The FWSU Blog: Georgia’s Got Talent!

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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

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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?

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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.

The FWSU Story: The Pulsera Project at GEMS and BFA

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“By sharing art, knowledge and ideas across cultural lines, we can create a more ethical and colorful world.”  – Pulsera Project

BFA Fairfax High School Spanish students selling items in the school lobby

As part of The Pulsera Project, BFA Fairfax High School and GEMS 7/8 Spanish classes participated in sales of fair-trade goods in November and December, 2019. Through The Pulsera Project (non-profit organization in the U.S.), Spanish teachers Kerri Brien and Laura Mathieu ordered original, hand-woven bracelets and bags made by artists in Nicaragua and Guatemala. The classes sold their merchandise at school for two weeks and all the money raised went directly back to the artists. 

Prior to the sale, Spanish students learned about poverty issues and conflict in Nicaragua as well as learning about individual artists (using videos and other materials by Pulsera Project). They also learned about the hardships faced in these countries and helped raise money to support community programs and fair trade employment.  The whole school increased their awareness and global citizenship. 

GEMS students shopping for free-trade items and reading about Pulsera Project

The positive impact by the GEMS school community was over $2,400, the equivalent to 1.2 houses or 8.6 months of fair-trade employment, or 40 months of educational scholarship.

Students inspect the hand-made items from Pulsera Project

At BFA, the students sold 139 bracelets and bags and raised $756 for Latin American artists.

Here’s what some of the students thought about the experience:

  • I felt like a good person for selling the bracelets. I felt like I was supporting the artists as a good cause.
  • It was for a good cause, all money goes back to artists. We’re not taking any of the profit.
  • Cool that unsold art goes from school to school.
  • When you learn how hard they worked to make it, you appreciate it more.
  • I liked it because was for a good cause. We learned about it beforehand, which was good.
  • Good idea to open up sale to whole school because it was for a good cause.

For further information, please visit http://www.pulseraproject.org. Congratulations to all who helped make this project a success!  

Students selling Pulsera Project items at GEMS

Today’s blog comes from Kerry Brien, BFA HS Spanish Teacher, and Laura Mathieu, GEMS 7/8 Spanish Teacher. Be sure to follow #FWSU on Twitter!

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: “Paging Doctor Teacher; Paging Doctor Teacher” FWSU Teachers Pursue Doctorates in Education

Last year, four FWSU teachers made a decision that would change their educational lives. Amy Gray and Karen Lehning from GEMS, Jensen Welch from BFA, and Denette Locke from Fletcher Elementary decided to move their learning to new heights; they applied and were accepted into the Southern New Hampshire Doctoral Program in Education. FWSU could not be prouder! 

The University describes the program like this: “The Southern New Hampshire University Doctorate of Education degree is designed to develop Scholar-Practitioners by advancing participants’ knowledge of leadership theory and practice, their understanding of approaches to organizational development, and their ability to effectively implement research methodologies and disseminate associated findings. SNHU’s Ed.D. program is offered as a regional cohort model, with hybrid courses occurring in a condensed weekend format during the Spring and Fall academic terms and a week-long residency each summer.” Those courses began last spring for our 4 teachers, and their journey is well underway.

As outlined in the program description, the program helps prepare “a new generation of transformational leaders to engage and lead positive change in education organizations and education systems.” As with their Master’s Program, SNHU program uses a cohort model for the Doctoral program, which helps to guide the development of the participants as “scholar-practitioners” in three areas: leadership theory and practice, organizational development, and research methodologies.

Our teachers really value the cohort model. The four of them can support each other here in FWSU, along with the other cohort members who meet regionally in Essex. Our teachers are able to apply their learning to their current work. All of them serve in some leadership capacity in their teams, schools, and across FWSU. The program is truly innovative, which makes it particularly attractive and a good fit for FWSU educators. And as anyone in a cohort model will tell you, the bonding with your colleagues unleashes support, creativity, and well, even some fun!

I asked each of the teachers what attracted them to this program at this time in their teaching career, since typically it’s administrators who pursue doctorates. Here is what they had to say:

Amy Gray, Grade 8 Math Teacher at GEMS: “I get asked frequently why I decided to do this. Most people are wondering what I’m going to do with that degree. And, I do have goals, but that’s not what it’s really about. For me, education is all about personal transformation.  Learning is a journey, a journey I love and have always wanted to travel. In fact, that’s why I teach. What other job asks you to be a lifelong learner? As far as the EdD program, I wanted to do something that would push my learning to the next level and really challenge me. And, it certainly is!”

Karen Lehning, Math Content Leader and Interventionist at GEMS: “I chose to pursue a Doctorate of Education (Ed.D.) in Educational Leadership through Southern New Hampshire University because I was looking for an opportunity to grow professionally in a challenging and supportive environment. Pursuing this degree has allowed me to think critically about complex educational issues that will impact both current and future students. My hope is that this program will transform my practice as an educator and provide me with new ideas, resources, and perspectives to support the efforts of educators and students in this district.”

Jensen Welch, BFA Fairfax High School Math Teacher and Proficiency-Based Learning Support: “I’m pursuing a doctorate in education because I was looking for an opportunity to pursue ‘something next’ and the SNHU Doctorate Cohort was being formed, so I jumped at the chance. When friends and family ask me how I am able to do all of the work and be away from family for most of a weekend a month, I explain that the topics and theories we are studying are so fascinating and interesting and engaging, that the extra effort and time are worth it.”   

Denette Locke, Fletcher Elementary Instructional Coach: “Originally I was not sure that the timing of the doctoral journey was right for me because of my crazy, wonderfully busy personal life, caring for a parent, and my own professional responsibilities. Those reasons also sparked why I should be starting the journey, too, kind of weird really! When Jensen and Karen both reached out to me after the Profile Weekend and said ‘you would be perfect for this,’ knowing the value of a cohort model and having colleagues reach out to me sparked me in moving forward. The cohort, the model of the Ed Leadership program, and the fact that I am a ‘scholarly practitioner’ in this journey makes it make sense to me. I love learning…I love the opportunity to make connections to both my professional and personal lives and I love growing, challenging myself and using my brain muscle!”

These four outstanding educators, who also just happen to all be skilled math leaders, have captured the most essential reasons why teachers pursue doctorates, reasons that we need to pay attention to in designing professional learning for all educators: personal and professional transformation of practice, challenging and supportive environments, complex and engaging issues to address, the motivation and inspiration of a cohort model, and valuing teachers as “scholarly practitioners” and researchers. Dr. Wendy Baker, SNHU Executive Director of Advanced Studies and one of their doctoral professors, summed it up this way, “FWSU doctoral students are deepening their work as educators by designing original research into an area they’re passionate about within their school setting. Their tireless pursuit of the scholar-practitioner lens has already changed their outlook on their work with classrooms and colleagues. We can’t wait to see where their studies take them next!”

I couldn’t agree more — these teachers are truly challenging themselves to actualize “a belief in what is possible.”

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: GEMS Teacher of the Year – Lauralee Wilson

“Teachers, I believe, are the most responsible and important members of society because their professional efforts affect the fate of the earth.” – Helen Caldicott, author and peace activist

The 39th Annual Vermont Outstanding Teachers Recognition Day is being held on Thursday, December 5, 2019 at the Grand Maple Ballroom in the Davis Center at the University of Vermont.  This ceremony is held to thank outstanding teachers and publicly honor them for educating the next generation – each day helping them to be smarter, more creative, and more humane. To recognize the long hours, the patience, the perseverance, and passion defining their important work, and to honor them for their commitment, their successes as well as their trials, and the powerful impact they have on the children of Vermont and our future.

Honored at this ceremony will be our GEMS Teacher of the Year. Math Specialist, Lauralee Wilson.  A leader among her colleagues, Lauralee has taught at the Georgia Elementary School for the past 17 years engaging students to become mathematicians, problem solvers, and respectful members of every learning community.  As a true advocate for children, Lauralee’s approach takes into consideration the whole child; socially, emotionally, and academically. Lauralee is a valued educator within our community across all facets of her work and she is a proven GEM!

Lauralee’s colleagues had the following things to say about her:

“She demonstrates the qualities that our school promotes.  Lauralee is very respectful to adults and students, she is very responsible about her lesson planning, and she works well as a team member.  She is also very positive, calm and flexible.”

“Lauralee is amazing to collaborate with.  She truly knows the meaning of what it means to be a team player.”

“Her passion for teaching is contagious.  Every time Lauralee enters the classroom students are immediately interested and engaged in her math instruction.  Every day, she is able to set each child up for success and helps all students feel valued, regardless of their math ability.  Lauralee is a constant source of inspiration to be the best educator one can be. She is not only a superb math instructor and teacher, but also has a genuine love for the children, enthusiasm for teaching and a bright disposition toward all things.” 

“She is positive , calm, and flexible”

“”Students always come first”

“She has a wonderful sense of humor”

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