The FWSU Story: BFA 3D Printing Experts

As part of a Grade 3 and 4 STEM Innovation Lab model,  BFA is building skills and capacity through the development of 3D Printing Experts.


When a few Grade 4 students were asked if they would be interested in assuming the role of becoming “3D Printing Experts” they jumped at the opportunity. After a couple of demonstrations and lots of determination, these students have successfully taken over the complex task of printing all 3D designs created by their classmates. It is not uncommon to see one (or all of them) racing into the Innovation Lab throughout the day to see if there are new projects ready to print, to check the status of a print job they started earlier in the day or to just check in to determine what they can expect for upcoming projects.


The group of students has also worked on developing problem solving skills through this program.  If something doesn’t go as planned, they proceed to troubleshoot and then reach out to adults as a last resort if the issue is not able to be resolved. There are numerous variables that contribute to successfully printing such a wide-range of projects in 3D. In the planning stages, the team was unsure if this task could ever be completely turned over to students, however, they managed to exceed our expectations.

Finally, these kids have begun to develop their leadership skills as well.  The current Grade 4 experts are now shifting to cross-training a couple of Grade 3 students with the hopes of “passing the torch” as they move up in grades.  This will also enable them time to become familiar with the more complex 3D Printers that are available in our Middle School.

Over the course of the last few months, these Grade 4, and now Grade 3, students have demonstrated self-direction, practical problem solving skills and leadership skills while becoming a tremendous asset to our Innovation Lab and our team of teachers.


Rhonda Siemons is the Technology Integrationist at BFA Middle and Elementary School.



FWSU Teachers Preparing to Innovate For Player One with Virtual Reality

Soon, several teachers will begin a self-paced journey learning how they can integrate virtual reality into their classrooms.


Merriam Webster defines Virtual Reality (VR) as an artificial environment which is experienced through sensory stimuli (such as sights and sounds) provided by a computer and in which one’s actions partially determine what happens in the environment. It is a new technology that allows users to explore an immersive experience into different locations, times, and scenarios.


VR is a new, exciting, and popular among kids. Teachers enrolled in this course are hoping to find new ways to excite and engage students with this popular technology. Taking advantage of reasonably priced equipment provides an opportunity to take advantage of access to technology.  There is great interest in virtual reality as an educational tool.


Teachers will be challenging themselves with a graduate credit level course that will explore how to actively research, and implement innovative learning in their own classrooms using virtual reality technology.  Each of them will design their own learning  based on their personalized professional goals.   At the end of the course, participants will collaborate in sharing innovative ideas for integrating virtual reality into classroom learning. Most importantly, they will develop emerging strategies for innovative learning which will take all of our learning in FWSU forward.


At the end of the course, teachers will have an Oculus Virtual Reality headset to use with students in the classroom in new and innovative ways, immersing everyone in the learning.


GEMS Innovation Lab, Art ,and Enrichment Collaborate for Independent Study

Recently forty-eight GEMS middle school students completed an Independent Study class facilitated by Innovation Lab, Enrichment, and Art teachers. In the past the experience has been offered to a smaller group of students, but collaboration among Unified Arts teachers not only increased the number of students involved, but brought additional depth and resources to the experience.


The class began in December with a discussion about personalized learning and a framing the overall experience. Teachers shared their own personal learning and projects and modeled curiosity and question formulation. Students then designed their own research by selecting and refining a topic, formulating questions, and conducting research using a variety of resources. Librarian, Amy Rider also worked closely with the student and teachers to make use of high quality resources and build additional research skills.


Finally, students used their learning to create a project to share their findings with an authentic audience. Projects ranged from movies to display boards and 3d models. At a project fair the 7th and 8th grade researchers shared and discussed their work with students, teachers, administrators and parents. Throughout the process students kept notes and reflections in journals and completed a final reflection on the last day of the course. The reflections indicate powerful learning.

The FWSU Story: BFA Students Make Global Connections

Students in grade six are engaged in a unique learning opportunity that connects them with students in Vilnius, Lithuania.  The objectives of this learning experience are to provide students with the opportunity to learn about the ways of life of other countries and increase their cultural competence. Students are learning  to appreciate similarities and differences by interacting with students their own age and developing academic and social relationships. Additionally students are strengthening their transferable skills and realizing the importance and varied components of a Quality Education (Sustainable Development Goal #4).

The project started with a connection between Kim Brown and Melinda Carpenter, both of Fairfax. The Brown Family is in their second year of living and working in the capital city of Vilnius, Lithuania. Kim is currently teaching 6th grade math at Vilnius International School (VIS) and formerly taught middle school math in Bakersfield, VT.

As an introduction, and to investigate engagement in communicating with a school in another country, all students completed an initial interest survey and the results came back a resounding, “Yes, please!” Students in both schools were very excited about the opportunity, and with some help from Rhonda Siemons, Technology Integrationist at BFA, they began posting introductory videos on their 1:1 devices. Using an app called Seesaw, BFA students introduced themselves, described something they thought was interesting about Lithuania (based on their limited knowledge) and then Lithuanian students reciprocated and began asking questions. The project started to get intriguing when we noticed that BFA students had to check some of the preconceived notions they formed with regard to the culture of northern Europe. For example, BFA students were surprised at how well our new friends could speak English (as well as many other languages), and the variety of their extracurricular activities. We also learned that we shouldn’t make assumptions about the types of food that eleven and twelve year-old Lithuanians eat, i.e., they do NOT put sour cream on all of their food! We noticed that they were curious about whether we knew anyone famous, who is our favorite football team, and our thoughts on our president.

Some of the similarities that we have found are that many of the students enjoy P.E. classes, like to to swim, play video games and board games, watch YouTube videos, play basketball, dress in a similar way and enjoy hanging out with their friends. Some differences are that many VIS students have lived in other countries, speak several languages and that they live in an urban environment and walk most places.

After all students had posted videos, BFA 6th graders shared some of their current academic work, using the 5 Themes of Geography to explain more about Fairfax, Vermont. Students created digital presentations about location, place, human environment interaction, movement and region to help our Lithuanian friends understand our geography and its impact on our culture.  Having an authentic global audience for our work has required us to look at it more carefully and consider it through the eyes of our new international friends. Working with Kim has also been a tremendous pleasure, and we feel so fortunate to have made this valuable connection with such a knowledgeable, versatile and dedicated educator.

We are looking forward to continuing our communication with the Lithuanian students and to exchange more information about our country, school, and day-to-day life. We plan to work more with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and identify common concerns and solutions for local and global issues. At the same time, it has really enjoyable and meaningful to let the students guide this communication and be flexible with topics. We also excited to explore the idea that we share many of the same hopes for the future while learning how to respectfully pose questions and negotiate differences.


Melinda Carpenter- BFA Grade 6 Science/Social Studies Teacher. UVM Outstanding Teacher 2013

THE FWSU Story: New Teachers at BFA Middle School

Today, we are continuing our introductions of our long term substitutes at BFA. We are fortunate to have two outstanding educators working in our middle school this winter.

Charlie Wise will be teaching English Language Arts in the seventh grade for the remainder of the year while Emily Wills is on sabbatical.

Where is your hometown? St. Petersburg, Florida

Where did you go to college?  For my undergraduate work, I went to the University of Central Florida in Orlando, FL where I received a bachelor of science in Psychology. Later, I received my teaching certification through the Teacher Apprenticeship Program at Champlain College.

What were you doing before coming to BFA?  Last year, I taught 5-6 grade ELA and Global Citizenship at Berkshire Elementary School. Before break this year, I was long term subbing at SATEC in St. Albans teaching LA and Social Studies.

What is your favorite school subject?  Ancient history and English composition

What is your favorite food?   What a hard question! Right now, Massaman curry.

Any interesting facts about you that you’d like to share?   I have a 2 1/2 year old daughter.

What do you like to do outside of school?   I like to play soccer 2-3 times a week. I also like to read fantasy and science fiction as well as hiking with my dog Piper!

What are your first impressions of BFA?   Fairfax is such a scenic, beautiful community

Pierre Charles has been working as our 8th grade mathematics teacher since before the holiday break. He will be with us until February break.

Where is your hometown?   I was born and raised in Haiti. I came to the United States in 1996. I am a medically retired police officer from Washington, DC. I currently reside in Plattsburgh, NY, about 30 miles on the New York side of Lake Champlain.

Where did you go to college?   I obtained my Associates Degree and Bachelor of Science degree at the City University of New York in 2001 and 2003 respectively. I completed a master of art degree in criminal justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

What were you doing before coming to BFA?   Before I joined BFA Fairfax Middle School, I was a long term sub at Burlington High School.

What is your favorite school subject?   My favorite school subject is math although I have a passion for social studies and political science.

What is your favorite food?   My favorite food is any combination of chicken, potato, salad and rice.

Any interesting facts about you that you’d like to share?   Some interesting facts about me are: I have a daughter who is in 6th grade and I was a police officer.

What do you like to do outside of school?   Outside of school, I like to spend time with my daughter, I read the news everyday and sports columns about basketball and baseball.

What are your first impressions of BFA?   My first impression of BFA is WOW! I really like the school, the staff is very friendly and supportive. I do feel at home and would welcome an opportunity teach at BFA long term. I like the students, they respond to me and I feel like I connect with them.

Welcome to BFA, Charlie and Pierre!

John Tague is the Middle / High School Principal at BFA Fairfax. You can follow him @jtague252 

The FWSU Story: State Police Become Engaged Community Partners in Fletcher

Students at Fletcher Elementary School had an opportunity to break bread with a member of the “green and gold” last week. The visit was part of an effort by Sgt. Michael Aamodt, of the St. Albans State Police, to connect his Troopers with local schools.

The school visit was conducted by Trooper Benjamin Weed, who ate lunch with students, toured the school and spent time talking with preschoolers about his law enforcement responsibilities. 

“What I appreciated about him coming to our school was that the kids got to see him outside of a crisis. It helps children become familiar with law enforcement in a positive way and helps them to be more likely to call on the police if they need help,” Math and Literacy Interventionist Lorrene Palermo said. 

The visit aligned with the Franklin West Supervisory Union’s action plan goal that states, “FWSU staff and students engage in authentic learning opportunities with local, regional, state and global partners to make a difference in their community, state and world.” 

“We want our students to be comfortable and trusting of law enforcement,” Instructional Coach Denette Locke said. “We want them to know that these skilled, caring, helping people are here to keep everyone safe. It’s only logical that those relationships begin proactively at school, where kids already feel safe.”

“It was really fun having lunch with the police officer,” first grader Summer Campbell said. “They are usually really busy catching bad guys and it was special that he took time to be here with us. It makes me feel more comfortable here at school and I also know I can get help in other places, too.”

“We are really thankful that our law enforcement partners are taking time from their very busy work to be part of our schools,” Superintendent Ned Kirsch said. “Their presence alone helps to build an increased sense of safety and developing early relationships between students and helping professionals will make it easier and more likely that our kids will access the support they need later in life.”

The FWSU Story: Long Range Facilities Planning Committee Reviews Building Improvement Survey Results

The Long Range Facilities Planning Committee (LRFPC) consists of community members, school board representatives, administrators, staff members and parents invested in process of developing recommendations to address the future needs of our school building.   

The charge of this committee is to determine the facility requirements that will support current and future educational, safety and physical needs of our students, staff, and community for the next twenty-five years, while at the same time remaining aware of the fiscal constraints of our budget and community.

The LRFPC recently asked the Fairfax community to complete the Building Improvement Questionnaire for the BFA Fairfax School to provide input that will allow the committee to prioritize the importance of each of the school building’s identified areas of need.

We received four hundred and fifty-seven response from a range of community members.  The results indicated support for renovations that would address upgrades that impact building safety, efficiency, and accessibility.  The survey also highlighted interest in enhancing learning opportunities through improvements to science labs, music spaces, an auditorium, and gymnasium spaces.

The survey results also provided important feedback about the information that taxpayers are requesting of the LRFPC.  Survey respondents overwhelmingly requested transparent financial costs for all phases of the proposed project, as well as the tax impact of any bond to improve the school.

The LRFPC is currently reviewing the survey results and feedback to determine our next steps.  In addition, we will be revisiting our architectural renderings to identify project proposals that incorporate our community’s feedback.  We will continue to update you on our progress. Thank you for taking time to provide us feedback and for your ongoing support of our school and community.

Please feel free to contact me or John Tague if you have any questions or concerns at and/or  We look forward to continuing to engage our community in a process that serves our students for the next several decades.

Thomas Walsh is currently Principal of BFA Fairfax Elementary School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @ecucatamount