About Franklin West SU

School District in Fairfax, Fletcher, Georgia, VT. Apple Distinguished Program. League of Innovative Schools. "A belief in what is possible."

Great Peacemakers

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Prologue: I recently attended a Zoom session featuring the Peacemaker Projects of grade 7 students at BFA Fairfax. This joint effort between Emily Wills and Jennifer Skerrett featured an authentic humanities approach to what it means to be a peacemaker. The intersection of transferable skills, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and thematic humanities is a hallmark of FWSU’s commitment to innovative, personalized learning opportunities that integrate a global perspective.

Linda Keating, Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment at Franklin West Supervisory Union.

The Great Peacemakers

7th graders at BFA Fairfax recently completed their cross-curricular unit on Transferable Skills and The Global Goals for Sustainable Development.  Jenn Skerrett (social studies), Emily Wills (English language arts), and Ethan Wise (Teacher Apprenticeship Program intern) worked together to support students’ exploration of these two important areas of learning.  

In 2015, world leaders agreed to 17 Global Goals to help make the world a better place.  By 2030, the Goals hope to end poverty, fight inequality and address the urgency of climate change.

Meanwhile, in 2016 the Vermont Agency of Education put forth five overarching Transferable Skills to cut across content areas and complement the new proficiency-based graduation requirements.  The Skills are:  clear and effective communication, creative and practical problem solving, informed and integrative thinking, responsible and involved citizenship, and self-direction.

Over approximately 10 in-person class days, the 7th graders read the book Great Peacemakers by Heather Chase and Ken Beller.  This nonfiction text covers 20 people who have all taken different pathways to peace:  choosing nonviolence, valuing all life, honoring diversity, caring for the planet, or living peace.  

Students then selected one peacemaker to study more in-depth, and created a presentation to connect that peacemaker to the Transferable Skills and The Global Goals.  Then, they extended their thinking outward to link their peacemaker’s mission to an ongoing cause today.

In the past, Mrs. Skerrett and Mrs. Wills have combined their classes for this project and done presentations in a mixed group.  This year, COVID-19 protocols forced them to be creative.  While keeping their pods safe and separate, the teachers used Zoom to allow students in different classrooms to watch each other present and see each others’ slideshows.  This also made it possible for FWSU Curriculum Director Linda Keating to join the audience for some of the speeches.

7th grader Emma Foster said of the project, “it gave me a chance to learn about someone I had no idea existed.  I found it fun to speak in front of people about things I learned.  It let me put two concepts together, and connect Transferable Skills and Global Goals to Oscar Arias.  I really liked it.” 

Co-Written By:

Emily Wills, Grade 7 Language Arts Teacher at BFA Fairfax

&

Jennifer Skerrett, Grade 7 Social Studies Teacher at BFA Fairfax

Enjoy the break and Take Care of Yourself and Your Family!

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In more usual times, February break is a time for escape and recharging. For some, it is a time to get out on the ice and fish, go for a ride on the snow machine, or travel someplace warm.  This year, as we all know far too well at this point, is different. With the restrictions that the pandemic has imposed on us around who we can and cannot see, and where we can (and more often) cannot go, many of our usual routines are going to be different this February break.

However, as we head into the upcoming week, many of us have more time on our hands than usual; and with that I offer some resources and reminders about taking care of yourselves and your families. COVID fatigue is a real thing and it is too easy to get frustrated and “forget” the guidelines that we all have been working so hard to follow when our routines are upended (even by a vacation).

I was recently reminded of a conversation I had shared with Dr. Joelle Van Lent, PsyD in December about supporting our young people during these hard and often unpredictable times.  We divided this conversation into two 10 minute chunks. The first is about routines and supporting remote learning.  The second is about supporting our young people with worry and uncertainty about our situation. 

On February 15, 2021 we hosted an open workshop with Dr. Gillian Boudreau focused on helping your child manage anxiety. While we are unable to provide a recording of this session, we are happy to share several resources from this workshop.  We also highly recommend Dan Siegel’s and Tina Bryerson’s book: “The Power of Showing Up: How Parental Presence Shapes Who Our Kids Become and How Their Brains Get Wired.”

Also, I would be remiss if I did not include our fabulous BFA Nurses’ Newsletter.  Michelle, Amy and Nicole are constantly keeping us updated and informed on the latest news.  Their professionalism, tireless dedication to keeping our students and all of our staff safe (at all hours and through too many weekends to count) are legion. 

Nurse Amy Black caught mid-errand between buildings.
Nurse Michelle Sheehan supporting our elementary students and staff.
Nurse Nicole Ducharme keeping us informed about health updates and supporting our students.

“I would like to remind everyone to keep up all the good work they are doing: hand-washing, keeping distance, wearing their masks. We have noted that this helps keep us safe from Covid but also has kept the normal winter illnesses down. Mask on faces, six foot spaces, uncrowded spaces!”

—Nurse Amy Black

Please be safe during this break, the light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter. As always remember to wear your masks, keep your distance, wash your hands, and just hunker down and find joy in what we do have in our immediate surroundings.  We just need to hang on a little longer so that we can all come out of this together. 

Be well, take care and enjoy the February respite.

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 Seniors Recognized as VSADA and NIAAA Top Scholar-Athletes

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Each year the Vermont State Athletic Directors Association (VSADA), in coordination with the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA), awards ten scholarships to five male and five female senior student-athletes in Vermont. These scholarships “recognize the distinguished scholastic, leadership and sportsmanship attributes of high school student-athletes, and the importance of high school athletics in each student’s life” (NIAAA, 2021).

We are extremely proud to announce that BFA Fairfax Seniors Abigail Sweet and Jarrett Sweet have not only been selected as two of this year’s NIAAA and VSADA scholarship winners, but have also been named the top male and female recipients for the State of Vermont. 

They are the first students at BFA Fairfax to receive this top designation. 

Abigail and Jarrett’s applications will be forwarded to a regional selection committee where they will be evaluated among the state winners from the Northeast region, and ultimately among the top recipients from each of the 50 states to determine the 2021 National winners.  

In addition to their academic accolades and athletic talents, the scholarship committee took note of the extraordinary commitment to student leadership organizations and service initiatives demonstrated by both Jarrett and Abigail.   

As part of the application process, both Abigail and Jarrett wrote essays on the impact of high school athletics on their lives.  

“High School athletics has given me a platform to find the greatest qualities in myself that I want to see projected into the world.”  –Abigail Sweet

“The impact that sports have had on my life is irreversible.”  –Jarrett Sweet

BFA Fairfax is extremely proud of Abigail and Jarrett, and we congratulate them on this well-deserved award and honor.  We will all be rooting for them in the next stage of the NIAAA Student-Athlete Scholarship process! 

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

GEMS Student Works to Launch New School Weather Station

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This year GEMS  middle school students are getting more outdoor recess.  Each grade level is scheduled for a full 30 minutes of fresh air, movement, and social interaction. It is great to get outside, but it is winter, and this is Vermont. It gets cold and windy out there. Some days the weather just doesn’t cooperate and students need to have their recess indoors. To make this determination GEMS follows guidelines provided by the Vermont Principals Association for outdoor activities. When the “feels like” temperature or wind chill falls below zero degrees fahrenheit, it is no longer considered safe for outdoor activities. 

Until recently a windchill temperature reading was only available as reported online or on other media based on temperature readings  from other  locations.  Our school and playgrounds sit on a windy hillside and conditions may change drastically hour by hour.  For this reason it seemed like collecting our own weather data was long overdue. 

Middle School Principal Julie Conrad  initiated the discussion about involving students and the GEMS Innovation Lab in the project and soon a plan began to unfold. The school purchased an Acurite weather station and recruited 8th grade student Logan Grimm to collaborate with the Information Technology ( IT) and Maintenance Departments to get it up and running. 

Logan worked with John Picanza from the IT department to unbox, assemble the unit and connect it to the internet.  The station was then tested on a temporary basis for a full week. Finally, having proven reliability, GEMS Maintenance Staff Pete Metcalf installed a pole for permanently mounting the weather station by the Middle School playground.  After the pole was installed Mr. Clow, technology integrationist, then performed the installation. Throughout the process students and teachers collected video and pictures. Logan then used the media to create a GEMS TV feature video to showcase the entire project. 

In a very short time it has become routine for members of the school community to check the weather station data posted on the GEMS website! 

Logan’s Reflection on the weather station project:

The reason I wanted to work on this project is because I thought it would be a fun project and it was. 

I also wanted to work on this project because I like to take apart electronics at home and fix them and clean them up.  

I would say the most challenging part of the weather station project was connecting it to the internet. The reason is it seemed like every time it was trying to connect it failed the test. The way we solved the internet problem is we kept trying. At one point we glitched the app and got an error code. When we exited the error screen it automatically connected to the internet. 

I think it would be very helpful for families to have GEMS weather open at home so kids know, before they come to school, what the weather is at the school and wear the right gear. It is good to know the real temperature at school because below zero is too cold for recess. It could be warmer or colder at another weather station. 

I wanted to make a video of the process because I thought it would be a fun little video to put on GEMS TV to share with others. I have worked on GEMS TV for 2 years and  enjoy my innovation lab classes.  

Link to GEMS Weather Station Data 

Link to Logan’s Video

It’s Budget Season

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One of the things I appreciate most about living in Vermont is the changing of the seasons. I’m referring to the changes that occur in our landscape and lifestyles as we transition from winter to spring to summer to fall and back again. There’s an old joke that says that “Vermont has three seasons-winter, mud season, and the Fourth of July!”

As a school administrator, I want to shed light on an additional season that we experience every year – budget season!

Budget season typically begins in late October, but sometimes, during challenging financial times, it can begin shortly after students return to school in late August. Although the next school year is still months away, the budget needs to be finalized before the end of January, so administrators have to begin to think about what they might need or want for the next school year shortly after the current year starts.  

The process begins with a look at the cost of continuing all of our current programs and services. Increases in wages, insurance, maintenance and energy costs as well as decreased costs due to retirements, projects, or other efficiencies are taken into account as we develop our first draft of the budget. As a result of this work, we are able to calculate the percentage increase in spending needed to open school during the following year. While the dollar amount and percentage of increased spending are important, the calculation that most impacts families is the tax rate. The tax rate is calculated using the overall expenses, the number of “equalized” pupils, the yield rate and the common level of appraisal (CLA).  These numbers are determined by the State of Vermont and are released and adjusted throughout the budget process. In our early calculations, we use last year’s figures or our best estimates to arrive at a potential tax rate which shows the potential impact on homeowners in our town. 

This “level services” budget is shared with the School Board during a November meeting. The board looks at the information presented and considers the needs of the students and the potential burden on the taxpayer. Depending on the information, they will ask the administration to make recommendations for additional needs or for suggestions to reduce the overall expense for discussion at the next month’s board meeting. 

The administration works to meet the requests of the board over the next month. At the same time, the State releases information that makes the tax implication more clear. The “equalized pupil” rate is based on the number of students in our school. Students of different ages are weighted differently based on a formula developed by the state. We calculate our per pupil rate by dividing our expenses by the number of equalized pupils. The cost per equalized pupil and the percent change from the previous year are the numbers that appear on the ballot when our citizens vote on our annual budget. In recent years, BFA has seen a steady increase in the number of students and thus, an increase in equalized pupils.

The tax rate is determined using the cost per pupil and the yield rate. The yield rate is set by the state and basically represents the value of an educational dollar at a consistent rate throughout the state. The greater the yield rate, the lower the tax rate. Throughout this year’s budget cycle, the rate changed several times, but, fortunately, always to a higher amount. 

The Common Level of Appraisal (CLA) is a calculation meant to provide a consistent home valuation across the state and adjust the tax rate. If the tax value determined by the town’s listers is aligned with the real estate value of the property, the CLA is 100% and the town’s tax rate is unchanged. If there is a disparity between listed value and real estate value, the percentage decreases, which increases the tax rate. This year, the CLA in Fairfax is 85.93% which caused an upward adjustment in our tax rate.

Given all of that background information, what does our BFA budget look like this year?

We were able to create a level services budget for the FY22 school year. The school board and administration are confident that our present level of services and programs will support the needs of our students.

The Town Meeting ballot will ask:

Shall the voters of said school district approve the school board to expend $14,636,092 which is the amount the school board has determined to be necessary for the ensuing fiscal year?  It is estimated that this proposed budget, if approved, will result in education spending of $14,589.86 per equalized pupil.

This projected spending per equalized pupil is 2.29% higher than spending for the current year.

If approved, the tax implications for Fairfax homeowners will be approximately (prior to income sensitivity property tax adjustments):

Budget season wraps up with voting on Town Meeting Day, March 2, 2021. You can vote in-person (at BFA Fairfax from 7am-7pm) or request a mail in ballot from the Town Clerk’s office (call 849-6111). I hope that this information is helpful. Please reach out to any administrator or School Board member with your questions.

Once budget season is over, mud season can’t be far behind!

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

Never Underestimate Students

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I am constantly reminded about the resiliency of our students. Each day they come to school with a positive mindset, a willingness to be flexible, and the skills to adapt to this COVID-19 learning environment. Prior to the start of school, I wondered how students would be able to navigate all of the processes and procedures required to keep all of them safe. However, on that first day of school I was immediately reminded that, “we should never underestimate our students!”

As much as our school day is different as a result of COVID-19, there are many things that are the same. I spent the last few weeks looking for evidence of our students engaged in learning, play, and being part of our community. I observed many examples of our students demonstrating their resilience, kindness, and positivity.

Although on the surface school seems so different, my observations reminded me that our students still engage in being creative during Art, Music, and Physical Education classes:

Our students still have breakfast and lunch, but this happens in our classrooms. We wear our masks and wash our hands often:

We still have Morning Meeting, engage in wellness, mindfulness, and have classroom celebrations for demonstrating our school wide expectations:

Our students still engage in Literacy, Math, STEM/SS:

We still go outside for recess and enjoy winter time in Vermont:

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Finally we practice kindness and having a positive growth mindset so we can persevere through hard times. Even when we must learn remotely, our community adapts to this challenge.

I am so proud of our students, our staff, and our community for continuing to be flexible, supportive, resilient, and strong. The experience of navigating COVID-19 constantly reminds me that “we should never underestimate our students!

Be well.

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

STEM at Georgia Elementary School

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STEM is an interdisciplinary and applied approach that keeps students engaged and learning through a “plan, design, and improve” method of solving a problem. Throughout this flow students apply their current knowledge, build and test their thinking, and then make improvements from information they’ve attained.

STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.

The incorporation of these content areas along with “problem-solving” questions provides a great learning opportunity for students that becomes engaging, collaborative, and thought-provoking.


In the video linked below, students are discovering forces and interactions in the “light bulb lab”.  As they create and implement their own tests they incorporate new learned vocabulary words, such as friction, gravity, incline and motion, into their discoveries and understanding. 

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1ny6d81ri04Bq-tI4R7Kudw5ZyekUSZ7E/view?usp=sharing

Working kinesthetically provides a deeper knowledge of these terms and how they interact and affect one another. 

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Students collaboratively plan, discover, and share their learning with peers.

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  “I noticed, the heavier the object the more friction was applied”

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“I noticed each object created a different amount of friction”

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“Gravity’s pull on objects is increased as the incline increases”

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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 Importance of Student Voice

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As Superintendent serving the Franklin West Supervisory Union, I feel compelled to offer my thoughts on the Insurrection at the United States Capitol on January the 6th, 2021.  This is my 39th year as an educator and life-long learner.  As I watched the mob in support of the 45th President commit violence, destruction, and death to five Americans including a police officer at “The People’s House”, the news commentary continually referred to this chaotic scene with the word surreal.  On a personal level I would describe what I saw as horrific, to the incomprehensible level that when I attempted to discuss this event with our leadership team two days later I broke into tears unable to carry the conversation.  Fortunately our middle and high school principals were able to share the content of conversations that students shared utilizing a “student voice” supporting democracy.

As a life-long educator and learner it never fails to surprise me as to how powerful, intelligent, and thoughtful the student voice resonates, even in the eye of hateful speech and actions that defy any measure of human decency.  I am uplifted by administrators, teachers, staff, parents, and students who in the face of this unthinkable occurrence that the world is observing, strive to help our schools become incubators of inclusion and justice. 

Never underestimate the power of student voice.  Last spring our high school students with the thoughtful guidance from significant adults in the building formed the BFA Fairfax Racial Justice Alliance.  I realize the privilege that I have been afforded and applaud our students for taking a stand against systemic racism.  My belief is that all teachers (not just social studies teachers) can assist by engaging in meaningful dialogue to support the value of having a democratic school.  Elementary teachers, unified arts teachers and athletic coaches can provide important lessons on the art of winning and losing with sportsmanship and dignity.  Additionally, as a community of educators we can all assist to teach and model the tenets of purposeful debate.

In conclusion, I implore all stakeholders to reflect on the unseeable images that we witnessed to grow and learn cohesively as a caring community for our children, who learn from our words and actions.  One of the images that is unfortunately and indelibly in my memory is the photograph of a member of the mob carrying a confederate flag inside the United States Capitol.  If you look closely at that photo, in the background you will see a portrait of Senator Charles Sumner who was an abolitionist leading up to the Civil War.  Sadly history has a bad habit of repeating, Senator Sumner’s birthdate is the same as the Insurrection at “The People’s House” on January the 6th,1811. 

Quotable

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” —Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Enthusiastically Yours,

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

Celebrating Fletcher’s School Counselor: Lisa Coale

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February 1-5, 2021, is National School Counseling Week. The theme of this year’s celebratory week is, “School Counselors: All in for All Students!” The goal of the week is to focus public attention on the unique contribution of school counselors within U.S. school systems.

According to the website of the American School Counselor Association, “National School Counseling Week highlights the tremendous impact school counselors can have in helping students achieve school success and plan for a career.”

School counselor, Lisa Coale, came to Fletcher in 2019, following counseling internships at JFK Elementary School in Winooski and Colchester Middle School in Colchester. She earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Religion and Islamic studies with a minor in Arabic from Middlebury College and a Master’s Degree in Counseling and Development with a focus on school counseling from George Mason University. Ms. Coale worked as a kindergarten partner teacher for D.C. Public Schools before beginning her journey as a counselor.

In addition to serving as Fletcher’s school counselor, Ms. Coale also serves as the school’s Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) coordinator. In this role, she supports students and staff in establishing, teaching, and practicing school-wide expectations, analyzing behavior data and facilitating school-wide celebrations. 

We want to thank Ms. Coale for all of her hard work by letting her know a few words that our classes believe describe her:

Preschool: You are nice. You have a nice smile. You have fun with us. We learn things from you. 

Kindergarten:  We like your puppets. You teach us good things. You help us know how our friends feel. You do fun stuff with us. You have good songs. We love you.

First Grade: You are kind. You are a good teacher. You are sweet and good and the best. You are respectful and solve problems. You are caring, safe and responsible.

Second Grade: You are awesome. Thank you. You are kind. You are the best. We are proud of you. You are nice and helpful and hilarious. You are spunky and energetic.

Third Grade: You are kind, caring, respectful and safe. You are helpful and thoughtful You are sweet, lively and strong.

Third and Fourth Grade: You are nice. You are caring and kind. You are very helpful and loving and respectful. We are joyful because you are joyful.

Fifth and Sixth Grade: You are thoughtful, helpful and kind. You are caring and super flexible. You are empathetic, respectful and you follow all of the schoolwide expectations. 

“I feel so very fortunate to work with a supportive, collaborative and dedicated professional like Lisa Coale,” art teacher M.C. Baker said. “She is incredibly creative and flexible and always puts the needs of students and families first. She is a role model for all of us and she has been a shining light amidst a challenging year.”

“Lisa has a real gift for engaging students,” third grade teacher Tracey Godin said. “She is lively and energetic and knows just what to say and do to motivate students and help them gain the skills they need to be successful across settings. She not only teaches students, she leads by example.”

Thank you for all you do, Ms. Coale. We appreciate you and are grateful for your hard work!

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

Student Perspectives on Coming Back to School 4 Days Per Week

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Now that we have had our 5th and 6th grade students back four days per week for the past two weeks, things are almost starting to feel normal.  To adults, sometimes it is easy to think that we are making progress and strides, but it is important to also listen to our young people’s perspectives. 

This week, some of our 5th and 6th grade students were gracious enough to speak with me about their perspectives on the shift back to 4 days per week. I hope you will appreciate their thoughts as much as I have.

5th grade student Tim
It’s nice to be back with friends and in a bigger group. I do miss working at my own pace, though.

5th grade student Kayleigh
“It’s fun to be back, especially with friends. Sometimes people forget to keep their masks pulled up, but it’s good to not be stuck at home so much. I am able to understand the work so much better, especially because we practice it in class before we work on it at home.

5th grade student Ava
“I like it better being in school 4 days a week. We can get help whenever we need it. It’s easier to do stuff because we practice it first while we are in class.  Now we can relax when we’re at home.

6th grade student Ava
“It feels more normal. There’s more work. I learn better with more people around. I am excited to be back. I sort of like that we have to wash hands and people are keeping their distance and not breathing on you. It feels really safe. I like having our own space. Even though the desks are small, it’s better to keep organized.

6th grade student Theo
“It’s easier to learn when we are here (at school). We can ask more questions and it’s easier to use technology (sometimes the wifi is slow at home). It’s a lot easier to look up what I need for classes.  Sometimes it is a little difficult to see the board because of people’s heads and all of the plexiglass. But all of the hand washing is good because it keeps us healthy.

6th grade student Emily
“It’s very nice to be back, but it is louder sometimes with more people here. Class is really calm (but recess is still fun). It’s a good (just right) amount of work.

6th grade student Noah
I am surprised that the classroom is almost never out of control, even with more people.  Everyone has their own space with tiny tables.

6th grade student Cohen
“I liked being home, and it’s a little cramped now that everyone is back.  But now I’m getting more learning done. Now I’m in longer classes instead of watching videos and just doing work. It feels like things are getting back to normal now that we can see everybody.

6th grade student Isabel
It’s good to be back and that there is less remote work. When we’re at home we can’t interact with the teacher or each other. My parents can help, but they don’t know the work as well. Seeing so many people during recess is nice. I missed everyone after 10 months of not seeing them. Some of my closest friends weren’t connected with my family, so it’s nice to be able to see them now.  It’s awesome to be with the teacher and ask questions and get help if we’re confused. It feels easier to ask questions in the room. I think it’s better because it feels more focused.  It actually feels really safe to be back with everyone. Teachers are really working hard to help everyone follow the procedures to keep us safe.”

We are all grateful for the time we do have together in school. We continue to be thankful for all of our students, staff and families in their support of the work we do to keep everyone safe, healthy and in school.

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.