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.