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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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