The FWSU Story: Learning Together, Learning Apart (Part 2)

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In mid-March all FWSU teachers, along with all Vermont teachers, said good-bye to their students, not knowing it would be for the remainder of the school year. In record time, they adjusted the goals of learning to fit a new, remote landscape, which was unfamiliar territory for all. Their work has been nothing short of amazing. Their hopes and dreams for their students to be engaged learners remain at the core of every choice they make. Over the next several weeks, we’ll profile some of our teachers from our 3 schools who have volunteered to share some of their experiences. 
These are their FWSU Stories. 
This is the second installment in the series.

Emily Wills, BFA Fairfax Middle School Language Arts Teacher

A new rhythm to teach to….

My teaching and planning rhythm has changed quite a bit. It is challenging to plan for a half-hour of work, four times a week, and still feel as if I have any fidelity to our curriculum and high-leverage standards. However, I am also very mindful that I want students and families foremost to focus on health and well-being in this stressful time. I am adjusting by planning out roughly how a lesson would have proceeded in my 55-minute in-person class, and then getting creative about how I can reduce or alter work to hit at the most essential targets. I usually plan now for a full week at a time, since weekly plans are being sent home to families on Friday. I used to feel more nimble in my teaching and adjust the next day’s plans based on formative assessments and how today’s lesson went.  

Taking care…

One of my must do’s for self-care during this time is walking my dog.  Fozzie and I go out every day to stretch our legs, even if it’s only for 30 minutes. I usually do this as a break late-morning.  This also gives structure to my work day and gives my eyes a break from the screen. I stop checking school email at 7pm each night, because otherwise I just become glued to my computer and start to get headaches. I also need that stop time as a guideline for myself to “turn off” for the day. My students have the structure of me posting an update to Schoology each day with that day’s work, helpful links, and other information. It gets them into a routine like I would have in my classroom, listing the day’s agenda on the whiteboard. It also keeps me organized.

It’s new by design…

The new learning I have gained from this time is that I do some activities in my units of study that are not crucial for addressing the high-leverage standards or curriculum. They aren’t busy work, but they aren’t a streamlined way to teach and learn a skill. I have had to pare down what I do during this time of remote learning, and it’s giving me a new perspective on how to run my lessons when we’re back together at school. I will try to use more focused strategies, as I am being “forced” to do now. I also will go back to using humor and laughter as a tool to connect to kids, which is much harder to do over Schoology! 

JoAnn Harvey, GEMS Elementary STEM Teacher

Connect and learn….

I have really enjoyed getting the chance to thoughtfully respond to each of my student’s questions and comments. I would rather do this live, but this virtual teaching takes away the distractions of being in a large group and allows me to just “be” (virtually) with one student at a time. It has made me develop an ability to be more present and thoughtful. I am responding to all of students’ comments and questions in great detail, creating videos for them to respond to, and leaving voice memos. It’s a lot of putting things out there, and I’m not sure how it’s working. 

Missing so much…

I so miss interacting with my students, listening to their questions, building, creating and problem solving together. I miss their smiles and hugs. Teaching is all about connecting for me, and the human connection is gone for now. The greatest loss has been the physical energy that interacting with students provides me both emotionally and psychologically. The energy and responses, and sometimes non-responses, are what make how I teach work. It’s almost like doing stand-up without an audience. I always knew I was a social person, but now I realize how much I really need the feedback from students and the energy I get from interacting with students and colleagues on a regular basis. I just want to catch up and see everyone. I want to listen to all of their stories about how this whole experience went for them. I want to talk, play, and laugh together. Based on this experience, I know I will appreciate human interaction at a much deeper level than ever before.

Hopes and dreams…

I hope the big take-away is that the best instruction is instruction that integrates all content areas and connects to real life experiences–done in collaboration with colleagues, it’s possible!

Linda Keating is the Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment at Franklin West Supervisory Union. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her on Twitter @Educate4ward

The FWSU Story: Fletcher Students Keep Social-Emotional Learning Alive At Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tokens designed by Maggie Short

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

Token designed by Cody Gelineau

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

Token designed by Autumn Bushey

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

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

Token designed by Quinn Mauck

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

Christopher Dodge is the Principal of Fletcher Elementary School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @FletcherFalcon

The FWSU Story: Learning Together, Learning Apart (Part 1)

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In mid-March all FWSU teachers, along with all Vermont teachers, said good-bye to their students, not knowing it would be for the remainder of the school year. In record time, they adjusted the goals of learning to fit a new, remote landscape, which was unfamiliar territory for all. Their work has been nothing short of amazing. Their hopes and dreams for their students to be engaged learners remain at the core of every choice they make. Over the next several weeks, we’ll profile some of our teachers from our 3 schools who have volunteered to share some of their experiences. 
These are their FWSU Stories. 

Kristie French, BFA Fairfax Elementary Preschool Teacher

Missing students…

One of the things that I miss most is greeting my kids in the morning: seeing their excitement as they arrive at school each day; saying good morning, giving my kids a high five or hug and letting them know that it’s going to be a great day.

Staying connected with students to nurture relationships…

Teachers in the elementary school are using Seesaw to connect with students and families. Preschool learning happens through social connection and learning through play. Being away from school makes building and maintaining relationships tough. To support continued social connection I try to post lessons that encourage children to engage with nature, their families and continue to learn through play. Each week we have shared topics to support conversation between myself and the students, story read alouds, hands on math/literacy and video messages to each child. My goal is to continue to stay connected to each of them in a fun and engaging way. Families are trying to find a balance between work and homeschool now so it’s important to keep learning fun and limit stress if possible. I’ve been including fun links to jokes, songs, and activities to encourage fun while away. I’ve also included videos in my assignments to support parents in teaching their children, along with supplemental materials for the added time that families have at home with their children.

Silver linings in difficult times….

Having to be at home has given our family more time to connect, spend time together, talk and be silly. My youngest son and I have begun exercising together. My older son and I have enjoyed getting in some driving time and listening to music and chatting. As a family we have watched movies, worked on home projects, and done some fishing. This extra time together is something I appreciate the most about this whole thing.

Danielle Drogalis, BFA Fairfax Middle and High School Math Interventionist

Relationships, relationships, relationships…

I am totally missing my students these days!  The middle school/high school age groups are what I live for. They are humorous, clever, and creative and the world is always better because they are in it. I have been trying to stay connected with them by attending their Zoom classes, creating instructional videos to support their math learning, writing emails, hosting advisory Zooms, texting and sending videos to my advisees telling them hello and offering a bit of chat. I love hearing back from my students. It truly makes my day.

Getting by with a little help from my friends…

Staying connected with colleagues is incredibly important. It helps me feel grounded and part of a team as we strive to do what is best for students in these strange times. I get to see my colleagues weekly in full faculty and smaller groups of Zoom meetings and just seeing their faces and hearing their voices is strength-giving. As a support teacher, I am always re-evaluating how I can best support my colleagues and they always welcome my partnership. I am very grateful for my colleagues and teams at BFA Fairfax.

Pleasantly surprised… 

I’m not going to lie…I love not having to use part of my day for travel. I have found that removing travel has added time to my day in a way where I can move seamlessly from one task to another.  It may be more that the transitions are more fluid that I feel like I am less likely to import unnecessary stress into my day. Perhaps that is the biggest lesson in this ‘Great Pause’…that I can choose to welcome calm and breathing regularly into my day. I don’t have to step into feelings of stress simply because those are most common and familiar.

And when we’re together again…

Oh man! When school is back I look forward to the reunion that is US!  I bet the energy in the rooms and halls will be full and exciting, and we will all be relieved to be together again and at school. Imagining the first days of all of us being back fills my heart and even makes me a bit emotional as I try on the thrill and relief of us all being back together again. It will be sweet for sure and tears will be OK!

Linda Keating

Linda Keating is the Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment at Franklin West Supervisory Union. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her on Twitter @Educate4ward

For FWSU School Closure Resources for parents and guardians, visit the COVID-19 page on the FWSU website.

The FWSU Story: Spring Break

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This is not our typical April Break, but in these difficult times, taking a break to take care of ourselves and each other is really very important. We have opened many new pathways to engage and interact with each other to stay connected while apart. We appreciate all of you so much. Our educators, our students, our families, and our communities are doing extraordinary things during these extraordinary times. We see you! 

Here are some messages of encouragement for you all from our amazing school administrators! 

Mr. Walsh: “Thank you for your ongoing support and flexibility during this challenging time. I am so appreciative of all our staff that have been so flexible, hard working, and focused on supporting all students and families. The video of our staff and the video of our students reminds me how fortunate we all are to work and live in a community that is committed to supporting each other. We will get through this challenging time because we are in it together. A big virtual hug to all of you!”

Mr. Brown: “This situation is stretching all of us to explore what it means to be teachers, learners, families, and community members. It is inspiring to see, especially in this time of crisis, how committed we are to helping one another. We will make it through this together!”

Ms. Witalec-Krupa: “The strength, resiliency, patience and creativity of our students, staff, teachers, advisors, coaches and families during this time is inspiring. We can’t wait to see you all again! #WeWillGetThroughThisTogether”

Mr. Tague: “I am proud of the adjustments that teachers have made to make this transition to remote learning, the work that students have done to stay connected and engaged with school, and the support that families have provided to their students, the school, and each other. No one could have imagined how different school would be when we returned from our February break!”

Mr. Dodge: “It is both moving and inspiring to see how our entire staff, and all of FWSU, has stepped up to the plate during this challenging time. Everyone from foodservice to support staff to bus drivers and teachers has shown an unwavering commitment to children and families. Many are doing this work while supporting their own families at home. I have never been more proud to be part of FWSU.”

Ms. Conrad: “There is nothing more inspiring than watching a community pull together during times of crisis. The FWSU and Georgia community is blessed by the inspiring ways in which each member of our community is pulling together to problem-solve and create flexible solutions to care and take care of each other.”’

Mr. Emery: “Be well, rest up, and continue to be #GemsStrong”

Meal Delivery Continues During Spring Break

Deliveries will continue during break to children who are currently receiving schools meals. There should be no change to service. If you would like to begin receiving the daily weekday delivery of breakfast & lunch for your child(ren) ages 18 and under and enrolled students over 18, please email your district’s school principal. Email addresses are listed on the FWSU COVID-19 webpage.

FWSU Continuity of Learning Information

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March 27, 2020

Dear FWSU Families,

As you learned last evening, Governor Scott has closed schools to in-person instruction through the end of the school 2019-2020 school year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. While we are disappointed that we will not be connecting in person and on campus, we will continue to work closely with you to provide the safest, best education for our students. Thank you for everything you are doing during these challenging times! 

On March 23 our schools began their remote learning as part of our Continuity of Education Plan (Maintenance) for our students. This current plan is intended to address maintaining connection and engagement through various enrichment opportunities at each grade level to make sure students still feel connected to a sense of school community. This phase will continue through April 13, as we work with the Agency of Education to transition to the Continuation of Learning Plan.

The Continuity of Learning Plan will be a new phase of partnering with you to continue educating students remotely, and it will continue through the end of the school year. Information will be shared with students and families as we receive planning guidance from the Vermont Agency of Education. 

As always, the health, safety, and well-being of our students are our first priorities. We will continually work to improve our meal delivery system and provide childcare for essential workers. Our educators will continue to refine our systems to support learners who had previously been receiving services while school was open. 

As noted, we continue to receive ongoing guidance from the Vermont Agency of Education necessitating updates to families. This letter, along with other resources for families, including health information on COVID-19, lunch information, and childcare for essential workers are located on the FWSU and school websites under the heading “COVID-19.”  This site will provide you with access to the most up-to-date information. 

During our current phase, we’d appreciate it if you took a couple minutes to complete this brief survey, and additionally you may receive a phone call survey as well. This information is critical in helping us design the most effective and impactful learning experience.

Thank you again for all you’ve done through these challenging times. We miss the students, and we recognize the struggle this has been and will be moving forward. We appreciate your partnership in this work, and we remain available to support you. 

Sincerely,

Donald S. Van Nostrand
Interim Superintendent

Governor Phil Scott Dismisses Schools For In-Person Instruction for Remainder of 2019-2020 School Year

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Good evening. This evening Governor Scott announced that Vermont schools will remain closed for in-person instruction for the remainder of the school year as a result of the COVID-19 virus. While we are disappointed that we will not be connecting in person and on campus, we will continue to work closely with you to provide the safest, best education for our students. Our meal program and remote learning will continue for the remainder of the year. We will provide more information over the next few days as we gain direction from the Agency of Education. As we continue to navigate this unprecedented event, rest assured that we are thinking about all of you as we work through the many decisions that need to be made. Thank you.

Montpelier, Vt. – Governor Phil Scott today directed schools to remain dismissed through the end of the 2019-2020 school year. Districts will close schools for in-person instruction and be required to implement continuity of learning plans for remote learning. This extends the Governor’s previous directive dismissing PreK-12 schools from March 18 to April 6. 

This decision was made in consultation with the Vermont Department of Health and the Agency of Education in the continued effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. To minimize disruption to students’ learning, the Governor’s order directs school districts to come up with plans for distance learning by April 13. 

“The education of our students and the bonding and learning experiences they have at schools are tremendously important, so I fully appreciate the impact and difficulty of this decision,” said Governor Phil Scott. “I also recognize it will be challenging for some schools to implement remote learning through the end of the year. But I’m encouraged by the creativity I’ve seen from administrators, educators and parents already, which is why I know, together, they can rise to the occasion.”

Governor Scott also noted that some school districts have also set up creative and critically needed programs to offer onsite care for their students whose parents are working on the frontlines in this response. “These educators and staff who are finding ways to support these families have been critical to our COVID-19 response efforts and I am so proud and appreciative of their hard work, creative can-do attitude and their willingness to step up in this moment of service. These educators, and the staff supporting them, represent the very best of our public education system.” 

The Agency of Education will provide technical guidance to districts on how to implement continuity of learning plans by the end of the week, specifically looking to address challenges around equitable access to learning opportunities, Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) for students with disabilities, continuation of school meals, and school attendance and school calendar requirements. 

The Department for Children and Families will also provide updated reimbursement provisions for providers who are not currently offering services and for providers who are delivering child care through this health crisis. 

Download the Press Release here.

Read the full directive here:  https://governor.vermont.gov/content/directive-5-continuity-learning-planning-pursuant-eo-01-20

For the latest information and guidance relating to Vermont’s COVID-19 response, visit www.healthvermont.gov/covid19.

Requesting Childcare for Essential Persons

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Per the Gubernatorial Directive issued by Governor Scott, childcare is to be provided to families with persons working in a field included on the Essential Persons List for COVID-19 Response. If you are employed in one of these fields, please complete this webform, which collects information to connect the families of essential workers with child care in schools and licensed child care programs that are operating to provide services now through April 6, 2020. Families can also call 2-1-1 ext. 6 or 1-877-705-9008 to speak to a childcare referral specialist. 

Essential Persons List for COVID-19 Response:
https://vem.vermont.gov/sites/demhs/files/Essential%20Persons_03182020.pdf

Webform to Request Child Care for Essential Workers:
https://webportalapp.com/webform/essentialworkers

Letter to FWSU Families – March 17, 2020

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Dear Families:

Thank you for your patience and understanding as we continue to work through the complexities associated with COVID-19 and dismissing school for students. The next three days – Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday – are a transitional period. Be on the lookout for additional information.  

As a reminder, schools are closed to students and families beginning tomorrow, March 18. This will last at least until April 6, and possibly longer. I will continue to send regular communication over the next couple weeks, and you will also hear from teachers and administrators.

Here are a few things to consider over the next few weeks:

  • Remote learning, particularly in rural areas and where social distancing restricts student interactions, can feel isolating for children. If you have the resources, participate in FaceTime or Skype calls or send audio messages with friends and classmates.
  • We are not “shutting the doors” to our families. While schools won’t have staff there all the time, voicemail and email will be monitored, so feel free to contact your teacher or the school with questions. 
  • Remote learning is unique, and sometimes difficult. The key is active participation. Putting routines and structures into place helps children stay focused as they work through activities.
  • FWSU is continuing to organize and design a process for effective and efficient food service during his dismissal period. Look out for additional information.   
  • Should your family face economic hardship as a result of COVID-19 you may submit a new free and reduced meal application. Families may apply for school meals at any point in the school year based on their most current income. Applications can be found on the FWSU website or by calling the school.
  • If you need to pick up student items or materials please contact the school first to arrange an appropriate time to do so.
  • FWSU administrators and educators are working together to develop learning plans for all K-12 students using a variety of methods to ensure learning access for all students during school closure. Parents will receive regular communications about remote learning expectations for their child.
  • Continue following recommended guidelines for preventing germs, including:
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

Your school’s administrators, teachers, and staff have been working hard behind the scenes to prepare learning opportunities for students over the next couple of weeks. Preparing for remote learning is challenging, and I am proud of the work your school’s educators have been doing! 

Finally, I thank each of you – the parents, guardians, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends – for all you have done to support this process and for all you’ll be doing in the next few weeks or longer. 

Sincerely,

Donald S. Van Nostrand
Interim Superintendent

Letter to Families Re: Governor’s School Closing Declaration – March 15, 2020

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Dear FWSU Families:

We find ourselves in a rapidly changing, uncharted situation due to COVID-19. We are grateful for the guidance and support that we have received from the Vermont Department of Health, the Vermont Agency of Education, and the Governor’s Office.

On March 15 at 3:20 p.m., Governor Scott announced that statewide school closure will occur no later than Wednesday, March 18, 2020. The purpose of this message is to provide you an update of the actions the FWSU will take as it relates to Governor Scott’s School Closure announcement.

First and foremost, student attendance at school on Monday and Tuesday is a family decision. For these two days, FWSU attendance policies and procedures will be waived, and no student will be penalized for not attending. As always, if your student or a family member is sick, we encourage you to keep your student home.

The FWSU leadership teams will be working with our employees to plan for the support of our students and families during the closure of school. To be clear, our primary areas of focus include the well-being of our students, families, and employees. The plan that we are developing will strive to encompass all of the components that Governor Scott has referenced in his statement/press conference.

Thank you for your patience and flexibility as we move forward. You can expect regular communication from our district so that we are keeping you informed. We are doing all we can to make sure these priorities are taken care of to the best of our abilities.

Sincerely,

Donald S. Van Nostrand
Interim Superintendent