THE FWSU STORY: GEMS Second-Graders Become Nature Explorers in Four Winds Trip

Today’s on The FWSU Story, we are pleased to feature a guest post by Julie Ferguson, a second-grade classroom teacher at Georgia Elementary Middle School. 


GEMS students experience their first field trip to the Senesac property in Georgia.

Earlier this month, the second graders at GEMS enjoyed their first field trip, organized by Four Winds volunteers.


Students learn about trees!

It was a wonderful trip to the Senesac property in Georgia which provided children with the opportunity to learn about trees in one of the best flexible learning environments around: the great outdoors!


Students talk about their learning.

Students started off their morning with a puppet show about what a tree does and why it’s important. Then the students broke into classes and visited three stations.


Students loved exploring the outdoors!

The children learned how to identify different trees and about the parts of the tree and their jobs. These students were proud to share their new learning with their families and classmates!

Julie Ferguson Teacher


Julie Ferguson is a second-grade teacher at Georgia Elementary Middle School.




THE FWSU STORY: Celebrating a Positive School Culture at GEMS

School culture is as important as the instruction that takes place every day. Where students feel valued, welcome, and safe, and where there is a sense of community and individuality. That is where student success occurs.


A gathering of GEMS!

Such an atmosphere contributes to effective teaching and learning and to genuine communication, both within and outside the school. Classrooms at GEMS strive to establish a positive culture within local classrooms and as a whole throughout the entire school.

GEMS students
GEMS students participate in a school celebration!

Recently, our elementary school gathered to celebrate our first month of school. Students and staff gathered, all wearing their “I am a GEM” t-shirt.  stating: “I am Respectful” “I am Responsible” and “I am Safe”.

Students demonstrate Tae Kwon Do to their peers.
Students demonstrate Tai Kwon Do at the Schoolwide Assembly in September.

We were fortunate to hear a duet performed by two siblings and also observed a demonstration in Tae Kwon Do known as Chon Ji. We always start each assembly with the pledge of allegiance and a peer greeting and conclude with our state song.

Students demonstrating Chon Ji

Consistency in this part of our agenda helps students have a known consistent routine which helps foster positive student behavior.

Students performing a musical piece for their peers.
Students perform a song for their peers.

The students had this to say:

  • “I was so nervous to perform in front of everyone, but when I got down I felt GREAT!”
  • “My brother and I practiced a lot and we made many mistakes. When we performed, it came out perfect. I felt really good about playing and would like to do it again. It made me feel really good inside”

It was an incredible experience to bring so many students, all demonstrating such wonderful behaviors!

THE FWSU STORY: Students Celebrate “The Best Part of Me”

Elementary teachers across the United States have been engaged in writing projects using photographer Wendy Ewald’s 2003 book, The Best Part of Me: Children Talk About their Bodies in Pictures and Words. The book highlights and celebrates various aspects of body differences. The writing project can build community and self-esteem by encouraging the kind of reflection that comes with the integration of visual images, the writing process, and the written word. The following guest blog post by GEMS Third Grade Teacher, Stacey Sullivan, explains how her class engaged in the project.

We began our year with a writing project that was inspired by Wendy Ewald’s book:  The Best Part of Me, in which students write about the best part of their bodies and help to compose a photograph that highlights their best parts.

a student's mouth

A student shares how their mouth is the best part.

Every year I like to begin with a focus on our strengths, passions, and the things we like best about ourselves.  I want to get to know my students through their eyes, I want to see them the way they see themselves.  This was a great project for doing that.  It was also a good way to ease us into the writing process.


“The Best Part of Me” by Wendy Ewald.

Together we took this piece through the brainstorming, writing, editing, revising, and publishing steps. Students found this piece easy because they were able to write on a topic that they know a lot about… themselves!  The poem format also gave students the freedom to express themselves without worrying too much about structure.  There will be plenty of time to worry about run-ons, fragments, grammar, and syntax.  In poetry, it’s all allowed — we just chalk it up to stylistic choice!

Sullivan's Scholars!

Sullivan’s Scholars share their superpowers!

Students were in charge of the composition of their portraits.  They had imagined exactly how they wanted their body part captured and had the final say in which shot was used. The results are truly magical.

A student captures how their hands are the "best part."

A student captures how their hands are the “best part.”

Next, we are focusing on writing personal narratives.  Students have already begun the brainstorming process by listing people and places in their lives that are important to them and thinking of small moments they have shared together.  We will try to zoom in and make the story come alive for the reader by describing what happened.  We will focus on showing instead of telling.  We do this by using figurative language, dialogue, and focusing on our senses: what we heard, saw, tasted, felt, and smelled.

Teacher Stacey Sullivan

Stacey Sullivan teaches third grade at Georgia Elementary Middle School. She blogs at and is active on Twitter @sullyteaches.

THE FWSU STORY: GEMS 7/8 Grade Students Build Community, Spread Kindness

What’s happening with GEMS seventh and eighth graders?


Students practice kindness and team-building!

This year on Fridays, students have time in their schedules for students to further develop their Personalized Learning Plans by learning and experiencing community service and team building cohesion.  Each team has also taken the opportunity to build a greater sense of community within the grades.  The eighth graders have planned and executed team-building activities to enhance this year’s theme:  One Goal, One Team, and No Limits.


Students unleash “kindness bugs.”

The seventh graders have pursued a different path of team building structures that are focused on kindness… Kindness Always Returns… Let’s Start a Kindness Boomerang! As part of their yearlong team building activities, each seventh-grade class will be focusing on KINDNESS, something we all feel the world could use a bit more of these days.

Purposeful kindness.

Purposeful kindness.

They are doing their best to take RANDOM ACTS OF KINDNESS to a whole new level by instituting PLANNED ACTS OF KINDNESS.  Classes who receive a special envelope means they were chosen as a recipient of one such act: animal/character shaped corner bookmarks, which they hope will add to and nurture students’ love for reading.

The many colors of kindness.

The many colors of kindness.

The seventh-grade students are not looking for public recognition for these gifts, but have asked teachers to take a few pictures of the students enjoying the gifts so the photos can be put on our new television displays.  They also asked the receiving classrooms to try to think of a planned act of kindness they could perform for another grade and help make kindness contagious.

Students create personalized kindness bugs.

Students create personalized kindness bugs.

Even if just one group finds the time to conduct a planned act of kindness, the 7th graders will happily accept that as a teaspoon of change moving this social experiment in the right direction.  If every grade level is the recipient of a kind act on the behalf of another group, then the path of the boomerang will be complete, and hopefully, we’ll all be better for it!


This is kindness in action!


Over the summer a large television was added to the GEMS Middle School Lobby in preparation for an exciting new Innovation Lab project called GEMS TV.

Students create and produce content for GEMS TV

Students create and produce content for GEMS TV

The purpose of GEMS TV is to showcase the great work that students are doing in their classes across grade levels along with other informational content. A group of enthusiastic students will lead the technical implementation of GEMS TV as well.

As the school year begins, Mr. Hadd and Mrs. Payne are working with two classes to jump-start GEMS TV. One class focuses on content creation and the other is implementing the programming. Throughout the year, an Innovation Lab Advisory Group (AG) will meet each morning to curate and organize content as well as provide leadership for the project.

GEMS Innovation Lab Advisory Group

GEMS Innovation Lab Advisory Group

So many of the products created at GEMS are digital or live performance and often don’t lend themselves to being displayed for extended or repeated viewing. GEMS TV will bring this student work to new audiences as well as inform students, staff, and visitors about school information and events. GEMS TV has the potential to be a powerful communication tool.


GEMS TV on display at the school

Currently, a continuous 6-minute loop of images and video are on display on the middle school television. Soon this programming will be broadcast on a television in the main lobby as well. A future web stream may also bring selected content to other school devices and even home audiences over the internet. Once again, students will take the lead in developing and implementing the technical processes to make these innovations possible.


Creating Unity with Marvelous Masks 

The start of each school year is a new beginning for children and the relation to their individual success is crucial. It is a time for meeting new friends, establishing relationships and building the foundation for a positive classroom community.
FullSizeRender 12

Feeling valued, welcome, and safe is imperative for their confidence and growth and are the core beliefs of our Georgia Elementary School staff and community.


To help kick-off the year with fun and artistic creation, Sarah Frechette and Jason Thibodeaux, have been working with elementary classrooms, inspiring creativity through the creation of individual mask-making.


Students explored African Masks because there is a special connection between the creation and wearing steps of mask-making and the community that is established from such work. Students learn about self-expression, exhibiting individual personality, and the importance of each person’s special role within their community.

Masks will be displayed in each classroom setting and students will participate in a parade to showcase their work. Students had these things to say about their learning experiences with mask-making.

“I am a masketeer.”

“We are all learning together.”

“I can help you if you’d like.”

“I love art!”

“Thank you, Ms. Sarah and Mr. Jason”


Appreciating our School Administrative Support Staff

The end of the year is right around the corner and soon the hustle and bustle of our hallways and classrooms will be quiet. Throughout the year we rely on our bus drivers to pick up and drop off our students safely – thank you. We rely on our maintenance and custodial staff to keeps our schools clean – thank you. We rely on our para-educators to support our students in the classroom – thank you. We rely on our nurses to keep us all safe and healthy – thank you. We rely on our teachers to deliver a world class education – thank you. And we rely on our administrators to make sure our schools are nothing less than awesome – thank you.

But in today’s’ story, I want to shine the spotlight and thank our building office professionals who are the first faces of our schools.

IMG_3881They serve a multitude of roles and frankly our schools could not run efficiently without them. They keep track of all the details from scheduling the principal to managing parking spaces.


They take every phone call and help deliver “forgotten” lunch boxes and musical instruments. They organize school mailings and make sure all of the student data is up to date and correct.


They organize graduation and make sure every transcript and reference letter is delivered to the right college. They know all of our students and families. They find lost clothing and sometimes offer first aid.

All in all, they always make sure that everything in the school is just right. And we know that our schools could not do it all without each of you – thank you, Carol, Jen, Val, Sally, Corrina, Rhonda, Aleta, and Sharon!


head shot (1)

Ned Kirsch is Superintendent of Schools at FWSU. He is a constant contributor to The FWSU Story. You can follow him on Twitter @betaVT