The FWSU Story: Eight Years and Counting

Eight years ago the FWSU Story was launched. We started the blog in an effort to change the nature of our communication with all of our FWSU communities. At that time we communicated in a typical manner for schools. Each of our schools had newsletters, web pages, and “backpack” hand-outs to convey basic information. Our successes were sometimes celebrated within our communication structure and sometimes we were fortunate enough to be featured in one of our local newspapers. However, ongoing communication about the learning, student success, and how our schools were embracing the future were not the norm.

The FWSU Story tells the story of our transformative journey.

We began telling our story based on our four Action Plan Targets. The four target areas for our action plan — student-centered proficiency-based learning, leadership, engaged community partners, and flexible learning environments — are understandable and straight forward targets. They have made our schools feel more human over time and less industrial. Yet we were not communicating, at first, how our schools were evolving. The FWSU Story has made the targets come to life each and every day

Yearly Readership – 144,375 views of our story in 8 years

We have celebrated so many successes over the past eight years and we are able to share all of those with you each day. From Presidential Scholars at BFA, to Innovation Labs at GEMs and PBIS recognition at FES; our schools are moving forward. It has been our pleasure to keep you informed and up to date about our work. With your help and support, our schools are preparing our students as leaders, thinkers, problem finders/solvers, and most important; neighbors.  We all feel fortunate for the connections between our schools and our communities.

As time moves forward we are continuing to make sure our communication about our schools stays at the forefront of our work. You can connect with our schools through our blog, Schoology, Twitter, Facebook, school web pages and also through other above-mentioned methods. On behalf of the team that brings you the FWSU Story, I want to thank you for being part of our journey.

Ned Kirsch is the Superintendent of Schools at Franklin West Supervisory Union. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter at @betavt.

The FWSU Story: BFA Fairfax Featured In February 2019 Edition of High School Today Magazine

Today’s FWSU Story features an article written by BFA Assistant Principal /Athletic Director Geri Witalec-Krupa in February’s edition of High School Today magazine. Published monthly by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), the magazine highlights current issues, initiatives, and positive programming in the realm of education-based athletics, and is distributed to every public and many private high schools in the country. Geri’s focus and philosophy have brought national attention to the BFA Athletic Department.

The NFHS has defined education-based athletics as “the other half of education.”  In the organization’s words, “The goal is that in addition to core academic subjects learned in the classroom, students experience additional educational opportunities through their participation in sports, speech, or band. Beyond the specific skills of a sport or activity, these individuals have the opportunity to learn important principles that can guide them the rest of their lives.”

BFA Fairfax was recognized as a school that embodies this approach to education-based athletics by the NFHS, and we are proud to be featured in this month’s issue of High School Today!

A Perfect Example – Selling Education-Based Athletics to Constituents

By Geri Witalec-Krupa on February 05, 2019h

Pep rallies, homecoming events, last-second winning shots, bonfires and state championship games – these can embody some of the most fond and exciting memories of high school years. Memories such as these run deep at Bellows Free Academy (BFA) in Fairfax, Vermont. Founded in 1903 as a means of providing a free, quality education to the children of rural farm families, BFA Fairfax possesses a long history of athletic success.

Multiple state championships, numerous league titles and dozens of individual all-league and all-state selections have been the result of driven and talented students, passionate and knowledgeable coaches, and an overwhelmingly supportive community. With individual and team talent often being cyclical, and the knowledge and understanding that not every season will result in a league or state title, the BFA Fairfax school and community have worked diligently to redefine the notion of success as it pertains to the school’s athletic programs.

Athletics and activities at BFA Fairfax are viewed as a core component of the educational program, carrying the same emphasis and value as subjects such as math, science and language arts. In Vermont’s proficiency-based educational environment, BFA’s student-athletes and activity participants develop and practice valuable life skills in leadership, sportsmanship, communication, overcoming adversity, humility, perseverance, group success over individual success and service to others. With recent studies defining leadership, sportsmanship, team community service projects, and participation rates as indicators of success of school athletic programs, BFA has made it a priority to educate and increase student and community buy-in regarding this philosophical approach.

Establishing and fostering this philosophy, however, has not come without its challenges. As with any athletic program, there are parents, coaches and community members whose approach to athletics, specifically dealing with purpose and goals, does not necessarily align with that of the school. Through ongoing dialogue with parents, frequent training, supervision and evaluation of coaches, and regular information sharing through the school district blog, as well as other social media platforms, the understanding and support of the education-based athletics philosophy continues to grow and guides the school’s athletic program.

Consistent sharing of information – both specific from the athletic director and general information from the school – through blogs has been one significant way to regularly connect with all key individuals. Following are links to some recent blogs: The FWSU Story  blog.

Most importantly, through school and community support, as well as cooperative agreements with other area schools, the number of athletic offerings continues to increase to ensure that any student who desires can experience the benefits of athletic participation.

BFA Fairfax’s approach of embracing education-based athletics involves leadership, sportsmanship, team community service projects and participation rates.


Every November, BFA Fairfax sends eight student-athletes to the Vermont State Athletic Directors Association Student Leadership Conference. This annual event hosts hundreds of the top student- athlete leaders from all Vermont high schools. Although many schools sponsor fewer students, the Fairfax School Board supports sending eight student-athletes annually to ensure that every athletic program in the school has representation.

During two intensive days of training in leadership, goal-setting and life skills with renowned athletic and motivational speakers from across the country, students gain valuable knowledge and insight to bring back to their school and teams. The leadership skills and commitment to service demonstrated by BFA Fairfax student- athletes in recent years has been a direct result of attending this annual event.


BFA Fairfax takes great pride in the multiple State Sportsmanship Award banners that hang in the gymnasium. Teams, athletes and coaches are often known as humble and compassionate, finding ways to avoid running up a score against a struggling team, or demonstrating respect to officials during a match or game. It is student-athletes who frequently identify inappropriate fan behavior on the sidelines or stands during a game and report the problem to coaches or administrators who then address it.

With an acknowledgement of ongoing room for growth and improvement, BFA Fairfax makes every effort to embody the concept of sportsmanship throughout its athletic community and capitalizes on teachable moments as they occur.

Team Community Service Projects

Service to others is one of the core covenants of the BFA Fairfax athletic program. In any given year, there are multiple athletic events geared toward giving back to individuals, the local community or the greater world. Recent student-driven service initiatives have included the annual Pink Zone cancer fundraising basketball games, Melanoma Society awareness games, Homecoming week events supporting the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the American Cancer Society and Hunger Free Vermont, as well as additional local initiatives such as officiating youth sporting events, offering free sport clinics and assisting with upkeep of our school athletic fields.

However, it isn’t only the students who are driving these projects. Usually, there is also overwhelming student, staff and parent involvement. One such example is a softball tournament organized by students and community members to support a fellow student-athlete battling osteosarcoma. More than $10,000 was raised for the family during this single-day event. In a rural Vermont community, this dollar amount was astronomical, but it is just one instance of how the Fairfax community came together to assist one of its own.

Participation Rates

For the past five years, annual participation rates in cocurricular activities (including non-athletic activities) at BFA Fairfax have steadily remained at 65-80 percent of the student population. Based upon research which consistently demonstrates the intangible benefits of cocurricular participation, no cuts are made on athletic teams at the school. At times, this necessitates enormous creativity in finding coaches, securing facility space, scheduling games and budgeting, but the positive impact far outweighs any of the challenges.

Empowering student-athletes to be confident, contributing members of society who embrace a “we before me” mentality and learn valuable life skills through athletics is BFA Fairfax’s ultimate definition of success. Examples of these benchmarks, activities and initiatives are included and constantly updated on the BFA Fairfax school blog.

The digital version of the feature article can be found by clicking the following links:

Geri Witalec

Geri Witalec-Krupa is an Athletic Director/Assistant Principal at BFA Fairfax is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her @GLWit


The BFA-Fairfax PTSA hosted two Valentine’s Day semi-formal dances for students and families in the elementary school on February 8 and 9.  Both events provided an opportunity for our community to come together, put on some fancy clothes, and dance the night away. Service and community were evident throughout the evening. Before the dance, parent volunteers and students in the National Honor Society and Student Council collaborated to decorate the gymnasium and hallways with balloons and lights.  Parents set up a concession stand with Valentine’s Day treats, food items, popcorn, and beverages. In addition, the PTSA had a photo area where students could capture an image with their friends to remember this fun evening.

To gain admission to the dance, students brought a non-perishable food item that will be donated to the Fairfax Food Shelf, organized by BFA-Fairfax High School students, Derrick Sloan and Kieran Shea, as part of their Eagle Scout projects.  I big thank you to the PTSA for organizing this important community event that brings the BFA-Fairfax community together at a time of year when we all can benefit from a social outing. It is events like these that remind me that we live in an amazing and supportive community.  


Good Health and Well-BeingThomas Walsh is currently Principal of BFA Fairfax Elementary School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @educatamount

The FWSU Story: Vermont Symphony Orchestra and “Musical Petting Zoo”

Education and community collaboration have always been an important part of the VSO’s statewide mission, and recently the Georgia Elementary and Middle School played host to their expertise. Elementary students in grades K-4, along with the support and help of seasoned 7th and 8th grade musicians from Georgia, were given the opportunity to participate in a “Musical Petting Zoo.”


Before you knew it, a variety of beautiful tones and pitches filled the small gymnasium as “soon to be” musicians tried out every instrument the zookeeper shared. Helpful students from the middle school band provided guidance and their expertise as they coached their younger peers. Not letting them give up and providing skilled feedback accomplished many smiles across the grade levels as new friendships were created.

Here is a LINK  to the Vermont Symphony Orchestra website and the variety of Symphony Kids presentations the VSO offers local schools. Every time, throughout the past years in our school, the VSO has provided our students with extremely educational and engaging learning opportunities that promote music and the importance it has in our schools.

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

The FWSU Story: BFA Presidential Scholars


On January 28, two BFA seniors were honored at the Vermont State House as Vermont Presidential Scholars. Caitlin Allen and Shane Seals were selected to be a part of a group 20 Vermont High School Seniors from students nominated by their schools.IMG_6452

After a few words from Governor Phil Scott and Secretary of Education Dan French, their accomplishments were highlighted by Sigrid Olsen from the Department of Education.

Caitlin Allen:


Caitlin has been dedicated to her school’s Farm to School program, it’s associated course, and club that oversees the project. In addition to taking the course, Caitlin recently organized a harvest dinner for the community, feeding 200 community members.

Caitlin is a member of Peer Support, a peer counseling program which trains students to help peers and also around several important issues facing teens. This year, Caitlin facilitated several workshops at the annual training retreat.

In addition to being a 3 season athlete, Caitlin is active in the school’s drama program, and runs lights at the school’s monthly coffee house events.

Caitlin is currently interested in pursuing studies in neuroscience. According to Caitlin, “My goal in life is to cure degenerative brain diseases like Alzheimer’s. In five years, I want to be in a fellowship at an  Alzheimer’s research facility. I am passionate about keeping people from the anguish of seeing the personalities of people they love fade.”

Shane Seals:


Shane is one of two student representatives to the school board. He was selected by his peers for this position at the end of his sophomore year and has served throughout his junior and senior year. Shane was also selected by his peers to represent his school at the Hugh O’Brien Youth Leadership Conference. Both of these honors speak to the fact that Shane’s peers see him as trustworthy and dependable.

Shane’s principal describes his contributions to the school board in the following way, “During meetings, the board will ask for input from the student reps when an issue they are discussing directly impacts students,as most issues do. Shane is able to articulate an opinion that represents his experiences and thoughts and those of his peers. Being a board member is a major commitment and Shane has handled it well. His composure and ability to view situations from multiple perspectives will serve Shane well as he pursues post secondary education.”

Fred Griffin, Shane’s teacher, coach and advisor describes him in the following way: “None of Shane’s accomplishments come at the expense of others. In any group he distinguishes himself as a mixer, tolerant of diversity, one who leads readily but who collaborates just as readily. He also has a work ethic and desire to succeed that supports and sustains both his individual and his group’s efforts.  He is the first to offer help to a struggling peer. I find it interesting that on the playing field or race course Shane is fiercely competitive, but in the classroom he works with his classmates, not against them.”


BFA is proud of the work of these two fine students. They are outstanding representatives of our school and community. Congratulations Caitlin and Shane!



John Tague is the Middle / High School Principal at BFA Fairfax. You can follow him @jtague252 


The FWSU Story: Raising the Roof: Fletcher Elementary’s Outdoor Classroom Takes Shape

Following nearly a year and a half of planning and preparation, Fletcher Elementary’s new outdoor classroom became a reality last week. As students and staff looked on, a large crane hoisted the structure’s 5,200 pound roofing structure into place, sealing the deal on phase two of the project.
The effort is being coordinated by parent volunteer Tucker Riggs, whose LSF Forest products, along with Bellwether Craftsmen and Barrett’s Tree Service, donated substantial time and services in an effort to bring the idea to fruition.
“It was really cool to watch the crane fly the roof on,” Kindergartener Lucas MacMilan said. “I’ve never seen a classroom be built before, especially right on the playground.”
Riggs has helped to create these types of structures before, and brought the idea to the school’s Playground Committee. Thanks to community and business support, the project is being completed at a fraction of the traditional cost.
“The outdoor classroom will have so many uses,” Instructional Coach Denette Locke said. “It will allow students to continue their studies but still be outside. It will provide shelter and a learning space for science exploration such as our Four Winds Nature Program.”
The third and final phase of the project will take place later in the spring, when volunteers install the roof and shingles.
Screen Shot 2019-02-05 at 2.00.22 PM
    Christopher Dodge is the Principal of Fletcher Elementary School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @FletcherFalcon 


The FWSU Story: BFA 3D Printing Experts

As part of a Grade 3 and 4 STEM Innovation Lab model,  BFA is building skills and capacity through the development of 3D Printing Experts.


When a few Grade 4 students were asked if they would be interested in assuming the role of becoming “3D Printing Experts” they jumped at the opportunity. After a couple of demonstrations and lots of determination, these students have successfully taken over the complex task of printing all 3D designs created by their classmates. It is not uncommon to see one (or all of them) racing into the Innovation Lab throughout the day to see if there are new projects ready to print, to check the status of a print job they started earlier in the day or to just check in to determine what they can expect for upcoming projects.


The group of students has also worked on developing problem solving skills through this program.  If something doesn’t go as planned, they proceed to troubleshoot and then reach out to adults as a last resort if the issue is not able to be resolved. There are numerous variables that contribute to successfully printing such a wide-range of projects in 3D. In the planning stages, the team was unsure if this task could ever be completely turned over to students, however, they managed to exceed our expectations.

Finally, these kids have begun to develop their leadership skills as well.  The current Grade 4 experts are now shifting to cross-training a couple of Grade 3 students with the hopes of “passing the torch” as they move up in grades.  This will also enable them time to become familiar with the more complex 3D Printers that are available in our Middle School.

Over the course of the last few months, these Grade 4, and now Grade 3, students have demonstrated self-direction, practical problem solving skills and leadership skills while becoming a tremendous asset to our Innovation Lab and our team of teachers.


Rhonda Siemons is the Technology Integrationist at BFA Middle and Elementary School.