The FWSU Story: Two weeks of cultural exchange with students from La Rochelle, France

For the past two weeks, seven students from a special American Studies program at Fénélon school in La Rochelle, France, have been living with host families in our community and attending classes with BFA correspondents. The purpose of their visit was to deepen their understanding of American culture and broaden their mastery of English.

It didn’t take long for these exceptional students to integrate themselves into BFA culture, participating in classes, taking notes, doing assignments, even taking assessments! They also joined in extra-curriculars: playing ultimate, singing at the coffee house, and helping with concessions. Our students enjoyed talking to them in English and French, and everyone developed a deeper appreciation for each other’s language and culture. “It was so cool to be able to meet them. It is such a good experience to meet people from all over the world and now I have friends all over the world,” said BFA sophomore Laurel Samson. “I think it’s cool to learn about other cultures. It can be really similar but also really different.”

The Fénélon students shared some of their impressions of an American high school. “I love how free it is. In France, the teachers are really strict and make you pay attention to the lesson. Here, if you are not paying attention, the teachers think of it as your problem. I also like that you are free to eat where you want,” said Samuel. Alexandre shared, “I like the school, I like the fact that everybody knows everybody. There are fewer students so students can advance more quickly in their subjects. Also, I met very nice American students.”

Alexandra observed, “I met some really lovely people and I am so happy to meet them. It is not at all like France, but I like it. Here, I really connected with the teachers. I like that the classes are the same every day, it is not as tiring. At home our schedule is hectic.” Her favorite foods were mac and cheese and breakfast sandwiches. Marie and Alix both said that they really enjoyed being here and meeting so many nice people and they wished that they could stay longer. After their return to France, their chaperone and director of the program, Claire Kerhuel-Castel, wrote, “Thanks again for a wonderful visit. The students were gushing about it in the van all the way back! How nonjudgmental people were, what a great school spirit, the plans they had to see each other again…”

Connecting with the UN global goal #17: Partnerships for the goals, we hope that this exchange will be the beginning of a partnership with Fénélon and that our schools will continue to build relationships between students and teachers to promote language learning and cultural understanding, and we look forward to planning more opportunities for exchange in the near future.

In Boston
Riding a school bus to Montpelier (there are no yellow school buses in France!)
Visiting the Vermont State House
Meeting Rep. Murphy with the AP gov class

Alana Toracca is a French Teacher at BFA High School.

The FWSU Story: Fletcher Students Reflect on Bridge Building Experience and Competition

Students in grades 4, 5, and 6 at Fletcher Elementary recently showcased their self-designed bridges at the annual bridge building competition at Vermont Technical College. The project supports students’ design process skills and teamwork. Below are reflections by four students on their experiences.

Bridge Building Competition: Crushing the Competition!

By Camrynn Slingerland, Grade 6

Have you ever been to a bridge building competition? My school has. It was at VTC in Randolph, Vermont.

In a group at school we made a bridge out of popsicle sticks and glue and we had an option of using dental floss. When we got to the competition, a gentleman there used a machine to apply pressure to everyone’s bridge to see whose bridge held the most weight out of them all.

My group’s bridge held the highest amount of pressure out of the three sixth grade teams! I felt very happy because my group estimated that it would hold only 10 pounds! Our bridge held a total of 92.5 pounds. Someone in my group almost looked like she was going cry she was so happy! After that I felt very relieved because it was just all over. No more being nervous and no more stressing on how we can make our bridge stronger.

Here is just a little bit about the winning team. Usually people that get into the competition get a little intimidated by that school because they’ve won for the past 3 to 4 years. Their bridge is very strong. They work on Saturdays and also stay after school to work on their bridge. The one thing I noticed is that not a lot of people used dental floss. Well, not their team at least. My group did because we find it a lot easier to hold the bridge because the dental floss can be stretchy. The winning team usually gets a gold medal for the strongest bridge.

Through this experience I’ve learned what I would do better next time. Something I want to do next time is maybe not to make the truss or the top so thin and maybe add more popsicle sticks. Something I learned is that the stronger the bridge is the less likely it is to not break or snap in half. It’s probably going to fall forward or backward. Because it’s so strong it will be hard to break in half, like People’s Academy (the winning school). Their bridge fell backwards.

I really encourage people to go to the bridge building competition because it’s a great experience there. You get to hang out with your friends and watch people crushing bridges.

VTC Bridge Building

By Bryant Matton, Grade 6

What is bridge building? Bridge building is a competition about building a bridge out of popsicle sticks, glue, and dental floss. The team’s bridge that holds the most amount of weight wins.

We had three weeks to build our bridge. My group had different assignments like, building the abutments, truss, and deck. Our group built several abutments until we made square abutments with a crosshair type design. At VTC, there were about sixty seven teams competing and four of the teams were from Fletcher. My team thought our bridge would hold 15 pounds but it held 70.2 pounds. The winning team, Peoples Academy’s bridge, held about 2081 pounds.

Bridge building is really fun and it’s a good team building activity.

Spilling the Tea about VTCBBC

By Ava Ardovino, Grade 6

Did you know that one team’s bridge held over 2,000 pounds? Well it did! Every year VTC (Vermont Technical College) hosts a bridge building competition for grades 5-12 to build a bridge and then watch it get crushed! If you have an interest in Civil Engineering I strongly encourage you to to enter this competition!

First, you have to build the bridge! In my opinion, this was the most fun! We had 3 weeks to build a bridge made out of popsicle sticks, floss, toothpicks, and Elmers glue. Each team also had to make sure that a 1000 mm by 150 mm box could fit under it and it couldn’t weigh over 13.32 lbs. Second, was the judging and bridge crushing process! When the judges were judging our bridge they asked us questions like what truss design we chose, how we designed our abutments, and how we chose to build our bridge. After that we got in line to measure and weigh our bridge. Our bridge weighed 4.5 lbs. Finally, it was time to crush our bridge, using a hydraulic machine that measured pounds of pressure (or weight)! Our bridge ended up holding 55.6 lbs. We grabbed our bridge and took a picture with it, then it was time for lunch!

Lastly, was the award ceremony! Some of the awards that you could win were best presentation, lightest bridge, best looking bridge, aesthetics, and most weight it could hold.

The event’s main idea was for kids who are interested in Civil Engineering! VTCBBC is a great way for kids to use their knowledge about Civil Engineering and make a popsicle stick bridge with it!

Do You Have What It Takes?

By Reagan Baumeister, Grade 6

Have you ever wanted to test out your bridge building skills in a real competition? Well, if you do, you can go to the VTC bridge building competition and and test out your skills in a real competition against real teams and a real college! There also provide a really good lunch.

You get about two or three weeks to build your bridge back at school. When you get to VTC, you walk straight to the bridge crushing room. That’s where the “gordinator” sits. The gordonator is the machine that crushes your bridge and measures how much weight it can hold. Your team will get a number and then you wait for your bridge to get crushed!

After your bridge gets crushed you go up to the lunch room and eat lunch. They have pizza, mac and cheese, cookies and ice cream. They also provide drinks and much more.

After lunch, you will go back and have an award ceremony, which is probably the most exciting part of the trip. You get to see all of your data from your bridge. The ceremony is the best part because you get to see if your bridge was good enough for any of the awards. After that you go back to the school.

The competition is really fun over all. Do you think you have what it takes to win well you can find out at the VTC bridge building competition?

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: Remembering FWSU Superintendent – Ned Kirsch

Photo of Ned Kirsch
Norman (Ned) Kirsch

The Franklin West Supervisory Union unexpectedly lost our Superintendent, Ned Kirsch on April 10.  We are deeply saddened by this loss and our hearts go out to Ned’s family, friends, and colleagues.  He was a remarkable person that made a profound impact on public education.

Essex – Norman (Ned) Kirsch , passed away on Wednesday, April 10, 2019. He was born to Charles and Anne (Schwartz) Kirsch in Southampton, NY. Ned was a 1984 graduate of Westhampton Beach High School, Westhampton Beach, NY. In 1988, he graduated from the University of Maine and continued his studies at The Vermont Law School where he received his Masters of Studies in Environmental Law (MSL) and his Juris Doctorate of Law. At The University of Vermont he furthered his commitment to education and earned his Certification of Advanced Study on in Educational Leadership.

Ned made a tremendous impact on education, serving as principal for the Milton Town School District, the Essex Town School District, and as a Superintendent of the Franklin West Supervisory Union. He was recognized as Vermont Principal of the Year for his leadership at Essex Middle School. He was a strong advocate for the physical, social, emotional and educational well-being of all learners. Ned was often and preferably in classrooms engaging with students about their learning. He always encouraged people to collaboratively move forward in the ever changing educational climate. As an innovator for change, he advocated for technology and was instrumental in championing ways to make the global environment accessible for students in rural Vermont.

Leadership qualities were evident early in Ned’s life as he earned the rank of Eagle Scout. In 2011, the Vermont Chapter awarded Ned the American Red Cross Certificate of Merit for using CPR to sustain the life of his eldest brother. Ned’s vision for education, as well as life, was always evolving. He was an active participant on multiple organizational boards and committees at the local, state and national levels.

Ned loved the mountains of Vermont and the beaches of Westhampton. He was an avid skier, creative cook, and world traveler. Among his passions were sports, politics, personal and professional beliefs, reading, storytelling and any and all traditions. Ned loved letting go in the garden, kicking back with music, family, friends, and pets. His infectious smile, humor, laughter, and quick, witty ways brought energy to any room or space. Ned’s dynamic personality radiated confidence. He nurtured and inspired others to grow and never give up. He was dedicated to being a responsible and affectionate provider for his family. His most treasured roles in life were as husband, dad, son, brother, uncle, and friend.

Ned was predeceased by his father Charles Kirsch and his brother and sister in law, Jeffrey and Nancy Kirsch. He is survived by his wife Coree (Greenbaum) Kirsch of 23 years, and his beautiful children, Abigail (Abby), and Colby and his favorite dog, Addison. He is also survived by his mother Anne (Schwartz) Kirsch of Westhampton Beach, NY, brother David (Joan) Kirsch of Essex, CT and his sister Pam (Mike) Magnan of Bethlehem, PA, in laws Art and Sue Greenbaum, sister in law Kari Greenbaum and Kaija Johnson and nephews DJ Kirsch, Riley Kirsch, Jacob Magnan, Samuel Magnan, and niece Molly Magnan.

There will be a Celebration of Life in Ned’s honor on Saturday, June 1, 2019. Location to be announced on

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations in loving memory of Ned can be made to: Essex Rescue, Inc., 1 Educational Drive, Essex Junction, VT 05452.

We thank first responders and professional providers for helping us navigate this difficult time. Our deepest gratitude is extended to family, friends, colleagues the community and all those that new Ned. Your love, comfort and caring ways continue to give us strength.

Ned, you will always be missed but with us forever in our healing hearts. Go Mets! Go Jets! “R-E-L-A-X, relax”

Published in The Burlington Free Press on Apr. 21, 2019

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

The FWSU Story: Fletcher STEAM Night Focuses on Sustainable Development

Fletcher Elementary held its annual STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) Night last night. Each classroom focused on a United Nations Sustainable Development Goal. Below is a description of each group’s work, along with the specific goal of focus. In addition to the many great displays, students participated in hands-on instrument-making and received free STEAM-related books to take home.


Our preschoolers were proud to showcase their learning related to Sustainable Development Goal #12, Responsible Consumption and Production. They have learned ways to take care of the earth by focusing on the three R’s: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. Through stories, songs and projects such as making earth-friendly citrus cleaner and reusable fabric snack bags, preschoolers have learned that each person can make a difference and that our actions can help protect our planet.


Life on Land is very important to our kindergarteners, who have been learning about Sustainable Development Goal #15, by the same name. Kindergarteners have worked in small groups to research and learn about four Vermont animals: moose, coyote, muskrat and black bear. Students used the Engineering Design Process to create a habitat for their animals and then again to design a sled that their animal could push or pull through an obstacle in the habitat so that they could get food.

First and Second Grade (Ms. Pellegrino):

Ms. Pellegrino’s first and second graders are well aware of the dangers our earth’s bodies of water are facing. By studying ocean pollution, overfishing and strategies for protecting marine wildlife, they are experts in Sustainable Development Goal #14, Life Under Water. Small groups will display their research and accompanying artwork about each topic.

First and Second Grade (Ms. Michalski):

Ms. Michalski’s students have turned trash into treasure by taking recyclable items and repurposing them into new useful items. Focusing on Sustainable Development Goal #13, Climate Action, students will be able to talk about their newly created items and their purpose, all while keeping trash out of the landfill and protecting our climate!

Art Classes:

Be certain to check out the many art displays in the main lobby and the corridor leading to the Studio. Some of the work represents the power of positive thinking and having a growth mindset. Other work is inspired by artists like Gustav Klimt (literacy and math connections through patterning) and Keith Haring (learning how art makes us happy.)

Good Health and Well-Being

Third Grade (in the gym):

There are budding geneticists in third grade! By studying inheritance variability and traits, third graders learned how some traits are passed down from their parents while other traits are influenced by the environment. Many students even tested their blood type and, using a small test strip on the tongue, investigated whether or not they have the gene receptor to taste bitterness. Students discussed how knowing certain information can support Sustainable Development Goal #3, Good Health and Well-Being.

UN SDG Global Goal 6: Clean Water

Fourth and Fifth Grade:

Students in 4th and 5th grade created posters for Vermont’s Drinking Water Week poster contest. The theme of this year’s contest is, Water Works for Vermont!  Students were tasked with creating a poster which depicts this theme and the importance of water to life in Vermont.  In Literacy Workshop, students explored Sustainable Development Goal #6, Clean Water and Sanitation, through research and writing.  After reading and viewing various resources about the importance of access to clean and safe drinking water, students wrote an opinion paragraph addressing the question: Should access to safe and clean drinking water be a basic human right?

Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Grades:

Students in grades four, five and six have spent the last several weeks designing, testing and building bridges to compete with over seventy other teams from around the state at Vermont Technical College on April 4th. Teams were challenged to consider aesthetic and efficiency in addition to building a bridge that would hold the largest load possible, previewing future design work in civil engineering which aims towards the global goals of innovation, industry and infrastructure. Sustainable Development Goal #9, Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure has been key to this learning.

Library Classes:In the library, students have heard the story, Before We Eat: From Farm to Table, by Pat Brisson. Students made connections and discussed how to grow their own food. Then students were asked,  how can you be a responsible consumer and producer? We brainstormed lots of ideas ranging from what we buy when we go to the store, and the packaging, to how to grow and share food with others. In addition, Sustainable Development Goal #12, Responsible Consumption and Production, will be on display in the gym. One of the displays will be the recycling of the Crayola Markers.

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: A Colorful Collaboration at BFA Elementary

The adage, “One person’s trash is another person’s treasure” rang true this year at BFA Elementary as third-through-fifth grade students in art class created colorful, collaborative, permanent art works. Three large-scale murals were recently completed using re-used colorful plastic caps collected throughout the year by our community. The project was spearheaded by a group of current fourth graders when they started collecting caps with this idea in mind last year. Sam, one of the original collectors said, “This has been going on for two years. We started in third grade collecting caps and now it’s done!”

“I think when you walk through the hall, it makes everything in the school have color, pop and feel very special.” – AUSTIN, GRADE 4

The recycled art project focused on collaborative creativity and school pride, and was a meaningful way for students to learn United Nations’ Global Goals for Sustainable Development. Through art, students explored goals ‘Responsible Consumption’ and ‘Life Below Water.’ Classes learned about plastic pollution and the permanence of plastic in our environment, along with ways we can reduce our consumption of plastic.

“We learned about plastic and how it can affect animals. How around the world there are five main trash deposits in the oceans. So what we used will stay out of the ocean and help save the world just a little bit. A little bit can go a long way.” – TEDDY, GRADE 4

Students investigated how art can improve a space and brainstormed multiple approaches to a creative art or design problem. They combined ideas to generate an innovative idea and collaboratively set goals and create artwork that is meaningful and has purpose to our school. One student exclaimed, “I don’t think I would ever think to do this type of art, but I feel proud!”

“We learned about plastic, which just stays on the earth forever- it doesn’t go away. So using the caps makes it so we are keeping it from the earth and making something beautiful out of it!” –VANESSA, GRADE 4

The pieces feature themes relating to our community, which students submitted and art teacher Kim Desjardins helped combine with underpainting on the 7’ tall panels. Over months, students worked together sorting caps by color, excitedly crafting cheerful imagery with the plastic circles, and used power drills to screw the some 700 caps into place. Tatum shared that, “I think it’s really cool because if you think about it, it will be here for a long time, like if its still there in twenty years, I can be like, ‘I made that!'”

The art made is now a treasure for the school community to enjoy for years to come.

The mural will be on view at our 1st Annual K-12 Art Show, May 6-10, with an Opening Reception on May 7th from 5:30-7:00. We hope to see you there!

Kimberley Desjardins is the Art Teacher at BFA Fairfax Elementary. You can follow her on Twitter @KimberleyDesja2 and Instagram @bfacreativekids

The FWSU Story: French Students Arrive in Fairfax

On Saturday, seven students and a teacher from La Rochelle, France arrived at BFA as part of a cultural exchange. The students are in “seconde,” which is the equivalent of grade 11 and hope to gain perspective on American education and practice their English language skills.

The exchange has been coordinated by World Language teacher Alana Torraca, who connected with François Tellier from Fénélon Notre Dame school late last year. Earlier this year, Monsieur Tellier met with Alana, Principal Tague, and Superintendent Kirsch to explore the possibility of an exchange.

“Everyone arrived safe and sound and jet lagged and have gone home with their host families. We are looking forward to seeing them at school on Monday.”

– Alana Torraca, World Language Teacher

Since that conversation Madame Torraca has found home stays for the students, arranged for student shadows and began communication efforts between both groups of students. Students met their host families on Saturday and spent the weekend with them.

“We exhausted her yesterday. We took her shopping. She showed us where she lived on Google maps. It’s great to have this opportunity to connect.”

– Sally Billado, host parent

Students will visit the State House with our Seniors this week and take in the Coffee House on Friday evening. We look forward to this experience for our students and school, and will provide further details about the adventure in a future blog post.

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

The FWSU Story: April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month

Child abuse and neglect take on many forms. In 2017, a record 21,201 calls were received by the Vermont Department for Children and Families Child Protection Line. More than two-thirds of those calls were made by mandated reporters, such as school employees. Of the total reports, 5,527 investigations were opened and 876 cases of abuse or neglect were substantiated in Vermont. Physical abuse, sexual abuse, risk of harm, risk of sexual abuse, emotional maltreatment and/or neglect top the list of substantiated behaviors.

Reports of suspected abuse or neglect in Vermont have increased annually since 2013. Of the 10 DCF field offices in Vermont, our own St. Albans office received the greatest number of reports of alleged abuse or neglect, with 686 in 2017, second only to Burlington, who had 976 reports in the same year. The St. Albans DCF office also had the second greatest number of substantiated reports in 2017, and the greatest number of cases opened for ongoing services statewide.

Each year, more than 3.6 million referrals are made to child protection agencies across the United States. These reports involve more than 6.6 million children. The United States has one of the worst records among industrialized nations, losing an average of between four and seven children every day to child abuse and neglect. Across the US, a report of abuse or neglect is made every 10 seconds.

While child abuse and neglect are complex problems, research shows that there are many simple and cost-free ways that families and communities can work to combat this epidemic. Shared here is a calendar produced by Prevent Child Abuse Vermont and the Vermont Department for Children and Families. The calendar suggests several ways to build a caring, safe community that is resistant and resilient to abuse and neglect. Please take a look and decide if some of these suggested activities are right for your family.

Since 1983, April has been designated Child Abuse Prevention Month in the US, with a goal of promoting an awareness of the problem and suggesting strategies for intervention. Prevent Child Abuse America has established the pinwheel as a happy and uplifting symbol of childhood and to draw attention to the prevention of child abuse and neglect. Also shared here is a pinwheel coloring sheet and a pattern and instructions for creating your own pinwheel. I hope your family will consider enjoying these activities together.

Act 1 is a legal mandate that requires Vermont schools to train employees to recognize and report the signs of child sexual abuse. Additionally, schools must provide developmentally appropriate instruction to students on how to recognize and prevent sexual abuse and violence, how to promote healthy and respectful relationships, developing and maintaining effective communication with trusted adults, recognizing sexually offending behaviors, and gaining an awareness of community resources.

In Fletcher, School Counselor Lisa Coale uses the Second Step Child Protection materials to fulfill these requirements in a way that is developmentally appropriate, understandable and non-frightening to students. In the younger grades, the skills and concepts taught include identifying safety rules, recognizing safe and unsafe situations, demonstrating ways to stay safe and applying assertiveness to unsafe situations. As the curriculum progresses in duration and advances in grade level, students learn about identifying safe and unsafe touches, refusing unwanted physical contact and how to alert an adult when assistance is needed. Families are informed of specific content as it is taught.

At Fletcher, we work hard to teach children the skills to proactively prevent abusive situations. Together with families and the community, we can dramatically reduce the incidence of these traumatic events.


2017 Report on Child Protection in Vermont (Vermont Department for Children and Families)

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