The FWSU Story: Building Responsible and Involved Citizenship through Restorative Practices

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As GEMS works on clearly articulating our Transferable Skill Proficiencies this year, an area of focus has been on the Transferable Skill: Responsible and Involved Citizenship, particularly through the indicator of “students take responsibility for personal decisions and actions”.

This is a hefty skill that many young adolescents need support, feedback, and structures to know how to handle tricky situations.  Middle Schoolers often are working hard both inside and outside of the school in learning how to create strong relationships with others and with those relationships sometimes conflicts occur.  So how do we as a school help students with learning how to manage those conflicts…with peers, friends, teachers, and sometimes even parents. 

As a school, we are often asking ourselves:

  • How do we teach students to handle and resolve conflicts? This includes helping students learn how their actions or words impact others. 
  • How can we proactively work to reduce conflict? 

At GEMS, we have started a deep dive this year into better understanding more about Restorative Practices and how this way of thinking can move us from managing student behavior towards a more constructive approach of helping students learn about the impacts of their behavior. This emphasizes the focus on the harm done to a person or community and creates a problem-solving approach that helps students learn from their mistakes and take an active part in restoring their relationship with those who were harmed.

What are Restorative Practices? 

“Restorative practices are a positive, disruptive force to realizing greater equity in education and stronger relationships. They provide greater balance and strength to the youth-adult partnerships in learning, greater opportunity for building empathy, bridging differences, and strengthening more just, joyful, and sustainable communities.” (UP for Learning website). 

How is Georgia working to build our capacity in this work? 

Georgia Middle School continues its learning towards understanding a Restorative approach to relationship building during this year both with our students and our staff.

One way we have embarked on this work is through UP for Learning’s Restorative Practice Youth-Adult Partnership program. We have five students that are leading the charge at Georgia Middle School in learning more about Restorative Practices and creating an action plan to help engage our faculty and students in building strong classroom communities. These five students along with Melissa Fisher have attended Circle Keeper Training and our last training was held at Fairfield Central School on January 8th where students were asked to create and implement an action plan around Restorative practices.  Students are excited to plan more together in the upcoming weeks to share their learning with our faculty and begin to put their plan into action. 

In addition, there have been several opportunities for faculty and staff to participate and better understand restorative approaches during our in-service days. Most recently, during our November Learning Institutes, middle school teachers and paraprofessionals from GEMS joined teachers from BFA-Fairfax to better understand the tiers of Restorative Practices including how to build a community where everyone has a voice and belonging. We also began to look at ways in which we create routines to support students re-entering the classroom when they have been absent for any reason. Everyone left hopeful for continued work and collaboration in hopes our implementation process will continue to move forward.

The emphasis on further strengthening our learning communities by focusing on relationships is a critical role for ensuring all of our students feel that they are valued, safe and able to learn in a supportive classroom and school. Establishing a culture where we circle up and communicate as a community and share our human experiences create benefits well beyond just creating a strong learning environment. It creates a system and routine that enable students to work on conflict resolution when harm has been done. It provides the foundation for us to use those mistakes or incidents as a moment of learning for those impacted to have space to identify how the action or inaction of another person affected them and collaboratively for students to create a plan to move forward in a positive way. 

Julie Conrad is the Middle School Principal of Georgia Elementary Middle School. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her at @JulieConradVT

The FWSU Story: Innovating the Playing Field – eSports at BFA Fairfax

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Just as technology itself is ever-evolving, so too is BFA’s TASC (Technology and Society Challenge) Club.  This spring, the club is working to establish and enter a team in an eSports League. This spring, we will be connecting with PlayVS, a nationally recognized High School eSports organization affiliated with the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) to get started.  

An eSport is exactly what it sounds like: similar to more traditional sports, eSports teams compete in a variety of electronic games in organized seasons throughout the calendar year, leading up to finals and championships for top-ranked teams. eSports take place at state, regional, national, and global levels. eSports require a large amount of commitment and dedication by each of the team’s individual members. Players meet to strategize, practice, and learn to work together as a cohesive unit.  

eSports offer students, many of whom may not opt into other extra-curricular activities, an opportunity to build team-based character traits and demonstrate transferable skills they can carry with them well beyond high school: Self Direction, Clear and Effective Communication, Creative and Practical Problem Solving, Informed and Integrative Thinking, and Responsible and Involved Citizenship (the foundation of BFA’s Learner Traits). In order to be successful, teams have to have excellent forward-thinking, decision-making, and communication skills.  

Similar to traditional sports, eSports help students to cultivate a sense of community, connection, and belonging within their school. We know from contemporary research and data, a sense of belonging is one of the greatest factors affecting individuals’ wellness.  

Here are some of the things our current BFA Fairfax students had to say about the potential of eSports as an opportunity at our school: 

  • “Being able to do something I’m interested in at school makes me feel happier while I’m at school.”  
  • “Most of the school’s extracurricular activities are basically sports, so having other opportunities that aren’t sports would be good for building team spirit for those who aren’t into traditional sports.” 
  • “eSports teach cooperation and teamwork and the value of good communication. And they teach us that we’re stronger when we work together.” 
  • “Playing team games works on students’ communication and strategizing with your team to defeat the opposing team, and helps your team to come closer together.”

And then there are the opportunities for the future. BFA High School student, Jonny Gillilan, has already participated in an eSports challenge on his own time through Norwich University, earning a $6,000.00 scholarship for his future steps. And Norwich isn’t the only school that has an esports program by any means. 175 Colleges and Universities across the country currently offer officially recognized eSports programming through the National Association of Collegiate eSports (NACE). The majority of these schools all offer eSports scholarships as well, and the number is growing every year as eSports continue to rise in popularity.  

Sean Theoret is the Technology Integration Specialist for BFA Fairfax High School. Harold Vance is Flexible Pathways Coordinator for BFA Fairfax High School.

The FWSU Story: Our Work To Implement PBIS Universal and Targeted Interventions at BFA Fairfax Elementary

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Each school day, BFA Fairfax students arrive with a range of academic and social-emotional needs and experiences. In response to the needs of our students, we are currently in our third year of implementing Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) at BFA Fairfax Elementary School. PBIS has provided us a framework to teach school-wide behavior expectations, respond consistently to student behaviors, and use data to make decisions.

According to the research provided by PBIS.org:

“PBIS is an evidence-based three-tiered framework for improving and integrating all of the data, systems, and practices affecting student outcomes every day. It is a way to support everyone to create where all students are successful. PBIS is not a curriculum, it is a commitment to addressing student behavior through systems change. When PBIS is implemented well, students achieve improved social and academic outcomes, schools experience reduced exclusionary discipline practices, and school personnel feel more effective.”

During the first two years of our PBIS work we focused on implementing our universal practices. This work focused on consistently using positive, clear and non-judgmental language school-wide. We purposely taught school-wide expectations for all settings during the first weeks of school, after vacations, and as frequently as necessary. As a staff we developed and refined our acknowledgment process, implemented behavior protocols to respond to unexpected behaviors, and developed frequent opportunities to celebrate our students for demonstrating responsible, respectful, safe and caring behaviors.  

Last spring we began the process of implementing targeted practices and systems to provide support for students who are not responding successfully to universal supports. Our focus broadened to include ways to identify, respond, and support students exhibiting challenging behaviors. This included developing a targeted intervention team that meets weekly to review behavior data, develop behavior intervention plans, coordinate interventions and provide access to training and support for staff. 

A critical component for our school was the addition of a School-Based Behavior Consultant through a partnership with Northwest Counseling and Support Services. A School-Based Behavior Consultant provides schools with critical behavioral expertise required to support the implementation of the targeted intervention system, as well as individual behavior interventions and supports. We are so fortunate to have Caitlyn Trainer join our team. She brings experience with clinical and behavioral programming, behavior assessment and planning, data collection, and collaboration with school staff. Caitlyn has been actively working within classrooms in order to provide general support and make recommendations to school staff around how to best support the needs of all students. Caitlyn has been able to utilize modeling strategies to demonstrate for staff how to effectively respond to both negative and positive behaviors and how to provide adequate reinforcement. 

The impact of our targeted interventions, in coordination with the School-Based Behavior Consultant has been immediate and effective. The data and feedback indicates that students who were missing instructional time due to significant behavior challenges are successfully responding to the increased support and skill development. We still have significant work to do, but are excited by the progress in our development of additional tiers of behavior support. I encourage you to explore PBIS and to connect with your local mental health provider to investigate opportunities to collaborate in providing behavioral expertise and support for your students and staff. 

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 @educatamount

The FWSU Story: At Fletcher Elementary, Positive Behavior is Just Groovy!

It resembled something from another era. Teachers suited up in tie-dyed t-shirts and all students and staff donned brightly colored fluorescent sunglasses. On the wall, a gym-length banner on which bubble-letters spelled out: Be Respectful. Be Responsible. Be Safe. Be Caring. 

It was a groovy scene as the Fletcher School community reviewed it’s four behavior expectations last Friday. The whole-school gathering, entitled, “Groovin’ Into the New Year,” kicked off 2020 by bringing everyone together to celebrate community and to serve as a reminder of the school-wide behavior expectations, all part of a tie-dye theme.

Periodically reviewing school-wide behavior expectations is an essential practice within the Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (P.B.I.S.) framework. While the proactive teaching, modeling and practicing of expectations happens throughout the year, a “booster” review after school breaks is an important way the Fletcher staff helps everyone get back into the “groove.”

“While the longer school breaks are a fantastic time to unwind, the many changes to children’s routines can make it more challenging for students to settle back into the expectations of school,“ Instructional Coach Denette Locke, a member of the school’s Leadership Team, said. “Our goal is to get out ahead of those challenges by reminding everyone of the expectations. The new calendar year presents a particularly great opportunity to renew our commitment to a positive school community.”

Students were encouraged to think about one of Fletcher’s four behavior expectations to focus on as a new year’s resolution, of sorts, and each student helped fill in the letters of the banner with a tie-dyed coffee filter they made in art class. As students completed the project, Locke serenaded the group with a song about positive behavior written to the tune of the song, Feelin’ Groovy.

“I put my design on the expectation that says to be caring,” third grader Koda Chipman said. “I think it’s important to know when someone is feeling down and do whatever you can to cheer them up. That’s my goal for the new year.”

Fifth grader Maddie Weaver said, “I chose the expectation that says to be respectful because that helps everyone learn better and makes people feel welcome here.”

“The more our students think about the expectations in various contexts, the more meaning they will be able to make of them,”  Locke said. “That’s precisely why frequently reviewing the expectations and what they mean across settings is important.”

“This is a nice way to start school again after vacation,” Fourth grader Cailin Macaulay said. “It sets the tone for a good new 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: A Fletcher School Year-In-Review – Four Action Plan Targets, Eight Pictures

As the calendar year draws to a close, the day before December break seems a fitting time to look back on the past 12 months through the lens of our FWSU Action Plan. Below are two Fletcher Elementary School pictures representing each of the four sections of the Action Plan. The FWSU Action plan guides our work throughout the year, and emphasizes the following targets:

Target 1 – Proficiency-Based Personalized Learning: FWSU students and staff design and engage in proficiency-based personalized learning that integrates collaborative inquiry, problem-solving and creativity.

Part of Fletcher’s Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) work has included students analyzing individual and class behavior data to identify successes and challenges, and plan specific strategies that reduce rule-breaking behavior. While this work is more often done by adults, FES believes that by involving students in the process that will be more invested in the solutions. Read the FWSU Blog, Fletcher Students Take A Closer Look At Behavior, to learn more. 
Fletcher School graduate Monica King produced a professionally published photography book last spring. In collaboration with YMCA Site Director, Hallie Wolklin, Monica digitally designed the ABC book, which she ultimately took on tour to classrooms throughout FWSU. Read more about this project  in the FWSU Blog, Fletcher Student Publishes Book, Goes on Tour.

Target 2 – Leadership: FWSU students and staff lead innovative, personalized learning opportunities, both locally and globally.

For the second consecutive year, Fletcher Elementary was named a Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS)  Exemplar School. Exemplar status represents the highest possible recognition for reducing rule-breaking behavior and simultaneously increasing academic performance. Read more about PBIS and Fletcher’s accomplishment in the FWSU Blog, Fletcher named PBIS Exemplar School.
Fletcher students took the lead when showing families and friends around the school and their classrooms during Open House last fall. Open House features a glimpse into students’ daily routines, academic work and social-emotional learning. 

Target 3 – Flexible Learning Environments: FWSU Maximizes flexible learning environments by redefining the school day, promoting learning experiences that extend beyond the classroom, and fostering creativity, innovation and personalized learning opportunities for all.

Students in fourth through sixth grade visited an archaeological dig site in Fletcher last fall. They learned about the process of conducting a dig and assisted with collecting and sifting soil Read more about this adventure in the FWSU Blog, Fletcher Students Dig Into Learning.
Thanks to several community volunteers and generous businesses, FES unveiled a new Outdoor Classroom. Read more in the FWSU Blog, Raising the Room: Fletcher Elementary’s Outdoor Classroom Takes Shape.

Target 4 – Engaged Community Partners: 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.

Fletcher Elementary has partnered with the wellness group RiseVT to set both classroom and school-wide goals for the physical health of the school community. Last spring, F.E.S. Read More about our RiseVT Partnership in the FWSU Blog, Fletcher Students Rise to the Top With Healthy Lifestyles.
Members of the Cambridge Fire Department visited Fletcher for the annual Fire Safety Day. During the month of October, Fletcher students participated in fire safety activities such as designing a fire escape plan, when in turn made them eligible to be entered into a drawing for a smoke detector. During October, FES gave away nearly 50 smoke detectors. Read more about this project in the FWSU Blog, Fletcher School and Cambridge Fire Department Partner for Safety.

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: Outstanding Teacher of the Year – Jennifer Skerrett

BFA Fairfax is fortunate to have an amazing, dedicated and truly professional staff. I have often heard BFA Fairfax described as the true center of the Fairfax Community. This is largely due to the teachers who work with, mentor, coach and nurture our students into the community members, global citizens and adults of tomorrow.

On December 5th, Jennifer Skerrett (Grade 8 Social Studies) was formally recognized at the University of Vermont’s 39th annual Outstanding Teacher of the Year Ceremony. Each year the College of Education and Social Services (CESS) at the University of Vermont, together with Vermont supervisory unions and school districts, the Vermont Agency of Education, and the Vermont NEA, invites school superintendents, principals, school board chairpersons, and other dignitaries to honor the accomplishments of Vermont’s outstanding educators.

Jennifer Skerrett has worked at BFA’s Middle School for over two decades and has had a significant impact on hundreds of students. Her biggest strength is in developing relationships with students that allow her to differentiate and make content accessible to all students. Her goal is to teach students to think and make connections rather than memorize content. Jen’s passion for geography has led to world travel and student success in Vermont’s Geo-Bee. Her leadership has helped define our middle school as a responsive, dynamic, student centered learning environment. Her commitment to students and colleagues consistently extends beyond the school day for collaborative work and student events.

The connections Jen develops with her students to the subject area continually come alive in her room and in all of her work. The quiet rigor of study and academic skills that emerge through her work is legendary. The respect that her colleagues afford her speaks volumes of her professional practice. Ms. Skerrett engages her students as they do in-depth primary and secondary source research while they analyze and apply content and skills learned through creative and thoughtful projects year after year.

Please join us in congratulating Jen Skerrett in her well earned recognition as BFA Fairfax’s Outstanding Teacher of the Year 2019.

Justin Brown is the Principal at BFA Fairfax Middle School is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY.

The FWSU Story: BFA Fairfax Is Alive With the Sound Of Music!

Middle School Winter Concert, grades 5-7

It’s been an extremely busy few weeks for students and staff in the numerous BFA Fairfax music ensembles and classes. Our ever-growing school music program, under the guidance and direction of Ian Flint, Glen Wallace, Sarah Wolff and Christy Maynard, has provided multiple unique flexible learning opportunities for our students, and has treated the school and local community to some stellar music performances. 

Elementary School Winter Concert at BFA Fairfax

In early December, thirteen BFA Fairfax students attended the Vermont Music Educators Association Day of Percussion, and approximately thirty students auditioned for the High School District Music Festival. Our student musicians were also treated to a performance of Handel’s Messiah on December 8th at the Barre Opera House, which for many was the first time hearing this historical, powerful, and widely known piece with a full ensemble.

Students participating in hand drumming activity at Vermont Music Educators Association Day of Percussion
Christy Maynard and students at Barre Opera House for Handel’s Messiah performance by the Vermont Philharmonic Orchestra

The week of December 9 served as K-12 winter concert week, with unbelievable performances for standing-room-only crowds in the Richard Brown Gymnasium.  On Friday the 13th, BFA Chamber Singers attended the Vermont American Choral Directors Association Madrigal Festival, where they performed two pieces as an individual ensemble, and performed three combined pieces with schools from around the state. 

Upcoming events include a performance for Elementary students highlighting the 5th grade band on Monday, December 16th. This will take place in the Richard Brown (HS) Gymnasium at 2pm. All are welcome to attend. The month of January will bring All State auditions, as well as the District 1 Music Festival.

BFA Fairfax Pep Band morning rehearsal

As you can see, music is alive and well at BFA Fairfax.  If you have had the pleasure of attending any of the previous performances, you certainly can attest to the amazing talent possessed by our students and staff. Thank you to the Fairfax school and local community for supporting continued unique opportunities for our students! Happy Holidays!

Upcoming Music Program Activities:

  • December 16: 5th Grade Band Performance
  • January 18th:  All State Auditions
  • January 30 and 31:  District Festival rehearsal and performance
  • Elementary Choral Festival
  • All State Performance
  • Adjudication festivals

Geri Witalec-Krupa is an Athletic Director/Assistant Principal at BFA Fairfax is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her @GLWit