The FWSU Story: Fletcher Students Grow Hope by Planting Seeds

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Fletcher Elementary School students are growing both hope and vegetables thanks to a collaboration with the Northwest Healthy Roots Collaborative and RiseVT.

Fletcher Elementary School students Connor Macaulay, grade 2, Cailin Macaulay, grade 4, Patrick Lawton, grade 2 and kindergartener Cole Lawton, prepare to plant bean seeds they they received as part of a distance-learning collaboration between the school and local wellness groups. The project aims to connect students throughout Franklin and Grand Isle Counties and teach about healthy, sustainable and local foods. 

On May 7, Fletcher Elementary families received packages of bean seeds to be grown at home, along with instructions for inside and outside planting, links to gardening videos, seed sprouting ideas and additional activities for at-home learning that teaches children about soil types, animals that live underground, the soil cycle and how to begin creating their own soil through composting. 

One of the goals of the project is to create a sense of unity between Fletcher students and other Franklin and Grand Isle County students who are participating in a common activity, despite being separated by the school dismissal. Additionally, the project aims to help students understand the importance of a resilient local food system where families are connected to, and nourished by, local farms and food.

“There has never been a more important time for our communities to feel connected, healthy and hopeful,” Rachel Huff, of the Healthy Roots Collaborative’s Farm to School Program, said. “We feel planting a seed is one of the greatest ways to place hope in a positive future. We hope by growing this small bit of food at home students can feel grounded and in control in these ungrounded times.”

According to Huff, sparking an interest in the local food system and eating healthy food through hands-on, authentic learning is also an essential part of the project. A total of 3000 seed packets are being distributed to children in Franklin and Grand Isle Counties.

“The act of growing things, particularly plants that produce food in the end, is a rich and meaningful experience for kids,” Fletcher’s third and fourth grade teacher, Tracey Godin, said. “Academically, it promotes scientific and mathematical observations and processes that will strengthen students’ abilities to be critical thinkers. Students learn to care for the plants and understand their needs, which promotes responsibility, and they look forward to the end result of their hard work. With this project, it also gives them a sense of unity with other children and families in our area in a time when we have to be apart.”

Godin’s classroom has participated in a multi-year partnership with the Healthy Roots Collaborative that has brought them to local farms and introduced farmers into the classroom.

The Northeast Healthy Roots Collaborative is a regional food systems program supporting the growers, producers and consumers in Franklin and Grand Isle County. They provide food-related education, access and infrastructure. RiseVT is a wellness program based at Northwestern Medical Center that encourages wellness through healthy food choices and physical activity.

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: Learning Together, Learning Apart (Part 3)

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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 third installment in the series.

Heather Brown, GEMS Grade 6 Language Arts Teacher

Clouds and silver linings…

Even though we are connecting with students everyday, my greatest loss is actually seeing all of my students everyday. I miss greeting them in the morning and when they enter my class. I miss having a student run up to me to share about their book or that they finished their book. I miss them giving me recommendations for books. I miss joking around with them. I miss seeing their smiles when they are celebrated. I miss sitting down next to them to help them with their assignments. It’s overwhelming to think about how much I miss them. There is so much you know and understand about your students when you are face to face with them. Are they having a good or bad day? Do they need something? It’s hard to know these things without seeing them everyday, without being able to read their facial expressions and their body language, without being able to talk with them and ask them how everything is going. I hope my students know their teachers are here for them if they need anything, even though we are not seeing them every day. I firmly believe families and teachers need to work together to educate the whole child. A silver lining to this remote learning is how the bridge between home and school has strengthened. Communication and parent involvement in their child’s education has increased dramatically. Families and educators have truly had to work as a team to navigate this new way of learning. Everyone has learned new tools to communicate with each other and learn together. I think as we move forward and beyond this difficult time, the home to school gap will have drastically narrowed. These relationships will emerge much stronger than they were as a result of this pandemic.

I wish I’d known…

I think about those last few days before school was dismissed a lot. Everything happened so quickly. I wasn’t prepared to only see half of my students that Monday after learning about the dismissal. I found it difficult to balance giving my students honest and realistic information, while keeping their worries at bay. I always say goodbye to my students when they leave school for the day, but for some reason, when I said goodbye that last day, I could feel it was going to be goodbye for a while. As I watched them walk down the stairs, I could feel emotions arising like it was the last day. If I had known, I would’ve wanted to tell my students how amazing they have been this entire year and how proud of them I am. I would’ve shared how much I was going to miss them and how confident I am in their abilities as they transition to seventh grade. And I would’ve made sure they took home more books! 🙂

Hopes and dreams for students…

I am so proud of the way our sixth graders have navigated this new way of learning. So many of them have matured and taken on this huge responsibility with ease.  I’m impressed with their independence and willingness to persevere through challenges on their own. I hope my students remember to take these skills along with them into their future, to remember this time, to remember they possess these skills deep within themselves, and that they can accomplish anything.

Lorrene Palermo, FES 5/6 Teacher

Looking back…

On March 17, our last day together, my students prepared materials for younger students to have during their learning at home, organized materials for those classmates who were not there, and prepared the iPads for future learning. It would be the last time those busy hands and chattering kids would be in our classroom; the last time I would hear the sounds of students for the remainder of the school year. Somewhere deep inside I just knew that we would not be returning to school to finish our year together, but I put that feeling aside and hoped that we were. COVID-19 changed everything that day. 

Finding balance…

We all went home, and for four weeks I tried to find a balance with work and home. During our Maintenance of Learning phase, I worked hard to make contact with all my students via a phone call and lots of messages in Schoology to assure them that I was still there for them. My work days became longer and more stressful because of the amount of screen time.  Not having a set schedule made it so that days started to blur together. Some days were better than others, but many days I found myself emotionally drained by noon. Those were the days I needed to disconnect from technology and go outside and get fresh air or just go take a nap. Once expectations were set for the Continuity phase of our remote learning, I was able to put a plan in place and find my teaching rhythm again. Planning is becoming more fluid. and I am working hard to utilize my colleagues, my village, to support my needs and those of my students. The staff meeting is now a highlight in my week to see friendly faces who understand what I am going through. 

Finding joy in the smiles and voices of children…

Just before spring break I returned to school to make copies and gather materials for teaching and found the silence of school, during what would have been a normal day, to be unsettling. No school should ever be quiet. While I was there I had picked up some artwork for some of my sixth grade students who were working on an art project they had started with the guidance counselor. With art and paint, I set off to the students’ homes and dropped off the supplies so they could finish while they were at home. The smiles on their faces said it all. Seeing my students each week via a virtual meeting or just talking on the phone is what has brought me joy during this unprecedented time.

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: Fletcher Students Keep Social-Emotional Learning Alive At Home

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Be respectful. Be responsible. Be safe. Be Caring. 

For students at Fletcher Elementary School, these are words to live by. Part of the school’s Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) approach to social-emotional learning, the expectations apply across settings including the classrooms, halls, cafeteria, playground, busses and on field trips, among other locations. They are proactively taught, modeled and practiced throughout the year, and students are recognized for following the rules at both the classroom and school level.

But, what happens to all that work when students are not in school?

“The beauty of our school-wide expectations is that they are universal,” Instructional Coach Denette Locke said. “Being respectful, responsible, safe and caring is the right thing to do in any setting. In many ways, calling the rules school-wide expectations could be a little misleading because this is how we want our adults and children to conduct themselves regardless of where they are. In school, at a movie, in the grocery store or at home.”

Being flexible has been the key to keeping this work alive in Fletcher. Shortly after the Governor dismissed students from on-campus classes, the school issued a design-a-token challenge. During a typical school year, students would ordinarily be recognized with a small wooden token sporting the school’s falcon mascot and the four expectations for following the rules. The tokens would come from a staff member. However, with students at home, that isn’t possible in the same way.

“We asked students to design their own PBIS tokens on paper using our four rules, but applying them to things they might do at home, like helping cook dinner or getting ready for bed,” Locke said. “While we’d much rather be working with our students in person, the stay-at-home order is a brilliant opportunity for students to practice generalizing these great practices to settings beyond the school building. Simply put, we didn’t want to lose momentum and we wanted to help students understand that they can be behavioral rockstars anywhere they go, in school or elsewhere.”

Tokens designed by Maggie Short

In a letter to families, the school challenged children to include the four rules on their self-designed tokens, but gave full artistic license to the students. Entries included designs such as rainbows, trucks, family portraits, and one student drew a picture of himself helping out with after-dinner dishes. There were more than 50 entries from which three winners were randomly drawn to receive prizes provided by RiseVT, a wellness group that emphasizes physical activity, good eating habits and mindfulness, based at Northwestern Medical Center. Winners received cookbooks and water bottles.

Token designed by Cody Gelineau

“Designing the tokens at home reminded me of our four expectations to be respectful, responsible, safe and caring,” sixth grader Cody Gelineau said. “It reminded me that the rules are not only good for school but for home, as well. It was a good reminder that doing those things everywhere you go is what you should do, not just at school. Plus, I love art and it was a fun way to remember how to conduct myself.”

Token designed by Autumn Bushey

“Supporting students in making meaningful connections between school and home is really important,” Special Educator Sarah Tucker said. “Helping students see our expectations as universal – across settings – supports them in making meaning of what is taught here at school, even when we can’t be in the building. And, it makes sense to connect this work to our relationship with RiseVT because of the strong interconnection between physical and social-emotional health.”

For the past two consecutive years, Fletcher Elementary has received recognition as a Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports Exemplar School by the Vermont Agency of Education and University of Vermont. Even before the school closure, the school supported students in setting the bar high for behavior at home by challenging students during school vacations and over the summer. The Exemplar designation is the highest level of recognition within the PBIS system, signifying a reduction in rule-breaking behavior and an increase in academic performance.

Token designed by Quinn Mauck

“During the school closure, our teachers and staff have become even more creative and passionate about staying connected with students and moving forward with important learning,” Director of Curriculum Linda Keating said. “Now, more than ever, developing and maintaining routines and relationships is important, and Fletcher’s work to advance PBIS and continue to support the social-emotional learning and wellbeing of students beyond the school building is a great example of their commitment to children and families.”

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: Spring Break

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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: Winter Wellness Program Helps Keep Fletcher Students Healthy

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An age-old tradition that heats up in the dead of winter is promoting good health and new skills for students in Fletcher. The school’s Winter Wellness Program, which includes outdoor school-based activities as well as skiing and snowboarding at Smuggler’s Notch, aims to promote an enjoyment and appreciation of outdoor recreation, healthy exercise habits and positive social skills. 

Weather permitting, the program runs for five consecutive Friday afternoons beginning in February, and has been in existence for more than 20 years. Some former Fletcher Elementary students have now returned as part of the 18-parent cadre of mountain chaperones that are making this year’s skiing and boarding component of the program a slope-side success. In addition, all school staff participate in the program by chaperoning at Smuggs or during outdoor activities at school.

But, the familiar faces on the Mountain didn’t end with the parents and staff members that hit the slopes with students. The program has served as inspiration for several adult former Fletcher Elementary students who have gone on to become instructors at Smuggler’s Notch and now facilitate lessons and serve as inspiration for their younger Fletcher counterparts.

According to Aimee Tinker, a parent volunteer who coordinates the skiing and snowboarding component of the program, the benefits of the program go well beyond learning the technicalities of the sports.

“There is also an important social piece where students are in a new setting with their peers, teachers, parents and new adults,” Tinker said, stating that students practice flexibility, adaptability and respect in addition to receiving ski or snowboarding instruction and having fun.

Tinker is convinced of the educational value of the program. “They learn so much,” she said of the students’ experience at the mountain. “This is not a waste of a Friday afternoon. It is an educational field trip with instructors and skills, social and otherwise.”

Drew Tolbert agrees. He is the former sales and promotions coordinator for the mountain and a former snowboard coach who has worked with many Fletcher Elementary School groups. “The students are being athletic and healthy,” Tolbert said. “Beyond that it’s all about the mountain experience. It’s less about being involved in a really traditionally strict class and more about developing an appreciation of the mountain environment and working as a team and build camaraderie as we go through challenges together. Students really learn how to look out for each other. It really becomes a team effort”

One in five children in the U.S. are overweight or obese, putting them at increased risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. Obese children are also more prone to stress, sadness and low self-esteem.

“Fletcher’s Winter Wellness Program does a great job of getting kids out and moving,” School Nurse Tara McMahon said. “It is so hard in the winter months to get in the recommended 60 minutes of daily exercise. Learning to downhill ski, snowboard, cross-country ski, skate and snowshoe helps our students develop a lifelong love of the winter outdoors and to stay physically fit.”

For students that may struggle in a traditional school setting, Tinker says the program provides an opportunity for them to shine outside of the classroom. “They get up on that mountain and they are often a totally different kid,” Tinker said. “They are all smiles and the folks at the mountain always say that Fletcher has the best behaved kids. They really do model what they learn in school.”

Smuggs staff credit much of the students’ positive behavior to the program’s emphasis on choice and leadership opportunities for kids, citing that many instructors get to know students over time and develop positive, trusting relationships that allow students to act as role models for others.

“We’re moving to a way of teaching that gives them ownership,” Tolbert said, stating that it is important for children to have the flexibility to explore their own learning styles during lessons. “There is no shortage of teachable moments, both socially and otherwise, framed around a fun, exciting sport. It is fantastic to see it unfold.”

Smuggler’s Notch offers students in the program substantially reduced ticket, equipment rental and lesson prices. The same items are free for adult chaperones. The resulting five-week reduced cost per student is $180, compared to a traditional cost of $715. Similarly, the savings is $985 per chaperone. Smugglers’ Notch also offers SNAP, the Smuggler’s Notch Adaptive Program, which provides individual lessons and instructors for students with disabilities.

In addition to the physical activity offered by the program, Tinker believes that it strengthens relationships between teachers and students.

“Students are surprised to see their teachers out of the classroom element,” Tinker said. “They get to see them in a non-instructional, non-authoritative setting. They just get to be with them.”

In addition to the ski and snowboard opportunities at the mountain, about half of Fletcher’s students remain at school and participate in outside activities. In addition, for the past two years, the school has offered off-campus snowshoeing. 

“The goal of Winter Wellness is to teach and encourage students to embrace and enjoy their physical environment and the outdoors even during some of the coldest, darkest months of the year” school counselor Lisa Coale said. “Research shows that enjoying time outside has significant health benefits including improving focus, combatting depression, anxiety and stress, eliminating fatigue and even improving short term memory. By providing space and time for our students to enjoy the outdoors, engage in physical activities and connect with their school community we are also simultaneously supporting their social-emotional wellbeing.”

During the past several years Fletcher’s Winter Wellness program has expanded from only allowing participation by students in grade three and beyond, to now including students in kindergarten through sixth grade.

“Just because the students are young doesn’t mean they can’t do it,” Tinker said. “The earlier the better when it comes to promoting healthy habits and a love of being outside in our beautiful state.”

“During Winter Wellness students participate in a variety of activities with groups of adults and students they don’t normally get to interact with on a daily basis at school,” Coale said. “This change to their normal routine requires students to practice flexibility, promotes new and different social engagement, and above all else, creates new opportunities for learning as they participate in activities some students have never tried before.”

“Being at the mountain is great,” cross country skier and fourth grader Harrison Frennier said. “It’s a change of pace to be outside and moving around. It’s a good way to be healthy and enjoy nature at the same time.”

“It’s fantastic,” fourth grader Koda Chipman said of his experience skiing during the program. “I want to be outside all the time and especially during school. This is very good for your body and your mind.”

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: 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