THE FWSU STORY: GEMS Spanish Class Explores Artistic Expression at Dartmouth College

The students in the Advanced Spanish class at Georgia Elementary Middle School recently took a field trip to Dartmouth College. The students toured the basement of the Baker-Berry Library where a famous mural is tucked away.

GEMS Spanish Art 04

GEMS Advanced Spanish Class

This 24-panel mural is a “fresco” style piece of art entitled The Epic of American Civilization. It covers 3,200 feet and explores the history of the Americas through the lens of artist Jose Clemente Orozco.

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An Orozco mural displayed at Dartmouth

Students participated in a workshop which involved careful observation, interpretation, drawing and presenting their ideas about the different pieces of the mural. Orozco took two years to paint this mural, and the students decoded most of it in two hours – no easy challenge! This opportunity was rare and students were able to use their knowledge of culture, history, art, religion and Spanish to aid in interpreting the murals.

GEMS Spanish Art 02

Students explored artistic expression and interpretation.

“I enjoyed seeing the murals. They are unique.”  – Tanisha G

“I was challenged by trying to understand what the art meant.” –  Jacob H 

“I enjoyed the bus ride and the facts behind each art piece.  I learned more about the past from them.”  – Taylor R

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Another large fresco mural featured in the Baker-Berry Library at Dartmouth

“I learned more about the type of painting he used (fresco).” – Sydney L

“I enjoyed eating lunch in the middle of the college.”  – Tallon S

“I learned that Orozco cared about the future.”  – Andrew Y

THE FWSU STORY: New Assessment Measures Physical Fitness at GEMS

The Vermont Agency of Education has made some changes in the state assessment system this year in accordance with the Federal “Every Student Succeeds Act” (ESSA). One such change is the implementation of Physical Education assessments in targeted elementary, middle, and high school grades.


Students at GEMS practice physical fitness in PE class.

The Vermont Agency of Education has selected FitnessGram to serve as its statewide physical education assessment for both state and federal accountability purposes. FitnessGram is a non-competitive fitness assessment developed in 1982 by The Cooper Institute and is currently the most widely used fitness assessment tool nationally. Our state views this assessment as an important measure of good health as opposed to athletic ability.

This year, in May, each student in grades four and seven will be assessed in four areas: aerobic capacity, muscular strength, muscular endurance, and flexibility. Body composition will not be measured or reported. Because this is the initial year of the testing, parents will not be receiving individual student results.


Students assess their physical fitness with FitnessGram

FitnessGram Assessment includes:

Curl-Ups: The curl-up test measures abdominal strength and endurance, which is important in back support and core stability.

Push Ups: The push-up test measures muscular endurance of the upper body.

PACER Test: The PACER (Progressive Aerobic Cardiovascular Endurance Run) is the default aerobic capacity test in FITNESSGRAM. Aerobic capacity is perhaps the most important component of any fitness program. Research indicates that acceptable levels of aerobic capacity are associated with a reduced risk of high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, obesity, diabetes, some forms of cancer, and other health problems in adults.

Sit and Reach: The sit and reach test is a common measure of flexibility, and specifically measures the flexibility of the lower back and hamstring muscles.

If you are interested in learning more about the assessment and the standards it is designed to measure, please visit:

THE FWSU STORY: GEMS Students to Create Projects in New Outdoor Woodworking Center

With generous funding from the Georgia Elementary Middle School PTCO, the first-grade team was able to purchase tools and other supplies to create a woodworking center. Our center is now complete with safety glasses, aprons, gloves, hammers, screwdrivers, pliers, a saw and miter box, levels, measuring tapes, and speed squares.

Supplies available in the woodworking center at GEMS.

Supplies available in the woodworking center at GEMS.

Eighth-grade teacher Brad King and students from the middle school built a movable table that will support flexible learning opportunities to work outside in the fresh air and sunshine – and to let our creativity run wild!

A table built by middle students at GEMS

A table built by middle students at GEMS

After a few safety lessons, small groups of first graders will be able to head outdoors to the woodworking center. With adult supervision,  the students will be able to use hammers, drills, screws, and measurement tools to cut and create anything they can imagine!

Students at GEMS will uplevel their skills using various tools and be able to apply some of the math we have learned this year in the context of their woodworking projects.  Finished pieces can also be painted and decorated, integrating opportunities for artistic expression as well.

This new center will provide every first-grader a real opportunity for connected hands-on learning and success. Students kids are very excited to get outside to make something with their hands and try out all the new tools.

Thanks to the GEMS PTCO for their generous support!

THE FWSU STORY: Moving Innovation Forward

Get better every day.

Sounds simple and it is something FWSU strives to do. So how do we do it? There are many ways that we try to improve our system overall to make it more responsive to family and students. And also to make our schools as innovative as possible. One of biggest drivers of our school improvement efforts over the last several years is our membership in the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools.

FWSU is one of 93 members in the League and one of two member districts in New England. League members are selected through a peer-reviewed application process. The League is an organization that brings together the most innovative schools in the nation to working together, to learn together on shared priorities, and to find solutions to make our schools better. League schools also partner with leading entrepreneurs, researchers, and educational leaders to pioneer innovative learning and leadership practices. These practices lead to improved outcomes for students that help prepare them for lifelong learning.

Since becoming part of the League, FWSU has continued to design, champion, and scale effective, innovative learning opportunities to advance equity and excellence for every student. The League has opened opportunities for our students, that would not have ordinarily been available to small rural districts. Here are a few examples:

  • BFA Fairfax Middle School participated in a unique research opportunity sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF).  The NSF is a United States government agency that supports fundamental research and education in all the non-medical fields of science and engineering. The project, Playing with Data, is a three-year research and development study to investigate how to support middle school science teachers in using data from students’ digital gameplay for formative assessment and differentiated instruction.
  • Students in Fletcher worked with Digital Promise Global on an initiative that supports innovation, by providing students worldwide with cutting edge technology to solve real-world problems.  The project was part of the Hewlett-Packard-Microsoft’s Reinvent the classroom initiative, which aims to provide and support next-generation learning, international collaboration and the “maker” movement in education.
  • FWSU has been named one of nine schools in the country to participate in a NSF Challenge Collaborative to help develop K-12 Computational Thinking Pathways. Computational thinking is the thought processes involved in formulating a problem and expressing its solution(s) in such a way that a computer can effectively carry out (i.e. – coding). Our system will share its knowledge, best practices, learnings, and frameworks around computational thinking with Digital Promise and other participating districts over the course of three years. What we learning and frameworks we establish will be published as part of a public-facing toolkit
  • FWSU was one of the League schools featured in published “playbook” that was shared with schools all over the country on implementing proficiency-based education.

Partnering with entrepreneurs, researchers, and leading education thinkers and serving as a test-bed for new approaches to teaching and learning has benefited our schools. Learning from the above experiences, as well as other League schools, has led to many innovative changes in all of our schools. Since joining the League each of our schools has established Innovation Labs, expanded computer science education, expanded our global education work and put a focus on improving outcomes for our students with the smart use of learning technologies.

Stay tuned for what is next for FWSU!

THE FWSU STORY: When a Keychain Is Not Just a Keychain

Three years ago when planning how to integrate innovation spaces into FWSU schools, we explored the emerging technology of 3D printing. At that time, many schools seemed to be using the technology to print everyday objects, like keychains. Although this was new and trendy, the leadership team agreed we wanted more: our 3D printing experiences for students would be centered on design thinking and problem-solving. We set a goal to use this technology to do more than “just print keychains.” We wanted to strive for a learning experience that would empower our students to create objects with real purpose and positive impact.

Today our Innovation Labs are well established and we have successfully used 3D printing technology to solve problems and bring creative design to new levels. Students have printed all sorts of objects along the way (some may have even resembled keychains!). At the same time, 3D printing has become an important tool, the GEMS Innovation Lab has also focused on the important concept of global sustainability. To apply this concept authentically, the Lab has used the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a framework for several student learning experiences.

One such class called Global Inquiry asks students to study global issues and problems associated with the SDGs and then take action. The overarching idea is that we all need to participate in order to solve the world’s problems. Small steps taken by a large number of people can add up to a great deal of progress. This is the second year of the class and students have completed wide-ranging projects from a solar oven to a blog raising awareness about shark finning, to work with an elementary classroom to reduce the use of plastic shopping bags. All of these projects took small but meaningful steps forward toward one or more of the SDGs.

One of the groups in the current class wanted to do something about SDG #15: Life on Land. After doing some research, they decided they would like to raise money to symbolically adopt a hippopotamus. They planned to ask for donations but also wanted people to show their support for the cause by displaying an object. The students focused on 3D design and arrived at the idea of a “hippo charm.”

Several design prototypes were created before the students decided on a flat circle with a raised logo. Next came the question of how it could be displayed. Once they were printed, some were backed with magnets, and others had a ring threaded through a hole at the top of the design. While students could hang these from backpacks to display their support, the charms quickly became known as the “keychain” option.

The students have received a steady stream of dollar donations and have given out their hippo charms in return. An additional design, a “hippo figurine”, created by another student in the class, has also become a popular request. The project is well on its way to raising the needed funds for the symbolic hippopotamus adoption. More than that, it is showing once again how small efforts can add up to positive change. Call it a keychain, call it a charm, in this case, it is more; it is students making a positive impact on their world.

If you wish to know more about this project or are interested in participating in some way, you can contact the Global Inquiry Class through the GEMS Innovation Lab by email or connect @gemsinnolab.

THE FWSU STORY: GEMS Students Learn Transferrable Skills with Team U-Topia

Vermont has set a very high bar for student achievement with Transferable Skills.  Every student must demonstrate proficiency in the following areas.


Team U-Topia

  • Clear and Effective Communication
  • Self Direction
  • Creative and Practical Problem Solving
  • Responsible and Involved Citizenship
  • Informed and Integrative Thinking

One way GEMS is helping students learn transferable skills is through Team U-Topia. Every Monday and Friday morning a team of over 60 students and 3 core teachers plus countless other staff members meets to provide students with a greater voice in their learning. GEMS tackled three transferable skills in Core classes.


GEMS U-Topia

Self-Direction:  Teachers encourage students to take ownership of their learning by setting goals and taking proper action to achieve they desire to accomplish.

Clear and Effective Communication: Students are asked to participate in large and small group discussions.  Some presented to the entire grade during our weekly Team U-Topia meetings. They were asked to explain their thinking in writing. Every piece had to be organized with a clear purpose (claim). Our purpose had to be supported by facts, numbers, quotes, and logic.

Responsible and Involved Citizenship: Our students had a voice and were engaged in building stronger teams.

Beautiful Work: Students display their best and most “beautiful” work on the GEMS Tribute Wall. Meeting the qualifications for the Tribute Wall involves critique, revision, rehearsal, and aesthetics.

THE FWSU STORY: Georgia Students Present Maker Faire

What is a Maker Faire? Maker Faire is an opportunity for discussion, expression, creativity, and FUN! The expression on the faces of both adults and children show it all. On a February school night, the GEMS cafeteria was elbow-to-elbow as parents, children, and students attended the maker event with enthusiasm and excitement.



Everyone had the opportunity to create, make, and problem solve and a variety of diverse challenge tasks and inquiry-based learning opportunities were spread throughout the cafeteria.



Each station was unique and lured the creative thinker over to investigate, build – and hopefully solve. The following were booths/activities available:

Click the Maker movie below to get a great view of the night and activities available for all.  Courtesy of GEMS television and Christopher Dukeshire.

Thank You to the following sponsors for their support and contributions towards materials and supplies.  Children, could not only build and create but bring home their designs for memories and keepsake. Thank you so much!

  • Paul Frank and Collins P.C
  • Harrison Concrete
  • University of Vermont
  • Carolyn Branagan, VT State Senator
  • Georgia PTCO
  • Georgia Market
  • Exit 18 Equipment
  • R.L. Vallee Inc
  • Georgia Self Storage
  • Breezy Acres Garden Center