BFA Fairfax Music Students and Staff ROCK the 2020 Winter Concert

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As we approach the start of the new year, many would label 2020 as the “Year of Covid-19.” In our schools, however, 2020 should be labeled as the  “Year of Creativity.”  That creativity was on full display the night of Wednesday, December 16, when our Middle and High School music department put on their annual winter concert.  This year’s concert was both unique and inspirational, as it was the first-ever held in a virtual format. 

Through the tech savvy work of BFA Fairfax music educators Glen Wallace, Matt Davide, Christina Maynard, and Sarah Wolff, band and choral students have been accessing their lessons and curriculum in a virtual format this school year.  These educators’ pervasive “think outside the box” mentality has allowed for multiple student opportunities outdoors when the weather permits, or taking virtual lessons in the safety and comfort of their own homes.  

On the night of the winter concert, nearly 250 homes accessed the webinar platform, and with multiple people watching in each home, this could possibly have been the most highly attended concert ever.  Viewers were treated to a selection of songs by our Middle and High School Band and Chorus, as well as our Jazz Band.  Keeping with a student-centered approach, all selections were introduced by current music students, and families had the opportunity to write words of encouragement in between numbers.  

BFA Fairfax music students and staff have already begun to work on their next performance, a themed (TBD) concert slated for late winter/early spring of 2021.  Once a date and theme are finalized, we will share that with the community.  If the 2020 winter concert was any indication, this next concert will be an experience you don’t want to miss! 

Congratulations to our music students and staff, as well as the numerous parent and community supporters. We are so incredibly proud, and thankful for you all.

Happy Holidays!

Geri Witalec-Krupa is the Director of Student Activities at BFA Fairfax. Geri is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her @GLWit

Elevating Our Middle School Writers

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Georgia Middle School’s goal this year is for 100% of our students to develop and extend beyond proficiency as writers. We have begun this year with two main sub-goals in this process: have students writing regularly in every class and to instruct and support the ‘steal and slide’ strategy to all students.

As James Clear states in his book, Atomic Habits, “Success is the product of daily habits – not once-in-a-lifetime transformations.” In order to create a culture where we all recognize ourselves as writers, we have committed to regular writing opportunities and experiences throughout our day. Students have been writing in all of their classes and learning strategies on how to make claims, support them with evidence and insight, and writing strong conclusions. Some of the great ways our student writers have engaged in sharing their learning through writing include: 

  • comparisons between a short story and a video adaptation,
  • state reports identifying key aspects of their geography and economy and comparing it to Vermont, 
  • arguments for or against “sameness” as they have read The Giver together,
  • problem solving explanations of their mathematical solution,
  • personal reflections in art class, 
  • letters to the principal about the benefits of recess in health class, and
  • daily reflections on the day’s lesson in Spanish

The investment we have made in building the regular habits with clear expectations around writing have begun to show great growth in our budding writers. Each week, teachers gather in teams to look at student work and discuss where our students are growing as writers and what areas they need to continue to develop. Discussions about how to provide specific and targeted feedback to students to support their ability to clearly communicate their thinking through the written word. 

“I think I have grown as a writer this year. This is because I have been writing more than I used to. I also learned more techniques to use in my writing. ” 

Exciting evidence of our amazing writers has come from our 5th and 6th graders. In a class-wide study of the novel, Deep Water, students have been learning about and engrossing themselves in understanding strong narrative writing. Lessons have emphasized the importance and implementation of figurative language and how strong word choice enriches your writing to help create strong imagery for the reader. Students have learned how these writing tools, along with dialogue, help to make the reader feel like they are in the story.

“I have grown as a writer by learning how to use other words for basic adjectives and verbs. For example, instead of saying said I could say replied, shouted, stated, etc. depending on the situation in writing. I hope to learn more about how to use similes and metaphors in my writing. I know what they mean but I would like to learn how to use them in all my writing/stories.”  

Recently students created their own ending to the novel. The examples of student work shows just how well our students have taken their new learning and have adapted to create their own strong voice in developing their own creative ending.

Here is a wonderful Deep Water ending from one of our 5th grade students:

We are excited to see our students blossom into writers and build pride in their written works. As we continue to pursue our goal of ALL students to develop and extend beyond proficiency as writers, we hope to inspire the next generation of storytellers as well. And if our student’s responses for what they want to learn next is any indication, we can anticipate some wonderful things from these budding writers. 

“I’ve definitely improved as a writer this year and I’m making a story about 4 kids who get trapped in a war in a different dimension and the only way out is if they win the war. The 4 kids names are Tommy, Sophie, William and Jacob and they live in an orphanage.”

“Something I hope to learn is how to write an amazing cliffhanger and a piece with impeccable detail.”

This blog was written by:

Celebrating Excellence in Education

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University of Vermont’s 2020 Outstanding Teacher 

Every year, the College of Education and Social Services (CESS) at the University of Vermont, together with Vermont supervisory unions and school districts, the Vermont Agency of Education, and the Vermont NEA, all join to honor the accomplishments of our state’s outstanding educators. 

This year’s University of Vermont Teacher of the Year consistently exemplifies all of the qualities synonymous with excellence. Kendra Myers, a Grade 4 STEM teacher, is a remarkable educator that possesses the ability to inspire through making meaningful, authentic connections with every student. She instills and models a love of learning, curiosity, and resilience through her ability to engage all students. 

Kendra routinely and tirelessly adjusts curricula to ensure that students are accessing the most relevant, meaningful content.  As someone who may appear modest or humble, she has embraced numerous new endeavors over the years with great success; having an enormous impact on how students view learning. Those who have collaborated with Kendra would use words such as student-centered, kind, compassionate, selfless and professional on all levels and in all aspects of education. 

Kendra Myers fosters the joy of discovery while modeling the utmost respect and genuine belief in all students. For Kendra, these characteristics, passions and values are evident in the classroom where you are apt to witness students highly engaged in hands-on projects, independently exploring new innovation or creatively reflecting on their work as part of the design cycle; often times simultaneously and seamlessly with little or no disruption.

The enthusiasm Kendra shares with students around learning content and new resources excites and inspires students to want more. To quote one of her students regarding their upcoming Hunger Walk,  “Mrs. Myers is helping us change the world!”

Kendra demonstrates that she is an amazing educator to the core and we are so fortunate to have this person as a member of our school and community. Congratulations on this much deserved recognition!  

BFA Fairfax’s Paraeducator of the Year

This year’s BFA Fairfax Paraeducator of the Year embodies the patience, skills and abilities that allow ALL students to learn and thrive.  JoJo Lynch continually and without hesitation will do whatever it takes to engage, advocate for, and connect with students in order to ensure their sense of belonging and success.  

JoJo will accept whatever task, challenge, or responsibility that is asked of her, and with a relentless level of determination will give everything she has to see it through to completion. JoJo is the first to offer assistance, support, and encouragement to students and colleagues alike, there is not a room that does not light up when she enters, and there is not a face without a smile whenever she shares her quick wit and humorous perspective in even the most difficult of situations. 

JoJo’s impact is not only felt at the elementary level, but rather over our entire Pre-K to 12 community.  We have not only been able to benefit from her skills as a paraeducator, but also as one of our school community’s biggest cheerleaders and fans who is willing to do pretty much anything to elevate school spirit, prompt a smile and laugh, and share that enthusiasm with others. 

JoJo is an extremely loyal colleague and friend, and an adored and highly respected coach who embraces and personifies the greater purpose of athletics in the lives of students. 

We are truly fortunate to have JoJo Lynch, this year’s Paraeducator of the Year, as a member of our BFA Fairfax family. 

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THANK YOU to all of our dedicated bus drivers and safety monitors!

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This year has certainly been a change in the roles and responsibilities we have ALL taken on in our work to keep our community safe. The dedication and effort has been admirable as we witness these safe practices and behaviors daily. 

Our students and staff, along with families, have been modeling wise choices and everyone’s contribution makes a difference. 


Among our community, our bus drivers and safety monitors travel with our students daily. Welcoming students aboard and ensuring everyone is following safety protocols and current guidelines, delivering meals and student schoolwork to families within town, and monitoring everyone’s well-being as they safely transport our students to school.


It is in these times that we say “it takes a village” and our drivers and monitors certainly play a part.  We thank them for their service and for being a part of our community.

Thank you drivers and bus monitors!  We appreciate you!

Steve Emery is the Elementary Principal of Georgia Elementary Middle School. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him @Emery_Gems.

Big Four Focus Feature: Writing in the Elementary Grades

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According to the Jump Into Writing! site: Jump Into Writing is “a new student-inspired, teacher-friendly curriculum that helps teachers apply the everyday skills they’ve already developed as classroom leaders toward establishing a writing workshop in their classrooms.”

“Jump Into Writing! supports teachers with

  • lessons that are easy to manage,
  • a logical sequence of routines,
  • a practical, accessible voice for real teachers,
  • carefully chosen mentor texts to inspire, instruct, and engage on multiple levels,
  • embedded support that helps teachers grow as writers while they teach.

Regardless of their writing workshop experience, teachers can jump in without feeling like they’re getting in over their heads.”

This year readying themselves with our SU-wide writing focus and some professional learning opportunities, elementary classrooms set a goal of “trying on” different aspects of the program. The “try-on” found an enthusiastic following in grades 3 and 4 in particular (for a more in depth look at implementation see the November 13 FWSU Story by BFA Instructional Coach Juliet King).

Recently I had the opportunity to not only see the program first hand, but to provide writing feedback to a small group of enthusiastic fourth grade writers in Allison MacKenzie’s fourth grade class at GEMS. The goals of the Jump into Writing Launch Unit is to get students acclimated to writing expectations, introduce/reinforce the workshop model, and ignite a passion for students to see themselves as writers.

That was my goal in coming to the classroom: to get students excited about their writing, the possibilities, and provide feedback as “one writer to another.”

Four brave and very talented writers volunteered to work directly with me via Zoom while the rest of the class listened. They were eager to share their drafting from their Writer’s Notebook. The Writer’s Notebook gives students a space to gather thoughts, brainstorm writing ideas, plan, draft, and think about next steps. 

After what quickly became my favorite experience of the year so far (I cannot wait to go back), I asked Allison MacKenzie to share some of her impressions of installing parts of the Jump into Writing program in her class this year. Here’s what she had to say:

“I really appreciate the pace of the Launch Unit and all of the tools that the students build for themselves in their notebooks.  This unit gives them some great places to go for ideas by teaching them to make memory chains, lists, use artifacts, special places, and emotions to give them topic ideas.  The launch unit also gives them a variety of structures to use, such as small moment stories and list poems.  I have noticed that the pace and structure of the program has been especially helpful in teaching reluctant writers.” 

What she shared next was what I saw with her class and was so impressed by so much enthusiasm for writing:

“My students are truly excited about their writing block each day.  They loved decorating their notebooks at the beginning of the year and this helped create a sense of pride for them. They remain as engaged as they work through to the publishing stage. It’s great to have students coming up to me, voluntarily wanting to share their stories, even if it’s not their conference day.”  

I am so grateful to Andrew, Delia, Jenna, and Mary for their willingness to share their writing with me and receive some validating feedback about their work.

As a former teacher and as the FWSU Curriculum Director, one of the most gratifying pieces of feedback I could receive from a teacher came from Allison a few days later:

“So as I sit here editing Delia’s story she said, ‘I didn’t think this was going to be good, but now it’s the best story I’ve ever written.’  She took your advice and is writing about the “other dimension.”  I’ll be sure to send you a copy when she’s done!”

I”ll be looking forward to it, Delia! 

Linda Keating is the Director of Curriculum,
Instruction and Assessment at Franklin West
Supervisory Union. She is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY.

BFA Presidential Scholars

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Last week, we were notified that four members of the senior class will be honored as part of the Vermont Presidential Scholars Program. The Vermont Presidential Scholars Program recognizes students for academic success, artistic and technical excellence, community service, and leadership. Across the entire state, 10 male students and 10 female students are selected based on nominations from teachers and administrators. 

Jarrett Sweet, Abigail Sweet, and Delaney Sweet-Werneke have been selected for recognition as Vermont Presidential Scholars. Riley Gallagher will receive Honorable Mention for her achievements. 

As pleased as we were to learn about their selection, we asked the students to share how it felt to them and their families when they heard the news.

Jarrett

  “I was so excited because my freshman year one of the seniors had also received the award and from that moment I had set a goal for myself that I wanted to earn the award. So it was a big goal I achieved for myself.”

  “My parents, I think were a little relieved because we were supposed to hear back on the 25th of November and it had been five days and I was getting a little sad because we hadn’t heard anything back from them. But, once we did my Mom and Dad were beyond happy with me and the hard work I had done during my high school career.”

Abigail

“I was definitely really surprised to be selected as a Presidential Scholar, it was a total shock to me and not something that I was expecting. I’m not going to lie–I danced around my house for about an hour when I found out. It just really means a lot when your hard work is recognized at such a high level, and I am very proud of myself and also feel very honored to have been selected!”

“My family was super excited and proud when I told them that I was selected as a Vermont Presidential Scholar! I called both of my parents while they were at work and my Dad’s whole class actually clapped for me over the phone! My brother was super happy for me as well.”

Delaney

“I actually checked the email in the middle of class, quietly went “yessss” and tried to start listening again. After Mrs Villeneuve was finished I told her I got it! I was very excited and super proud of myself for working hard and getting this award.” 

“Both of my parents were very excited and proud when they found out the news!”

Riley

“My parents were happy to see that my hard work is paying off.” 

“I completely agree with their proudness and acknowledgement of my hard work.”

Typically, the students are honored at a ceremony at the State House with remarks from Governor Scott and Secretary of Education French. Given the current health restrictions, there will be a virtual ceremony in January. Nonetheless, we are so proud to have these students join the list of BFA Presidential Scholars and couldn’t be happier for them and their families. Please join us in congratulating them.

John Tague is currently Principal of BFA Fairfax High School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @jtague252

Storm Walk: An Integrated Arts Project at Fletcher Elementary School

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This year, in their Unified Arts classes, students have been collaborating on an integrated arts project. Students were charged with the task of creating a sensory walk that mimics the sounds and imagery of a storm. This project took place in their music, art and guidance classes.

In music class, students identified all of the sounds they hear during a thunderstorm. Then, they brainstormed ways to create those sounds using only their bodies. This process is called body percussion, and it allows students to engage with music inside without singing due to the COVID pandemic. 

In art class, students took these sounds and created abstract visual representations. These beautiful pieces of artwork were the result of a collaborative project where every student in the building had a hand in making them. The artwork will live in the halls of our school building and serve as a means to guide students through this sensory storm walk. 

Now that this project is completed, students will learn about their five senses during their guidance block. Students will understand that by activating one or more of their five senses, they can actually improve their ability to regulate their emotions, improve their attention and process their big feelings.

Please join us for a Storm Walk by viewing the video below:

Our hope is that through this collaborative integrated arts project, students can use this Storm Walk when they need a movement sensory break so that they can get back to class and continue learning. 

This blog was prepared by Lisa Coale, School Counselor at Fletcher Elementary. Her collaborators for this project were Art Teacher M.C. Baker and Music Teacher Jennifer McConnell.

A Belief in What is Possible

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I continue to be impressed with faculty and staff members at all three of the schools within the Franklin West Supervisory Union.  Recently I participated in a virtual quarterly data meeting with Karen Lehning, MJ Mitiguy, Haley Christie, and Lauralee Wilson from GEMS to hear about the important work that is happening in the area of mathematics at the school.  Some key takeaways included that even in the midst of a pandemic, the instruction continues to move forward for all students.  Some of the positives that this impressive group of professional educators shared is that the instructional staff is laser focused on the most powerful instructional concepts and skills, and interventions are in place for individual students who are moving forward with core instruction by providing for individual learning needs.  

BFA Fairfax Instructional Coach, Juliet King’s One Word 

“Kim Desjardins, our wonderful Elementary Art Teacher, hosted a teacher art hour where a group of us Zoomed in together to create visuals of our one words.” — Juliet King”

Another benefit that I have heard from teachers across the district is that “virtual” parent communications are a new practice that is creating more family engagement in the educational process.  Lastly, this team from GEMS spoke favorably of the positive relationships that are being forged with the flexible pivoting that is occurring among In-Person Learning, the Hybrid Model, and Remote Learning.  I feel encouraged that parts of what we all are learning as educators during this challenging time may result in some innovative practices that we can hold onto for a bright tomorrow.

This holiday season I continue to be impressed by the resilience of our students, parents, faculty, and staff as we all move forward together, doing the best that we can to provide learning for all students.  Stay safe and stay well.

Enthusiastically Yours,

James Tager is the Superintendent at Franklin West Supervisory Union. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @jrtager

‘Tis the Season for Giving Thanks and Generosity

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Even during a pandemic we remember that giving is essential to our survival as a community.

Each year, we have a dedicated crew at BFA who help to organize a Thanksgiving Food Drive to provide meals to area families in need.  With all that has impacted our families during this pandemic, the needs this year were greater than ever.  However, our community continues to rise to the challenge.

Beginning in October, we asked each advisory throughout grades grades 5-8 at BFA to donate a particular ingredient to a bountiful Thanksgiving Meal.  This year, our students and families donated enough food to help feed 21 families for Thanksgiving! Our students absolutely knocked it out of the park this year. All of this would not have been possible without the powerhouse team of Ms. Black, Ms. Sheehan and Ms. Wehman, who organized, packaged and delivered meals (following safety protocols) on the Thursday and Friday prior to the holiday.  Thank you to our school nurses and our mental health team for keeping us safe, fed, and cared for amidst this whole pandemic.

Another annual tradition at BFA is The Mitten Tree, which hosts gift ideas for children in our community for the holidays. This year, the Mitten Tree will be virtual! Here is the link if you would like to participate. If you would have questions, please reach out to Amy Black, Michelle Sheehan or Nichole Wehman.

As a staff, we are also making monthly donations to support area families in need through a regular event we call $5 Dollar Fridays. Each week BFA staff are invited to make donations on Fridays to help provide holiday and break food to BFA Fairfax families. While this tradition had fallen by the wayside in previous years, it has been revived in order to give back during this time of need.

And, just for fun, the week prior to the Thanksgiving Holiday, we also hosted Spirit week for our students. For each of our cohorts in grades 5-8, we invited students to wear clothing representing their favorite sport or team on one day and pajamas on their second day. As you can see below, even in pajamas, we continue to prove that schools are among the safest places in our communities by keeping our distance, washing our hands, and wearing our masks while we have fun and learn. 

Take care, be well and stay healthy.

Justin Brown is the Principal at BFA Fairfax Middle School. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @jbrownenator.

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Continuing GEMS TV Express in a Hybrid Learning Environment

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GEMS TV started 3 years ago in 2017 as a a powerful communication tool to showcase and share the innovative work of GEMS students and Staff. You can click here to see the original blog post when GEMS TV was launched. In the following year, GEMS TV evolved into GEMS TV Express, a weekly newscast written and produced by middle school and elementary students working collaboratively to produce a high quality, informative, and entertaining news broadcast. You can click here to see the original blog post showcasing the launching of GEMS TV Express.

(photo was taken prior to 2020)

This year, GEMS TV production has been able to continue in a hybrid learning environment thanks to the hard work and planning of Mr. Hadd and Mr. Clow, educators in the innovation lab. Using digital learning tools, they have coordinated multiple small groups of students who attend school on different days to produce episodes.

Although most of the materials are designed in the actual classroom, GEMS TV students have also begun to do some production work at home remotely, another modification of learning in a hybrid environment. It is the hope that this will continue to improve as the classes adapt to learning remotely. Using Zoom, 8th grader Logan Grimm was able to remotely make a video that was then edited along with Mr. Hadd who was at GEMS. You can check out the blog post featuring that video here.

To ensure smart safe productions, GEMS TV has been modified this year. This includes filming episodes outdoors, so students do not have to wear masks during an episode. In addition, instead of creating weekly broadcasts, they are creating a series of specialized episodes, shared on a playlist to share with students. The smaller class sizes in a classroom setting have allowed 7th graders to take on more responsibilities than ever before; including editing under guided supervision and the expertise of Mr. Clow.

Check out this video one of the specialized episodes created by GEMS TV at the beginning of the school year as a resource used to help families tour the school in a virtual setting.

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