THE FWSU STORY: BFA Fairfax Welcomes Incoming Sixth-Graders to Middle School with Orientation Guide

BFA Fairfax sixth-graders were off to a great start this fall and spent a lot of time learning the routines and expectations of middle school. Moving from the elementary building to the middle school wing can sometimes be a little intimidating, so the sixth-grade staff always takes it slow at the beginning of the school year to ensure a successful transition.

New sixth graders are welcomed with an orientation presentation designed by their peers and teachers.

New sixth graders are welcomed with an orientation presentation designed by their peers and teachers.

Four students who registered just as school started were a part of this process and received the benefit of our beginning-of-the-year activities. After about a month into the school year, the sixth grade received several new students and teachers and students did our best to make the new students feel welcome. However, after a couple of days, we realized a few things had been forgotten here and there and wanted to do more to help our new students feel more confident and successful with their transition.

Students greet incoming sixth graders.

Welcoming new incoming sixth graders.

Librarian overview

Providing information to new students on how to navigate resources such as the library.

Mrs. Carpenter met with the most recent “new to BFA student” and a couple of other sixth-grade peers to brainstorm the issue. It was decided that we needed a better, more personalized orientation guide to provide to students and families when a new member joins our grade, in addition to the Middle School Handbook.

Getting comfortable with lockers just takes a bit of practice. Here are some instructions to get started.

Getting comfortable with lockers just takes a bit of practice. Here are some instructions to get started.

Peyton Metruk and new student Hailey Shoram took on the project and immediately jumped in with many new creative and outstanding ideas. The two students tailored the orientation guide to the BFA Fairfax middle school and collaborated with Melinda Carpenter (6th Grade Science/Geography Teacher), Principal Tom Walsh, and Nichole Wehman (5-8 Guidance Counselor) to make sure they included everything a new student may need to know or wonder about coming to Fairfax.

Introduction to Science & Geography with Mrs. Carpenter.

Introduction to Science & Geography with Mrs. Carpenter.

Peyton and Hailey questioned each other, peers and adults that support the 6th grade, independently problem-solved and checked in with Mrs. Carpenter for feedback, and then made improvements. Both students demonstrated a high level of leadership by making appointments with staff for pictures and interviews, learning new technology, and by holding themselves accountable for high-quality work with notes and checklists. Peyton and Hailey used excellent communication and presentation skills to complete the 42 slide project and Peyton spent many hours of time outside of school to ensure exceptional quality, a testimony to her dedication and engagement.


The overview also included details about school lunch.

Specifically, the Google Slides orientation will be used to introduce new students to teachers, learning spaces, expectations, unified arts, voice levels, field trips, flexible learning opportunities, and much more around BFA Fairfax. Toward the end of their work, Mrs. Carpenter asked Hailey and Peyton to reflect on the experience. Hailey, our new student, thought the project really helped her get to know the sixth grade even better and thinks it is a great resource for new kids coming to Fairfax.

Unified arts opportunities like chorus and music were also featured in the presentation.

Unified arts opportunities like chorus and music were also featured in the presentation.

Peyton described her excitement at working on a project that enriched her writing and communication skills, which are personal goals for her. When asked about which step in FWSU’s Action Plan best demonstrated her work with the project, Peyton identified Leadership and Flexible Learning Environments as clear indicators of her engagement in the BFA Fairfax Sixth Grade Orientation Guide. Many thanks to Peyton and Hailey for an excellent and informative resource that BFA’s staff will use for many years to welcome new students!

THE FWSU STORY: BFA Fairfax Senior Shannon Mahoney Named Vermont Presidential Scholar

On January 8th, the recognition ceremony for Vermont’s Presidential Scholars was held at the Statehouse in Montpelier. Governor Phil Scott welcomed the students and recognized their contributions to their schools and communities as well as their commitment to learning. Among those honored was Bellows Free Academy Fairfax senior Shannon Mahoney.

Governor Phil Scott

Governor Phil Scott announces Vermont’s Presidential Scholars.

Shannon was one of the 20 students selected from the many nominees across high schools in Vermont. Shannon’s work at BFA Fairfax on the Farm to School project is well documented and was certainly a part of her qualification and selection, but there are so many more attributes that make her a worthy recipient of this honor. Shannon represents BFA Fairfax through her academic excellence and participation in a variety of extracurricular activities that benefit our students and community.

Shannon Mahoney, Vermont Presidential Scholar

Shannon Mahoney, Vermont Presidential Scholar

Shannon has been a committed athlete throughout her years at BFA. She has played soccer and skied with our Nordic Ski team. This year, Shannon is the captain of the Nordic Team. Shannon has served as an officer and leader in student government as well. Every year she has been either a class, student council, or National Honor Society officer (and even held multiple offices simultaneously at times). Shannon has been a member of Peer Support, helping other students in need. Of course, Shannon was also the founder and president of the Farm to School Club.

Shannon balances her academics, participation, and leadership with a strong desire to prepare for her future. She has attended the National Youth Leadership Forum in medicine and is currently working towards her LNA certification at the Northwest Technical Center. Shannon plans to continue her education and pursue a career in nursing.

Shannon Mahoney and family.

Shannon Mahoney pictured with her family.

BFA Fairfax is honored to join the Vermont Agency of Education and Governor Scott in honoring Shannon as a Vermont Presidential Scholar. Shannon Mahoney exemplifies the spirit of learning at BFA and is truly a kind, caring, nice and deserving young person.

BFA Fairfax is proud of you and your accomplishments, Shannon!

THE FWSU STORY: A Closer Look at Sportsmanship at BFA Fairfax

“One man practicing sportsmanship is far better than a hundred teaching it.” ~Knute Rockne

BFA Fairfax Bullets

Student fans cheer for the BFA Fairfax team!

The start of 2018 has brought record-setting cold temperatures to our Fairfax community. On any given winter night, however, there is no better place to escape the chill than at a basketball game in the Richard A. Brown gymnasium at BFA Fairfax.  Our school has a long history of possessing one of the most spirited fan bases at athletic events, regardless of sport, and our teams have garnered numerous league and state sportsmanship awards over the years.  Whether at a regular-season soccer game, a football playoff, cross country, and Nordic races, or a state championship ultimate, baseball, or softball game, our crowds are large, loud, and demonstrate immense school and community pride.  However, fan spirit is most on display during the winter basketball season.  Bleachers packed with adults and students, a talented cheerleading squad, and eager athletes playing the sport they love all contribute to the high energy environment that the Richard A. Brown gymnasium is known for.  With tonight being the eve of our home opener of the 2017-18 high school basketball season, this serves as a great time to revisit the concept and expectations of positive sportsmanship.  

BFA Fairfax has enjoyed a long tradition of community and parent support for its athletic programs.

BFA Fairfax has enjoyed a long tradition of community and parent support for its athletic programs.

Merriam-Webster defines sportsmanship as “conduct (such as fairness, respect for one’s opponent, and graciousness in winning or losing) becoming to one participating in a sport.”  This concept also carries over to those spectating a sport as well.  In more basic terms, sportsmanship is about treating each other, whether teammates, opponents, fans, coaches or officials, with respect.  But in the heat of a pressure-filled close game or match, what does this look like?  Here are some examples to consider:

Student Athletes at BFA Fairfax celebrate victory!

Student-Athletes at BFA Fairfax celebrate victory!


  • Win AND lose with dignity and respect for your team, your opponent, the officials, and yourself.
  • Know and follow the rules of play.  
  • There’s a difference between being the better player and showboating.
  • Embrace “we” before “me.”  Applaud the successes of your teammates and opponents as if they were your own.
  • Keep in mind, body language is EVERYTHING.
  • When times get tense, walk away.
  • Always end with a handshake, regardless of the outcome.  
  • Have FUN!
Students cheer teammates after 1000 point score!

Students cheer teammate’s success!

Student Fans

  • Have creative theme nights (whiteout, blackout, tropical, holiday-themed, etc).
  • Make up and take part in group cheers.
  • Learn the cheerleaders’ cheers and join in.
  • Be courteous at all times with players, coaches, officials, and other fans.
  • Refrain from use of foul or abusive language/behaviors
  • Exhibit self-control at all times.
  • Keep comments POSITIVE.  Focus on the action, NOT the individual players.
  • Involve EVERYONE.  Set the example and get fans of all ages involved in positive behavior.
  • Have FUN!
A big win for BFA Fairfax Bullets Football!

A big win for BFA Fairfax Bullets Football!

Parents/Family members

  • Shout words of encouragement, not directions, from the sidelines.
  • Keep comments positive.  Don’t bad mouth coaches, players, officials, or other fans. 
  • Applaud good plays regardless of what team or player makes them.
  • Keep perspective.  It’s a game.  Even if your team loses every game, it’s unlikely to ruin your child’s life or chances of success.  
  • Set a good example in your behavior.  Your children ARE watching and listening.
  • Have FUN!
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The annual Pink game is a great example of BFA Fairfax sportsmanship on display.

As with every school year, the start of 2017-18 has been filled with many athletic accomplishments.  We have experienced the thrill of victory and the frustration of defeat.  Although we have experienced many positive examples of good sportsmanship this school year, there is always realistic room for improvement.  Our Girls JV and Varsity basketball home opener on Wednesday night will undoubtedly continue the long tradition of school spirit at BFA Fairfax.  Whether in attendance as a student-athlete, parent, family member, or fan, the following words are ones to embrace in creating an ongoing culture of positive sportsmanship at BFA Fairfax:

Everybodys favorite mascots Rooney and Gumdrop at BFA Fairfax

BFA Fairfax Bullets are sailing through another great winter season under the leadership of Athletic Director Geri Witalec-Krupa (center) and team mascots Gumdrop and Rooney!

“The score of any athletic event is generally forgotten over time, but the actions of players, coaches and spectators are remembered.  The next time you attend a high school game, think of how history will remember you.  Good sports show us how to play the game.” ~University Interscholastic League

THE FWSU STORY: BFA Fairfax Students Communicate Lake Champlain Basin Science #AGU17

BFA students Lily Sweet, Malachi Witt, their teacher Mr. Lane and Project Manager for St. Michael’s College VT EPSCoR CWDD Livia Donicova traveled to the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in New Orleans, LA.


At the largest geophysical conference in the world, Malachi and Lily presented a poster and talked to a few of the 23,000+ scientists in attendance about their research.

Logos for CWDD, BREE, and VT EPSCOR

Malachi and Lily have been conducting research this past year on phosphate movement and factors contributing to stream health in Black Creek.  Black Creek begins north of Cambridge, VT and flows 27 miles or so along Route 108, through East Fairfield and Sheldon. It is the last major tributary to the Missisquoi R. prior to its outflow into Missisquoi Bay.

Research on phosphate movement at Black Creek.

Images taken of the headwaters, near midpoint, and the mouth of Black Creek.

Their research project is part of a statewide (a few teams from Puerto Rico and New York are also included) program based out of St. Michael’s College and the University of Vermont.  The VT EPSCoR program is a National Science Foundation-funded program designed to encourage research nationwide.

Lily Sweet and Malachi Witt at their poster in the Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, LA

Lily Sweet and Malachi Witt at their poster in the Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, LA

Their trip to New Orleans was funded by the VT EPSCoR /CWDD/BREE program.  In addition to presenting their poster through the Bright STaRS Program At AGU Lily and Malachi had a full schedule of poster presentations, oral presentations, and lectures by scientists from around the world.  Much of the “fresh, hot science” from the convention continues to be reported in the national and international media.


Malachi Witt discusses phosphate movement with a visiting scientist at the AGU poster hall in New Orleans, LA

The Shoemaker Lecture on Tuesday, 12/12 was a highlight for Lily.  Titled, “ The New Jupiter as Revealed by Juno” it featured information and photographs from Juno’s mission to Jupiter never before seen by the public.

Image of the surface of Jupiter taken by Juno Mission shown at AGU Shoemaker Lecture.

Image of the surface of Jupiter taken by Juno Mission shown at AGU Shoemaker Lecture.

Malachi’s favorite part of the convention was the Sharp Lecture, “From Tectonics to Tractors: New insight into Earth’s changing surface” This talk was about weathering, erosion, and soil.  It highlighted his interest in agriculture research. In addition to making connections and accessing current data for use in the science classes he teaches at BFA Mr. Lane met with a few of the scientists he works within Permafrost research.

Dr. Vladimir Romanovsky from University of Alaska-Fairbanks Geophysical Institute presents research indicating a rise in permafrost temperatures across Alaska

Dr. Vladimir Romanovsky from University of Alaska-Fairbanks Geophysical Institute presents research indicating a rise in permafrost temperatures across Alaska

During the 5-day conference, Mr. Lane and his students had a few hours to explore the French Quarter.  This area is the oldest part of New Orleans and dates from the early 1700’s when the city was under Spanish rule.  It features early colonial French and Spanish architectural, as well as a French Market and Jackson Square.


Malachi, Lily and Livia in Jackson Square, site of the acquisition in 1803 of Louisiana territory pursuant to the Louisiana Purchase.

Attending and communicating science at AGU Fall Meeting was a great experience. We want to say a huge thank-you to the VT EPSCoR, CWDD, BREE Program for this memorable opportunity as well as providing students from around Vermont with authentic research experiences.

THE FWSU STORY: A Closer Look at the Arts at BFA Fairfax Elementary

The last few weeks have provided multiple opportunities for our elementary students to showcase their hard work and performance skills to authentic audiences and our students have not disappointed.


The cast of Hansel & Gretel

This time of year is always full of events that engage our community in celebrating our music, visual, and dramatic arts programs. Whether a band concert, a holiday choral concert, a showcase of student artwork posted throughout the school, or a drama performance, our students are challenging themselves to learn and grow.

3-5 Grade Concert

3-5 Grade Concert


3-5 Grade Concert

The Arts programs at BFA Fairfax have steadily grown over the past few years through the opportunities and numbers of students participating. I am so proud of our students for enthusiastically embracing the opportunities to act, sing, play music, and create artwork.


Elementary Artwork

Elementary Artwork

Elementary Artwork

We are fortunate to have amazing staff members that foster our students’ interest and share their passion for the Arts.


K-2 Concert

Finally, a huge thank you to our community for providing the financial support, continuing to attend our concerts and plays, and admiring our emerging artists.

Elementary Artwork

Elementary Artwork

The past few weeks have served as another reminder to me that the Arts are thriving at BFA Fairfax Elementary!

Principal Tom Walsh

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

THE FWSU STORY: BFA Fairfax High School Expanding Opportunities for Student Voice & Choice

The YATST team is working hard this year to strengthen student voice and agency and to expand communication, understanding, and collaboration between our faculty and student body regarding Proficiency-Based Learning.

YATST, which is part of Vermont’s Up for Learning, stands for Youth and Adults Transforming Schools Together. The BFA Team includes 4 sophomores, 5 freshmen, and 5 adult advisors: Mahlia Parsons, Natalie Bates, Kiana Labor, Theresa Trenholm, Abby Sweet, Jarrett Sweet, Samantha (Sammy) Bidwell, Samantha (Sam) Langlois, Delaney Sweet-Werneke, Danielle Kicsak, Harold Vance, Dave Buckingham, Mark Ladue, and Linda Keating.

The BFA High School YATST Team has been especially busy over the past several months working to understand the impact of previous student engagement in Proficiency-based Learning, gather information and ideas from stakeholders, and to fine-tune their knowledge and skills in developing a greater sense of agency for high school students.

Analyzing the Data

The Team met in September to analyze data from previous years. The data included a survey done by Communicating High School Redesign in 2015/16, Mindset, Motivation, and Metacognition (M3) in 2016/17, and All-School Dialogue Day in June 2107. The analysis was used to both identify the need for a Freshman Dialogue Day and spearhead the planning.

Freshman Dialogue Day

During Freshman Dialogue Day, the Team led their peers in making some agreements about how the morning would proceed. First, they assessed a current level of understanding of Proficiency-based Learning, followed by a dialogue protocol called Wagon Wheels that guided students’ response to an article on rigor, relevance, relationship, and responsibilities (the Four Rs). Finally, the Team asked the Freshmen class 5 questions as part of a Chalk Talk, which is a protocol for students to silently get their responses out on large paper. The questions were:







Design Day at Lamoille Union High School

Design Day allowed the team to think more deeply about the data collected from the Freshmen and get support from another high school YATST team, our hosts at Lamoille. The Teams used modified Consultancy Protocols to explore several dilemmas, ideas, and questions.



YATST Facilitator Training

Most recently the Team attended a facilitation training at Randolph High School facilitated by Marissa Barbieri from the Bay and Paul Foundation. Students were able to practice several new protocols developed by the National School Reform Faculty. The Team chose the Affinity Protocol to work with, which actually helped refine our goals and determine viable action steps for the next phase of the student leadership work.

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LKDEC011 (1)


Linda Keating


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

THE FWSU STORY: BFA Fairfax Students Experience World Cultures at the International Festival

On December 1st, students in BFA World Language classes attended the International Festival in Essex.


The International Festival is held in Essex each year.

The students were working to meet the Culture Proficiency in the World Language Proficiency Based Graduation Requirements. The International Festival is sponsored by the Vermont Performing Arts League as “annual celebration of cultures from around the world, bring their crafts, food, music, and dance to our doorstep.” The field trip was organized by BFA World Language teachers Kerri Brien and Alana Torraca.

“It was a great experience at the Vermont International Festival to see the other cultures around world and experience what they experience.” -Student

Students learned more about world cultures through this experience.

Students learned more about world cultures at the International Festival.

The students’ goal was to answer the question: “What is culture?” and help to create a diversity statement for BFA.  When they arrived, the students entered an exhibition hall filled with crafters from over 40 countries. They interacted with the crafters and were able to purchase items for themselves and others.


Items from around the world were available for purchase and were on display.

“It was exciting to move in sync toward a cultural competency goal with our growing World Languages program!  I witnessed BFA Fairfax students at the Vermont International Festival tasting international foods they’ve never seen before and bringing home the unique crafts from a variety of countries.” -Kerri Brien, Spanish teacher


Musicians provided students with an intercultural learning experience during the trip.

Within the main hall, there were two performance spaces featuring a variety of musicians from different cultures. Several students took advantage of the opportunity to dance along with other students in attendance.


The international food was an incredible experience for our students!

Near one of the performances spaces, the Festival had a food court where students were able to purchase ethnic food from countries including Ethiopia, Austria, Africa, Turkey, Tibet and the Philippines.

Students presented their learning to the rest of the school.

Cultural Ambassadors presented their learning to the rest of the school.

“Because Fairfax is such a small school the International Festival was a great way to view all the cultures we don’t usually see.” -Student

After a morning spent exploring culture, the students returned to BFA to begin the work of making meaning out of their experience-which is where learning happens. They created visual representations of culture. They surveyed other students and staff about diversity. The students displayed their cultural ideas at a cultural fair in the high school main lobby. They displayed artifacts (many from the collections of their teachers), videos and their definitions of culture. Students from the elementary, middle and high schools stopped to speak with and learn from our cultural ambassadors.

“As we continued to explore culture and diversity after the festival, students looked at diversity statements from other schools and discussed the need for a diversity statement at BFA.” -Alana Torraca, French teacher

Clothing from around the world was on display at school.

Clothing from around the world was on display at school.

“It’s important to show that diversity is not what you look like or what you wear; it’s about what you believe and value”- Weston, student