About Franklin West SU

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

The FWSU Story: GEMS 4th Graders Work Through Design Process

For the past few weeks, students were challenged to learn how to design using rapid prototyping on the Cricut Maker.

Rapid prototyping allows students to develop, test and refine prototypes as part of a design process. This learning cycles helps them value the whole process and not just the end product in a meaningful way.

Instead of the traditional math lesson, Mrs. Leclair challenged her students to explore geometry concepts and how they could be integrated into a practical application. During the first part of the process, students learned how to use technology to manipulate various shapes to further understand measurement, ratio and properties of geometry.

Next, using a student centered design process, the students began to expand what they learned in order to build graphic art in the form of a sun catcher to be cut on the Cricut Maker. Since this electronic die cutter works quickly with everyday inexpensive supplies, it allows the students to design, and then redesign after evaluating their original works.

Rapid prototyping allows students multiple opportunities to get their designs right. There is no expectation to get it right the first time. In fact, much learning is occurs through students finding errors in their original plans. They are allowed to “fail forward”. By providing young innovators additional chances, provides a learning environment that takes away a lot of pressure. In addition, it helps build perseverance in students.

Angelique Fairbrother, FWSU Digital Learning Specialist
Angelique Fairbrother, FWSU Digital Learning Specialist

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 FWSU Story: May is Better Speech and Hearing Month

Some Words From Your Fletcher School Speech-Language Pathologist

Happy May! Do you know why speech therapists love May so much? It’s because May is BETTER SPEECH AND HEARING MONTH! That’s right, the month you’ve all been waiting for, and with it some tips for how to enrich your child’s speech and language development.

We all know the benefits of technology and love our cell phones and tablets. There are some creative and wonderfully stimulating screen activities for kids that, in moderation, can enhance learning. But, the best way parents can foster language development is simply by having unhurried, attentive conversation with our kids. The back-and-forth sharing of our thoughts and feelings about what is going on around us, and the relating of recent events, provide not only relevant and necessary vocabulary and grammar, but essential social and emotional bonding, which are the foundations for language and literacy development. It is not recommended for any child under the age of 18 months to play on a screen. Below is a link for the American Academy of Pediatrics if you’d like to learn more about responsible screen time for children:


Of course, reading to our children is excellent for speech and language development, but did you know that reading different versions of the same stories is one of the single best things you can do to teach vocabulary and grammar? If you see a copy of “Jack and the Beanstalk” at a yard sale, don’t just think, “We already have it.”  If it’s a different version from the one you already have, pick it up! Talk about the similarities and differences between them, including the artwork. So much appreciation for words, stories and art can come from this simple interaction. Stories with rhythm, rhyme and repetition are the best because of their musical qualities.

Music, singing, and playing with words and language (like speaking in Pig Latin) are known to stimulate neural pathways that foster speech and language. And, that doesn’t mean only for preschoolers.  All through elementary and middle school these activities are delightful and meaningful. We all learn while having fun and experiencing novelty. Is your child wearing flip flops? Call them “flop flips” and notice the reaction.

Of course, all of this rich language stimulation needs a good set of ears to take it all in with. It is important to protect our kids’ hearing. Earbuds are popular and even used in schools.  We must remember that the distance from the sound to the eardrum is what can cause damage to our hearing. If the sound is close to the ear, it must not be too loud. Please monitor your children when they are wearing earbuds. Do not allow them to have the sound too loud.

Enjoy authentic conversation and stories with your children and you will be well on your way to teaching them effective communication and fostering their emotional well being.

Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions about how to facilitate your child’s speech and language development. I have many ideas and resources to share and love to share my passion for this topic with any interested person!

Talk, rhyme, sing and be silly!

Contributed by Phyllis Quarles, M.A., CCC-SLP, Fletcher Elementary School Speech Language Pathologist

The FWSU Story: BFA Fairfax 5th Grade Pasta Lunch

As the final weeks of school rapidly pass, there are many learning experiences and traditions that provide opportunities to celebrate and mark the end of the year. One of my favorite events is the 5th Grade Pasta Lunch.

This past Friday, students and staff sat down to break bread, enjoy each other’s company and the fruits of their labor.  On the menu was homemade pasta, sauce, salad, bread, and desserts.

Earlier in the week students learned and participated in the process of making pasta. Homemade pasta is something everyone should make at least once in their lifetime. Our students engaged in the four part process of mixing and kneading the dough and then using a pasta cutter before placing the pasta on a drying rack.

I appreciate this experience because it allows students the opportunity to learn important life skills, collaborate with others, and participate in the important ritual of sitting together and sharing a meal. For me there is something special about coming together and eating, talking, laughing and enjoying each other’s company. In this busy era of technology and crazy schedules, I find value in the simplicity of sitting and eating together.

Thank you to the 5th grade team for your continued efforts to foster a positive learning community, a strong sense of belonging, and the value of making and participating in eating a homemade meal. Bon Appetit!

Thomas Walsh is currently Principal of BFA Fairfax Elementary School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @educatamount

The FWSU Story: Read to A Dog at BFA

Fozzie enjoying a story

As a special educator, I am always looking for engaging and unique interventions to support my students’ academic and social-emotional growth. Luckily, I was approached by middle school educator Emily Wills, who is currently on sabbatical completing her Masters in Education, with the idea of having her dog Fozzie, who is training to become a therapy dog, work with some of my students. It seemed like a natural fit for students to participate in Read to A Dog activities and I was curious how reading to a dog would support their fluency and build self confidence.

There have been several studies in recent years that indicate that reading to a dog (or any pet) can increase reading skills. The University of California Davis Study from 2010 found that children’s reading fluency increased 12% after a 10 week intervention where the students read to a dog for 15 minutes. Another study, conducted by a doctoral student at National-Louis University in 2009, found that students who participated in the Sit Stay Read program increased their oral reading fluency by 20%.

Fozzie with his Kong and a book on Epic

Every week, since returning from February vacation and ending just before April vacation, students in my learning environment have had the opportunity to practice reading a book about dogs with Fozzie. Our first week of Read to A Dog students had a lot of questions about Fozzie as they read the book Hero Therapy Dogs. By week two, each student was now practicing their own book about a dog to read. On week three, each student’s prosody (expressive reading) began to grow as they read their stories to Fozzie.

Fozzie with Mrs. Wills and students

With each week, the students’ confidence grew and their fluent reading became more natural. On the last week, their reading was far stronger than it had been when we started. At the end of our final Read to a Dog day, students shared that reading to Fozzie made them feel less nervous. They noted that Fozzie never laughed at them when they made a mistake. One student shared that she felt less anxious reading to Fozzie while another said that it was easy to read to Fozzie “since he’s super cute!”

Fozzie getting some love

It was a joy to observe the growth in these students as they participated in Read to a Dog. This experience has proven to me that reading to a pet is the best way to increase reading fluency and reading confidence. Please check out the Fairfax Library page to learn more about upcoming Read to a Dog opportunities.

Fozzie and Mrs. Wills

Contributed by BFA Fairfax Middle School Special Educator, Marcy Perrotte

The FWSU Story: Brancher Literacy Project Supports Fletcher’s Fledgling Readers

A Fletcher Elementary School literacy project has helped the town’s youngest residents spread their wings with books and reading this school year. The school’s Brancher Literacy Project distributed nearly 500 high-quality children’s books to Fletcher resident three and four-year-olds, most of whom do not yet attend the school.

The name of the program is significant. A brancher is a baby falcon who has not yet learned to fly and hops from branch to branch in a tree. Fletcher School’s mascot is the falcon. The Brancher Literacy Initiative name was created for the town’s emergent readers who are just learning about print but may not be reading yet themselves.

In August, 2018, the school received a $3,000 federal grant to fund the project, including books and the necessary supplies to assemble and mail the monthly packages. In each mailing, participants received between six and twelve books to share at home and keep.

“Axel has absolutely adored the Brancher Project, as have I,” parent Liz Tower said. “When the package comes and I tell him he has new books, he can’t wait to see what they are. He wants me to read all of them to him immediately, and then he tells me in what order he likes them. He also loves that he’s getting mail addressed to him. He feels so important.”

The school’s goals for the project included supporting children’s love of stories and reading, building increased language and vocabulary and encouraging families to spend time together with quality children’s literature.

“All four of my kids get excited when the new books come home every month,” parent Deedra Austin said. “Rosa takes the envelope and hugs it to her chest before giving it to me to open. She is even trying to read and say what we have said. She didn’t try to talk a lot before getting the books, and I have also noticed that her older siblings are getting more fluent in their reading out loud. There have been many improvements for all of them since the start of this project.”

“The research is clear about early language and literacy,” Instructional Coach Denette Locke said. “The greatest amount of brain growth occurs between birth and age five. In fact, the brain triples during the first year of life and is almost fully formed by age five. Yet, most of our resources support children beginning in kindergarten. Projects like this bridge that gap. The earlier children begin to hear and use language, and enjoy stories, the more success they will have later on.”

“These books have given my children a way to interact with each other in a positive way,” Austin said. “In a way that doesn’t involve a TV or Kindle screen. This project gives quality entertainment that can easily be shared or taken on an outing with ease. Rosa is always grabbing a book to look at, or to have someone read to her. Her brothers and sisters love reading to her.”

“Experts are in nearly complete agreement that babies and young children should routinely experience shared books during the first weeks and months of life,” Locke said. “It builds motivation, curiosity and memory, in addition to a whole host of reading and language skills.”

The school is currently exploring funding to continue the project in the fall.

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

The FWSU Story: Fletcher Students Take A Closer Look At Behavior

Fourth and fifth graders at Fletcher Elementary School spent some time analyzing their year-long cumulative behavior data during a Guidance class last week. With the support of School Counselor Lisa Coale and Classroom Teacher Rebecca Cardone, students took a closer look at their collective behavior referrals by day of the week, time of day and problem behavior. 

The school tracks behavior referrals online using a platform called SWIS, the School-Wide Information System, which allows staff to sort and view data many of different ways. SWIS is part of a larger structure called Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, or PBIS. 

“We can drill down and really look closely at the specifics of both positive and rule-breaking behavior,” Coale said. “As a result, we can continue to support students’ successes and put in place some very specific targeted interventions to help clear up any challenging situations.”

SWIS allows staff to analyze behavior referrals time of day, number of referrals per day per month, location, day of the week, problem behavior, grade and student.

During the same timeframe last year, students in this class had a total of 75 behavior referrals, classified as either Buddy Classroom visits (minor behaviors) or Office Referrals (more serious or ongoing behaviors.) This year students have reduced their referrals to 17. 

“Using data helps students identify exactly what they are doing well and what they can work on,” Coale said. “Analyzing their own data and helping to create a plan of action promotes buy-in and makes it more likely that they will follow through on the strategies put in place.”

Students worked in three groups, each analyzing one aspect of the data. In the end, one student from each group reported out to the others on their observations. We invite you to watch their video report, shared here. 

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

The FWSU Story: GEMS Art Show and Art Night 2019!

On Friday April 12th GEMS celebrated our student artists. We hung art work from all the students from kindergarten to 6th grade and featured art from the 7th and 8th grade choice art classes. The show was open for all the classes to enjoy during the day, then at night we held an art fair for families to enjoy the art show and make art together!

Kindergartners are drawing their favorite art work during art class.

The GEMS art department would like to thank the GEMS community for making Art Night 2019 such a great success! A big shout out to all the parents, staff, former staff, and student volunteers who helped set up, lead art activities, and clean up the entire show after all the fun. And of course a big congratulations to all the student artists whose hard work was admired by all!

If you missed the art show and art night this year, I hope we see you next year!

Steve Emery is the Elementary Principal of Georgia Elementary Middle School. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY.