THE #FWSU STORY: Partnership Promotes Good Health and Community for Fletcher Students

A partnership between the Vermont Department of Health, the Healthy Roots Collaborative, and Fletcher Elementary School is promoting healthy lifestyles and social consciousness for Fletcher’s third graders and their families and is benefitting local food shelves at the same time.

Fletcher Students harvest at the West Farm in Jeffersonville

Last spring, the three organizations began planning ways that students could explore key questions about sustainable farming and food production, nutrition, and strategies for helping food-insecure members of the community.

Students bringing in the harvest at West Farm in Jeffersonville, VT

In late September, students visited the Jeffersonville-based West Farm, a 10-acre organic producer of wholesale herbs, fruits, and vegetables. Among the hospitals, schools, restaurants, stores and a local farmer-owned cooperative served by the farm, produce is also sold to The Abbey Group, which provides the foodservice program at Fletcher Elementary.

The purpose of the trip, according to Koi Boynton, co-coordinator and manager of the farm to school and gleaning programs for the Healthy Roots Collaborative, was to have students see farming life first hand and to gain an understanding of how the food they eat is being produced.

Students bringing in the harvest at West Farm in Jeffersonville, VT

Additionally, Boynton said that students who meet food producers and help to harvest the food themselves are more likely to try the food once it reaches their table.

Fletcher Elementary students pose with the UN Global Goals for Sustainability at the West Farm in Jeffersonville, VT

“We wanted students to marvel at the beauty and the bounty of farms like the West Farm, but also to get a glimpse of the hard work it takes. In this case, the West Farm is a farm that sells produce to The Abbey Group so the kids will see it in the school cafeteria and maybe tell their classmates, ‘we visited that farm and it was so great. Try the cabbage,’” Boynton said.

A Fletcher Elementary students poses with a pumpkin as she offers a reminder of UN Global Goal 12 "Responsible Consumption and Production"

Founded in 2014, the Healthy Roots Collaborative aims to make connections between agriculture and health. The group works to address food access, nutrition education and agriculture development through education and services for both producers and consumers.

A student harvests squash with her parent as part of a cooking class at Fletcher Elementary School

Leading up to the trip, students participated in discussions about the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, a collection of 17 goals created by global leaders to make the world a better place by the year 2030. Topics range from ending poverty and hunger to good health and environmental responsibility.

Parents and Students at Fletcher Elementary display the Global Goals

“Before we went to the farm our students held focused conversations about several of the Global Goals,” third-grade teacher Tracey Godin said. “ Even though the trip was local, we wanted the students to understand that their learning and problem-solving contributes to a much larger solution in the state, country, and world.”

A Fletcher Elementary student poses with her harvested cabbage and UN SDG #2 Zero Hunger

Students’ discussions emphasized goals related to life on land, responsible consumption and production, sustainable cities and communities, reduced inequalities, good health and well-being, and eliminating hunger. Students took posters of the goals with them to the farm to promote continued conversation on-site.

Fletcher Elementary student processes cabbage as part of a cooking class

“Some of our students were already aware of the issues surrounding these goals,” Godin said, “and others were not. Part of supporting students in being innovative problem-solvers is to help them both identify an issue and thoroughly understand it before they set out to create a solution.”

“Farm to school is a major component of our work because we know that we need to educate the consumers of tomorrow to care about how their food is produced and where it comes from,” Boynton said. “We also know that kids can have a great impact on their families as well. We have heard the story over and over again that after a school taste test, kids will be in the grocery store and ask their parents to get that kale or cabbage.”

At the farm, students harvested a variety of vegetables. Much of the cabbage and most of the squash harvested by students was donated to Northwest Family Foods, a food shelf program serving Franklin and Grand Isle Counties, as well as Martha’s Kitchen, a St. Albans-based soup kitchen that provides daily meals to those in need. The Abenaki Nation of Missisquoi Food Shelf also benefited from the harvest.

A student cooks in the kitchen at Fletcher Elementary School

Food that was not donated was used as part of an evening cooking class held at the school and taught by Rachel Huff, farm to school coordinator for the Healthy Roots Collaborative, and Rachel Gregory, a registered dietitian and public health nutritionist with the Vermont Department of Health. While the duo teaches a variety of cooking classes, Fletcher’s was the first to bring both parents and students together to share in the experience.

“Students need to be guided and supported as they learn to try new foods and feel comfortable making healthy food choices,” Huff said. “Learning to eat well and prepare healthy food that contributes to a sustainable food system requires extra educational effort that is not written into our school curricula nor our health care protocol. Healthy Roots strives to fill in some of that gap.”

Students serve their harvested vegetables prepared in the Fletcher Elementary School kitchen

Students and their families cooked six recipes using produce harvested from West Farm, three using cabbage and three using squash, and then ate family style, sampling the dishes they had produced and reviewing nutritional information. Participants also engaged in several activities around food and nutrition.

“Our students were able to see multiple, very different ways to prepare the same produce,” Godin said. “They learned that if you don’t care for a vegetable cooked one way, there are lots of alternatives that you might enjoy. They also learned that some recipes include cooking and some do not, as well as how to use a variety of kitchen tools and procedures. These are life skills.”

Harvesting squash for the SDGs!

“There is a tremendous amount of marketing and advertising out in the world encouraging consumers to buy highly processed, packaged, and not always very healthy food. Connecting students, their teacher, and families to local farmers contribute to our educational effort,” Huff said. “The Healthy Roots Collaborative finds its greatest successes in the partnerships we create between eaters and growers in our region. Establishing these links on every level we can find furthers our mission to envision a healthy Northwest Vermont with a community rooted in a strong agricultural economy with thriving farms, where all are connected to and nourished by local farms and food.”

“The partnership between the Vermont Department of Health and the Healthy Roots Collaborative is critical because our goal is to create local food champions,” Boynton said.  “As a small part-time staff, we don’t have the capacity to reach every school and every community. We need partners like the Vermont Department of Health to carry on the work with us.”

"By 2030, nobody will live in extreme poverty anywhere in the world." #GlobalGoals

“People need to eat and cook together,” Boynton said. “Beyond the nutritional value, it is a family and community value that we need to see in order to build bonds and personal wellness. As a society, we need to regain our cooking skills and take time to be together. The cooking class gave us the opportunity to put those values into play with real families. It has been proven that when people sit down and eat together they come to consensus more quickly and that consensus building comes even faster when people eat family style. We need to build family and community bonds. And, just like meeting the farmer, when kids cook the food they are more likely to eat the food.”

According to Huff, providing cooking classes to students and families together is particularly satisfying because students are often more brave than their parents about trying new foods or being open to new, healthy choices.

“Students are used to being in a learning environment every day,” Huff said. “When a parent might be hesitant to sign up for a class on their own they are more likely to join in with their child. In these moments, the students become the leaders and not only encourage their parents towards healthier foods but practice the very important work of becoming a leader for tomorrow.”

“Different foods can make such good meals. I was surprised how you could use winter squash to make soup. And the roasted winter squash was delicious. After the cooking class, I made the chickpea salad at home and it was delicious,” third-grader Cailin Macaulay said. “It makes my heart feel good to know that some of our harvest also went to people that are hungry. It was so easy for us to do but it really helped out other people. I never really knew how important good food is to everyone until I learned that some people don’t have enough.”

Of his trip to the farm, third-grader Harrison Frennier said, “I learned that you need a lot of skill to farm and to harvest things. I was very happy that I actually got to meet the farmer that grows things and learn about how he works and takes care of the earth.”

Food harvested and prepared from the garden

“It was really fun to pick the pumpkins and squash and get the cabbage boxed up. I learned that after the whole harvest goes by you can still go to a farm because there is still food in the fields that can be used and should not go to waste,” third-grader Addie Gillilan said. “It was interesting to meet the farmer because I learned a lot about how he runs his business.”

“Seeing the entire process from growing the produce to harvesting and preparing it to bring the learning full circle for our students,” Godin said. “And donating a portion of the harvest helps them to understand that in addition to their own learning they are contributing to others.”

“I think this cooking class was important because we learned about the sustainability of our food and that there are many ways to prepare it,” parent Deedra Austin said. “It’s good to try new foods. Growing up I never ate anything with cabbage and now I have cabbage recipes I will actually eat. It’s also important for any child to learn where food is coming from and how to take care of the planet. It’s good to try new foods and to know the process it takes to go from ground to table.”

Fletcher Elementary’s Parent Engagement Plan includes a second cooking and nutrition class scheduled for the coming weeks. It will emphasize using healthy, local food to pack creative kid-friendly lunches.

UN Global Goals #2 Zero Hunger #teachsdgs

#globalgoal2 #zerohunger #teachsdgs #globalgoals

Chris and Jackson


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 Named PBIS Exemplar School

The Fletcher Elementary School has earned Exemplar status as a Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) School. The designation was awarded by the VT-PBIS Team of the Vermont Agency of Education and the UVM Center on Disability and Community Inclusion Collaboration at the annual PBIS Leadership Forum in Killington on October 11. Representatives from the school’s PBIS team accepted the award.

Fletcher VTPBIS Leadership Team pose with Exemplar School ribbon

Exemplar designation represents the highest of three tiers of PBIS recognition and affirms the Fletcher School’s unwavering commitment to supporting a positive school climate and the social skills of students, which in turn bolster academic achievements and increase available time for academic learning.

Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports is an approach to creating proactive, school-wide systems that support students’ behavioral and academic success. It begins with the teaching, modeling, and practicing of school-wide behavior expectations with all students and staff and a formal system of recognition and supports when students meet those expectations. The Fletcher School has created clear and concise behavior expectations for each physical area of the school, on the school buses and for field trips. The school emphasizes respectful, responsible, safe and caring behaviors. Fletcher School is in its fifth full year of implementing PBIS.

These expectations are modeled and taught to students throughout the year. Individual classroom and school-wide successes are recognized and celebrated regularly. The school’s PBIS Team uses data from classroom and office behavior referrals to identify students, location around the school, times of day and other demographics needing additional support. Behavior data is provided to families throughout the year as part of parent conferences. 

“We spend time learning what it looks like to be respectful, responsible, safe and caring,” sixth-grader Monica King said. “I like being recognized for my positive behavior. It makes me feel good and it lets me know that the adults care and are watching.”

Students are intermittently recognized when they meet school-wide expectations. The recognition comes in the form of small paper “falcon” tokens, representing the school mascot. The tokens are often customized to a particular theme, like fire safety month or to celebrate an upcoming event at the school. Tokens accumulated in classrooms and other locations around the school result in class and school-wide celebrations. 

“Our celebrations are things like hat day or an extra recess,” King said. “We’ve also done face painting and other things. They’re really fun and make us want to follow the expectations even more.”

Students discuss RESPECT - a key component of the VTPBIS system

“Our PBIS system is completely data-driven,” Fletcher’s Instructional Coach, Denette Locke, said. “We track and analyze behavior information such as location, time of day, academic subject, suspected motivation and more to plan the best ways to support our students. When you have specific information about behaviors, you can more successfully target the problem areas with supports that turn behaviors around.”

The school also involves families in the PBIS approach. At last week’s Open House, families were given buttons to wear with the school-wide expectations on them. The school also sends home tokens before school vacations and encourages families to award them at home, keeping up the momentum of positive behavior across settings and when students are away from school.

“Fletcher’s designation as a PBIS Exemplar School reflects a tremendous ongoing effort on the part of the adults and students to create a school community where everyone is valued and respected, and where a positive climate clears the way for academic achievement for all learners,” FWSU Superintendent Ned Kirsch said.

Fletcher students discuss what responsible behaviors look like

In 2014, the Fletcher School was designated a Vermont PBIS School of Recognition based on its strategic use of data to support student behavior, celebrating school-wide and individual successes and working to support behavioral challenges, as well as noted decrease in behavior issues overall. In the following three years, the school received the PBIS School of Merit designation based on a continuation of that work, as well as receiving exceptional scores on its state-conducted school-wide evaluation of its PBIS implementation. This year’s Exemplar designation recognizes both a continued decrease in rule-breaking behaviors and an increase in academic performance and comes following a rigorous selection process that included documenting both improved behaviors and increased academic achievement.

“Fletcher is a ‘go to’ school for model PBIS practices and implementation fidelity. They are truly an exemplar school, and they should be very proud of the recognition for the work they have done on behalf of their students to ensure safe and responsive learning environments,” FWSU Director of Curriculum Linda Keating said.

Students proudly display their VTPBIS Exemplar School ribbon

More than half of Vermont schools – 160 – implement PBIS. That represents 91 percent of supervisory unions around the state.

Good Health and Well-Being

Chris and Jackson


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: Lead Learners and Luminaries: Notes On A Day with George Couros

In the bio section of his Twitter account, one of my colleagues, also a school principal, identifies himself as the “lead learner” in his building. As I thought about his carefully chosen words, I was struck by how such a simple phrase could so completely embody our work as educational leaders, designating the principal as both teacher and perpetual student.  

George Couros 4

Former President John F. Kennedy once said, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” Nowhere is that more evident than in Franklin West. FWSU prioritizes professional learning for all staff, including the cohort of FWSU teachers, principals and central office administrators who spent last Wednesday together.

And so began our day with George Couros, former teacher and principal turned author, educational consultant and public speaker. His book, The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity, outlines the attitudes and behaviors – the mindset – necessary for teachers and school administrators to inspire students and colleagues, and to nurture their natural curiosity to learn. 

The day was inspiring, filled with learning about the attitudes needed to maintain students’ innate curiosities. But, it wasn’t until I returned to my office later that day that I realized my notes from the session looked very different than they usually do after professional development. Rather than a tally of “do’s” and “don’ts” (with very few exceptions), my notes were substantially a running list of quotations, statements made by George that was intended to be thought-provoking, challenging and inspirational. Of course, there were some specific tools that we could go back to our schools and immediately put into place, but more than that, what I took away was, in many ways, a different way of thinking. The Innovator’s Mindset.

George Couros 3

In his book, and during our professional development, George spoke about the importance of making a connection of the heart before trying to teach anyone anything. He did just that, including photographs of his stories of his immigrant family and childhood. While the day was about teaching us, it was mostly done through modeling, igniting our own desires to learn, and making connections.

At first, I didn’t think much about the difference in my note taking that day. But, as I began to write about the day, I connected all of this with something that had happened that morning. George was using technology as part of his presentation. As he efficiently navigated the creation and use of documents, many of us the begin exploring the same. Throughout the day, George reminded us that he had not told us that we had to do anything, or couldn’t do something. Instead, he had shown us the value in what he was doing and that led most of us to want to do the same thing.

My thoughts reverted back to my colleague’s “lead learner” designation on Twitter. Roget’s 21st Century Thesaurus has more than 30 synonyms for the word “leader,” but my favorite by far is “luminary,” which is defined as “a person who inspires or influences others.” It struck me that the reason my notes from the day were vastly quotes, rather than a to-do-list, was because ideas had been illuminated rather than dictated, inspired rather than directed.

These quotes were particularly thought-provoking for me:

“What was once terrifying, is now the norm.”

“Relationships are by far the most important thing in education.”

“You’ve never had to teach a child curiosity.”

“Would you want to spend the whole day learning in your own classroom?”

“Hope is not a strategy.”

“Do kids create because of – or in spite of – school?”

“When you have a compelling reason, you can learn anything.”

“We need to make the positives so loud that the negatives are almost impossible to hear.”

“Showing someone the value of learning motivates them to do it.”

Thinking about my mindset – my attitude – was a very different experience than simply learning new “things to do.” It challenged my “being” as much as my practice. It caused me to think about the experiences that have led me to certain beliefs and values and challenged me to want to be an even more inspiring person and practitioner. And maybe someday, a luminary.

Chris and Jackson


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: Setting the Stage in Fletcher: Benjamin Franklin, PBIS, and those Pesky Coals

You’ve probably heard Benjamin Franklin’s old adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”


But, did you know that the former inventor and scientist was actually referring to fire safety and not good health when he coined that phrase? In fact, he was advising readers not to carry hot coals from room to room or up and down stairs for fear that they might escape and cause a great tragedy. He wrote, “Scraps of fire may fall into chinks (an opening or crack) and make no appearance until midnight when your stairs being in flames, you may be forced (as I once was) to leap out of your windows, and hazard your necks to avoid being oven-roasted.”


Benjamin Franklin may not have known it then, but he was onto something big, not only preventing house fires but “behavior fires” as well, with his “ounce of prevention.”

Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, or PBIS, follows Franklin’s sage advice. It’s a vastly proactive approach to student behavior that begins with the establishing and teaching of school-wide expectations. In Fletcher, those expectations include being respectful, responsible safe and caring, and it’s our fourth full year explicitly teaching them. While the expectations are taught, practiced and modeled all year long, the first days and weeks of school serve as a particularly important time in setting the stage for successful months to come.


Classrooms approach the teaching of school-wide expectations in a variety of ways. Many teachers bring their classes to different locations around the school – such as the cafeteria, playground, bus, and library – to talk about what each expectation looks and sounds like in that specific area. This teaching is supported by Fletcher’s PBIS Expectations Matrix, which clearly defines the expected behaviors in 12 different school settings. The matrix includes elements such as voice level, safety requirements and expectations for courtesy. F.E.S. also kicked off the school year with a whole-school gathering during which students worked in teams to discuss examples of how they meet behavior expectations.

Daily classroom Morning Meetings also provide an opportunity for teachers to incorporate social-emotional learning. Each Meeting includes a Greeting, Sharing, Activity and News and Announcements chart. Throughout the year, the school-wide expectations are purposefully integrated into Morning Meeting and other parts of the day.

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Throughout the year, the adults continuously teach and revisit the expectations, particularly in the days leading up to and following longer school vacations, which can be a lightning rod for limit-testing by students. We also use data collected from this year and previous years to proactive head off any negative behavior trends.

A recognition system is also an important part of the year’s start-up and ongoing PBIS work. It is important that students know and repeat the specific behaviors that meet school-wide expectations. To accomplish this, the adults at school recognize students with specific teacher language that names the student, the expectation they met, and their specific behavior. This allows students to clearly connect their actions with the expectations so that their positive behaviors are repeated. During the recognition process, the adult gives the student a small paper token that gets added to a classroom chart. When the class reaches 50 tokens, there is a small celebration such as an extra recess or board games in the room. Recognition is intermittent, which means students are recognized only occasionally, not each time they follow the rules. Each classroom celebration earns a paper falcon that is placed on the hallway bulletin board. 25 falcons (our mascot) results in a school-wide celebration.

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The proactive teaching of behavior expectations using the PBIS approach is intended to prevent any “hot coals” of behavior from smoldering throughout the year, thereby maximizing time for teaching and learning.

Benjamin Franklin was no stranger to constantly putting out fires. He founded the Benjamin Franklin Bucket Brigade, Philadelphia’s first fire department, in 1736. However, he recognized that prevention was a much more successful model than constantly reacting events. After all, he said it best when he said, “It’s better to prevent bad habits than to break them.”

Thanks, Mr. Franklin, for setting the stage for PBIS and a positive, productive school climate.



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 Welcomes New Teachers

The Fletcher Elementary School welcomed several new teachers to the school this fall, and they have begun the school year with tremendous enthusiasm and energy.


We are fortunate to add the following professionals to our school:

Blythe Baskette is our new preschool special educator. Ms. Baskette earned both a Master’s Degree in Education from Saint Michael’s College, as well as a Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study in Special Education. She has extensive experience in the field of Early Childhood Education as a childcare director and teacher. She has been a special educator and teacher at the elementary level for several years, as well as a behavior interventionist. Welcome, Ms. Baskette!


Emily “Lisa” Coale joins our school as the new school counselor and PBIS coordinator. Ms. Coale earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Islamic Studies and Arabic from Middlebury College, as well as a Master’s Degree in Education with a concentration in School Counseling from George Mason University. She completed counseling internships at JFK Elementary School in Winooski and Colchester Middle School. Ms. Coale was a kindergarten teacher in the DC Public Schools for two years and received Middlebury College’s Kathryn Davis Fellowship, an award that recognizes students who build cross-cultural connections and international peace through language. Welcome, Ms. Coale!


We welcome Jennifer McConnell to F.E.S. as our school’s music teacher. Ms. McConnell earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Church Music and Voice from Moody Bible Institute in Chicago and a Master’s Degree in Music Education from Castleton State College. She has been the elementary music teacher at Franklin Central School since 2004. Ms. McConnell also taught in Sheldon as the general music and chorus teacher for several years. She will share her time between Franklin and Fletcher this year. Ms. McConnell enjoys composing music and being part of a small, tight-knit community. Welcome, Ms. McConnell!

Michele Michalski is a new first and second-grade teacher. Ms. Michalski earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Liberal Studies from California State University – Bernardino and a Master’s Degree in Education with a concentration in Reading and Language Arts, also from California State University. Ms. Michalski has completed a variety long-term teacher substitute assignments, most recently in third grade at BFA Fairfax as a third through fifth-grade academic interventionist. Ms. Michalski has taught all elementary grades, as well as preschool. Welcome, Ms. Michalski!


Kathleen Pellegrino joins the F.E.S. team this year as a first and second-grade teacher. Ms. Pellegrino earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education and Multidisciplinary Studies with a minor in Science from Castleton University. Most recently, Ms. Pellegrino has served as a long-term substitute in third grade in Fair Haven and first grade in Sheldon. She comes to F.E.S. with a wealth of experience with young children including being a volunteer mentor for 10 to 12-year-olds. Welcome, Ms. Pellegrino!


We are welcoming Phyllis Quarles as our new speech-language pathologist. Ms. Quarles will be half-time each at Fletcher and Georgia Elementary and Middle School. Ms. Quarles graduated from the University of Colorado – Boulder and alternated between working part-time and raising her family. She likes to mountain bike, dance, be in nature and is committed to the practice of meditation. Welcome, Ms. Quarles.


Welcome to Justin Wills, our new sixth-grade teacher. Mr. Wills is a graduate of B.F.A. Fairfax, followed by earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy with a minor in Music from UVM. Additionally, Mr. Wills earned a Master’s Degree in Teaching with a concentration in Middle-Level Education from UVM, and a Master’s Degree in Philosophy from Concordia University in Montreal. Mr. Wills has taught middle school math, science and language arts at Browns River Middle School was a grade 5-8 middle school teacher in Williston and a sixth-grade classroom teacher in Swanton. Mr. Wills has served as a volunteer in a children’s hospital in Boston, as well as a mentor and Odyssey of the Mind coach here in Vermont. Welcome, Mr. Wills!


We are also excited to have a few existing staff members in new positions this year.

Lorrene Palermo, a long-time classroom teacher here at F.E.S., will become our school-wide math and literacy interventionist. Ms. Palermo will work with students needing support in those academic areas four days per week. On her fifth day, she will teach library classes to all of our PK to grade six students.


Denette Locke, who most recently has provided both academic intervention and teacher support with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (S.T.E.M.), will become a full-time instructional coach. She will be dedicating her time to supporting teachers in providing the highest quality instruction possible in S.T.E.M. and Literacy. Denette will not be directly responsible for student instruction other than that provided as part of teacher coaching.


We are excited to be working with our new colleagues. Here’s to a great year!


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: Traveling Exhibit Teaches Fletcher Students Math Through Art

Students at the Fletcher Elementary School were greeted by winding staircases, intricate stone castles, and majestic soaring birds as they kicked off the new school year on Tuesday. 

E5The images are part of a traveling exhibit by Dutch artist MC Escher, whose mathematically-inspired work is being used to welcome students back to school in a creative and exciting way, and to help them make connections between art and a variety of other academic areas. 


“The traveling exhibit is a really captivating and intriguing first exposure to the new school year for our students,” Instructional Coach Denette Locke said. “The moment students came through the door they began analyzing the artwork and noticing elements of symmetry, reflection, and dimension, which are all very important concepts in art, math, science and beyond.”


The exhibit consists of three large tapestries that include five well-known Escher works, as well as biographical information about the artist. This is the third year that Fletcher Elementary has opened the school with a traveling art show. Previously featured artists have included Vincent Van Gogh and Claude Monet.

“The artwork is interesting because it’s not what you would normally expect to see,” third-grader Donovan Austin said. “You really have to look at it because some parts are either upside down or flipped on their side. It’s unusual and shows you that different people see the world in different ways.”


Born Maurits Cornelis Escher in the Netherlands in 1898, the graphic artist is best known for his woodcut, lithograph and mezzotint prints that feature mathematical objects and operations like infinity, symmetry, geometry, and reflection, to name just a few. He is also well known for his tessellations, works that are made up of shapes that fit together perfectly to create a design. Escher, who struggled in school and repeated two grades, found inspiration in architecture, prompting a newfound interest in art and math.


“Even though he wasn’t good in school he found something that was really important and interesting to him,” Austin said. “When he found something he really liked, he did it and it made him happy and famous. He found out that he was really good at art and he could share that talent with everybody.”


“Escher is a perfect example of how, when students find their passion, it is energizing and inspiring, and can be used as a conduit for other learning. Imagine if Escher’s teachers had personalized his learning through the lens of art, how much more successful in school he might have been. As Fletcher teachers, we try to find every student’s jumping off point for learning.”

In addition to touring the exhibit and discussing Escher’s work, many students have begun creating their own tessellations inspired by the artwork and identifying tessellations all around them in a variety of settings.


“We got to look at and eat real honeycomb and I saw that all of the hexagons in the honeycomb made a tessellation. They all fit together perfectly. I bet that was as much work for the bees as it was for Mr. Escher,” Austin said. “I think the honeycomb is that shape because it makes it a stronger place for the honey. I learned from this that the shape of something can tell how strong it is.”

“There are so many mathematical concepts in Escher’s work,” Locke said. “Everything from identifying shapes to thinking geometrically about how they fit together. Escher uses a great deal of problem-solving in his work, which makes him a terrific role model for the young problem-solvers we work with every day.”


Along with the exhibit, Fletcher’s annual First Day Family Breakfast was themed on Escher’s work and life, including geometric waffle staircases and fresh fruits native to the Netherlands.

“This opportunity is all about students making connections,” third-grade teacher Tracey Godin said. “The more chances students have to experience a concept across settings, the more likely they are to generalize their learning and be able to apply it to real-world problems when it counts most.”E1The MC Escher traveling exhibit will be on display at the Fletcher School through September 7. Visiting is free and the public is encouraged to drop by. Both the First Day Family Breakfast and the art exhibit were generously sponsored by Friends of Fletcher Elementary (FOFE), the school’s parent group.

Learn more about Fletcher’s MC Escher exhibit here.



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 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.

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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.