THE FWSU Story: Creating Problem Solvers at GEMS

Middle-level students have been hard at work at GEMS this fall in creating creative solutions to different types of problems. The brainstorming and creations of possible solutions have been found in and around our core content classes as well as our UA. 

Creative and Practical Problem Solving is one of the five Transferable Skill proficiencies that FWSU and GEMS have been working to incorporate throughout our proficiency-based learning and reporting. The Transferable Skill of Creative and Practical Problem Solving requires that students do things like: 

  • observe and evaluate situations in order to define problems.
  • identify patterns, trends, and relationships that apply to solutions.
  • generate a variety of solutions, use evidence to build a case for the best responses, critically evaluate and repeat that process to generate alternative solutions.
  • identify opportunities for innovation and collaboration.
  • use a range of tools, including technology, to solve problems, and
  • persist in solving challenging problems and learning from unsuccessful attempts.

Students in Mr. Hardy’s grade 7 math class have incorporated their mathematical understanding to create and share proposals to me on ways they would like to improve and expand the experiences along our walking path.

Last UA block, Mr. King’s Tech Ed course offering was helping students to design and build their own dragsters. This course culminated with a drag race competition to determine which design was the fastest. It was great to hear students discuss and debate the many different variables of what created the more successful designs. 

Mrs. Hardy, our Enrichment teacher, taught a course last block called Problem Solvers. When asked about the course, Jen shared the following: 

“We started the UA block with nonroutine style problems on paper and a few classroom-style escape activities. Then we moved on, to search the building for authentic problems. The problems kept rolling in, once we solved one, someone else would say how about this. Students didn’t get to them all, but some they did pursue was creating a school map, a ramp for the 1st-grade cart, and keeping plants from being trampled. They also tackled safety and congestion problems in the lobby and hallway headed to lunch. Lastly, we are waiting for quotes designed to increase the feeling of belonging here at GEMS. Students loved the feeling of accomplishment they got from being helpful and making our community a better place.”

These are only a few of the many examples of how our students are inspired to create, innovate and problem-solve at GEMS both to extend their learning and continue to improve our community.

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: GEMS and BFA Go To School Maker Day

This year, students from both BFA and GEMS were able to go to the first ever School Maker Day at the Shelburne Farms Coach Barn, in Shelburne.

Students had the opportunity to explore and engage in experiments and projects around electronics, coding, robots, 3D printing, drones and music. This was a great way to take connect the innovative learning they are doing in classrooms with the maker community.

As an extension of the innovator classes, the middle students were also charged with collecting the multimedia for this blogpost. With the mobile technology of iPads in their hands, students documented several of the activities to compile a brief insight into the day’s festivities.

Angelique Fairbrother is the Digital Learning Coach at Franklin West Supervisory Union. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her on Twitter @FWSUtech.

The FWSU Story: New Leadership Joins Our Schools

Two schools within the FWSU have new principals joining the team this year. Georgia Elementary and Middle School welcomed Julie Conrad as the Middle School Principal, and Bellows Free Academy – Fairfax welcomes Justin Brown, also as Middle School Principal. Both principals have had a highly successful start to the school year.

Mr. Brown, BFA Fairfax Middle School Principal

Justin is delighted to reconnect with his home community of Fairfax. With a range of experience over the past 10 years in both local and international schools as Principal of Winooski High School, Assistant Principal of Colchester High School and Principal of Vilnius International School (in Vilnius, Lithuania), he is committed to growing BFA Fairfax grades 5-8 into the best it can be. As Principal, Brown often says his primary charge is building a sense of unity and identity throughout grades 5-8 at BFA Fairfax. 

In this new position at BFA Fairfax, Justin brings expertise developing and actively building on a solid foundation of work in the areas of Proficiencies-Based Personalized Learning; sharing leadership and learning among staff and students; ensuring safe, healthy, equitable and flexible learning environments; and involvement of family and community partners. 

He is the first to say that what drew him initially, and now on his return to Fairfax, is the sense of community and focus on what is best for kids. Each day, he enjoys visiting and checking in with students and their teachers throughout their classrooms and throughout the building, as well as at after school activities.

Ms. Conrad, Georgia Middle School Principal, first day of school

Julie Conrad comes to GEMS this year having ten years experience as a high school math teacher, served 3 years as the State Mathematics Coordinator for the Vermont Agency of Education, a project manager and instructor in the Vermont Mathematics Initiative at UVM, and the last five years as the Mathematics Coordinator at Mount Abraham Unified School District. She has also been an educational consultant with various schools and districts around Vermont and New England. Julie has received her BS in Secondary Mathematics Education from the University of Vermont and a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership. She has special interests curriculum, assessment, and instruction; brain research; proficiency-based learning, restorative justice, and integration of technology into K-12 student learning. Aside from work, Julie loves to spend time with her three children playing board games. She can also be found creating and enjoying the arts (visual and performing), baking, swimming or being in nature. 

Ms. Conrad with Thomas & Amelia Weber

From Ms. Conrad… “The start of the year has been going well, largely due to the amazing staff and educators that make GEMS a great place to work and learn. My personal focus for my first year at GEMS is to strengthen our learning community through developing strong relationships. This means I am actively working to build my relationships with the students, adults, and families that make up the GEMS community. I have enjoyed getting to know the teachers and students through daily interactions, welcoming them to the building, visiting with them in lunch, and visiting their classrooms to look at the learning. The Middle School students at GEMS are amazing resources that are constantly curious and offer great ideas daily about how they think we can make GEMS better from them as learners and people. It is also my hope to strengthen communication and collaboration between parents and our school. Open House is a great start to meeting our GEMS families and sharing with them about goals around proficiencies as this will be on-going work for our school in the next few years. “

Donald Van Nostrand is the Interim Superintendent of Schools at Franklin West Supervisory Union. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter at @dsvannostrand

Be sure to follow FWSU on Facebook and #FWSU on Twitter to see more exciting things happening in our schools!

The FWSU Story: New School Year, New Beginnings, New Teachers in FWSU

A new school year is full of excitement for all returning educators, and in FWSU the first day of school is the best day of the year. But teachers who are brand new to FWSU get a 2-day preview of what FWSU is all about, along with lunch and tour of their home school well before that first day. When you are starting a new job, it’s a pretty great way to get off to a positive start.

We are so fortunate that FWSU attracts so many skilled and talented educators. So it is important that they have a chance to find out just how special our schools are, and that they have chosen well. Our FWSU schools and our educators share high expectations for teaching and learning, and along with that, we are collectively inspired by “a belief in what is possible.”

After some great food, gift bags, and welcome greetings from administrators from the Central Office and across the district, the learning begins. Some of the critical foundations they get a chance to learn about and experience during the 2-day orientation are systems-approaches to PBIS, MTSS, Technology Integration, Equity, All Learners Universal Frameworks, and creating Trauma-Sensitive Classrooms. In addition, they get to know a bit about our 3 schools and the pride that we share in being part of Franklin West Supervisory Union.  

The culmination of this mid-August orientation is a trip to their home schools that includes lunch, time with their principals, mentors, and mentor coordinators, and a Welcome Home tour of the school. 

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

The FWSU Story: Building Relationships Throughout our School Community at GEMS

The start of the school year is an opportune time to establish and build relationships throughout our school community. We know that learning can flourish when these relationships exist and that early in the start of a school year is the best time to establish connections.

We know the importance of, and the data that supports, building student-teacher relationships, but providing opportunities to engage school community peers through activities builds partnerships of trust, respect, and sometimes, friendships for life.

At the Georgia School, eighth grade students work throughout the year with younger elementary students in first grade to help build reading skills through fun and engaging activities. The positive interactions and support of one another is contagious and laughter and smiles fill the room.  

When asked how working with reading buddies has gone, first-graders responded:

“I like working with the older students.”

“My reading buddy REALLY helped me out.”

“I gave my reading buddy a hug to thank her.”

“My reading buddy helped me pick out my frog book.”

Steve Emery is the Elementary Principal of Georgia Elementary Middle School. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY.

The FWSU Story: Digital Learning For All

Thanks to the hard work of the IT staff under the direction of Jeff Smith, FWSU IT Manager, teachers at FWSU started the this school year with new MacBooks and iPads.

To get started with the new MacBooks, teachers participated in a day long inservice focusing on how they can integrate the digital resources at FWSU to impact learning for students.

We kicked off the day with Greg Kulowiec from Edtech sharing how staff can use Creativity, Design and Opportunity to inspire learning. After a motivating start with Greg, teachers then were able to explore and select different learning opportunities that best met their needs.

At the end of the day, staff were then able to meet with building administrators to plan next steps of how digital learning can be used for all students. Although inservice has concluded, this was just the first step of many as teachers move forward to innovating learning for all.

Angelique Fairbrother, FWSU Digital Learning Specialist
Angelique Fairbrother, FWSU Digital Learning Specialist

Angelique Fairbrother is the Digital Learning Coach at Franklin West Supervisory Union. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her on Twitter @FWSUtech.

The FWSU Story: Kids Are Back!

Yesterday was the first day for students across the FWSU schools (BFA – Fairfax, Georgia Elementary and Middle School, and Fletcher Elementary School) and it was an exciting day! Having the hallways full of happy students looking toward their next adventures has always been a special time of the school year. Thank you to all the families for sending us your children, to the educators for working so tirelessly for all kids, and to the students for sharing your enthusiasm and aspirations with us. It’s going to be an awesome year!

I joined the FWSU community in July as Interim Superintendent, and from the first day I could recognize the specialness of organization. FWSU’s Action Plan highlights the commitment of “High Performance and Equity in a Digital Learning Culture” and having conversations with many educators over the summer reinforce the commitment to this work. I saw the welcoming of new educators through a commitment on understanding the impact of trauma on our children and families, the opening of in-service focused on understanding the impacts of equity, and, while visiting schools on the first day, seeing in action the welcoming and caring educators working with children.

There really is A belief in what is possible.

The images above really stuck out in my travels around the FWSU community. The messages were written on the sidewalk of the GEMS entrance and really hit home the purpose of our work – to support students in developing compassion and knowledge as citizens. As parents of three children (two in elementary school and one in college) my wife and I are proud to be Vermont educators, and I am looking forward to being part of the FWSU!

BFA HS students and teachers hit the gym as well.

Dr. Suess once stated, “Sometimes you will never know the value of something, until it becomes a memory.” As the children and staff return to the schools remember to take time to celebrate all the successes – big or small. Enjoy the school year!

Donald Van Nostrand is the Interim Superintendent of Schools at Franklin West Supervisory Union. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter at @dsvannostrand.

Be sure to follow #FWSUTwitterChallenge for the FWSU 20-Day Twitter Challenge and #FWSU all year to see more exciting things happening in our schools!