The FWSU Story: Learning Together, Learning Apart (Part 2)

Featured

In mid-March all FWSU teachers, along with all Vermont teachers, said good-bye to their students, not knowing it would be for the remainder of the school year. In record time, they adjusted the goals of learning to fit a new, remote landscape, which was unfamiliar territory for all. Their work has been nothing short of amazing. Their hopes and dreams for their students to be engaged learners remain at the core of every choice they make. Over the next several weeks, we’ll profile some of our teachers from our 3 schools who have volunteered to share some of their experiences. 
These are their FWSU Stories. 
This is the second installment in the series.

Emily Wills, BFA Fairfax Middle School Language Arts Teacher

A new rhythm to teach to….

My teaching and planning rhythm has changed quite a bit. It is challenging to plan for a half-hour of work, four times a week, and still feel as if I have any fidelity to our curriculum and high-leverage standards. However, I am also very mindful that I want students and families foremost to focus on health and well-being in this stressful time. I am adjusting by planning out roughly how a lesson would have proceeded in my 55-minute in-person class, and then getting creative about how I can reduce or alter work to hit at the most essential targets. I usually plan now for a full week at a time, since weekly plans are being sent home to families on Friday. I used to feel more nimble in my teaching and adjust the next day’s plans based on formative assessments and how today’s lesson went.  

Taking care…

One of my must do’s for self-care during this time is walking my dog.  Fozzie and I go out every day to stretch our legs, even if it’s only for 30 minutes. I usually do this as a break late-morning.  This also gives structure to my work day and gives my eyes a break from the screen. I stop checking school email at 7pm each night, because otherwise I just become glued to my computer and start to get headaches. I also need that stop time as a guideline for myself to “turn off” for the day. My students have the structure of me posting an update to Schoology each day with that day’s work, helpful links, and other information. It gets them into a routine like I would have in my classroom, listing the day’s agenda on the whiteboard. It also keeps me organized.

It’s new by design…

The new learning I have gained from this time is that I do some activities in my units of study that are not crucial for addressing the high-leverage standards or curriculum. They aren’t busy work, but they aren’t a streamlined way to teach and learn a skill. I have had to pare down what I do during this time of remote learning, and it’s giving me a new perspective on how to run my lessons when we’re back together at school. I will try to use more focused strategies, as I am being “forced” to do now. I also will go back to using humor and laughter as a tool to connect to kids, which is much harder to do over Schoology! 

JoAnn Harvey, GEMS Elementary STEM Teacher

Connect and learn….

I have really enjoyed getting the chance to thoughtfully respond to each of my student’s questions and comments. I would rather do this live, but this virtual teaching takes away the distractions of being in a large group and allows me to just “be” (virtually) with one student at a time. It has made me develop an ability to be more present and thoughtful. I am responding to all of students’ comments and questions in great detail, creating videos for them to respond to, and leaving voice memos. It’s a lot of putting things out there, and I’m not sure how it’s working. 

Missing so much…

I so miss interacting with my students, listening to their questions, building, creating and problem solving together. I miss their smiles and hugs. Teaching is all about connecting for me, and the human connection is gone for now. The greatest loss has been the physical energy that interacting with students provides me both emotionally and psychologically. The energy and responses, and sometimes non-responses, are what make how I teach work. It’s almost like doing stand-up without an audience. I always knew I was a social person, but now I realize how much I really need the feedback from students and the energy I get from interacting with students and colleagues on a regular basis. I just want to catch up and see everyone. I want to listen to all of their stories about how this whole experience went for them. I want to talk, play, and laugh together. Based on this experience, I know I will appreciate human interaction at a much deeper level than ever before.

Hopes and dreams…

I hope the big take-away is that the best instruction is instruction that integrates all content areas and connects to real life experiences–done in collaboration with colleagues, it’s possible!

Linda Keating is the Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment at Franklin West Supervisory Union. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her on Twitter @Educate4ward

The FWSU Story: Learning Together, Learning Apart (Part 1)

Featured

In mid-March all FWSU teachers, along with all Vermont teachers, said good-bye to their students, not knowing it would be for the remainder of the school year. In record time, they adjusted the goals of learning to fit a new, remote landscape, which was unfamiliar territory for all. Their work has been nothing short of amazing. Their hopes and dreams for their students to be engaged learners remain at the core of every choice they make. Over the next several weeks, we’ll profile some of our teachers from our 3 schools who have volunteered to share some of their experiences. 
These are their FWSU Stories. 

Kristie French, BFA Fairfax Elementary Preschool Teacher

Missing students…

One of the things that I miss most is greeting my kids in the morning: seeing their excitement as they arrive at school each day; saying good morning, giving my kids a high five or hug and letting them know that it’s going to be a great day.

Staying connected with students to nurture relationships…

Teachers in the elementary school are using Seesaw to connect with students and families. Preschool learning happens through social connection and learning through play. Being away from school makes building and maintaining relationships tough. To support continued social connection I try to post lessons that encourage children to engage with nature, their families and continue to learn through play. Each week we have shared topics to support conversation between myself and the students, story read alouds, hands on math/literacy and video messages to each child. My goal is to continue to stay connected to each of them in a fun and engaging way. Families are trying to find a balance between work and homeschool now so it’s important to keep learning fun and limit stress if possible. I’ve been including fun links to jokes, songs, and activities to encourage fun while away. I’ve also included videos in my assignments to support parents in teaching their children, along with supplemental materials for the added time that families have at home with their children.

Silver linings in difficult times….

Having to be at home has given our family more time to connect, spend time together, talk and be silly. My youngest son and I have begun exercising together. My older son and I have enjoyed getting in some driving time and listening to music and chatting. As a family we have watched movies, worked on home projects, and done some fishing. This extra time together is something I appreciate the most about this whole thing.

Danielle Drogalis, BFA Fairfax Middle and High School Math Interventionist

Relationships, relationships, relationships…

I am totally missing my students these days!  The middle school/high school age groups are what I live for. They are humorous, clever, and creative and the world is always better because they are in it. I have been trying to stay connected with them by attending their Zoom classes, creating instructional videos to support their math learning, writing emails, hosting advisory Zooms, texting and sending videos to my advisees telling them hello and offering a bit of chat. I love hearing back from my students. It truly makes my day.

Getting by with a little help from my friends…

Staying connected with colleagues is incredibly important. It helps me feel grounded and part of a team as we strive to do what is best for students in these strange times. I get to see my colleagues weekly in full faculty and smaller groups of Zoom meetings and just seeing their faces and hearing their voices is strength-giving. As a support teacher, I am always re-evaluating how I can best support my colleagues and they always welcome my partnership. I am very grateful for my colleagues and teams at BFA Fairfax.

Pleasantly surprised… 

I’m not going to lie…I love not having to use part of my day for travel. I have found that removing travel has added time to my day in a way where I can move seamlessly from one task to another.  It may be more that the transitions are more fluid that I feel like I am less likely to import unnecessary stress into my day. Perhaps that is the biggest lesson in this ‘Great Pause’…that I can choose to welcome calm and breathing regularly into my day. I don’t have to step into feelings of stress simply because those are most common and familiar.

And when we’re together again…

Oh man! When school is back I look forward to the reunion that is US!  I bet the energy in the rooms and halls will be full and exciting, and we will all be relieved to be together again and at school. Imagining the first days of all of us being back fills my heart and even makes me a bit emotional as I try on the thrill and relief of us all being back together again. It will be sweet for sure and tears will be OK!

Linda Keating

Linda Keating is the Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment at Franklin West Supervisory Union. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her on Twitter @Educate4ward

For FWSU School Closure Resources for parents and guardians, visit the COVID-19 page on the FWSU website.

The FWSU Story: Spring Break

Featured

This is not our typical April Break, but in these difficult times, taking a break to take care of ourselves and each other is really very important. We have opened many new pathways to engage and interact with each other to stay connected while apart. We appreciate all of you so much. Our educators, our students, our families, and our communities are doing extraordinary things during these extraordinary times. We see you! 

Here are some messages of encouragement for you all from our amazing school administrators! 

Mr. Walsh: “Thank you for your ongoing support and flexibility during this challenging time. I am so appreciative of all our staff that have been so flexible, hard working, and focused on supporting all students and families. The video of our staff and the video of our students reminds me how fortunate we all are to work and live in a community that is committed to supporting each other. We will get through this challenging time because we are in it together. A big virtual hug to all of you!”

Mr. Brown: “This situation is stretching all of us to explore what it means to be teachers, learners, families, and community members. It is inspiring to see, especially in this time of crisis, how committed we are to helping one another. We will make it through this together!”

Ms. Witalec-Krupa: “The strength, resiliency, patience and creativity of our students, staff, teachers, advisors, coaches and families during this time is inspiring. We can’t wait to see you all again! #WeWillGetThroughThisTogether”

Mr. Tague: “I am proud of the adjustments that teachers have made to make this transition to remote learning, the work that students have done to stay connected and engaged with school, and the support that families have provided to their students, the school, and each other. No one could have imagined how different school would be when we returned from our February break!”

Mr. Dodge: “It is both moving and inspiring to see how our entire staff, and all of FWSU, has stepped up to the plate during this challenging time. Everyone from foodservice to support staff to bus drivers and teachers has shown an unwavering commitment to children and families. Many are doing this work while supporting their own families at home. I have never been more proud to be part of FWSU.”

Ms. Conrad: “There is nothing more inspiring than watching a community pull together during times of crisis. The FWSU and Georgia community is blessed by the inspiring ways in which each member of our community is pulling together to problem-solve and create flexible solutions to care and take care of each other.”’

Mr. Emery: “Be well, rest up, and continue to be #GemsStrong”

Meal Delivery Continues During Spring Break

Deliveries will continue during break to children who are currently receiving schools meals. There should be no change to service. If you would like to begin receiving the daily weekday delivery of breakfast & lunch for your child(ren) ages 18 and under and enrolled students over 18, please email your district’s school principal. Email addresses are listed on the FWSU COVID-19 webpage.

The FWSU Story: BFA Elementary Students Spend Time With Therapy Dog, Jazz

Featured

Earlier this fall, I was contacted by a community member who was interested in spending some time in our elementary school with her therapy dog, Jazz. Jazz is a black Labrador Retriever that has been certified as a therapy dog through Therapy Dogs of Vermont. I was immediately intrigued by this opportunity, not only as a dog lover, but as a school administrator trying to integrate effective ways to support all students.

“I like reading to Jazz because it is fun.”

After an initial inquiry, I quickly received commitments from ten teachers that were excited about this opportunity and willing to participate. After an orientation with students and staff, we settled into a consistent weekly routine.

“Jazz puts a smile on our face.”

Jazz and her handler Margo Rome spend a half an hour in the classroom making connections with students while they learn and engage in activities. Jazz and Margo often listen while students practice their reading or they participate in Morning Meeting with the entire class. Jazz loves the attention and often lays on her back for belly scratches. Jazz is now a celebrity in our elementary school and is greeted and petted by all as she walks down the hallways.  

“Jazz is quiet and calm while we read and she keeps us calm and quiet.”

Research has shown that therapy dogs positively affect our brain chemistry, reducing the stress hormone cortisol while increasing the hormone oxytocin that helps us feel regulated and comfortable. Interactions with dogs have also been found to lower blood pressure and heart rate, leading to a more calm learning environment.  

“We love reading with Jazz.”

Our students and staff share that having Jazz and Margo spending time in classrooms has been a positive experience and look forward to their time with Jazz and Margo each week. This resource is another way we can support students that have experienced trauma or that benefit from the opportunity to engage in mindfulness and regulation activities. I encourage you to explore having a therapy dog in your school through Therapy Dogs of Vermont at  therapydogs.org.  Our school has greatly benefited from participating in this experience.

“I like reading with Jazz because she was listening to me.”

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: BFA Fairfax Athletic Department Featured in High School Today Magazine

Featured

BFA Fairfax garnered national attention this week with the release of the February 2020 issue of High School Today Magazine. Our own student athletes and programs were the featured cover article for this month’s issue that is distributed to every high school, school board, and thousands of coaches and activity advisors across the United States.  

In an article titled “Putting Fun Back in High School Athletics”, BFA Fairfax’s philosophy of learning, fun and inclusiveness were highlighted, specifically featuring the annual Fairfax Relays cross country race.  The article also included numerous photos of our athletic programs and the unique opportunities they provide for our students and our community. 

Links to both the digital (including pictures) and text version of the article can be found below.  We are so proud of our students and programs, and thrilled with this national spotlight which truly depicts the BFA Fairfax motto of “small school, big opportunities.”

Click here for DIGITAL VERSION

Click here for TEXT VERSION

Geri Witalec-Krupa is an Athletic Director/Assistant Principal at BFA Fairfax is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her @GLWit

BFA Students Selected for Vermont All State Musical Festival

Featured

FWSU is proud to announce that Madison Lutz and James Kalbfleisch, sophomores at BFA, have been accepted as members into the highly selective Vermont All State Festival in held in May. James will be performing in the All State Chorus ensemble and Madison with the dual honor of being selected for both band and chorus has elected to perform with her saxophone in the All State Band ensemble.

Madison Lutz member of BFA chorus, chamber chorus, band, and Jazz Band

The Vermont All State Music Festival is an annual event supported by the Vermont Music Educators Association (VMEA) and operated by the Vermont All State Committee. The Festival offers musicians from Vermont’s high schools the opportunity to perform in a band, orchestra, chorus or jazz ensemble under the direction of some of our nation’s finest conductors. This year, the Vermont All State Music Festival will be celebrating the Year of the Woman by having all four ensembles conducted by women directors and a portion of the selected program coming from women composers.

James Kalbfleisch, member of BFA chorus and chamber chorus

The 2020 spring festival will be hosted by North Country Union High School May 6th – 9th. If you would like to attend, please see to the 2020 Festival Schedule.

Congratulations to Madison and James whose hard work and dedication to the arts has earned this incredible honor reflecting their student leadership!

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: Flexible Learning Opportunities – Personalizing Non-Traditional Learning

When you think of school, do you think of making turkey calls? Learning strategy through board games? Designing T-shirts? Creating virtual and augmented reality? 

Would this fit in a regular school day?  Can students have a voice in proposing and designing their learning?

To affirmatively answer these questions in grades 5-8 we have F.L.O. (Flexible learning Opportunities).  Originally designed as a way to creatively schedule for non-traditional learning, we sought out student interests and designed offerings for our students in grades 5 & 6 as well as 7 & 8. 

Each Friday, we get creative with our schedules. Students join their group for approximately one hour to dive deep into a topic of interest that they have picked.  This FLO session is a 6 week cycle with a culminating showcase on February 21 at 2pm (We hope that families will join us- to experience the amazing learning that our students have been engaged with!)

Beginning in late December/early January teachers began discussing and surveying students to determine themes for our offerings.  Teachers had some ideas, but so did students. From these discussions, we created the following offerings. These range from hands-on to high-tech; from practical to personal; and through all of the offerings, students are encouraged to expand their understanding and interests.  This has also been an opportunity for students to work in different groupings and with different adults, many of whom are also able to share their passion for the topic.

Grades 5 & 6 StrandsGrades 7 & 8 Strands
Bridge Building
iMovie
Cooking
Strategic games
Art
Theater Games
Wellness Community
Virtual and Augmented Reality

Art
Community Service
Cooking
Dance
Dungeons & Dragons
Engineering (& Bridge Building)
First-aid
Strategy Game
T-shirt Logo Design
Turkey Call Making
Yearbook
FLO at BFA Fairfax Middle School

dive into their FLO Activities. Each week, it has been a joy to see students learning and passionately engaged in pursuing their interests, building community and pursuing what is possible!  

As a culminating activity, we look forward to welcoming families to share in the learning (and performances) with our young people this Friday, February 21 at 2pm for our first FLO.Case (showcase)!

Future Pizza Entrepreneurs
Learning to make a Turkey Call

Justin Brown is the Principal at BFA Fairfax Middle School is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY.

The FWSU Story: Global School Play Day – February 5, 2020

What if the whole world went on a playdate one day a year? That’s the idea behind Global School Play Day, an international movement to recognize and celebrate the value and importance of time for unstructured, screen-free play in our children’s lives. 

As explained in the Global School Play Day Press release, “In 2015, a small group of six educators took action and created Global School Play Day because of their concern that adults and technology were encroaching on playtime for children. On February 4, 2015, the first year of Global School Play Day, over 65,000 children participated in the first ever Global School Play Day after only four weeks of social media promotion from those six educators.”  

Fletcher Elementary Students with their Rockets

This year, 554,632 participants from 75 nations participated in this special day, and schools and classrooms within FWSU were among them. The idea was first shared by Marcy Perotte, one of the members of the FWSU Whole School, Child, and Community (WSCC). The team discussed the idea, which supports several of the 10 areas of wellness the FWSU WSCC focuses on, and then brought it to the building principals and fellow teachers. 

From rocket launches to board games, students engaged in play that inspired curiosity, self-direction, fun, problem-solving, movement, kindness, and connecting and communicating. As GEMS Elementary Principal, Steve Emery noted, “Play is an essential part of learning and should be implemented throughout every student’s day. The transferable skills utilized come naturally and allow for individual growth within each performance indicator. What is showcased on Global School Day of Play should be a necessity for all age levels each and every day.”  In our first year of global participation, we did not play all day…but extra time and attention were  dedicated to the spirit of the day. Getting discussion percolating about unstructured, screen-free play time opportunities is one of the goals of participation in this day. In FWSU, the value of play is reaffirmed by such a celebration. Our schools do understand the importance of play and have tried to create flexible learning environments that encourage the intersection of play and learning in much of what we do. Fletcher Elementary principal, Chris Dodge summed it up, “Play really is children’s work. Learning and play go hand in hand and are not mutually exclusive. Through play, children learn essential social and academic skills that set the stage for a successful school and life experience. Too often, play is misunderstood and undervalued when in fact it’s time very well spent.”

Linda Keating

Linda Keating is the Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment at Franklin West Supervisory Union. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her on Twitter @Educate4ward

The FWSU Story: BFA 2020-2021 School Budget Update

On Monday, January 13, the Fairfax Town School District Board of Directors voted to present a budget of $13,760,921 to the taxpayers of Fairfax at Town Meeting on March 03, 2020.

This budget represents a 6.67% increase in expenditures and a 7.25% increase in per pupil spending ($14,032.09) compared to last year’s budget. Although increasing, our per pupil spending remains significantly lower than the Vermont average per pupil spending, which is $17,133. The per pupil spending information is what appears on the ballot on Town Meeting Day. 

This budget represents essentially a rollover budget, meaning it keeps our staffing, instructional programming, co-curricular offerings, and supplies relatively the same as the previous year.  Here are some of the areas that are contributing to the increase in this budget:

  • Transportation- With the help of a grant, we are purchasing two electric buses.  The district is responsible for the first $90,000 of each bus (roughly the cost of a traditional diesel bus), and the grant pays any additional cost.  The grant also covers installation of infrastructure and mechanical training.
  • Health insurance– Accounts for slightly more than 11% of our total expenses, which increased by 12% this coming year.  
  • Pre-Kindergarten- Act 166 tuition budget increased by $36,579 over FY20 budget. Estimating 55 students at an announced rate of $3,445.

The School Board was mindful of taxpayers as we developed this budget, remaining aware of the community’s capacity to pay for an increase. Our goal was to present a budget that maintains our current programs. Given the percentage increases, the School Board and Administration could not support the inclusion of any additional expenses.

We have been fortunate to have lower percentage increases in the previous years that have also allowed us to add programs and support without significant increases in taxes. We are confident that the presented budget will continue to meet our student needs.  The tax impact on home values is listed below:

In addition, there will be a separate article for $200,000 that will be used to replace three roofs.  After the most recent bond request was defeated on December 03, 2019, we have identified this as the most critical current need.  The article would replace one high school roof that had a 2017 replacement date, a middle school roof over the 1943 wing and the elementary roof over the gym that were both slated for replacement in 2019. If this article successfully passes the tax impact on home values is listed below:

We will be sending out a budget flier with more detailed information about the 2020-2021 school budget. You are invited to attend the next School Board meeting on Monday, February 10 at 6:30 pm in the FLEX Room where the school budget will be presented. There will also be a presentation on Saturday, February 29 at 10:00 am in the Elementary School Gym of the town and school budgets.  Finally, the town and school budget vote will occur on Town Meeting Day, Tuesday, March 03 in the Middle School Gym from 7:00 am – 7:00 pm

We encourage you to learn about our budget proposal and feel free to contact Justin Brown jbrown@fwsu.org, John Tague jtague@fwsu.org, Geri Witalec-Krupa gwitalec@fwsu.org, or Tom Walsh twalsh@fwsu.org, if you have questions.  Thank you in advance for your support of our students and staff. 

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