THE FWSU STORY: Fletcher Community Honors Retiring Veteran Teacher Jenny Blackman

Mrs. Jennifer “Jenny” Blackman has taught Kindergarten at the Fletcher Elementary School for the past 13 years and is beloved by her students, their families, her colleagues and the community at large. She will retire from teaching in on Monday, with the tremendous respect of all who have had her as a teacher and those who have worked with her.

Jenny Blackman and Melissa Sargent-Minor

Jenny Blackman and Melissa Sargent-Minor

Present and former students, families, and colleagues honored Mrs. Blackman at a reception earlier this week, where the Fletcher School Board presented her with an apple tree, which she and her husband, Oliver, promptly planted near their pond at their Waterville home.

The Apple Tree

The Apple Tree

Mrs. Blackman has exemplified what it means to be a lifelong learner, graduating from Champlain College with her Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education in the spring of 2016. She took great pride in sharing her extensive knowledge both with student teachers and with colleagues, including those at regional and national conferences such as the National Association for the Education of Young Children. She is a strong advocate for play as a learning tool and outdoor learning in the natural world. No matter who or what she is teaching, her strengths include honoring the natural curiosity of the student and balancing the academic and social curriculum.


Mrs. Blackman served as the Co-Chair of the Lamoille North Standards Board, supporting the certification and relicensure of professional educators. She was a Lamoille North Literary Magazine judge, Upward Bound Instructor and Assistant Postmaster in Waterville. She has been a School Board Member, Lister, Welcome Baby Home Visitor for Waterville and Belvidere, Community Literacy Team Member, a member of the Vermont Philharmonic Orchestra, Johnson State College Concert Band and the Morrisville Military Band.

Jenny1 (1)

Mrs. Blackman in her classroom with her students.

In 2004, her then Superintendent, Bob McNamara, wrote the following in his recommendation to the Fletcher School Board about Mrs. Blackman as she applied to join the F.E.S. staff.


Mrs. Blackman with students on a field trip earlier this year.

“I find Jenny to be an active and engaging teacher. Her instructional goals are clear and her presentation is crisp and engaging. She holds the students’ attention and encourages them to actively engage in their learning.”

Students engage in many hands on learning activities in the classroom.

Students engage in many hands-on learning activities in the classroom.

Mrs. Blackman’s teaching has stood the test of time. As she says farewell to our school and teaching, her smile, humor, skill, and compassion become her legacy that lives on in the hearts and minds of those she taught.

Mrs. Blackman's smile and humor will be missed!

Mrs. Blackman’s smile and humor will be missed!

Thank you, Mrs. Blackman. 

THE FWSU STORY: Running Club, Mini-Marathon Promote Health and Fun for Fletcher Students

It may have been called the Mini-Marathon, but the efforts of 24 Fletcher Elementary School athletes were anything but small Saturday. The kindergarten through sixth-grade students donned blue t-shirts sporting the school’s falcon logo and the words imagine, believe, and achieve, as they ran half-mile, mile, and two-mile courses on Burlington’s Waterfront.

Fletcher Running Club

“Just being outside and seeing how fast you can run is the best part,” fourth-grader Eli Tinker, who finished the two-mile course in 15 minutes 51 seconds, said. “It’s competitive and I feel unstoppable when I’m running.”

Eli Tinker raced alongside his older brother, sixth grader Jack Tinker, who finished the two miles in 14 minutes 40 seconds and placed 15th in his overall age category. The competition includes 4 to 14-year-old participants from Vermont and out-of-state.

“It felt longer than it was,” Jack Tinker said. “I just kept telling myself to try my hardest, have a good time and do my best. I am really proud when I run.”

Fletcher Running Club

This year’s Mini-Marathon was the 18th annual youth running event offered by RunVermont, the group that also coordinates the Vermont City Marathon, as well as a variety of health and fitness events each year. The Mini-Marathon marked the culmination of Fletcher’s school-based Running Club, during which many students spent about 20 minutes every Monday and Friday for several weeks in the spring running or walking on the school fields. The effort was led by kindergarten teacher Jenny Blackman and parent volunteers Carey Gillilan and Jensen Welch.

According to Blackman, the idea for a school-based running program was the brainchild of Fletcher parent Elizabeth Sargent and herself seven years ago, as they chaperoned a whole-school field trip to the Smuggler’s Notch Water Park.

Fletcher Running Club

“We were standing guard in the wading pool talking,” Blackman recalled. “We wanted something that the entire school could join, and we wanted to promote running as a fun sport that’s easy to start. Our school fields offered the perfect place to run. It’s just about one mile to go all the way around.”

And just like that, Fletcher’s Running club was born. It wasn’t until a few years later that students would begin attending Burlington’s Mini-Marathon as a culminating event.

“I love the Running Club,” parent Kayla Wright said. “I look forward to my boys coming home and telling me how many laps they did.” I can barely get anything out of them about how their days at school are, but when they have Running Club they can’t wait to tell me about it.”Fletcher Running Club

“Running Club is a good way to get some exercise and be outside with friends,” Gillilan said. “It’s a good way to make friends. You’re not doing this alone. We do this as a group, our school family. It brings an awareness to those who want to exercise and just don’t know how to go about it. We are all getting outside, teachers and students. You don’t have to run in the race. As long as you’re moving, you’re awesome.”

Blackman agrees that both the social and exercise components of Running Club are important “Even in rural areas like ours, many students do not get outdoors much. We are showing them how much fun an activity like running can be. We have all grades from preschool to grade six running and visiting together,” she said.RC8

The Mini-Marathon had all the trimmings of the larger, adult event. Students registered and received their bib, complete with participant number and name. While many children sported shirts representing their individual schools or organizations, each also received the official marathon shirt. Upon completion, participants received a medal.

“The Mini-Marathon is a great experience because tons of kids from other schools come out and you meet other kids,” Gillilan said. “You also get a sense of achievement when you cross the finish line and realize all of your hard work. You receive a medal and your finish time that you worked so hard for and earned. That experience is just awesome.”

“There is nothing better than seeing your child be active just for fun,” Wright said. “This event is something we look forward to every year.”


According to third-grader Cody Savage, his initial nervousness of running in the marathon quickly passed. “I felt a little scared at first but that quickly changed to feeling like I achieved something great when I finished,” Savage said. “I just put my mind and body to work and pulled through.”

Classmate Serein Marcotte agreed. “I was really excited to run both at school and at the marathon,” he said. “Exercising so that you can get stronger is really important. I also learned that I can do anything that I work hard at and believe that I can do.”

Fletcher Running Club

Fletcher Running Club participants met Champ!

Blackman, who will retire next month after nearly 30 years of teaching, says that helping to start Running Club is one of the accomplishments she is most proud of in her career.

“I have seen that getting exercise and being outdoors is becoming more and more of a challenge for all ages,” she said. “People are so busy, and we have many electronic distractions that keep us sitting indoors. Running is the perfect solution. Being alongside friends, adult staff, and volunteers makes it even more fun. Perhaps many of our students will continue to run and exercise throughout their lives. I hope we all do.”


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: Fletcher Elementary Produces Award-Winning Technology Video

MC Baker, Art Educator at the Fletcher Elementary School, has worked with students to produce an award-winning video featuring the technology tool, OSMO, and to showcase students’ use of the cutting-edge computer accessory with students.


OSMO works with students’ iPads and utilizes a small reflector that covers the device’s camera to allow the iPad to recognize moveable objects in front of it. Students can use the technology to learn everything from drawing and music to coding and core academics like math and reading, through hands-on games and activities. OSMO creators call the technology, “tangible learning.”

“Having our video selected as the winner by OSMO really validates how we have incorporated OSMO into our students’ learning,” Baker said. “It recognizes that technology tools are not separate and apart from academic content. Rather, they go hand in hand to support and enhance each other and offer engaging learning opportunities that would not otherwise exist. We are redefining the way students learn, and they love it.”


According to Baker, the making of the video provided students with a new and different way to showcase their work and demonstrate proficiency with academic skills.

“It was important to me to create the video with my students, not for my students,” Baker said. “It gave them an opportunity to use another art form – video – to tell the story of their academic learning to the world. That’s real integration. Each layer of the project was one more teaching and learning opportunity and allowed students to think creatively about how they show their skills.”

Fletcher students in grades three through six are currently part of the school’s “one to one” iPad program, ensuring that students have immediate access to a device when learning calls. Younger students share moveable iPad carts that may be brought into the classroom or used in the library.


Baker is one of a handful of teachers across the United States, known as OSMO Ambassadors, who participate in monthly challenges posed by the makers of OSMO. The video creation is the result of one such challenge. She frequently corresponds with the company to give feedback on the product, as well as to share and receive new ideas for its use in the classroom. Last year, Baker accompanied several students to Dynamic Landscapes, a technology conference at Champlain College, where they demonstrated OSMO and mentored fellow students and adults in its use.


“MC’s work as an OSMO Ambassador is important because there are many, many classrooms and schools that are resistant to trying new things, particularly when the new things involve expensive, fragile equipment like an iPad,” said Kira Westbrook, spokesperson for OSMO. “With the help of educators like MC, we can show other educators that not only is trying new things okay, but it’s necessary. MC does a fantastic job of that.”

“There are many different ways to learn and just as many ways to prove what you have done,” fifth-grader Lily Sweet, who helped create the video, said. Sweet and Baker collaborated to plan the major themes of the slightly more than two-minute documentary before Sweet took over videotaping and interviewing her peers and taking pictures of them using OSMO in the classroom.

The Fletcher video was selected from entries submitted to OSMO from across the country. According to Westbrook, “promoting and supporting educators, like MC, who have open minds and an eagerness for the future of education, will make a huge difference in the lives of students and teachers alike.”


As recognition for the award-winning video, Baker will receive an all-expense-paid trip to the International Society for Technology In Education (ISTE) Conference in Chicago in June, where she will showcase her use of OSMO with students

“This is a great opportunity to be proud of one way that Fletcher is integrating technology into its classrooms in a meaningful way,” Superintendent Ned Kirsch said. “It’s a bonus that they have received this recognition about technology, using technology to showcase their efforts.”

In January 2017, the Fletcher School began showcasing its work with OSMO through the FWSU Blog, Fletcher Students Explore Tangible Learning with OSMO.

THE FWSU STORY: Moving Innovation Forward

Get better every day.

Sounds simple and it is something FWSU strives to do. So how do we do it? There are many ways that we try to improve our system overall to make it more responsive to family and students. And also to make our schools as innovative as possible. One of biggest drivers of our school improvement efforts over the last several years is our membership in the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools.

FWSU is one of 93 members in the League and one of two member districts in New England. League members are selected through a peer-reviewed application process. The League is an organization that brings together the most innovative schools in the nation to working together, to learn together on shared priorities, and to find solutions to make our schools better. League schools also partner with leading entrepreneurs, researchers, and educational leaders to pioneer innovative learning and leadership practices. These practices lead to improved outcomes for students that help prepare them for lifelong learning.

Since becoming part of the League, FWSU has continued to design, champion, and scale effective, innovative learning opportunities to advance equity and excellence for every student. The League has opened opportunities for our students, that would not have ordinarily been available to small rural districts. Here are a few examples:

  • BFA Fairfax Middle School participated in a unique research opportunity sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF).  The NSF is a United States government agency that supports fundamental research and education in all the non-medical fields of science and engineering. The project, Playing with Data, is a three-year research and development study to investigate how to support middle school science teachers in using data from students’ digital gameplay for formative assessment and differentiated instruction.
  • Students in Fletcher worked with Digital Promise Global on an initiative that supports innovation, by providing students worldwide with cutting edge technology to solve real-world problems.  The project was part of the Hewlett-Packard-Microsoft’s Reinvent the classroom initiative, which aims to provide and support next-generation learning, international collaboration and the “maker” movement in education.
  • FWSU has been named one of nine schools in the country to participate in a NSF Challenge Collaborative to help develop K-12 Computational Thinking Pathways. Computational thinking is the thought processes involved in formulating a problem and expressing its solution(s) in such a way that a computer can effectively carry out (i.e. – coding). Our system will share its knowledge, best practices, learnings, and frameworks around computational thinking with Digital Promise and other participating districts over the course of three years. What we learning and frameworks we establish will be published as part of a public-facing toolkit
  • FWSU was one of the League schools featured in published “playbook” that was shared with schools all over the country on implementing proficiency-based education.

Partnering with entrepreneurs, researchers, and leading education thinkers and serving as a test-bed for new approaches to teaching and learning has benefited our schools. Learning from the above experiences, as well as other League schools, has led to many innovative changes in all of our schools. Since joining the League each of our schools has established Innovation Labs, expanded computer science education, expanded our global education work and put a focus on improving outcomes for our students with the smart use of learning technologies.

Stay tuned for what is next for FWSU!

THE FWSU STORY: Preschool Literacy Night Inspires Fletcher’s Youngest Readers and Writers

At first glance, the Fletcher Elementary School library looked more like Santa’s bustling workshop than a quiet reading space Monday evening as several preschool families used shiny wrapping paper, colorful stickers, and a virtual treasure trove of arts and crafts supplies to transform ordinary cardboard boxes into personalized and portable student desks.

Eight preschool families attended the Fletcher School Preschool Program’s Literacy Night, facilitated by Preschool Teacher Nancy Hurt. The goal, according to Hurt, was to empower families to engage with their children in conversation and activities that promote a love of reading and writing.Preschool1

Students and their families began by assembling a cardboard box, then cutting two of the corners to allow a side to drop and form a Secretary’s Desk, of sorts. A variety of small containers and folders, along with decorative materials, completed the look and functionality of the desks, which were then stocked with books and writing supplies.

“I’m always looking for multiple avenues to involve families in their child’s education,” Hurt said. “Events like this go beyond classroom conversations or written communication from me. They serve to strengthen the home and school partnership and act as  a reminder that families are incredibly important teachers and that families can lead their children in experiences that are equally valuable to those provided by a trained educator.”

Materials for Preschool Literacy Night were funded through a grant from the Step Ahead Recognition System, or STARS, the Vermont Department for Children and Families’ accreditation program for childcare, preschool and after-school programs. For the fourth consecutive year, the Fletcher Elementary School Preschool Program has earned the highest possible ranking – 5 STARS – which is accompanied by grant funding that is used to support continued high-quality preschool programming at the school.PreschoolIn addition to the preschool students, many older siblings and adult family members attended the event, with many creating their own desks.

“The project and the materials were intended to be ageless,” Hurt said. “The content and materials were open-ended enough so that everyone could individualize and personalize their creation, regardless of what grade they are in. I wanted families to know that projects like this can impact every student’s learning, regardless of age or ability.”

The idea for the student-made desks was one Hurt learned about at a conference on the Vermont Early Learning Standards, part of which emphasize language and literacy development, as well as engaging families in their child’s education. First established in 2003, Vermont’s Early Learning Standards address what children should know and be able to do between birth and third grade.Preschool4“I wanted to remind families that typical everyday activities and conversations can become enriching opportunities that set the stage for early literacy,” Hurt said. “Those moments, whether you’re singing silly rhyming songs or looking at words in the environment, have a powerful impact on children and are stepping stones to becoming readers and writers.”

In addition to Preschool Literacy Night, Hurt also sends her students home with “classroom highlights” that become conversation starters for families each day. The brief, bulleted list encourages families to ask specific questions about what their child learned or did that day.Preschool3“Children’s faces just light up when someone asks them a detailed question about their learning,” Hurt said. “And, it keeps parents informed.”

“Mia loves her new portable desk,” preschool parent Jensen Welch said. “She and her sister, Josie, have already engaged with their desks at home before dinner, practicing writing, and this morning getting them organized. I think it is special for Mia that it’s just hers, and that she can do ‘adult-ish’ things she sees her older siblings and parents do, like writing, reading, using numbers and ‘working.’”

“Our family really enjoyed this event,” preschool parent Jess Graff said. “This time of year the children often resort to screen time after dinner. This event was an opportunity for us to get out of the house and make something all together. It was great to see so many of my son’s classmates and peers and get to meet some other families that live in our community. Both children used their literacy desks as soon as they got home and when they woke up in the morning the next day. The literacy desk was definitely a motivation for my son to practice and develop those skills.”Preschool6“Lily is very excited about her desk, she always wants to have it out and be making something with it. It’s also nice that it’s mobile so she can move it around the house and be with other family members. The biggest benefit is that she is excited and she is viewing reading and writing in a very positive and enthusiastic way. Yesterday she brought it out to the kitchen and made a book for daddy, and then she read it to him. This morning, she brought her desk into the living room and was working on another book,” preschool parent Tana Sears said.

“It was awesome to see the children smiling on their way out the door,” Hurt said. “They were taking home their creation, something they were incredibly proud of, which will spark their curiosity, support their creativity and will inspire them to read and write. That kind of experience is not limited to school and does not need to cost a lot of money. Such amazing learning can happen just from genuine time spent together.”Preschool5“Both of my daughters moved their desks up to their room and have been using them,” preschool parent Tucker Riggs said. “It was fun to help the kids create the desks and for them to see that even something as simple as a cardboard box and some tape can be transformed into a space where they can have fun writing, drawing, and exploring.”


THE FWSU STORY: Fletcher Students Learn About Financial Literacy

Plan ahead. Isn’t that what we’ve always been told? In Fletcher, students have begun to do just that, and they are working to secure their financial futures in the process.

Each student received a certificate signed by State Treasurer Beth Pearce.

Each student received a certificate signed by State Treasurer Beth Pearce.

The Reading is an Investment Program is an initiative of the Vermont State Treasurer’s Office. It encourages students to learn about financial literacy through children’s books. This year’s theme, “Creative Ideas Pay Off,” encourages librarians to share the stories of entrepreneurs and their innovative ideas and projects that have led them to financial success. Creativity and planning skills are emphasized as students share stories that provide inspiration and a framework for their future financial plans.

The program provides a book list that focuses on money management, as well as a reading log for students and suggested activities that teach students about personal finance. In Fletcher, all students shared financially-themed books as part of library classes with Librarian Emily DiGiulio.

"The Bridge of the Golden Wood" by Karl Beckstrand and Yaniv Cahoua

This title was included on the book list: “The Bridge of the Golden Wood” by Karl Beckstrand and Yaniv Cahoua

“Our students gain an understanding of financial concepts as they make connections to the stories and characters in the books,” DiGiulio said. “The books include young characters making a difference in their families and communities and help students understand financial issues. Through reading, book discussions, and reviewing ideas with partners in the activities, students begin learning about the role money plays in our lives while building their skills for financial well-being.”

Three books are included in the program this year. The Bridge of the Golden Wood, By Carl Beckstrand, tells the stories of successful businesspeople and how they have turned creative ideas into practical solutions. It also teaches the relationship between goods and services and the relationship between expenses and sales. A second story, Barbara deRebertis’s, Count on Pablo, tells the tale of a young boy and his grandmother who develop a successful plan to market their wares. The final book, Soda Bottle School, by Laura Kutner and Suzanne Slade, discusses how a young girl evaluates the wants and needs of her customers.

Another title was "Count on Pablo" by Barbara deRubertis

Another featured title: “Count on Pablo” by Barbara deRubertis

“Supporting students in thinking about money management, financial success, and ingenuity at an early age is a critical step in setting the stage for creating adults who behave in a financially responsible manner,” Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Teacher Leader Denette Locke said. “It’s great to see this theme extend beyond the classrooms and into library classes.”

DiGiulio registered each student at Fletcher for the program, presented the lessons, facilitated discussion and awarded each student a certificate signed by State Treasurer Beth Pearce.

This title was a favorite of the students: "The Soda Bottle School" by Seno Laura Kutner and Suzanne Slade

This title was a favorite of the students: “The Soda Bottle School” by Seno Laura Kutner and Suzanne Slade

According to DiGiulio, the Vermont State Treasurer’s Office provides the incentive for a 529 College Savings Account and students are selected by having their name drawn to win. “Having access to this account gives our students the opportunity to have funds for their future educational goals,” she said. “This program provides our students with an equal opportunity to have this college fund that will grow over the years as it adds to their repertoire of positive financial choices.”

Three Fletcher students also received recognition for their participation in the program’s “Be Money Wise” poster contest.

“It’s great to see students connecting a variety of disciplines and making meaning of their interconnectedness,” Literacy Teacher Leader Julie Steves said. “Reading and math go hand-in-hand so to use great books to teach financial concepts makes total sense.”

THE FWSU STORY: Fletcher Students Participate in “Sweet” Learning

Students in Miss Fecura’s first and second-grade classroom at Fletcher Elementary recently hit the road to tour three bustling Fletcher sugarhouses.

Each stop featured a thriving maple producer who is also a parent of a child in that classroom. The students are studying states of matter, and there is no sweeter way to observe the phenomenon first hand than to tap a Fletcher maple, collect the sap, and watch the transformation to sticky-sweet liquid gold.

Throughout the day, students each tapped their own maple tree, first learning how to identify the proper trees and tap sites. They hung buckets, learned about the importance of sugar content, studied the reverse osmosis process, heard about tap lines and how they are set up, and were in awe of the hard work and long hours it takes to produce maple syrup.

At each stop, students sampled maple treats like maple cream on crackers, maple candy, and of course, maple syrup itself. Students also learned about sustainability, seeing how many sugarhouses use the byproduct of syrup-making to clean their equipment.

They learned about the many regulations that govern syrup production, and the importance of specific weather in producing a bumper crop.