Appreciating our School Administrative Support Staff

The end of the year is right around the corner and soon the hustle and bustle of our hallways and classrooms will be quiet. Throughout the year we rely on our bus drivers to pick up and drop off our students safely – thank you. We rely on our maintenance and custodial staff to keeps our schools clean – thank you. We rely on our para-educators to support our students in the classroom – thank you. We rely on our nurses to keep us all safe and healthy – thank you. We rely on our teachers to deliver a world class education – thank you. And we rely on our administrators to make sure our schools are nothing less than awesome – thank you.

But in today’s’ story, I want to shine the spotlight and thank our building office professionals who are the first faces of our schools.

IMG_3881They serve a multitude of roles and frankly our schools could not run efficiently without them. They keep track of all the details from scheduling the principal to managing parking spaces.


They take every phone call and help deliver “forgotten” lunch boxes and musical instruments. They organize school mailings and make sure all of the student data is up to date and correct.


They organize graduation and make sure every transcript and reference letter is delivered to the right college. They know all of our students and families. They find lost clothing and sometimes offer first aid.

All in all, they always make sure that everything in the school is just right. And we know that our schools could not do it all without each of you – thank you, Carol, Jen, Val, Sally, Corrina, Rhonda, Aleta, and Sharon!


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Ned Kirsch is Superintendent of Schools at FWSU. He is a constant contributor to The FWSU Story. You can follow him on Twitter @betaVT

Community Day Teaches Fletcher Students Lessons Beyond the Classroom

Fourth through sixth-grade students at the Fletcher Elementary school are lending a helping hand to some very unfortunate four-legged friends, and they’re learning a lot about supporting their community in the process.


Fifth and sixth-grade classes at the school have been working with the Hulbert Outdoor Center, an organization based in Fairlee that works with students to promote leadership and community involvement, as well as providing a way for students to give back. Members of the group have visited the school and the collaboration culminated in a community day at the school on June 2.

In May, students spent time in the classroom deciding on a non-profit community group they wanted to support. Their search for a cause led them to the Franklin County Animal Rescue, which is currently closed to the public due to financial difficulties but hoping to reopen soon.

Leading up to the community day event, students facilitated a school-wide competition to see which class could collect the most dog and cat treats, as well as materials to make animal beds and toys. Collectively, they gathered over 1,200 items. During community day, the fifth and sixth graders worked with their younger fourth-grade peers to use the collected materials to make a variety of dog- and cat-friendly items including beds and catnip toys. Their creations will be donated to the Franklin County Animal Rescue.

“The students are very passionate about animals and they wanted to help a community group that was struggling,” fifth-grade teacher Cassie Underwood said. “They knew that the animal rescue was shutting down temporarily, but hoping to reopen.”


Students also raised $500 to donate to the Franklin County Animal Rescue, and their donation was complemented by an additional $250 donation from the Hulbert Outdoor Center.

“It’s really nice to know that you are doing something for a real purpose,” fifth-grader Isaiah Burns said. “It felt great to stay focused on making the community a better place and to help us as students grow as people.”

“These kinds of projects are important because the fifth and sixth graders act as role models for the younger kids,” sixth-grader Jasmine Duncan said. “We can teach them to take care of their community so that when they are older they can step up and do a lot of good, too.”

“It gives them a place and a way to give back,” Underwood said. “It allows them to actually make a difference and demonstrate leadership skills.”

According to Nicholas Wood, Program Coordinator for the Hulbert Outdoor Center, “Projects like this are important for numerous reasons. Most importantly, it actively shows that students, who often feel powerless when it comes to making a difference in an adult world, that through their time and talents, they can make a difference. They can see a difference in their community following their projects.”


Of the Fletcher students, Wood noted their caring and creative spirit.

“The fact that students were able to gather over 1,000 items to convert into animal toys and beds in a mere four days was substantial,” Wood said. “The animal shelter is a great starting point when we think about ways to give back to the community and make a difference.”

“We learned a lot about helping others and what it means to be part of a community,” fifth-grader Maggie Nadeau said. “When you help out your community you get to know each other more and if something happens to you maybe they will have your back.”

“We got a lot done in a little amount of time,” fifth-grader Jack Tinker said. “Everyone worked together to do their job and in the end that made us stronger and the community stronger.”

“We are so very grateful for this outpouring of support,” Franklin County Animal Rescue Resource Committee Chairman Lydia Strider said. “Not only is this truly humbling for us but a great opportunity for us to help shape students into kind young adults.”


Strider emphasized that having students contribute to the shelter – both by donating funds and physical items – is a great opportunity for the children to learn the value of a dollar and how extensively their contributions can support the animals.

“There are so many wonderful non-profits and getting students involved with them early teaches kids how to remain active contributors in their community as they grow older,” Strider said.

“Before we left the school on Friday, one of the questions that students were answering was about what they can take away from this experience,” Wood said. “One student mentioned that is we could do all this for dogs and cats, imagine what we could accomplish for homeless and other people suffering. It was a touching thought from our perspective, a reaffirming prospect that students had those thoughts walking away.”

“Helping the animal rescue was an opportunity,” Burns said. “It taught me to continue to look for opportunities. I think there are ways to help people and animals that are all around us and we don’t usually see them or pay attention. We are changing that.”

FES Family Engagement Builds STEAM

Recently, Fletcher Elementary School celebrated another successful annual STEAM Night. STEAM Night is a culmination of extended student-driven inquiry.


There are questioning prompts scattered among the exhibits in every classroom, students are not daunted by the impromptu questions that come from the many visitors. Questions that might elicit very short and uninspired answers on a traditional quiz provoke thoughtful, engaged, and informed responses when asked in the context of these exhibitions. Authentic exhibitions of learning are critical to building student ownership of essential academic concepts and skills in all content areas, but particularly when integrated into engaging STEM inquiries.


Inquiry celebrates the natural, inherent curiosity of children. Fletcher’s STEAM Night exhibition model is framed to engage parents in the inquiry process. Parents can support inquiry-based thinking at home by asking open-ended questions — these kinds of questions are powerful tools to promote problem-solving, creativity and critical thinking.


Fletcher Elementary School uses some Federal funding to support the engagement of families in their children’s learning. The use of these funds for STEAM Night enable Fletcher Elementary School to expand the experience beyond just an event for kids and families at school. The school purchased two STEAM books for families to take home so that they could continue to work on all of the proficiencies and skills that had been highlighted at STEAM Night through engaging activities for parents and children at home. Principal Chris Dodge noted that this investment in parents as partners in their children’s learning “helped to form a strong connection between school content and further educating both parents and students.”


When students see the relevance of content across settings, including their own homes, they more easily and comprehensively make meaning of their learning and how it is applied to their own lives.


Exhibitions of learning can take the form of final products, presentations, or performances. They can be used to authentically assess student learning, skill acquisition, and academic achievement. Exhibitions of learning allow students to present and defend evidence of academic learning and reflect on growth in proficiency in transferable skills.  Student growth and progress can be observed in “real time” when parents and community members are asking questions about the students’ inquiry projects. These “transferable skills” cut across all content areas and are truly portable tools for achievement success.


Authentic exhibitions have a far-reaching impact on a student’s capacity to deepen their skills in communication, self-direction, problem-solving, and critical and creative thinking.

S.T.E.A.M. Night Showcases Proficiency-Based Learning in Fletcher

In the gymnasium, surrounded by shoulder-to-shoulder classmates, family and friends, several groups of Fletcher Elementary School students huddled around small piles of colorful straws and planned. Whispering softly, many with their hands cupped around their mouths so as not to allow their thinking to be overheard by their competitors, the groups skillfully deployed several strategies in an effort to create the tallest tower to hold a small white flag using only straws and tape.
The “instant challenge,” as it was called, was a key feature of the Fletcher School’s S.T.E.A.M. Night (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) held on May 25th. Historically called S.T.E.M. Night, this year the school included an art show, transforming S.T.E.M. into S.T.E.A.M, with the added “A” representing the arts.
The evening event emphasized the three learning proficiencies that the Fletcher School has been focusing on this year, including clear and effective communication, creative and practical problem-solving and Responsible and involved citizenship.
“S.T.E.A.M. Nights celebrates the hard work of our students to become proficient in these essential skill areas,” S.T.E.M. Teacher Leader Denette Locke said. “It is a great example of how academic concentrations are interwoven at Fletcher. The evening is all about students presenting evidence that they are becoming more and more competent, especially with the three proficiencies.”
Individual classes orchestrated displays on topics ranging from watersheds and sound, to the lifecycle of plants.

Fletcher Elementary Student Receives Arbor Day Contest Award

Max Clark, a fifth grader at the Fletcher Elementary School, has placed first in his grade level division as part of the Vermont Urban and Community Forestry Department’s Arbor Day Poster and Essay Contest. The contest theme this year was to share a story about a tree. Clark’s poster depicts a sturdy maple and his accompanying essay describes a crisp fall day walk in the woods.


“I really like maple trees,” Clark said. “I like the syrup from the maple trees and their colors in the fall. Walking in the woods is relaxing.”

Clark worked on his poster during art class at school. His essay is a true story about writing the word “Vermont” using twigs under a majestic maple tree. Both the poster and essay were featured on WCAX-TV’s show, Across the Fence. Clark received a variety of prizes for his work, including three hardcover books on art and artists. “The Arbor Day contest was a great opportunity for students to integrate art and literacy,” Fletcher’s Art Teacher, M.C. Baker, said. “Art and writing are each critical forms of expression and drawing connections between the two is an essential life skill.”


“The Arbor Day contest was a great opportunity for students to integrate art and literacy,” Fletcher’s Art Teacher, M.C. Baker, said. “Art and writing are each critical forms of expression and drawing connections between the two is an essential life skill.”

Here is Max’s essay.

A Perfect Morning 

By Max Clark

The sun is shining; the air is cool and crisp. The sky is clear and cloudless, but in a mysterious happy way. It was a perfect morning for a walk along the beautiful countryside. It just so happened that that’s exactly what we did. So, we set off on our walk. As we walked we identified trees, collected rocks, and smelled the few remaining flowers. We decided to rest under a gigantic maple tree. The maple tree was leafless, but still colorful somehow. We gathered up sticks form the ground and wrote “Vermont” underneath the maple tree, although the sticks may have blown away in the wind. The memories will always stick in our hearts.


Fletcher Students “Bridge” Classroom and Real-Life Learning

Two teams of fifth and sixth-grade students from the Fletcher Elementary School have received first and third place awards at Vermont Technical College’s Middle School Bridge Building Competition.


“We really feel like we accomplished something big,” fifth grader Reed Stygles said. “We took everything we knew from the classroom and put it together with the new things we learned about bridges and we came out on top.”

Now in its third year, the Randolph-based competition required students to construct bridges in advance using only wooden popsicle sticks, white glue, wooden toothpicks and dental floss. Other structural requirements only added to the challenge. Bridges had to be over three feet in length and adhere to 10 other technical specifications.

“There were a lot of rules to remember,” Stygles said. “We kept making adjustments to make sure that we didn’t do anything illegal.”

Students’ experience with the engineering design process began in their classrooms, long before the competition, and those attending the competition participated in nine additional after-school bridge-building sessions sponsored by the school’s parent group, Friends of Fletcher Elementary.


“We learned about the design process in class and then used that knowledge with this project,” fifth grader Malayna Sweet-Werneke said. “The first step is imagining and designing. We planned out our bridges and decided on the roles each team member would play before we constructed it. Then, we started building.”

Sweet-Werneke said that seeing the other successful bridges at the competition gave her a lot of ideas for improving her own team’s creation.

“The redesign process is important,” she said. “You test things out and gather other information to make your bridge even better. You’re not done after you build it once. You can always make improvements and I have lots of ideas for next year.”

One Fletcher team’s bridge that weighed 3.2 pounds supported an 82-pound weight load. The team had predicted that the bridge would support just 25 pounds.


“Estimating how much weight the bridges will hold is tough,” fifth grader Jack Tinker said.

“We all worked together easily and felt great about it,” fifth grader Evan Roberts said. “I learned that we can accomplish better things when we work at a team. I think that’s true about bridges and other things.”

While 51 teams of middle school students from around the state participated, Fletcher students placed first for building the lightest bridge and third for creating a bridge with the most structural efficiency.

“Knowing that the culminating celebration for their hard work was to be part of this bigger picture, the competition, was incredibly motivating. It was exciting to watch our students combine their classroom knowledge with what they learned about bridges to create a successful outcome,” STEM Teacher Leader Denette Locke said. “It’s a perfect opportunity for our students to combine science and math and to be leaders.”


During judging, points were awarded for bridges that held the most weight and had the greatest structural efficiency. Additionally, aesthetics and originality of design, presentation, and each team’s ability to closely predict their bridge’s failure point also received points. The presentation segment of the competition included a panel of judges interviewing students about their work.

“Model bridges promote the study and application of physics and engineering and help students develop hands-on skills,” competition organizers said. “Participating students get to experience what it is to be an engineer, designing structures to a set of specifications and then seeing them perform their function.”

“It’s a great opportunity for students to pay particular attention to precision in their work,” Locke said. “It was also exciting to see so many of our female students so engaged with science, a field that is statistically dominated by males.”


Campus tours also made an impression on students.

“Someday I am going to college so it was interesting to see the campus and start to think about the things I saw that interested me,” Sweet-Werneke said.

“Participating in the VTC Bridge-Building Competition is a great opportunity for students,” parent volunteer Aimee Tinker said. “Not only do they get to practice their knowledge of bridge structure and how it pertains to weight load, they do so while working as a team, exercising communication skills and idea-sharing.”

Prior to the competition, the students hosted John Diebold, Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor from VTC. Diebold talked with students about his profession as an engineer.

Target 3 Flexible Learning Environments – FWSU maximizes flexible learning environments by redefining the school day, promoting learning experiences that extend beyond the classroom, and fostering creativity, innovation, and personalized learning opportunities for all. 

Indicators of Success – (1) The school calendar and definition of the school day are flexible and responsive to the needs of students. (2) Students engage in answering authentic questions and solving problems in collaborative settings. (3) Flexible learning environments are the context for collaboration and extend beyond the classroom.

Action Steps – (1) Provide students with access to content, resources, and methods for learning beyond the school day and beyond the school walls.(2) Develop opportunities for students to demonstrate transferrable skills in authentic settings.