, while I was visiting GEMS, this sign caught my eye. I wanted to stay for lunch just because I was suddenly hungry.  While I was walking around watching students enjoy their lunches I asked a student how the food was? I apparently timed my question as he was chewing but I received two enthusiastic thumbs up! I’ll take that as a victory.

At BFA I was impressed by the choices students had. There was a sandwich station, salad bar, pizza and pasta. Oh and fresh fruit everywhere too! 

I had the opportunity to join the 5th grade lunch. I saw two boys sitting quietly eating so I decided to say hello. I asked how their day was going and they said “can’t talk, eating pizza.” #Pizzaforthewin.

I am grateful for your leadership, service with a smile, and genuine (pun intended) care for the students and staff in FWSU. You provide so much more than just food. 

With tremendous appreciation,

Scott Thompson

Scott Thompson is currently Director of Curriculum of Franklin West Supervisory Union and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @Stboatervt

GEMS Geocaching At Niquette Bay State Park

Yesterday, 4th grade students took their learning outside at Niquette Bay State Park located near Colchester, Vermont.

Prior to their visit, the students have been learning the math and science of how Global Positioning Systems (GPS) technology works. They then applied this knowledge to learn how to navigate using the technology in order to participate in geocaching activities.

Geocaching encourages kids to explore the outside world around them and also offers lessons on how maps work, geography, and estimation. Kids search for geocaches by using GPS receivers to located the assigned waypoints (latitude and longitude) This type of exploration prompts discussions on creating graphs, measuring distances, and other math concepts as well as the geographical lessons.

As a culminating activity, students explored the real world use of GPS receivers in a local state park. Students persevered and used their problem solving skills to take on the challenge of finding hidden containers along established trails.

Now that these students have learned how to find geocaches using GPS, the next task will be creating them developing their innovative design skills.

Angelique Fairbrother is the Digital Learning Coach at Franklin West Supervisory Union. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her on Twitter @FWSUtech.

We appreciate our school nurses every day

National School Nurse Appreciation Day happens every May. While we fully intend to recognize our nurses for their work eight months from now, today we want to take some time to show our appreciation for our school nurses for their invaluable contributions to our school, particularly as we have returned to school 18 months into a pandemic.

School nurses work with our students every day to meet their health and safety needs, but over the last year and a half, they have taken on a multitude of additional tasks to keep our school and community safe and informed. 

When a school is notified of a positive COVID case in our school, the nurses jump into action and begin contact tracing. They work with the administrators and classroom teachers to determine possible close contacts who might be subject to quarantine. The nurses connect with the Department of Health to review the information and make the final determination regarding who will need to quarantine. Once that list has been established, the nurses work with the administrators to phone every family who will be impacted to explain the situation and answer any questions. This information doesn’t always come to us during the regular school day. Our nurses have been involved with contact tracing on Friday evenings, Saturday afternoons, and Sunday mornings. They have established an organized system to make sure that everyone who needs information gets it in a timely manner, no matter when we learn it. The process is stressful for all, but our nurses model calmness and attention to detail throughout.

In order to monitor COVID in schools, the Agency of Education and the Department of Health have made Surveillance Testing available for schools. We did it last year for staff, but this year students are also eligible for testing. To get people ready for the nasal swab, our nurses have to provide information about sign up (for the first round this year, we are only testing adults), organize the test kits, and facilitate the testing on the actual day. The testing happens during the day, so our nurses will be working with students as usual and taking on the testing protocol. Once again, all done without missing a beat!

Finally, our nurses are collecting vaccination attestation information from our students in grades 7-12. This information will help to streamline the contact tracing process and will eventually be used to determine our masking criteria as the year progresses. It’s another task that our upper school nurses have taken on with a smile.

As we start the year, it is important to take a minute to thank our FWSU nurses-Courtney at Fletcher, Amy and Michelle at BFA, and Terry and Melissa at GEMS- for the vital work they do every day. This year, their work has taken on new dimensions that require our acknowledgement and appreciation every day from now until their official day in May!

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

John Tague is currently the Superintendent at Franklin West Supervisory Union and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @jtague252

All the Places to Love at Fletcher Elementary

All the Places to Love by Patricia MacLachlan

For the 2021-2022 school year Fletcher Elementary has welcomed several new teachers.  What you may not realize is our student enrollment which was 93 at the beginning of last school year is up to 116!  This is great news for a small Vermont school! We are so excited to introduce  new friends to all the places to love in Fletcher!  

As a new principal to the school I wanted to first get to know students better.  To accomplish this I decided to visit classrooms and share one of my favorite books, All the Places to Love.  This book talks about the special places a boy’s family shares with him around their farm and village. After reading this story, I couldn’t wait to hear from your children what their favorite places are here in Fletcher that “makes all the difference in the world” to them.  Here are just a few of the places that are loved that they wanted to share with others.  

In my backyard there is a cliff where you can watch the prettiest sunsets.
-Kale
I like swimming in Metcalf Pond because it is cool. 
-William
In my quiet spot I can climb trees.
-Claire
My special spot is at Nonna and Papa’s woods.  I like it because the sunset is beautiful.
-Harper
Behind my grandma’s house is peaceful and we build fairy houses.
-Summer
My favorite place to go is in my backyard because it is peaceful and I can hear the birds chirp.
-Mariah
My sugarhouse is special to me because whenever we make maple syrup I get to taste test it in these little tiny plastic cups.
-Fiona

Fletcher Elementary is a great learning community to join and our students are looking forward to sharing their favorite things about Fletcher with new teachers, students, and even the new principal!

Aimee Toth is currently the Principal of Fletcher Elementary School and is a new contributor to THE FWSU STORY.

Reconnecting

I write this blog sitting at my 4 year old’s soccer practice. Is she here for soccer skills and to be the next Megan Rapinoe or Mia Hamm? 

Nope, not even for one second. It’s about the connection. 

She’s here because of the joy of being around others. The fun, the high energy, and most importantly the social connection with her peers.  She’s lucky. We have daycare and she has been able to connect with a group of friends daily. My high schoolers though, have not. And we are concerned.

Many parents have emailed and called to voice concerns about their child’s social and emotional well-being. Many students spent last school year completely remote or only connecting with others two days a week. Then, summer came and if they didn’t work they sat at home on their devices or glued to the television. I’m not knocking the value of decompressing, we all need that time. It’s imperative to our health.  However, when this becomes the norm for our students we should be concerned. How do we acknowledge and support the mental and social health of our young adults? How to we get out them out of the house and engaged with others?

With this in mind, we started the first day of school with a co-curricular fair. Grades 9-12 students spent time meeting the student leaders of approximately 40 co-curricular groups offered at BFA. 

The very clear message:

We want you and you belong!

Well documented research shows us that students who participate in co-curriculars are more likely to attend school, achieve better academic scores, have higher levels of self concept and self worth, and increase their capacity to demonstrate resilience and problem solving skills.

Today, we offered time for all clubs to meet and for students to select wellness activities such as fishing, meditation,  nature walks, writing, and pick-up sports. 

How can you help your student make connections? 

-Ask your student what they did and what else they would like to have access to.  

-Support your student to create connections at school and in the evenings. 

-Encourage them to join a cocurricular or create a club that does not exist. All they need is an advisor. 

We are here to support your student and help them reengage with their peers. We want them to be joyful and take advantage of the opportunities BFA- Fairfax has to offer. 

We want them to be connected.

Elizabeth Noonan is currently the Principal of BFA Fairfax High School and is a new contributor to THE FWSU STORY.

The Beauty of Outdoor Learning

There is something magical about taking students outdoors to experience nature. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you smell? And what do you feel?  An approach to learning that stimulates your senses and connects you to our world!

 It’s an environment that is restful, relaxing and thought provoking. A setting that puts young minds at ease and one that brings learning to life.

Outdoor learning opportunities are on the rise at Georgia Elementary School and provide students with hands-on kinesthetic approaches in a variety of ways and within different classrooms.

Being able to touch, see, and understand natural concepts helps solidify knowledge of how our world works.

In Maia Hendrickson’s Kindergarten classroom students explore their surroundings through nature walks honing their observational and inquisitive thinking skills. Each day begins with a morning meeting and then an opportunity to inquire, solve, and share.

Dorsey Hogg, Elementary art teacher, takes her students outside often to enjoy the elements while working artistically.  Having an outdoor setting to continue their work, apply their skills, and accomplish their task is relaxing, thought provoking, and meaningful.  

Students appreciate this style of learning and work diligently and creatively.

Steve Emery is the Elementary Principal of Georgia Elementary Middle School. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him @Emery_Gems.

FALL CO-CURRICULAR ACTIVITIES FULLY BACK IN ACTION AT BFA FAIRFAX

Students, staff, families, and our school community could never have known that the Fall of 2019 would be the last time for nearly two years that BFA Fairfax athletic teams and drama ensembles would participate in a traditional way.  Fast forward to September 2021, and we are now experiencing the benefits of the patience, perseverance, adaptability and commitment to safety demonstrated by our students, staff and community, as our multiple fall co-curricular activities are in full swing.

High School football players are sharing their excitement in being able to wear their pads again and play full tackle.  Last season was played under highly modified “touch football” rules, so our BFA/Lamoille Cooperative team athletes have been thrilled to experience the sense of brotherhood they say comes with playing the game under traditional rules.

Middle and High School cross country runners ran a smaller number of races last season, while much of the time wearing masks.  Meets were limited in size, and did not allow for mass starts involving multiple schools, so each race more closely resembled a time trial as opposed to a true cross country meet.  They are looking forward to their first “real” meet in almost two years, and experiencing the excitement and rush of competing against students from other schools in mass start formats.

Middle and High School soccer teams spent last season playing a limited schedule, and donning masks for the entirety of practices and games.  This season has brought back increased participation numbers, a high level of skill, and enthusiasm like never before.  Players and coaches are looking forward to building on last year’s success and playing deep into their respective tournaments.

The fall co-curricular activity most impacted last year by the pandemic was the Fall Musical.  Given the strict guidelines at the time around singing, playing instruments, masking, distancing, and group gathering size, our talented ensemble was unable to perform the highly anticipated Mamma Mia.  We are thrilled to have our students back on the stage this year, and eager to experience live musical theater once again! Although we may still have some slight adaptations on the performance that, if necessary for health and safety, will be determined closer to the show dates, Mamma Mia will most definitely be one of the highlights of this school year!

We look forward to your attendance at these multiple student activities, and greatly appreciate your support and continued commitment to health and safety.  Our students are thrilled to be back on the stage, fields and trails, but most importantly, to be back in school.  If we all work together and continue to make safe choices, we can ensure that our student activity participants have a fantastic 2021-22 school year! 

Geri Witalec-Krupa is the Director of Student Activities at BFA Fairfax. Geri is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her @GLWit

Welcome Sheriff Karry Andileigh

Sheriff Karry Andeligh, School Resource Officer (SRO)

BFA Fairfax is excited to introduce and welcome Sheriff Karry Andeligh to our school community. We are extremely fortunate to have her serving as our School Resource Officer (SRO) this school year. Sheriff Andileigh is an outstanding role model and a valuable resource for our students, staff, and families.

Sheriff Andileigh possesses a range of professional experiences and skills. Since 2018 she has been employed with the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office. Prior to working in law enforcement she was a Living Skills worker with the Howard Center and a private Personal Care Attendant for people with disabilities. In addition, Sheriff Andileigh is pursuing a PhD in Psychology and Yoga Therapy. 

Sheriff Andileigh shared she was drawn to being a SRO because it provides opportunities to make a positive impact on students by developing relationships, communicating with students about their priorities, and goals. Her philosophy and experiences are reflected in her daily work with students, staff, and families.

Sheriff Andileigh brings a person-centered, trauma informed, therapeutic approach to each interaction. She believes her role allows opportunities to support students in navigating life decisions and challenges, using restorative practices and logical consequences.

We are excited to collaborate with Sheriff Andileigh in her new capacity. She is an important and necessary resource to support safety, to develop positive relationships with law enforcement, and network with other state agencies. We appreciate our community’s support of this essential position. She has made an immediate and positive impact on our school. Please take a moment to introduce yourself and welcome her to Fairfax. 

Thomas Walsh is currently the Principal of BFA Fairfax Elementary School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY.

It’s Friday of our students’ first full week since March 2020!

As I’ve visited classes, the lunch room, playground and chatted with students in the hallways over our first days back in school, I have marveled at students’ excitement at being back and kind support and encouragement of one another. It was also curious to me as I wondered what our students were thinking during their first full week of school in over a year. So I asked students across grades 5-8 some questions to listen to their perspectives.

  1. What is your favorite part of being back to school full time after last year?
  2. What is weird about being back to school full time after last year?
  3. Any words of wisdom for our readers?

Eliza says that it’s good to be back to a normal-ish school. Seeing friends again is great. She thinks that wearing masks is a little weird (we thought we’d be done with them when we left school in June). Her words of wisdom are to read Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger

Kaileigh says seeing friends and making new friends has been the best part of being back to school. It is a little weird to have the same teachers two years in a row. (she clarified and said that it’s a good weird). Kaileigh agrees with Eliza that everyone should read everything by Shannon Messenger.

Kayden says the best part of being back to school is seeing friends he hasn’t seen in a long time. Rylee agrees. They both agree that it’s also weird to reconnect with friends they haven’t seen in a long time. When I asked them what words of wisdom they had for our readers I leaned back in my chair and they both told me that I should always keep “4 on the floor.” Then Rylee told me that she wanted to be a mystery student.

Harper told me that his favorite part of being back to school was playing football at recess and to finally be able to do science and social studies. He also likes being able to walk to UA’s. What’s weird for him is being able to take more mask breaks than last year.  He is excited to have the same teachers for two years!

Rhiannon’s favorite part of being back in school is not having plexiglass dividers this year.  She also likes having lockers to keep her stuff safe. She went on to say that she loves her new teachers and new classmates. 

Lyla also appreciates not having plexiglass this year and being able to go to the cafeteria. Having lockers with combinations along with her new teachers is great. She also is super excited about having band this year. It is a little weird seeing so many teenagers around, but she likes seeing different people in the halls. Her advice is that we should definitely bring back the ice cream machine.

Jaiden is very happy to be with us this year and says that it’s different, but better. She really likes having a more consistent schedule and thinks using lockers is very helpful to organize and store her stuff. It is a little weird having lunch at 1pm. Her Words of wisdom are to not be scared of the work, because she says, “it’s all doable”

Colin both likes and finds it a little weird to be moving between spaces this year and to have so many different classes.

In some ways, it’s almost like we are picking up where we left off pre-pandemic. But overwhelmingly we all, students and staff are absolutely loving being back in session full time. I am so proud of our students for taking such care of themselves, each other and their community. Here’s to a safe and full school year!



|Justin Brown is the Principal at BFA Fairfax Middle School. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @jbrownenator

Knowing Students Well!

Today we officially celebrate the seventh day of school! Routines are beginning to emerge, social connections rekindled, and everyone is hard at work getting to know each other and building trusting relationships. As a new employee to FWSU, I have been impressed with the way new and returning students have been welcomed in our schools.

My journey over the past seven days has largely been to watch and listen. I’ve had the opportunity to spend time on each campus visiting classrooms and observing all the moving pieces come together. As a side note, when I was researching if FWSU was the right place for me, I was impressed with how students are valued and empowered to be active partners in their educational journey. A value that matches my core beliefs! Valuing students is not just a statement that lives on paper but one that lives in action here in FWSU. I saw this in action! On all three campuses!   And that’s how I know I’m in the right place!

“We must teach the way students learn, rather than expecting them to learn the way we teach.”
– Pedro Noguera

 

These activities spanned our entire Supervisory Union, across all grade levels with a ton of creativity, I might add. In our early elementary grades I saw morning meetings come together to give students a chance to share a little about about themselves.

Hallways are decorated with artistic representations of likes and dislikes, favorite food, hopes and dreams and a whole host of other characteristics that make us all who we are. 

I’m confident that these initial efforts will continue to evolve over the next 170 days or so. Ultimately leading to stronger relationships, asset based approaches, and high engagement for all learners. These are the necessary components for academic and social emotional growth to flourish.

I am honored to serve the FWSU community in the role of Director of Curriculum. and look forward to our paths crossing soon. 

This blog was written by:

Scott Thompson is currently Director of Curriculum of Franklin West Supervisory Union and is a new contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @Stboatervt

Bringing Choice and Connection to GEMS Middle School

This year, the Middle School at GEMS is starting a new initiative to increase opportunities to build relationships and connections during our lunch and wellness time. Each week, students will have choices for their recess or wellness with supervised activities like the walking path, team games, yoga, or dance. Then lunchtimes for groups and clubs to play and explore together just like Art Club, Technology Club, Student Council, and board games. Students will still have the option to choose a traditional cafeteria lunch and open recess in their choices. 

How does this work? Each Wednesday, students will have a menu of options to choose from for the following week. Students will select their preferred choices and opportunities to explore the following week. These groups are fluid so they can try different options each week.

This also enables us to reduce the size of students that are eating together which will hopefully help us stay safe and healthy.  Most clubs will meet in classrooms with groups far less than a normal classroom size.

We are excited about bringing more options to our students and see how they connect with others and find new interests and opportunities to explore! 


This blog was written by:

Julie Conrad is currently Principal of Georgia Middle School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her on Twitter @JulieConradVT

GEMS 7th Grade Find Their Own Learning

On the first day of school, the 7th grade middle school students participated in a mini cycle with the GEMS Innovation Lab. This was the first class of three that students will have as an opportunity to introduce themselves to the innovative learning that is provided by Mr. Hadd and Mr. Clow.

Wanting to give the students a first day that was filled with active learning, Mr. Hadd and Mr. Clow opted to leave the lab behind and have the students learn about GPS though outdoor learning with geocaching. Geocaching is the activity of hunting for and finding a hidden object by means of GPS coordinates using a GPS receiver. Geocaching allows students to persevere and put learning in their own hands, finding their own solutions.

For their first class, the innovation lab teachers partnered with Mrs. Fairbrother to have students learn how to use the GPS. Additional sessions will build upon these skills challenging the students to work on their problem solving skills.

The students met the challenge for the day. Through collaborative teamwork the students mastered the digital learning around GPS and are ready for their next challenge.

The high level of energy and enthusiasm showed and was a great way to start off learning in the innovation lab.

Angelique Fairbrother is the Digital Learning Coach at Franklin West Supervisory Union. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her on Twitter @FWSUtech.

Best Day of the Year

Today was the first day of school at Franklin West Supervisory Union schools. Students at BFA-Fairfax, Fletcher Elementary, and Georgia Elementary and Middle School returned for five days of in-person instruction.

My goal today was to visit every classroom at all of the FWSU schools. The day started GEMS for student drop off. Once students were settled into their classrooms, I experienced ice breakers and locker openings in the middle school and movement breaks, read alouds, and greeting activities in the elementary classrooms. The elementary students had a fair number of questions for me.

Mid morning, I headed to Fletcher Elementary School where I got to meet more of our students. Every student in Mrs Obrien’s class politely introduced themselves to me. Mrs Cardone’s class was reading “What if everyone did that?” as a prelude to setting up their classroom expectations. 

Genuine Foods was getting lunch ready as I moved on to BFA.

It was lunchtime at BFA Elementary when I arrived. Students were enjoying lunch in their classrooms which allowed for some casual questions and conversations. 

 High school students were rotating through an abbreviated course schedule after a morning spent orienting themselves to the opportunities and expectations for the new year. 

BFA Middle School students were participating in team building activities, core classes, and lunch and recess.

At all three FWSU schools, there was joy among the students and staff. The nervousness that always accompanies the first day of school was certainly there, but it quickly dissipated as students connected with their classmates and teachers. It was great to see full classrooms, collaborative work, and the promise of a new year. 

Technically, I did not meet my goal to visit every classroom as our preschool and kindergarten students did not start today, but I made plans with those teachers to come back later this week and next week when their students arrive to get another jolt of first day of school energy!

John Tague is currently the Superintendent at Franklin West Supervisory Union. and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @jtague252

It’s Been A Banner Spring For BFA Fairfax Athletic Teams

When the Vermont Principals Association made the final decision last April to cancel the 2020 spring athletic season due the global pandemic, it was a crushing blow to eager BFA Fairfax spring student-athletes.  Even with the year off, however, our spring athletic teams have had stellar seasons, and have proven that they were able to come back smarter, stronger, and ready for success.  

Middle School baseball, softball, and track and field showed great skill in their shortened season.  We look forward to them playing a full season next year! 

With an extremely young team, the High School Baseball program opted to play a full JV schedule.  This decision led to some of the most exciting games in recent years on our baseball field, and truly demonstrated that the future is very bright, and baseball is back alive in Fairfax!

Boys Ultimate had a season of remarkable growth and improvement, with undeniable team unity. The team put up a great fight, but bowed out of the tournament in the first round to CVU.

High School Track and Field had one of their best showings in recent years at the Division 3 State Track and Field championships. With 20 athletes qualifying in their respective events, multiple podium placements, and the girls team finishing in 6th overall place (their highest ever finish), they made the community and program extremely proud. 

The Girls Ultimate team was one of the top contenders all season, easily advancing to the state semifinals.  In what was arguably their best game of the season, they ultimately fell to a strong Burlington High School team. Their performance this year was representative of the new life of the Girls Ultimate program, and set the stage for future success.

In their inaugural season as a Varsity team, the Boys Lacrosse team brought tons of excitement to campus. Their buzzer-beating goal in the Division 3 quarterfinals was one of the highlights of the whole year in athletics!  Although they ultimately fell to Montpelier in the semifinals, they were honored with the Division 3 State Sportsmanship Award, which is one of the greater honors bestowed upon a school and program.  

Finally, the Varsity Softball team continued their stellar season by upsetting the top seeded, undefeated, White River Valley Wildcats in the Division 3 semifinals on Tuesday.  They will play in the State Championship game at Castleton University this weekend, and hope they will have a large contingent of fans making the trip south.  For those that cannot make the game, it will be live-streamed on the NFHS Network, so fans can cheer them on from home.  

Congratulations to all of our student-athletes on an amazing spring! You have been an inspiration to us all, and role models in resilience, perseverance, and overcoming adversity!  Go Fairfax!

Geri Witalec-Krupa is the Director of Student Activities at BFA Fairfax. Geri is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her @GLWit

Memorable Music!

The Spanish 7/8  classes and band at GEMS collaborated to produce a cover of the Spanish pop song, “Loca” by Alvaro Soler. With the help of Chris Gribnau, the music teacher and Laura Mathieu, the Spanish teacher, students performed both the music and words to create a music video.  The process took weeks and involved a lot of hard work in transcribing music, practicing instruments independently, memorizing lyrics and recording separately until finally putting it all into a single music video. Students were surprised they were able to memorize words in a second language. 

As with many pandemic projects, we ventured into new territory, pushed our comfort zones and learned a lot.  Working on separate recordings presented the challenge of separate timing rather than emergent unison.  Work ethic, positivity and overcoming shyness and nerves were all valuable goals.  While not perfect, we see this project as a success and hopefully the beginning of future collaborative projects.

It is notable that some qualities of students in both Spanish and band include perseverance, open-mindedness, and resiliency.

7th Grade wisdom:

“I learned to speak more Spanish and some new words.” -Kaitlyn

“I learned that a lot of people were not comfortable singing but they still tried.” – River

“What I learned from working on Loca is that hard work can pay off and the end result can be better than you think.” – Alexis

“One thing I learned doing this project was working on my instrument again.  Having a song to play made me want to practice my instrument.” -Leah

“From working on this project, I was able to step outside of my comfort zone and work with others.  I didn’t feel confident in myself at first, but after practice, I was able to finish the project feeling more confident than at the beginning.” -Mattie

Some other words of wisdom from our 8th Graders:

“I learned to not be embarrassed, you just gotta go with the flow and not care what other people think. Practice lyrics and also just have a good time with it even though you may not want to because these are the times you will remember.”  -Briana

“While working on the “Loca” project, I learned that singing in a different language is hard.  Yes, we practiced and practiced but doing this was hard but so much fun.”  -Raegan

“I definitely learned how to work in unison with my peers and remembering lyrics.” -Megan

“Some advice I would give is to not be shy, be open and make the best of it.” -Kenna

“I learned that you can pronounce words differently to match a beat.”  – Cadien

Click here to watch the video!

This blog was written by:

Julie Conrad is currently Principal of Georgia Middle School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her on Twitter @JulieConradVT

CO-WRITTEN BY:
Chris Gribnau, GEMS Music Teacher & Laura Mathieu, GEMS Spanish Teacher

Moving Forward

Resilience at GEMS

During my “Take 20” meeting with Kay Lee, 4th grade teacher at Georgia Elementary School, I learned that she is currently in her 48th year of teaching.  The resilience and optimism she radiates is something that will stay with me always.  Kay’s students over the years have readily participated in IVECA (Intercultural Virtual Exchange of Classroom Activities). Her students have consistently connected in a very meaningful way through technology with students from South Korea, Mexico, and a host of other countries. FWSU schools were the first in Vermont to work with this esteemed program deservedly recognized by the United Nations. 

Kay has post-pandemic travel plans to visit Maine, frequent shopping at one of her favorite stores, The Christmas Tree Shop and then on a broader scale, find her way to Indonesia in the near future.  When I spoke to Kay in April, I came away with a lasting impression framed by her love for her students and the privilege of seeing them five days a week. Her selfless career spanning five decades has always been about the young, impressionable students sitting in front of her, and I am awed and truly inspired by the energy Kay brings to the classroom each morning. Kay Lee is significant both in the classroom and in her community, and we are all better for it.

Finishing Strong at Fletcher

As conditions improve it is wonderful to see the resurgence of events that we all so desperately missed over the past 14 months. The 6th grade graduation/celebration at Fletcher Elementary is scheduled outdoors for June 10th. Principal Chris Dodge is working with singer/songwriter Chad Hollister to create a special song that will include positive attributes about each individual student. This outdoor event will provide an opportunity for fellowship in a socially distanced space under a tent that will bring a sense of closure, but more importantly, it will be a celebration layered by achievement and success for our scholars, parents, faculty , and staff. 

National Honor Society Induction at BFA Fairfax

Recently, an impressive group of students representing the Class of 2021, 2022,  and 2023 were inducted into the National Honor Society at the athletic field on a mid-May beautiful evening. Families brought lawn chairs to this uplifting event where we all relished the opportunity to gather collectively to support this highly regarded group of young leaders with such bright futures. Some key takeaways for me included the fact that students led the celebration; the extraordinary efforts behind community service projects that students completed amid a pandemic; but mostly, the communal drive to come together as one to share in the accomplishments of our young people.  

The overriding sense of pride, togetherness, and resilient spirit that shined through the eyes of the class of 2021 and their proud families and friends make me further realize just how important human interaction truly is.  A pastor told me only a few years ago to, “Take the time to look up.”  I have spent too much time looking into a 15″ screen these past 14 months.  I plan on heeding my own advice and that of the pastor and look up toward the mountains and the stars while imagining the limitless possibilities in front of us all.  But for now, please know how grateful I am for the present and all that each of you have contributed to our children so that their dreams and visions can become real.

Quotable Moving Forward

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.“Out there in the wild, on a long journey, you hike your own hike, blaze your own trail, and only you can find what you’re looking for.” 

— Scott Jurek 

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Scott Jurek is the author of “North,” the story of an intensely inspiring 46-day run to break the speed record for the Appalachian Trail.

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James Tager is the Superintendent at Franklin West Supervisory Union. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @jrtager

Gratitude

Gratitude is defined as the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness. Gratitude is a word I use often when referring to my appreciation of the extraordinary efforts of all the staff that work at BFA Fairfax.  Since March of 2020, all employees have unconditionally given of themselves to navigate this once in a lifetime pandemic. Our staff has reimagined our educational systems from the way we provide food, how we transport students, and redesigned educational spaces to support safety. 

In addition to being resilient and flexible, our students have demonstrated an immense amount of academic, social and emotional growth this year. They have learned many lessons and skills throughout the pandemic that will serve them well as they encounter other unforeseen obstacles in life.  Our families have demonstrated incredible flexibility, provided ongoing support, and frequently shared their appreciation for our efforts. 

We are eternally grateful and would like to take this time to express our immense gratitude to everyone who has engaged with our learners over the course of the school year. Your interactions, albeit big or small, have had such a positive impact. It definitely takes a village! 

We wish you a relaxing and much deserved summer break. Be well.

Expressing Gratitude Slideshow — created by Rhonda Siemons 

Our slideshow is set to auto-play, however viewers may still need to tap/click on individual slides to transition or hear audio depending on the device or browser you are using.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is t.-walsh-2.png

Thomas Walsh is currently the Principal of BFA Fairfax Elementary School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY.

CO-WRITTEN BY:
Rhonda Siemons, BFA Technology Integrationist

Memorial Day

Let Memorial Day be a day to count our blessings and remember those who serve to protect our country and our freedom. We are forever grateful for the ultimate sacrifice of those who have served for the United States of America. May their courage and dedication never be forgotten.

These videos were created by GEMS TV EXPRESS students. They include past assemblies honoring Memorial day as well as a current “Thank you Soldiers” tribute to families and those protecting us. Unfortunately, we could not gather in person this year to honor our soldiers, but know we are thinking of you and your families.


Thank You!

Steve Emery is the Elementary Principal of Georgia Elementary Middle School. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him @Emery_Gems.

Music Al Fresco!

It was a long time coming, but last week, members of the BFA High School Concert Band came together for their first in-person rehearsal! 

After a year of Zoom sectionals, individual lessons in the room, and generally being apart from each other, everyone was extremely gratified to enjoy the beautiful day outside together to make music as a group for the first time in over a year.  This was as true for the teachers as it was for the students! 

There’s no replacement for live music, and everyone involved (including some elementary student audiences) rated the experience a true success. 

Here’s to more group music in the near future!

This blog was written by Glen Wallace, the Director of Bands at BFA Fairfax.

Fletcher Students Assist Threatened Lake Sturgeon

Families and staff from Fletcher Elementary School partnered with the ECHO Leahy Center for Lake Champlain on May 11 to take on the role of environmental stewards in support of the threatened lake sturgeon. 

During a virtual science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) evening event, participants from the school connected virtually with an environmental educator from ECHO to learn about the monstrous creatures of the deep and some unconventional efforts being used to protect and rehabilitate the species’s population. The evening’s event was coined, Fish Assist.

“The lake sturgeon is the coolest fish ever,” third grader William Nadeau said. “It can get really, really big and it looks just like a dinosaur. I was very disappointed to learn about how it is threatened and how people are doing things that could result in it not being around forever.”

Lake sturgeon are listed as threatened in 19 of the 20 states in which they live, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They are freshwater fish living in North America from the Hudson Bay through the Mississippi River drainage. Lake sturgeon can live for up to 150 years and grow to be more than nine feet in length and weigh 300 pounds. Over-harvesting and a loss of habitat as a result of the creation of dams are the primary reasons for the species’ declining population. Like its prehistoric ancestors, the lake sturgeon’s rows of spiny armored plates called scutes resemble dinosaurs from long ago. The species lives in Vermont in Lake Champlain and several rivers including the Winooski, Missisquoi, Lamoille and Otter Creek.

“I think it’s really important to learn about the impact we have on the environment and the creatures that depend on it,” Nadeau said. “When we learn about how our actions affect animals we can do things to change the negative impact and protect and save them.”

Prior to the event, students learned about the lake sturgeon through readings and videos in their classrooms, including a virtual visit to the sturgeon tank at ECHO. They were sent home with an engineering activity kit that they used during the event.

“After we learned more about the lake sturgeon, we were challenged to use a variety of materials like a balloon and popsicle sticks to create a fish cannon that could help a lake sturgeon make its way over a dam and go upriver to spawn,” Nadeau said. “Dams made by humans sometimes prevent them from getting upstream and that is reducing their population.”

While the fish cannons created by students are not exactly like those used in real life, the concept is similar. Several supports, such as fish ladders – tiered layers of “stairs” that help sturgeon get over a dam – and small water-powered chutes, are all being used to ease the migration. Fletcher teachers facilitated virtual breakout sessions with students as they used their materials in a variety of ways to design and share their fish cannons.

Fletcher families have a very special connection to the lake sturgeon. When ECHO added lake sturgeon to their aquarium collection, they were transported across the country from the Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute in Milwaukee to the ECHO Leahy Center by Fletcher resident Bob Lesnikoski.

“Events like this really empower our students to think responsibly about their own actions and how those behaviors impact the natural world,” second grade teacher Kathleen Pellegrino said. “For most of our students, this opportunity not only introduced a new and exciting animal to their learning, but it also offered an opportunity for students to be creative problem-solvers, to create solutions that might fail and then to improve upon those. That’s the beauty of the engineering design process.”

“It’s like that old saying, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” Nadeua said. “The engineering design process is a chance to make mistakes and learn from them. My fish cannon design didn’t work at first, but I improved it and then it was great.”

In addition to the engineering design kit students used to support sturgeon migration, students also received a butterfly migration kit to use following the event. The event and kits were funded in part by a grant from ECHO.

“One of the greatest privileges of teaching is to help students see and understand the world beyond the four walls of the classroom,” third grade teacher Tracey Godin said. “Particularly during the past year, we’ve learned to reimagine our use of technology in new and exciting ways, including events like this one, that become easily accessible to families right from their living rooms.”

“I learned so much from this experience, Nadeau said. “I learned that I can help these amazing creatures to survive and that you’re never too young to be an engineer who lends a hand.”

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.

Lift-Off!!

As annual traditions go, 5th Grade STARBASE is a keeper. While last year disrupted many traditions, this Spring we were excited to bring this one back. For many years, the 5th grade has been involved in STARBASE

As things started to open up this spring, in partnership with the STARBASE staff, we worked to ensure that all necessary safety guidelines and protocols were in place and set up an adapted STARBASE experience this year. 

Each pod took turns travelling to STARBASE for two days of on-base activities ranging from classroom learning, projects, a turn on the flight simulator and tours of the facilities and equipment (including watching jets take off!). With a focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), students had a myriad of opportunities to learn new things and apply their knowledge.  Students worked in collaborative groups working to solve complex problems and share their ideas and solutions with classmates. 

Throughout our time with STARBASE, our future rocketeers practiced each of their learner traits.  When students were asked to solve problems, they worked both individually and together demonstrating self-direction and used creative and practical problem solving to engage their own and group-mates’ informed and integrative thinking.  In small groups students shared their ideas and products with others using clear and effective communication. While working together during tours of the base and facilities, students continually demonstrated responsible and involved citizenship.

While still at STARBASE, students began working on their final projects. Then, after students returned, STARBASE staff Zoomed into classrooms to support students’ work toward their culminating project – The Rocket Launch.  In each pod, students worked with their instructors virtually, and together with table-mates to put the finishing touches on each of their rockets. 

While safety guidelines didn’t quite allow for the usual gathering of students and families for our annual rocket launch, the 5th grade still gathered together on a most spectacular Vermont spring day to send our rockets skyward.  When we got to the field, it was a little windy, but as the STARBASE staff set up the launch pads, the wind died and the clouds disappeared. Perfect launch conditions.  In each of their pods, they set up their own rocket, and worked to prepare for take-off.  Then, together as a 5th grade, students counted down and cheered together as each student took turns launching (and then chasing down and retrieving) their rockets.

Some rockets went on the first try. A few did not. But that was OK! With more creative and practical problem solving each rocket was sent skyward.  Students supported one another, the staff and our friends at STARBASE all worked to ensure that every student had a successful launch.

We learned a lot, grew our skills and had some fun. I think that we can all agree that STARBASE was a blast!

Justin Brown is the Principal at BFA Fairfax Middle School. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @jbrownenator.

BFA Fairfax Music Students And Staff Demonstrate Continued Flexibility and Adaptability In Preparation For Upcoming Final Concert of the 20-21 School Year

As we approach the end of this pandemic-altered school year, it is easy to reflect on the incredible flexibility and adaptability demonstrated by our students, staff, and programs.  The BFA Fairfax Music Department, under the leadership of Glen Wallace, Christy Maynard, Sarah Wolff, and Matt Davide, has been one such program that has created valuable learning opportunities with some of the most strict limitations throughout the school year.  Music students and staff have found immensely creative ways to share their craft with our school and community through virtual lessons and concerts, the use of bell covers for safety, and recently outdoor rehearsals.  We are pleased to share the following message from our music educators about their upcoming final concert of the year:

“The BFA Music Department is excited to invite one and all to this year’s Spring Concert, which we’re calling “A Night Among the Stars.”  Students have been hard at work mastering vocal and instrumental tunes, and we’re all eager to show off what we’ve accomplished during this hectic, bizarre, yet still musical year.  Be on the lookout for a link to a Zoom Webinar that will take place on Thursday, June 3rd, at 6:30 PM.  Hope to see you there!”

Best of luck to the students and staff in what is sure to be another stellar display of the incredible musical talents at BFA Fairfax! We hope to see you there!

Geri Witalec-Krupa is the Director of Student Activities at BFA Fairfax. Geri is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her @GLWit

Graduation Planning

As we reflect back on the impact of the pandemic over the last 15 months, the area that jumps out as having been most impacted has been graduation (and all of the events leading up to it). At BFA, the high school graduation progression begins with our National Honor Society Induction ceremony in May followed shortly thereafter by the prom. The week leading up to graduation is filled with the class trip, graduation practices, Class Day, the Alumni Banquet, the actual Graduation Ceremony, and finally Project Graduation. 

For the Class of 2020, all of these events were held virtually or cancelled. Our Graduation ceremony was held in two parts: the ceremony with speeches and awards was held over zoom followed by the students coming to BFA with their families to walk across the stage to receive their diploma.  Pictures were taken and a gift bag was given by Project Graduation.  All told, the event lasted eight hours. There were some technical difficulties, but there were also many positive aspects and memorable moments that will last a lifetime.  The obvious downside was that the Class of 2020 was not able to be physically with each other for any part of the ceremony.

As we began planning for graduation for the Class of 2021, our number one priority was that the members of the class would be together at graduation.  Our vision early in the school year was the 80 graduates under the graduation tent all physically distant from each other with a live streamed ceremony for their families.  As the “spigot” opened up in Vermont, it became apparent that we could have two family members with each graduate and still remain within the guidelines as they were at that time.  When Governor Scott released the Vermont Forward Plan on April 8, we increased the number of guests for each graduate to four.  With about 80 graduates and four guests each, our crowd size would be around 400.  It’s less than we normally would have, but it’s certainly the largest group of people any of us have been with since early in 2020.

As we move toward graduation on June 12th, Vermont will be in Step 3 which will allow up to 900 unvaccinated attendees at an outdoor event.  This would allow us to increase our guests per graduate to 6 (our typical number), but if we have learned one thing during the pandemic, it’s that nothing truly goes according to plan.  We would much rather surprise families with additional seats as we get closer to graduation than have to take seats away due a sudden surge in the community. 

As for the other events that lead up to graduation, we are adjusting and adapting as we go. Class Day is typically an event for the entire high school. Parents are invited to attend as well. Since the event is typically held in our gym and visitors are not allowed in the building this year, we had to rethink the event. We will hold a Senior Award ceremony under the tent on the Friday afternoon before graduation. This will allow family members to see their students recognized for their achievements while maintaining health and safety guidelines. We will hold a virtual awards ceremony during the school day for students in grades 9 – 11.

Students have taken the lead in adapting other pre-graduation events. The junior class has organized “Prom in the Park” to be held under a tent on the town recreation field. The National Honor Society Induction will be held in the same place (sans tent). The senior class officers have organized a field day to take the place of the class trip. Their goal is to have a day together as a class that doesn’t require travel or great expense.

The Class of 2021 has endured great upheaval during the last 15 months. The health and safety guidelines continue to test our creativity as we try to finalize our plans. Our students have been resilient, cooperative and understanding through it all; our goal is to make the end of their high school years memorable and positive. They deserve nothing less.

John Tague is currently Principal of BFA Fairfax High School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @jtague252

We Are Looking Forward to Next Year

This year has been a year like no other. As a learning community we have encountered numerous obstacles, adapted and reinvented many different ways that we engage in learning; demonstrating resiliency and flexibility daily.  I am so proud of our students, staff and community for their responses to this extraordinary event.

As we have been actively planning for the transition to a new school year, we asked a number of BFA elementary students what they are looking forward to most as we return to “normal.”  Check out this video with our students sharing their thoughts about returning to “Normal”:

As I have shared many times, I am so proud of our students and staff for the positivity and resilience they demonstrate each day. We have adapted and persevered through a challenging year and a half. I will never doubt the ability of our learning community to confront difficult situations and find ways to be successful. With that said, I agree with all of our students and look forward to a return to many of the things that make our school a community. 

Thomas Walsh is currently the Principal of BFA Fairfax Elementary School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY.

CO-WRITTEN BY:
Rhonda Siemons, BFA Technology Integrationist

W.I.N. Time at Gems

W.I.N. is the acronym for “What I Need” and there has never been a time when personalized instruction and support has been so important. Focusing on individual needs socially/emotionally and academically is critical.

Research studies indicate that the depth of learning loss throughout the pandemic has been widespread and evident as students participate in local grade level assessments. Targeted intensive instruction has proven effective and can be beneficial at all ages, but most specifically at younger ages.


The most effective programs focus on skill building, rather than homework, and occur at least once a day in addition to classroom instruction.  Students make the most progress when placed in small groups and when that instruction is provided by a highly qualified staff member. 


Gems Elementary has looked at student data, determined individual targeted skill areas and created small group instructional learning opportunities. A variety of practices to help move our students forward and to solidify skills that are foundational to future learning.


Students and staff enjoy their small educational groups with peers and love the connections and relationships that are being forged. 

Steve Emery is the Elementary Principal of Georgia Elementary Middle School. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him @Emery_Gems.

Black History Month, Every Month

In February, thousands of dedicated and well-meaning educators just like myself scour their classrooms and school libraries for books on Martin Luther King, Jr., Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and other famous Black Americans.  And, it’s not enough.

Rosa Parks

I fell into the trap, too, big time this year, as I visited many classrooms in my school carrying books on famous Black Americans and reading and discussing them with children as young as age three.  I even went so far as to buy four books on famous Black Americans for every student in my school to send home after I presented them in their classes.  I entered classrooms armed and ready to have courageous conversations about racism in a different way this year, more deeply than before, not to just read the books and call it a day.  I was pleased with myself for stepping out of my comfort zone and diving into this work school-wide, and I felt prepared by a barrage of professional learning aimed specifically at how to talk about race.

Late on a Thursday afternoon, I finished reading the fourth book in a National Geographic series for children on famous Black Americans to a third and fourth grade class of engaged and attentive students.  As with each of the previous books, I read the story with gusto, paused to discuss new vocabulary and the main ideas, to garner students’ thoughts on the subject and help them think critically about the material, and to check their understanding.  I had written a letter to families about each book, encouraging discussion at home, and I sent that letter home with every story.  I was pleased with myself, to say the least. Sounds great, right? And then, it all came crashing down.

“I sure am glad that we don’t have racism anymore,” one of our brightest fourth graders proclaimed. 

I was stunned, and it was in that very moment that I realized a fundamental flaw in how we teach students about racism.  Not only do we teach the concepts in isolation – often only in February when the calendar suggests – but we all too often teach about racism and discrimination uniquely as a historical problem.  My students could tell me exactly what I wanted to hear about Dr. King’s dream speech, Rosa Parks’s bravery on that bus in 1955, or how Harriet Tubman led slaves to freedom.  And, that’s where their knowledge ended.  With slavery abolished, Black Americans sitting freely on busses, and women being able to vote, my students celebrated the fact that equality reigns supreme, and that there would be no reason to even consider the lasting effects of our history, or that discrimination and racism might still plague our nation and our schools.

My heart sunk as I polled the class, asking them to raise their hands if they thought that racism still existed.  There was not a single hand in the air.  With ten minutes to spare, I tried desperately to give examples and convince the group that racism did not end with the events we had studied, and that we each need to play a part in the continued battle against modern day discrimination.  And they looked at me like I had three heads. 

I was deflated.  While I knew that sharing books and having discussions with students about historical racism wasn’t in and of itself bad, it wasn’t enough.  I had fallen short of my obligation to help them connect the historical context to the present day, and that had potentially done harm, not only to them, but to any marginalized population that still struggles with discrimination.  Passively and unintentionally, by only presenting the material in the past tense, I had led my students to believe that racism no longer exists.  I also risked some of my students not seeing themselves, and their struggles with race-related issues, in our learning.

In the coming days I worked feverishly to mend the error of my ways with individual and group conversations.  I tried desperately to help students understand that the work is not complete, that each of us needs to examine our own beliefs and how they impact others, and that racism very much still exists.  I hope they understood.  I believe they did, no matter how abstract it may have seemed.

Martin Luther King Jr.

I will teach differently next time.  I will discuss racism regularly, not just in February.  And, I will start with a modern day context and work my way back in time to help my students understand how we got to where we are.  Without question, it is important to celebrate the progress our country has made, and the brave individuals that led that work, and especially to recognize the continued work ahead.  In order to repair the damage of our history, we must first acknowledge the racism of our present. This learning is a necessary gift to all of our students, both as the future policy makers who will work to end modern day inequities, and as compassionate citizens who will lead the way in creating a world that is fair and just.

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.

GEMS Use Technology to Fabricate Frank Stella Inspired Artwork

As part of art class with Mrs. Dorsey Hogg, 4th Grade students learned about American painter, sculptor and printmaker, Frank Stella. Students found inspiration in Stella’s minimalist work and use of technology in his design process. You can learn more about this modern artist by accessing the Frank Stella’s Retrospective Page.

The students began the design process by sketching ideas on paper. Like Stella, they used their imagination to create organic shapes that would eventually transition into their final design.

After working collaboratively together on their original ideas, students then went to work with Mr. Eric Hadd, technology integrationist to create their drawings on the computer using CorelDRAW

Next, the students sent their digital renderings to the laser cutter in the innovation lab to cut the pieces needed for their cardboard sculptures.

Finally, students were able to take a set of cutouts designed by their group and personalize the pieces for their own unique creation.

Angelique Fairbrother is the Digital Learning Coach at Franklin West Supervisory Union. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her on Twitter @FWSUtech.

Save the Date for the FWSU Community Forum

FWSU’s Three Rs Plan: Reconnect ⇼ Reimagine ⇼ Reinvent

FWSU wants to hear from you! Join us on May 6 at 6:30pm via Zoom to share your ideas about the kind of educational experiences you want your children to have in FWSU as we look forward, together, to the 2021-2022 school year! 

*Click the image to zoom in.

Linda Keating is the Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment at Franklin West Supervisory Union. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY.

The Show Must Go On!

Music and the arts are an essential part of life and who we are as a BFA Fairfax community.  This month, I asked Mr. Wallace and Ms. Maynard to share some thoughts on our music program this year. I hope you will join me in thanking them (and all of our music and choral students!) for their adaptability, and for their willingness and dedication to keep music in all of our lives.

This year has seen the BFA Band program doing its utmost to be flexible and adaptive while still providing our young musicians with fun, engaging, and challenging rehearsals, working on repertoire ranging from Wind Ensemble standards to cool Bossa Novas, Frere Jacques to Star Wars, and all points between and beyond!  Thanks to the support and accommodation of our admin team, the parents of band students, and our colleagues in other subject areas, we’ve been able to roll with the many different punches this year has thrown at us, developing myriad new schedules and finding as many ways to rehearse as possible.  Most impressive throughout this process has been the way our students have continually stepped up and put in the effort they needed to, whether on Zoom, before school, or in their own practice time; without their effort, we wouldn’t have been able to find anything like the success we’ve achieved.

With all that said, the BIG NEWS, as many of you have likely heard, is that this month we’ve begun working in more and more in-person rehearsing!  While taking all the necessary precautions to do so safely, we’ve been able to get nearly all of our instrumentalists back in the band room for at least one sectional.  I can’t begin to express the joy and relief I’ve felt in finally having students making music TOGETHER, the way it’s meant to be made…and what’s even more rewarding is seeing the obvious joy our young musicians are feeling!

Looking ahead, we’re exploring options for our end of the year concert; the hope is that we might just be able to get the whole band back together for an outdoor, in-person recording session to craft a video performance for the Spring Concert (scheduled for June 3rd).  Unfortunately, the concert itself will likely have no in-person audience, but we’re extremely excited to be working with BFA Chorus program to do something a little different for this show.  Without giving away too much, I’ll just say that we’re entitling it, “BFA Music presents…A Night Among the Stars.” – Mr. Wallace

Ms. Maynard shares the following about Chorus:

As I think about our BFA Chorus students this year, a particular memory comes to mind.  One morning, at the beginning of chorus rehearsal, one of our singers wrote a quote on the board that has become our mantra:  “We’ll make it work…we always do!”  This statement embodies the attitude and perseverance of our music students this year.  Whatever has been thrown at them, whether it was singing outside while snowing, humming our parts when inside the building, playing choir chimes and Boomwhackers, or spending tons of time tapping out sight reading rhythms with drumsticks, chorus members have kept the music going.  Singers have continued to participate in “normal” activities such as auditioning for All State, even when we’re not sure what being selected will look like.  They have been very good at keeping the focus on what we can do and what the future can hold for us.

As you may know, we recently were given permission to sing inside the building with safety precautions.  The singers were so thrilled on the first day that we were able to sing together again (with lyrics and not humming) that they laughed and literally jumped up and down for joy. It was a moment that I will always carry in my heart as a reminder to never take for granted what means the most to us.  

We have been spending our time learning new pieces for our upcoming concert which will definitely be a “star-studded” event. In addition to our concert pieces, we’ve been working on a piece from the musical, “Dear Evan Hansen”.  We’ve got folk songs, a song from a movie, and even a Hall and Oates tune.  Not all of it will make the concert but we are having a blast, even taking student requests to pull pieces from past years to JUST SING!

I am so proud of our music students, the music department, our administration and classroom teachers for their flexibility and positive attitudes.  They have helped make this challenging year a year of growth and positive experiences.

We look forward to our upcoming concert on June 3rd.  Stay tuned for more information!

As the old saying goes, “If you can talk, you can sing; if you can walk, you can dance.” I am so grateful for all of our musicians for just rolling with it this year and continuing to make music.  And thank you to our music staff for continuing to support our musicians and singers to find joy and make music despite all of the tribulations of this year. And, I look forward to our upcoming performances!

…and speaking of performing arts, please remember that this weekend is the premier Help Desk!

Please read this note from the directing team of Help Desk:

We are so excited to perform our newest (virtually) LIVE show, Help Desk, this Friday and Saturday. Our cast is excited and READY! We are hoping for great audiences so we hope you are spreading the word to friends and family!

Show Times: Friday 7:00pm and Saturday 2:00pm and 7:00pm

Please visit the BFA Dramatic Arts Ensemble website to access all the Zoom webinar links to our show. 

The show is entirely free. If you feel inclined to donate, visit our Donations page and support one of the theater organizations there. The pandemic has been hard on live theater and many could use your support.  

While you are looking around our website, be sure to visit the Virtual Performance page to meet our cast members as well as the (More) Sponsors page to see the many businesses supporting our productions. 

____________________

I hope you will enjoy our performances and please have a restful and recharging April Break!

Justin Brown is the Principal at BFA Fairfax Middle School. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @jbrownenator.

Other duties as needed…

The job description for principals includes many of the tasks you would expect-supervise teachers, manage the budget, maintain student discipline- but, like every other job description, it includes “other duties as needed”. In a typical year, these “other duties as needed” might include supervising a school dance, cleaning up a hallway mess, or substituting for a teacher in an emergency. This year, two new “other duties as needed” have emerged: public health official and lunch delivery person. Both are necessary and important as we navigate through the school year in an effort to keep students and staff healthy and in school. To clarify, here are additional details to add to the principal’s job description.

Public Health Official:

Since the school closing last March, principals have worked with school nurses to better understand the health implications of the COVID-19 virus. As we planned for the return of students in the fall, we collaborated with them to make sure that our spaces were set up to allow for appropriate spacing between students, planned entry procedures (drop off and pick up routines, temperature checks), and worked together with the maintenance staff to ensure sanitation and cleaning products and processes were in place. This work was really just a variation on our regular summer planning to reopen schools. 

It wasn’t until our first positive COVID case was received that we started in the Public Health Official duty. The school nurses typically receive a call from the Department of Health regarding a positive test result. Sometimes the family may inform us directly, but our school nurses are always the first point of contact. They immediately advise the principal of the situation and we begin to work together to determine next steps. We establish when the person was last in the building and compare it to the time when they were contagious. We look at class lists and seating charts to determine who we may need to advise to quarantine. We speak to classroom teachers to determine what activities may have been occurring in the classroom as some activities (like a science lab) might require closer contact for more time. All of this information is shared with the Department of Health and we work to establish a plan. Do we need to quarantine an entire pod of students? Do teachers need to quarantine? Are buses involved? Can we keep school running as normal or do we need to go remote with certain impacted groups due to staffing needs?

Nurses Michelle Sheehan and Amy Black consulting with Principal Tom Walsh

Once we make these decisions, we start to contact families. We divide up the list and make direct calls to every family. We explain the situation, tell them dates for testing and return to school, and answer any questions they may have. Since COVID is unpredictable, we make these calls when we get information. Sometimes that means we are calling on a Saturday night, a Sunday morning, or even 5:30 on a Tuesday morning. We follow up with emails to each impacted family with the details of quarantine and then a general email to our entire school community. Throughout all of the calls we have made, families have been gracious, cooperative, and understanding. Our community knows that we all have to do our part to get through this and return to normal. 

While this duty is a new task for all of us, it has been made so much easier because of our school nurses. They have given up time on their nights and weekends to work through this process with us. Honestly, they do the majority of the work and have established a smooth process to make sure we don’t miss anything. Communicating information to families is not new for principals.  This year, as we work through the health crisis it has become a much more important and essential duty for us all.

Lunch Delivery Person

One of the guidelines for reopening schools was that school cafeterias could not be used as we normally would. We determined that students would eat their lunches in classrooms. This meant we had to figure out how to get meals to students since they were not able to access the cafeteria. We decided that principals would take on the task of delivering food. At first, it might not seem like a good use of a principal’s time, but if you consider that, in the past, we spent some portion of our day supervising the cafeteria, delivering food is not that drastic a shift.

Every day, we load up our delivery carts with (hopefully) the correct number of meals, milks, fruits and other accompanying items. The process became a little more complicated when our foodservice added additional options for students, but we worked through it!

. Mr. Brown’s Food Taxi

We move out and get the food to our students as quickly as possible. We use thermal bags to keep the hot foods hot and the cold food cold (who remembers the McDLT!). After three elevator rides and about 20 minutes, every student who needs lunch has a meal in their hands.

If I’m being honest, I prefer the food delivery option over cafeteria supervision. I get the chance to interact with every classroom and student every day in a pretty relaxed setting. I get feedback on which meals they prefer (no surprise-it’s chicken nuggets and pizza!) and, as a bonus, I get quite a few steps in along the way! 

Satisfied high school food delivery customers!

One thing that is certain about this change is that it could not have been possible without the flexibility of our teachers and staff. They have made adjustments to their day to support the students in their classrooms during what would normally be a short break in their day while students were in the cafeteria. We appreciate our staff for this and the thousands of other duties as needed they have taken on this year!

When we return to school in the fall, these two duties will certainly be reduced or removed, but there will most likely be some new “other duty as needed…” to take its place. Which, of course, is what makes the job of principal interesting, challenging, and exciting!

John Tague is currently Principal of BFA Fairfax High School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @jtague252

Bulletin Boards Help Tell Our Story

As I walked the hallways of our school the other day, I was noticing and appreciating the quantity and quality of information on display throughout our school. One of the important design features of the elementary school were bulletin boards throughout our hallways. It seems simple, but bulletin boards serve many purposes. I value our staff’s efforts to consistently and effectively use bulletin boards to foster a sense of community, celebrate our students, and communicate about learning.

Our students and staff spend a significant amount of their daily time in our school building. In a sense, our school building is a second home for all of us, and similar to our own homes, is personalized through photos, art work, and family memorabilia. It seems so simple, yet it requires time, effort, and a commitment to enhance our place of learning.

I am keenly aware that our families are not able to enter our school because of the pandemic. Nonetheless, we still hold the belief that bulletin boards foster a sense of belonging in a learning community, they make learning visible by displaying student work, and make our house a home. I value all of our students for the willingness to share their learning with all of us. And a big thank you to our dedicated staff for the extra time they spend making our school an engaging and supportive learning community.

Thomas Walsh is currently the Principal of BFA Fairfax Elementary School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY.