One of my favorite learning experiences that occurs in our school is the Living Wax Museum. It is fun, creative, and engaging for our students in second grade. The Living Wax Museum strikes a chord with me and so many others because it is simple and yet complex.
In this day and age of integrating technology to enhance learning, this learning opportunity relies less on digital tools and requires students to incorporate more traditional tools and skills to demonstrate their content knowledge.
This annual tradition asks students to research a person of their choice, present important facts and dress up to represent this figure for an authentic audience. Students’ choices range from important historical figures to inventors and athletes. In addition, authors and modern English Princesses were represented by the students. As always, family members, staff members, and students packed the Multi-Purpose Room to share in this unique learning opportunity.
The FWSU Action Plan targets and Vermont Transferable Skills were in evidence throughout this unit. Students engaged in inquiry, demonstrated effective communication skills, showed creativity, self direction and discipline. The culmination of this experience provided students an opportunity to have choice in their learning and to provide their audience a glimpse into their passions and interests.
Every year, I appreciate the chance get to know students in a different way as a result of this experience. Thank you to the all the staff associated with our second grade students and for their commitment to incorporating student choice and voice, while providing our students opportunities to showcase their learning and engage our community.
Thomas 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
There are many questions about proficiency and its impact on students. At BFA, we have been working extensively to develop our Proficiency Based Graduation system and have found that every time we answer one question, it brings up two or three more. We have shared the answers to some of the most important questions with our high school families and feel that it is valuable to share them with a wider audience.
What are Proficiency Based Graduation Requirements (PBGR)?
Beginning with the Class of 2020, students will need to meet our PBGRs in order to graduate. Each content area has determined specific skills that are essential for students to know, understand, and be able to do within their discipline. Proficiencies are broad categories. Examples include Geometry, Writing, Historical Inquiry, Analyze and Interpret Data, and Physical Literacy. Each Proficiency is further defined by a set of Indicators that provide additional detail regarding what students should know, understand and be able to do. Full details are available on our Proficiency website which is linked on our homepage.
How is a Proficiency Based System different from the Traditional System?
In the Traditional system, students graduated if they earned a specific number of credits by taking a set of required courses and electives. The requirement was to earn enough points to pass each class. There was no requirement to learn specific content, nor was there predictability regarding the important concepts from class to class.
In the Proficiency Based System, expectations for learning are clear from the beginning of the course and consistent from class to class. That is, a student taking a US History course knows what Proficiencies and Indicators will be assessed in the course and they are the same no matter which teacher is teaching the course. A proficiency based system is transparent, predictable, and consistent across the school.
How is proficiency measured?
Proficiency is measured using Learning Scales. Working together, teachers have developed Learning Scales for all Indicators. A Learning Scale is a guide for students that tells them what evidence they will need in order to demonstrate proficiency. Learning Scales also provide information about work that is less than Proficient (we call it Making Progress) or beyond proficient (Extended). Students are provided with Learning Scales at the beginning of a lesson or unit and can use it to monitor their progress toward proficiency and focus on areas for growth. During an assessment, the Learning Scales are used to provide feedback to a student about their current level of proficiency.
How are students assessed?
Students are assessed in a variety of ways. Throughout a unit, students receive formative feedback based on their progress. This might be through homework assignments for practice, responses to readings, or group discussions. Content proficiency levels would not be recorded for this work, however Learner Traits might be.
After a period of study, students will be assessed using a summative method. This might be a project or paper or a traditional test. Student work on the summative assessment is scored using the Learning Scales for the predetermined Content Indicators and Transferable Skills. Student proficiency levels are recorded in PowerTeacher Pro. All assignments recorded in PowerTeacher Pro are linked to a specific Indicator and/or Transferable Skill and averaged throughout the course to determine an overall proficiency level for the course.
What are Learner Traits?
Learner Traits are a subset of the Transferable Skills and assess the habits of being a responsible and engaged student. They include Collaboration, Initiative for Learning, Persistence, Appropriate Use of Technology, and Responsible Decision Making. These skills are important in all aspects of school and daily life. Some components of the Learner Traits lend themselves to frequent assessment (Initiative for Learning can be connected to completion of homework assignments), but all of the Learner Traits are assessed in each class using a Learning Scale at least once per month.
Learner Traits are used to determine co-curricular eligibility. Students must maintain a level of 2.0 in all of their classes to remain eligible to participate in co-curricular activities. The characteristics included in the Learner Traits represent desirable skills for our students to exhibit as part of a team or ensemble.
How do students demonstrate extended proficiency?
Each Learning Scale has a level and description of Extended Proficiency. Students should be able to work toward meeting that expectation in the Learning Scale to provide evidence of their extended learning.
What’s the difference between Content Indicators, Transferable Skills, and Learner Traits?
Content Indicators are directly associated with academic content. They are what the content teachers have determined are essential for students to Know and Understand prior to the completion of high school. They are based on National Standards. Proficiency Levels for each Indicator in each class are reported in PowerSchool and on report cards.
Transferable Skills are areas that transcend content areas and are essential to success in and beyond high school. These include Clear and Effective Communication, Self Direction, Creative and Practical Problem Solving, Informed and Integrative Thinking, and Responsible and Involved Citizenship.. Transferable Skills are reported separately from Content Indicators in each class.
Learner Traits are a subset of the Transferable Skills (see above). Learner Traits are reported separately for each class. They are also included in Transferable Skill calculations and reporting.
How can a student end up with a decimal proficiency level like 2.7?
Since a student will be given multiple opportunities within a class to demonstrate their level of proficiency on a specific indicator, they will have multiple scores posted for each indicator. Teachers only enter whole numbers (1, 2, 3, or 4) into PowerTeacher Pro. PowerTeacher Pro calculates the average for the last 12 scores in every indicator in every class. As a result, the reported overall score can include a decimal. If a student has a variety of scores (some 2’s and some 3’s, for example), the average score will reflect the majority of the scores. If a student has more threes than twos, their average will be above 2.6 and they are proficient. Teachers are able to exempt early scores from the calculation to reflect growth by a student.
Are students required to take certain courses to demonstrate proficiency?
Our Program of Studies lists courses that are recommended for students in order to have the exposure and opportunity to demonstrate proficiency in each content area. The sequence of courses recognizes a student’s current ability and allows for growth in a skill over time. For example, demonstrating proficiency in Writing as a ninth grader does not mean a student is ready for graduation. We expect them to continue to take English classes every year to enhance their writing skills.
How will we determine if a student is ready to take the next course in a content area?
A student must maintain a proficiency level of 2.0 in order to be able to continue to the next course in a course sequence. A student with less than a 2.0 in a course at the end of the semester will need to repeat the course. Continued performance at this level will not be beneficial to the student’s journey toward graduation. Students and parents have access to a student’s proficiency levels at all times throughout the school year in PowerSchool.
How will we know if a student is able to graduate?
We will look at each student’s record individually at several points throughout their high school years and help to guide them toward courses and experiences that will help them gain evidence of proficiency. This will be done by guidance in conjunction with each department to ensure that the best information is accessed. Our goal is that all students will obtain an overall level of 2.6 in all proficiencies in order to be eligible for graduation.
How will we recognize student achievement?
At graduation, we will recognize students through Graduation with Distinction. Students will be able to provide evidence that they have met the criteria for Distinction in one (or more) of the possible categories. It is our hope that this will recognize more students for their varied accomplishments rather than just a few with the highest grades. This information will be shared with colleges. Additional details can be found on our Proficiency website.
What will a transcript look like?
Our transcript will include courses that students have taken each year and their performance level in each course, much like our traditional transcript. It will also include student’s proficiency levels in all content areas and in the Transferable Skills. The proficiency levels will be shown for each year of high school, allowing colleges to see the consistency of performance and/or growth over time.
How will colleges know how BFA’s Proficiency system works?
Each year, we include a School Profile with every transcript we send to colleges. The School Profile includes information about our school, our courses, and our community. It includes statistics such as average SAT score and data such as recent college admissions. Our School Profile will include information about our Proficiency Based System including performance levels of typical and advanced students. The School Profile helps colleges reconcile the differences in transcripts and expectations from school to school so they can make informed decisions about admissions.
Additionally, we will talk with admission counselors as they come to BFA to visit students. Counselors who come to our school regularly are familiar with the quality of our students. Our proficiency system will not alter that perception. If you encounter an admissions counselor with questions about our system, please let us know and we will reach out to them to answer their questions.
Where can I get more information?
Our Proficiency website has many resources such as a Glossary of Terms, the full set of PBGR’s, the Learner Traits Learning Scales and details about Graduation with Distinction. The site is linked on the homepage of our website, www.bfafairfax.com.
The clarity, transparency, and consistency of proficiency provides students with a deeper understanding of their learning and increased opportunities to demonstrate learning and growth. Our path has been neither smooth nor perfect; we have adjusted and adapted to make the system more clear. We will continue to adjust as we learn, just as we hope our students do.
John Tague is the Principal of BFA Fairfax Middle/High School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him @jtague252
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
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.
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
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 Storyblog.
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.
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:
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.
Thomas 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
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