THE FWSU STORY: Fletcher Students Take the Lead to Feed Community

Kindergarten students in Mrs. Blackman’s class at the Fletcher Elementary School lead a school-wide food drive recently. Initially, students had planned to each bring 100 pennies to school to celebrate the 100th day of school. The pennies were to be donated to charity. However, after discussing community needs, the students initiated a school-wide food drive and collected more than 350 items for the Fairfax Community Food Shelf.


Decorative collection boxes and posters were made during art classes with older student “art buddies” helping the younger students. The kindergarten students practiced public speaking skills by discussing the effort with other classes and office staff. The food shelf serves the towns of Fletcher, Fairfax, and Westford. The project was based on a study of the United Nations’ Global Goals for Sustainable Development, a worldwide initiative for students of all ages, and focused on awareness of poverty and hunger, efforts to promote health and well-being, and the creation of sustainable communities. The kindergartners were very excited to realize that they could take action to help others.


Pictured here, Rev. Elizabeth Griffin accepts the food donations and speaks with students about the importance of being helpful, caring community members.

THE FWSU STORY: BFA Fairfax Embraces Leadership Restructure

Eighteen years ago I was offered the opportunity to transition from being a special educator in Milton to a school administrator at BFA Fairfax. To this day, it remains one of the best decisions I have made in my professional career. BFA Fairfax has provided me every opportunity to learn, grow, and make a positive impact on teaching and learning.


My connection to Fairfax was immediate. Although I am a “flatlander” from central New York, Fairfax reminded me of my home in so many ways. My hometown of Hamilton, New York was a rural farming community and I attended a Pre K-12 school for my entire public school education. Unless you have been in one building and community for your formative years you cannot completely understand the unique dynamics that impact and shape you.

This experience is one of many factors that have led me to remain at BFA Fairfax for nearly two decades. Another important component of my longevity is the opportunities to grow, change, and be part of a community with similar values, priorities, and a focus on what is best for our students. Together we created a vision that continues to guide our work:

Bellows Free Academy Elementary/Middle School Vision for Teaching and Learning

At Bellows Free Academy Elementary/Middle School, we strive for academic excellence because we believe that all students can achieve high standards.  During this time of dramatic cognitive growth, we seek to provide a rigorous curriculum that is socially significant and reflects the personal interests and learning styles of our students. 

We engage students through learning opportunities that are relevant to our students and enable them to make real-life connections. Our curricula align with the Common Core State Standards, Next Generation Science Standards, Three C’s, and include learning opportunities that require higher-level thinking, knowledge, skill development, student experiences, experimentation, and reflection.

Our school continually strives to create a personalized learning environment. Whenever possible, we implement flexible scheduling to enable students to engage in extended projects, hands-on learning experiences, and inquiry-based learning opportunities. Comprehensive services foster healthy physical, social, emotional, ethical, and intellectual development.  We strive to make all students feel supported, safe, and willing to take risks and to challenge themselves.

Technology is an integral component that supports learning by providing teachers with interactive tools with which to engage students.  Digital technology will continue to evolve and it is our responsibility as educators to stay at the forefront of these modern advances by providing technology-based learning opportunities.  Through these opportunities, we will ensure technological equity among all students.

Teaching and learning are interconnected.  Teachers continue to learn about themselves, their practice, and their strengths and challenges. We discuss student work as a means of enhancing our own practice. We learn new ways to teach by listening to our students and colleagues.  Continuous professional development, teacher mentoring, a caring staff, a supportive community, consistent expectations, and dynamic learning opportunities help us reach our potential as educators.

We continually work to create a school that is deeply rooted in the community.  Parents, teachers, and students develop alliances that enhance learning.  Informed parents and community members serve to make the entire community an extended classroom that supports learning and healthy development.  We welcome and seek guidance from parents and community members in charting the school’s path toward high performance, to preserve traditions, and to develop new celebration.


Once again the needs of our students and school system require a change in the leadership structure at BFA Fairfax. Change is challenging but often necessary to maintain the functionality and growth of any organization. For the past six years, I have been the educational leader of both the elementary and middle schools. However, the growing demands and needs of both schools have increased and warranted a restructuring of leadership responsibilities. Next year, I will be assuming responsibilities for students and staff in Grades PreK-6 while my colleague, John Tague, will be responsible for students and staff in Grades 7-12. In addition, Geri Witalec-Krupa will continue in her vital role as Assistant Principal/Athletic Director.

BFA Fairfax new leadership structure

It is with mixed emotions that I embark on this new phase of my career. I appreciate the opportunity to refocus my energies with more manageable work and leadership responsibilities. In many ways, this change is a continuation of our efforts to increase our shared leadership structures that facilitate and guide the work of meeting the academic, social, and emotional needs of our learning community. BFA Fairfax’s successes are the result of highly qualified and committed educators, a progressive school board, an engaged and supportive community, and curious and resourceful students.

I have worked with many of the staff in the middle school for all of my career in Fairfax. They are more than my colleagues, they are lifelong friends. We have shared many life experiences and collaborated to provide innovative and responsive middle-level learning for two decades. I am so proud of our work and look forward to continuing this journey.

I am confident that these changes are necessary and will allow our school to continue to adapt to the rapidly changing landscape of public education. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your community for the past eighteen years. I value the continued opportunity to learn and grow.

Principal Tom Walsh


Thomas Walsh is currently Principal of BFA Fairfax Elementary Middle School and is a regular contributor to the FWSU Blog. You can follow him on Twitter @educatamount

THE FWSU STORY: Building Global Citizenship: Schools That Make a Difference

global1In an effort to expand the focus in our schools on Global Education, Stacey Sullivan (GEMS), JoAnn Harvey (GEMS), Pam Farmer (GEMS), Denette Locke (FES), and Melinda Carpenter (BFA) are representing their schools as part of an FWSU Team, along with Curriculum Director Linda Keating, at the first “Thought Partner” series. This series is offered by the Champlain Valley Educator Development Center (CVEDC) and is facilitated by Dr. Mary Lynn Riggs.

A “Thought Partner,” as defined by the Thinking Collaborative, is someone who:

  • Challenges your thinking
  • Causes you to modify or change your paradigms, assumptions, or actions
  • Has information or a way of thinking that provokes you to innovate or otherwise leads to value creation in your business, career, or life.

UN Global Goals for Sustainability

This first CVEDC Thought Partner seminar series, entitled Building Global Citizenship. Schools that Make a Difference, focuses on the United Nations Global Goals for Sustainable Development. Participating teams think about these 17 goals in the context of their schools, their communities and use their thought partners to explore how they can integrate the goals into their work with students in ways that are personalized, flexible, skill building, and expand capacity to develop responsible citizenship within a diverse world.

FWSU Global Citizenship opportunities.

FWSU Global Citizenship opportunities.

Teams bring their knowledge of their students and their curriculums, thinking about their students’ desire to have a positive impact along with what they need to teach, and examine that in the context of stories from speakers who are taking action in their schools, their communities, and throughout the world.


Along with stories of global impact, the teams are learning strategies and being introduced to readings, tools, and resources that help to guide their planning conversations and engage as thought partners.


There are four sessions in this first series to engage teams in facilitated dialogue around global citizenship. Several of our team members have indicated they will pursue the FWSU Global Goals Microcredential as part of their learning experience. In addition, our team will create a supervisory union rationale for global education, along with goals and action steps that we will vet with our thought partners.



Linda Keating

Linda Keating is the Director of Curriculum at FWSU. She is a regular contributor to the FWSU Blog. You can follow her on Twitter @Educate4ward

THE FWSU STORY: Fletcher Maker Space Ignites Learning

Next Generation Science Standards logoThe Next Generation of Science Standards (NGSS) outlines eight practices that are essential for all students to learn. Included in those practices is the ability to obtain, evaluate, and communicate information. The advancement of science depends on scientists clearly and persuasively communicating findings with others. A significant practice of science is thus to present ideas and the results and by engaging in discussions with peers.

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That is just what the sixth-grade makers are doing at FES.

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Throughout the year, the students have had the opportunity to engage in exploring and investigating how a maker space can impact their learning. The students were then challenged to create an ignite talk to share their ideas about maker space, sharing who they are as a maker and what they have made so far this year.

ignite-presentationsPromoted under the slogan, “Enlighten us, but make it quick,” Ignite is a presentation format where a presenter speaks while slides advance automatically to support them. An Ignite presentation is exactly 5 minutes and contains exactly 20 slides. The slides advance automatically after each slide is displayed for 15 seconds.

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The class welcomes you to review their Google sites were they are continually publishing their work.

THE FWSU STORY: Fletcher Graduate Caleb Aiosa-Perrin Finds Comfort in an Accepting Community

For 18-year-old BFA-Fairfax senior Caleb Aiosa-Perrin, teaching acceptance through leadership is one way he plans to change the world. Aiosa-Perrin attended Fletcher Elementary for kindergarten through sixth grade. He recalls fondly the more active parts of elementary school, like snowboarding trips to Smuggler’s Notch.

Caleb Aiosa-Perrin

Caleb Aiosa-Perrin

“When I first started I wasn’t the strongest snowboarder,” Aiosa-Perrin said. “But, I got to learn with all of my friends. It was a different kind of learning experience. I mean, it was still school, but it was teaching a healthy skill and also how to get along and work together. I learned a lot about persistence and a lot about how to learn in a different kind of environment at the top of that mountain. I made really close friendships early on,” he said. “Those people are pretty much family now.”

Aiosa-Perrin’s formative years were not without his share of heartache. His father died of Alzheimer’s Disease when he was just 11 years old, an experience he says caused him to grow up sooner than most kids his age.

“Though it was very upsetting, it taught me to be more independent,” Aiosa-Perrin said. “It was a big change in my life but it also taught me some important life lessons. It taught me to be as kind as I can be and treasure life and all of its experiences.”

He credits his family for helping him endure the hard times. His mother, Theresa, is a former classroom teacher and current reading and math specialist at the Cambridge Elementary School. His older sister lives in NY City and is working on her Master’s Degree in Social Work.

Aiosa-Perrin has participated in sports for the majority of his BFA-Fairfax career. He credits close relationships with his coaches for his success, both in athletics and in life.

“My coaches have been more than just coaches,” Aiosa-Perrin said. “They are really nice people. The school does a really great job of selecting coaches that know kids, that know the sport, and that fit in with the positive culture of the school at the same time.”

As a basketball, soccer and track and field athlete, Aiosa-Perrin says the sports teams he’s participated in are not unlike the small classes he experienced in elementary school.

“Fletcher really helped me learn how to be close friends with other people and we learned how to rely on each other. It taught me how to get along with others, even when I didn’t want to. Sometimes that’s like being on a team.”

A self-professed adventurer, Aiosa-Perrin credits BFA-Fairfax with a variety of personalized opportunities that have allowed him to explore his interests.

“All of my teachers and classes have been flexible and that has helped me a lot to explore my interests,” he said. “I don’t feel like they force anything on you. I have been able to explore things that interest me through different kinds of classes and other out-of-class opportunities.”

“Caleb is a good friend to others,” BFA Fairfax teacher Jensen Welch said. “His experience as a positive teammate in athletics also extends to academics where he interacts with a variety of classmates. He exhibits responsibility towards others and the greater good. I’ve been impressed with Caleb’s perseverance.”

Aiosa-Perrin was named Defensive Player of the Year for his excellence in soccer last year. He is currently captain of his basketball team and a Senior Counselor with BFA’s Junior High Project, individually running small groups of middle schoolers with learning focused on substance abuse prevention. He was chosen for that assignment based on positive role-modeling.

“Basketball has been very important to me for a long time,” Aiosa-Perrin said, recalling fondly time spent building his first hoop with his dad. “It’s great to give back by being one of the leaders on the team. I like to have close relationships. I like the whole team to be close. That is something that is really important to me. I try to be sure that I help everybody have a positive attitude and to help work out any problems between teammates.”

His hard work in the area of sports has paid off. During his sophomore year, he was selected to attend an athletic leadership conference in Burlington. The conference offered workshops on leadership and communications both as part of a team and in the community.

“The focus was on making the world around us a better place, whether that be with sports or something else,” he said.

Following in his sister’s footsteps, in addition to sports, Aiosa-Perrin has worked as a lifeguard during the summers at Smuggler’s Notch since ninth grade, an occupation he says requires intensive training and concentration.

“I was inspired by a Fletcher Elementary field trip to the Smuggs Water Park,” Aiosa-Perrin said of his motivation to become a lifeguard. “I like to swim and I like being outside,” he said. “When I went on the trip I saw that I could do both, and work at the same time.”

The self-professed travel buff has visited Washington State, California, Virginia and a smattering of states across the East Coast, as well as Canada and Mexico. “I really liked California and Mexico,” he said. “It’s exciting to experience different places and new cultures.”

Despite his jovial nature, Aiosa-Perrin has a deep side, frequently thinking about the state of the world and how he can help.

“I think the greatest problem in the world right now is that some people do not accept others who are different,” he said. “People are all different and bring new and exciting things to the table. I just accept and welcome that. I wish everyone did.”

As an African American, Aiosa-Perrin considers himself “pretty fortunate to be part of an accepting school and community.” He says he has experienced little to no issues based on his race. Despite this, he looks forward to exploring the world beyond Vermont.

Aiosa-Perrin has not yet made a final decision on a college major, but he will likely have a wide variety of choices, given his acceptance at five of his six top-choice schools including George Mason University, College of Charleston, Coastal Carolina University, Springfield College and the newly restructured Northern Vermont University. He is considering the fields of athletic training, kinesiology or marine biology.

“I like to have fun. I like to get my work done and focus on what I need to do but at the end of the day I like to have fun and be with my friends and family and experience new things,” Aiosa-Perrin said.

As for the mark he hopes to leave on the world, Aiosa-Perrin says, “I want to try to educate young people that being different isn’t something that’s bad. It’s something to be celebrated. It makes everybody who they are.”

THE FWSU STORY: P21 Recognizes FWSU for Exemplary 21st Century Learning Practices

Last week Principal Frank Calano (GEMS) and Superintendent Ned Kirsch traveled to Washington D.C. to attend an award celebration where FWSU was named Vermont’s first P21 Exemplar Program.

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The mission of Partnership for 21st Century Learning is to serve as a catalyst by building collaborative partnerships among education, business, community, and government leaders so that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills they need to thrive in a world where change is constant and learning never stops. The Exemplar Program identifies, documents, celebrates examples of 21st-century learning initiatives that successfully prepare students for college, career, and life.



The Exemplar Program Award Ceremony celebrated the accomplishments of 18 learning initiatives from across the country held at the National Press Club. FWSU was the only PreK-12 school system to be honored. Other honorees included early learning centers, elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, charter schools, after-school programs, and summer camps. 

“The innovative work we do at FWSU in relationship to our 4 FWSU Vision Targets is fully aligned with the P21 Pillars of Transformation, which is both a confirmation and affirmation of the importance of our work. I feel so honored to be part of a system that has achieved this recognition.” – Linda Keating, Director of Instruction and Curriculum

The process of becoming an Exemplar Program began last year when FWSU was asked to submit an application to P21. After submitting the application, FWSU was notified that we had qualified for a site visit. The site visit team was comprised of the P21 executive director and a member of the P21 board of directors. They visited FWSU last spring and toured all of our schools during their day-long site visit. Along with visiting schools, the team time also met with students, teachers, parents, board members, and school administrators.  FWSU was recognized based on the following criteria:

  1. Evidence of commitment to college, career, and life readiness
  2. Educational support systems and sustainable design
  3. Engaged learning approaches
  4. Equitable student access to 21st-century learning
  5. Evidence of student acquisition of 21st-century knowledge and skills
  6. Partnerships for sustainable success

After the ceremony at the National Press Club, the day’s events moved to Capitol Hill where Principal Calano and Superintendent Kirsch met with senior staff members from the offices of Senator Leahy, Senator Sanders, and Representative Welch. There were great discussions on topics ranging from the process of becoming an Exemplar Program to current education legislation under debate in Washington.


THE FWSU STORY: Innovation with Lego Mindstorm EV3’s

BFA Fairfax 5th-Grade Science Teacher Sandy Brown, along with the support of Technology Integrationist Rhonda Siemons, are collaborating to integrate STEM into the classroom.


STEM challenges with Lego Mindstorms.

By integrating Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) into learning, students develop computational thinking skills such as critical thinking and are able to make gains in science and literacy. These important skillsets are the foundation for fueling the next generation of innovators.

Recently, Mrs. Brown was awarded a grant to purchase Mindstorm EV3 Robot kits.


5th graders unpack the Mindstorms!

Mrs. Siemons has led the 5th-grade students in several inquiry lessons allowing the students to explore all of the components of the kit. Next, the classes began to work with partners to take these parts and design working automated robots. Through thought-provoking, engaging lessons students work together with peers and persevere through challenges.


Students explore the Mindstorms.

Using these newly developed skills, students are looking foward to begin programming the robots to complete a series of challenges.

Students engaged in learning more about STEM.

Students engaged in learning more about STEM.