Last Day of School!

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On this last day of school for 2019-20, we would like to extend a huge thank you to all of YOU; the families, students, staff, teachers, para educators, bus drivers, food service workers, custodians, administrators, board members and the FWSU community at large. We have conquered the unimaginable together and proven to ourselves just how much we are capable of. We are so proud of every one of you. And we will return next year stronger and ready to face the challenges ahead!

Update on Food Delivery
As the school year ends, we have learned that we will be able to continue providing food to children aged 18 and under at least until June 30. Please contact your Principal for more information. For BFA families, if you are interested in picking up food starting June 11, please complete this form: Food Needs June 11-30

Have a great summer, everybody! Congratulations to the Class of 2020!!

Letter to FWSU Families

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June 1, 2020

Dear FWSU Education Community,

The first day of June is typically a day we think of upcoming graduations, summer vacations, and wonderful weather. This year on the first day of June there are other things weighing on our minds, as well.

As we work to navigate the process of educating and providing services for the students due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, we are also faced with significant impact on our students and adults within our community on the recent killing of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor among many other Black Americans. As we are witnessing across the country and here in Vermont, this event continues to impact many people, and is shown in protests calling for justice spreading across America and the world. 

We recognize how painful this senseless tragedy is for many members of our community.  While conversations about race may be difficult to have, it is essential that they take place in order for our community and our children to move forward. It is never too early or too late to begin these discussions with your children. As a supervisory union, it is important for us to continue to commit to our shared values that: diversity is an asset; every individual has equal human value; and that a secure and safe environment and peaceful conflict resolution are essential to learning and to society. Below are a couple resources to support conversations. 

Anti-Racism For Kids 101: Starting To Talk About Race

100 race-conscious things you can say to your child

We are committed to ensuring equity for all students, and understand that ridding our system of inequalities connected to race, gender, language diversity, socioeconomic status, and other forms of marginalization, is key for all students to thrive in a global society. Our schools are committed to a culture free from bias and inequity. Together we can provide opportunities for our children to effect change. We need to create and foster environments where every person feels welcomed, accepted and valued. 

Sincerely,

Donald S. Van Nostrand
Interim Superintendent

Click Here for a PDF of this Letter.

The FWSU Story: Learning Together, Learning Apart (Part 5)

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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 fifth installment in the series.

Allison MacKenzie, GEMS Grade 3 Elementary Teacher

Clouds and silver linings…
The greatest loss I have felt in this experience has been the lack of in-person connection to my students and colleagues. Amazingly enough, I miss the jolt that my morning alarm clock gave me each day — that feeling that my own children and my students are depending on me to guide them through the day. I long for that urgency I felt in the early hours of the morning that demanded a certain routine that has changed significantly. I miss greeting my team-mates and co-workers in the hallway and the morning exchanges we would share about our lives. I miss seeing all of our students’ faces come into the building each day to greet us in their chosen way. The community that is built in the walls of a classroom is truly amazing. I miss that. Teachers and students develop relationships with one another that allow us to gauge each other’s moods and needs for the day so that we can respond accordingly. I miss that sense of knowing what is going on for them. The greatest silver lining is that we work in a district that values the social and emotional well-being of our students above all else. I still feel the presence of that value every day. I feel that we have remained connected as a school community and that we are still doing our very best to respond to our students’ needs and to be there for them through this trying time. I am incredibly impressed by the work their families are doing to keep them connected and engaged.

Looking forward…
I really can’t wait for that first day when we can all be together again. When I think about our first day together, I am most looking forward to simply greeting everyone. I know that moment when students re-enter school is going to be one of the most amazing experiences I will have had as an educator. I have always loved and appreciated being able to do this work, but I appreciate it on a completely different level now. We have been asking ourselves, our students, and our families to be patient. We have sent the message that we are all in this together and that we will get through this. One of my favorite quotes that was shared by another teacher in a video GEMS made was “Every storm runs out of rain.”  I think it’s going to be incredibly powerful for all of us, students and staff alike, to know that we did, in fact get through this…that this “storm ran out of rain” and that we are all together again.  

Hopes and dreams…
My biggest hope for my students is that they stay happy and healthy. I hope that they talk about their feelings and that they reach out for support when they need it. I hope they remember to breathe fresh air everyday and to smile.

I hope they stay engaged with school as much as they can. I hope they find the value in helping out at home.  I hope they continue to learn.

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: Learning Together, Learning Apart (Part 3)

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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 third installment in the series.

Heather Brown, GEMS Grade 6 Language Arts Teacher

Clouds and silver linings…

Even though we are connecting with students everyday, my greatest loss is actually seeing all of my students everyday. I miss greeting them in the morning and when they enter my class. I miss having a student run up to me to share about their book or that they finished their book. I miss them giving me recommendations for books. I miss joking around with them. I miss seeing their smiles when they are celebrated. I miss sitting down next to them to help them with their assignments. It’s overwhelming to think about how much I miss them. There is so much you know and understand about your students when you are face to face with them. Are they having a good or bad day? Do they need something? It’s hard to know these things without seeing them everyday, without being able to read their facial expressions and their body language, without being able to talk with them and ask them how everything is going. I hope my students know their teachers are here for them if they need anything, even though we are not seeing them every day. I firmly believe families and teachers need to work together to educate the whole child. A silver lining to this remote learning is how the bridge between home and school has strengthened. Communication and parent involvement in their child’s education has increased dramatically. Families and educators have truly had to work as a team to navigate this new way of learning. Everyone has learned new tools to communicate with each other and learn together. I think as we move forward and beyond this difficult time, the home to school gap will have drastically narrowed. These relationships will emerge much stronger than they were as a result of this pandemic.

I wish I’d known…

I think about those last few days before school was dismissed a lot. Everything happened so quickly. I wasn’t prepared to only see half of my students that Monday after learning about the dismissal. I found it difficult to balance giving my students honest and realistic information, while keeping their worries at bay. I always say goodbye to my students when they leave school for the day, but for some reason, when I said goodbye that last day, I could feel it was going to be goodbye for a while. As I watched them walk down the stairs, I could feel emotions arising like it was the last day. If I had known, I would’ve wanted to tell my students how amazing they have been this entire year and how proud of them I am. I would’ve shared how much I was going to miss them and how confident I am in their abilities as they transition to seventh grade. And I would’ve made sure they took home more books! 🙂

Hopes and dreams for students…

I am so proud of the way our sixth graders have navigated this new way of learning. So many of them have matured and taken on this huge responsibility with ease.  I’m impressed with their independence and willingness to persevere through challenges on their own. I hope my students remember to take these skills along with them into their future, to remember this time, to remember they possess these skills deep within themselves, and that they can accomplish anything.

Lorrene Palermo, FES 5/6 Teacher

Looking back…

On March 17, our last day together, my students prepared materials for younger students to have during their learning at home, organized materials for those classmates who were not there, and prepared the iPads for future learning. It would be the last time those busy hands and chattering kids would be in our classroom; the last time I would hear the sounds of students for the remainder of the school year. Somewhere deep inside I just knew that we would not be returning to school to finish our year together, but I put that feeling aside and hoped that we were. COVID-19 changed everything that day. 

Finding balance…

We all went home, and for four weeks I tried to find a balance with work and home. During our Maintenance of Learning phase, I worked hard to make contact with all my students via a phone call and lots of messages in Schoology to assure them that I was still there for them. My work days became longer and more stressful because of the amount of screen time.  Not having a set schedule made it so that days started to blur together. Some days were better than others, but many days I found myself emotionally drained by noon. Those were the days I needed to disconnect from technology and go outside and get fresh air or just go take a nap. Once expectations were set for the Continuity phase of our remote learning, I was able to put a plan in place and find my teaching rhythm again. Planning is becoming more fluid. and I am working hard to utilize my colleagues, my village, to support my needs and those of my students. The staff meeting is now a highlight in my week to see friendly faces who understand what I am going through. 

Finding joy in the smiles and voices of children…

Just before spring break I returned to school to make copies and gather materials for teaching and found the silence of school, during what would have been a normal day, to be unsettling. No school should ever be quiet. While I was there I had picked up some artwork for some of my sixth grade students who were working on an art project they had started with the guidance counselor. With art and paint, I set off to the students’ homes and dropped off the supplies so they could finish while they were at home. The smiles on their faces said it all. Seeing my students each week via a virtual meeting or just talking on the phone is what has brought me joy during this unprecedented time.

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: 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: 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.

The FWSU Blog: Georgia’s Got Talent!

On Thursday, February 13th, students, staff, and families gathered to admire, and be entertained by, the diverse student talent that walks our hallways. For the 28th Annual Celebration of Talent, GEMS students showcased their skills.  Among them were dancers, singers, pianists, comedians, and instrumentalists…. a variety of talent that was fun to watch and extremely entertaining.

Behind the scenes, students videoed each performance, took responsibilities for the setup and break down of equipment, cast lighting on each performer and were an integral part of supporting each act.  Student council members decorated prior to the show and were on hand to pass out programs and assist in any way.

Nancy Volatile-Wood and Jessica Sweeney have taken the lead in providing this wonderful opportunity for years.  Their support of each student and encouragement of each individual performance is recognized by our community and they are prideful of each students growth over the years.  The progress they see in each musician, dancer, and artist is extraordinary and their smiles say it all.

We look forward to the 29th Celebration of Talent next year!

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

The FWSU Story: Global School Play Day – February 5, 2020

What if the whole world went on a playdate one day a year? That’s the idea behind Global School Play Day, an international movement to recognize and celebrate the value and importance of time for unstructured, screen-free play in our children’s lives. 

As explained in the Global School Play Day Press release, “In 2015, a small group of six educators took action and created Global School Play Day because of their concern that adults and technology were encroaching on playtime for children. On February 4, 2015, the first year of Global School Play Day, over 65,000 children participated in the first ever Global School Play Day after only four weeks of social media promotion from those six educators.”  

Fletcher Elementary Students with their Rockets

This year, 554,632 participants from 75 nations participated in this special day, and schools and classrooms within FWSU were among them. The idea was first shared by Marcy Perotte, one of the members of the FWSU Whole School, Child, and Community (WSCC). The team discussed the idea, which supports several of the 10 areas of wellness the FWSU WSCC focuses on, and then brought it to the building principals and fellow teachers. 

From rocket launches to board games, students engaged in play that inspired curiosity, self-direction, fun, problem-solving, movement, kindness, and connecting and communicating. As GEMS Elementary Principal, Steve Emery noted, “Play is an essential part of learning and should be implemented throughout every student’s day. The transferable skills utilized come naturally and allow for individual growth within each performance indicator. What is showcased on Global School Day of Play should be a necessity for all age levels each and every day.”  In our first year of global participation, we did not play all day…but extra time and attention were  dedicated to the spirit of the day. Getting discussion percolating about unstructured, screen-free play time opportunities is one of the goals of participation in this day. In FWSU, the value of play is reaffirmed by such a celebration. Our schools do understand the importance of play and have tried to create flexible learning environments that encourage the intersection of play and learning in much of what we do. Fletcher Elementary principal, Chris Dodge summed it up, “Play really is children’s work. Learning and play go hand in hand and are not mutually exclusive. Through play, children learn essential social and academic skills that set the stage for a successful school and life experience. Too often, play is misunderstood and undervalued when in fact it’s time very well spent.”

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: Early Release Days – What do the staff do on those afternoons?

This school year, as a supervisory Union, FWSU’s calendar includes three Early Release Days.  One in October, this past Monday – January 20, and a third on March 25. Each of these days allow professional staff time to work together throughout the district  in order to build capacity and opportunities for student learning and growth.

This past Monday, Principal Conrad and I had the pleasure of working with both the GEMS and the BFA Fairfax grades 5-8 staff.  We had the pleasure of facilitating discussions with staff to further refine our teaching and assessment practice with Transferable Skills. Transferable Skills identify the crosscutting targets for skills that FWSU believes are important to be successful in and beyond school.

As a district, FWSU has agreed upon the following transferable skills across all subjects:

As Our Transferable Skills are woven throughout all of our teaching and learning, it is our purpose to ensure that all students become informed, literate, critical thinkers who demonstrate responsible social and civic behaviors in school and beyond.

Our work is to continually define, refine and differentiate what each of these skills looks like across grade levels; how students demonstrate or struggle with them; as well as how to we can more consistently teach and assess them across grades 5-8. This requires sustained time and effort. These early release times provide essential, deep work time for educators to engage in rigorous and thoughtful conversations in service of greater clarity, coherence, and focus for our work with students.

I can confidently speak for the participants in our session and each of the sessions taking place in Fletcher, Georgia, and Fairfax that this time is productive, essential, and absolutely helps us each to better meet the needs of all learners throughout FWSU.  And for that we thank you, our community, for supporting us in continuing to grow opportunities to support our “belief in what is possible.

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