THE FWSU STORY: BFA Fairfax Students Shine in 2018 Shape-Vermont Fitness Competition

On Thursday, May 3rd, BFA Fairfax Middle and Elementary School PE teachers Dylan Callan and Heather Weeks took a team of grades 5-8 students to compete in the Shape-Vermont 2018 State Fitness Competition held at Norwich University.  Although this event is held annually, it was BFA Fairfax’s inaugural time attending the competition.

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Any interested 5th-8th grader was invited to participate in our school-based competition, with the top scorers receiving a spot to attend the state competition involving teams from over forty Vermont middle schools. Competitors worked to achieve their personal best in push-ups, curl-ups, sit and reach, and the mile run.  

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It was a fantastic experience for our BFA Fairfax participants.  Although the competition was the highlight, the day also provided the opportunity for our students to experience one of Vermont’s beautiful college campuses and all that the Norwich facilities and staff had to offer.  We were also pleased to be able to share the day with a team competing from Georgia Elementary Middle School.

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With all the positive feedback, we are already looking forward to sending a BFA Fairfax team again next year!  Thank you to Mr. Callan and Ms. Weeks for bringing this exciting and beneficial opportunity to our students and school.  

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Geri Witalec

Geri Witalec-Krupa is an Athletic Director/Assistant Principal at Bellows Free Academy Fairfax. You follow her @GLWit

THE FWSU STORY: BFA Fairfax Long Range Facilities Planning Committee Reconvenes

This past November, the Fairfax community voted with a resounding defeat of the proposed bond totaling $15,998,458 to update the middle and high school wings of the school building.

BFA Fairfax Logo

After taking time to reflect, reassess, and regroup, a new Long Range Facilities Planning Committee (LRFPC) consisting of community members, school board representatives, administrators, staff members, and parents have begun the process of developing recommendations to address our future needs.

The original Bellows Free Academy structure

The original Bellows Free Academy structure in Fairfax, VT

As with the previous LRFPC, the charge from the School Board remains the same.  We have been asked to consider the needs of our school building and determine the most cost-effective solutions for meeting our goal of a facility that is prepared to serve our students and community for the next several decades.

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BFA Fairfax

The current LRFPC has begun a comprehensive process of evaluating our space needs, reviewing to ensure compliance with state and federal regulations, revisiting the previous assessments of the building’s mechanical, electrical, architectural, and code and compliance/life safety needs.  In addition, we have reviewed the previous recommendations for the building and are currently identifying and classifying building needs and recommendation into four categories (safety, accessibility, opportunities, and efficiencies).  We are in the process of determining our project priorities that will create the biggest impact on our facility.

BFA Fairfax High School

BFA Fairfax High School

As the Long Range Facilities Committee continues our work we will continue sharing our proposals, solicit community input, and communicate our next steps to achieve our goals for the building.  We are determined to provide a transparent process that will ultimately yield in the successful passage of a bond that is fiscally responsible and has the support of our community.  We are open to your feedback and suggestions.

BFA Fairfax Middle School

BFA Fairfax Middle School

Please feel free to contact me or John Tague if you have any questions or concerns at twalsh@fwsu.org and/or jtague@fwsu.org.  We look forward to engaging our community in a process that serves our students for the next several decades.

THE FWSU STORY: BFA Fairfax Softball Trains Hard and Pays It Forward During Florida Spring Training Week

On April 19 a year’s worth of planning and fundraising came to a close as 16 members of the BFA Fairfax High School Softball program journeyed to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida for six days of softball spring training and community service.

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This trip is taken every other year to ensure that every player who participates in the softball program for four years of high school will have at least one opportunity to attend.  Although practicing on the world-class fields and scrimmaging against teams from other areas of the country is a focus, the trip’s benefits extend far beyond the softball diamond.

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For many of the players, this was their first time on a plane, their first time to Florida, their first time being away from their families for an extended period of time, and most importantly, an opportunity to gain priceless worldly experience and independence.  From traveling through two of the world’s biggest airports (John F. Kennedy in New York City, and Orlando International), to playing at the Atlanta Braves Spring Training complex, and enjoying the Walt Disney World parks at night, the players took part in valuable life experiences.

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One of the most memorable parts of the trip each year is the time committed to community service.  This year the team ventured to the Boys and Girls Club of Central Florida to assist in Friday activities.  Their impact was immediately apparent as children and staff at the club bonded with the Fairfax girls through homework help, games, and simply talking about their different lives and home regions.

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The team was also fortunate to develop a fantastic relationship with New York’s St. Lawrence Central School who was also attending softball spring training.  Considering that our new friends from St. Lawrence are right across Lake Champlain, we are considering adding each other to our non-league game schedules in the future.

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This experience could not have been possible without the overwhelming support of the school, the families, and the entire Fairfax community.  We were also fortunate to have some local faces make the journey down to Florida to spectate at our scrimmages. The entire team and program cannot begin to thank everyone for making this once in a lifetime experience a reality.  The only regret was leaving the sun and 80-degree weather behind.

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Thank you to all, and Go Bullets!


Geri Witalec

Geri Witalec-Krupa is an Athletic Director/Assistant Principal at Bellows Free Academy Fairfax. You follow her @GLWit

THE FWSU STORY: Preschool Literacy Night Inspires Fletcher’s Youngest Readers and Writers

At first glance, the Fletcher Elementary School library looked more like Santa’s bustling workshop than a quiet reading space Monday evening as several preschool families used shiny wrapping paper, colorful stickers, and a virtual treasure trove of arts and crafts supplies to transform ordinary cardboard boxes into personalized and portable student desks.

Eight preschool families attended the Fletcher School Preschool Program’s Literacy Night, facilitated by Preschool Teacher Nancy Hurt. The goal, according to Hurt, was to empower families to engage with their children in conversation and activities that promote a love of reading and writing.Preschool1

Students and their families began by assembling a cardboard box, then cutting two of the corners to allow a side to drop and form a Secretary’s Desk, of sorts. A variety of small containers and folders, along with decorative materials, completed the look and functionality of the desks, which were then stocked with books and writing supplies.

“I’m always looking for multiple avenues to involve families in their child’s education,” Hurt said. “Events like this go beyond classroom conversations or written communication from me. They serve to strengthen the home and school partnership and act as  a reminder that families are incredibly important teachers and that families can lead their children in experiences that are equally valuable to those provided by a trained educator.”

Materials for Preschool Literacy Night were funded through a grant from the Step Ahead Recognition System, or STARS, the Vermont Department for Children and Families’ accreditation program for childcare, preschool and after-school programs. For the fourth consecutive year, the Fletcher Elementary School Preschool Program has earned the highest possible ranking – 5 STARS – which is accompanied by grant funding that is used to support continued high-quality preschool programming at the school.PreschoolIn addition to the preschool students, many older siblings and adult family members attended the event, with many creating their own desks.

“The project and the materials were intended to be ageless,” Hurt said. “The content and materials were open-ended enough so that everyone could individualize and personalize their creation, regardless of what grade they are in. I wanted families to know that projects like this can impact every student’s learning, regardless of age or ability.”

The idea for the student-made desks was one Hurt learned about at a conference on the Vermont Early Learning Standards, part of which emphasize language and literacy development, as well as engaging families in their child’s education. First established in 2003, Vermont’s Early Learning Standards address what children should know and be able to do between birth and third grade.Preschool4“I wanted to remind families that typical everyday activities and conversations can become enriching opportunities that set the stage for early literacy,” Hurt said. “Those moments, whether you’re singing silly rhyming songs or looking at words in the environment, have a powerful impact on children and are stepping stones to becoming readers and writers.”

In addition to Preschool Literacy Night, Hurt also sends her students home with “classroom highlights” that become conversation starters for families each day. The brief, bulleted list encourages families to ask specific questions about what their child learned or did that day.Preschool3“Children’s faces just light up when someone asks them a detailed question about their learning,” Hurt said. “And, it keeps parents informed.”

“Mia loves her new portable desk,” preschool parent Jensen Welch said. “She and her sister, Josie, have already engaged with their desks at home before dinner, practicing writing, and this morning getting them organized. I think it is special for Mia that it’s just hers, and that she can do ‘adult-ish’ things she sees her older siblings and parents do, like writing, reading, using numbers and ‘working.’”

“Our family really enjoyed this event,” preschool parent Jess Graff said. “This time of year the children often resort to screen time after dinner. This event was an opportunity for us to get out of the house and make something all together. It was great to see so many of my son’s classmates and peers and get to meet some other families that live in our community. Both children used their literacy desks as soon as they got home and when they woke up in the morning the next day. The literacy desk was definitely a motivation for my son to practice and develop those skills.”Preschool6“Lily is very excited about her desk, she always wants to have it out and be making something with it. It’s also nice that it’s mobile so she can move it around the house and be with other family members. The biggest benefit is that she is excited and she is viewing reading and writing in a very positive and enthusiastic way. Yesterday she brought it out to the kitchen and made a book for daddy, and then she read it to him. This morning, she brought her desk into the living room and was working on another book,” preschool parent Tana Sears said.

“It was awesome to see the children smiling on their way out the door,” Hurt said. “They were taking home their creation, something they were incredibly proud of, which will spark their curiosity, support their creativity and will inspire them to read and write. That kind of experience is not limited to school and does not need to cost a lot of money. Such amazing learning can happen just from genuine time spent together.”Preschool5“Both of my daughters moved their desks up to their room and have been using them,” preschool parent Tucker Riggs said. “It was fun to help the kids create the desks and for them to see that even something as simple as a cardboard box and some tape can be transformed into a space where they can have fun writing, drawing, and exploring.”

 

THE FWSU STORY: Fairfax Farm to School Program Cultivates Sustainable Partnership with School in Kenya

Last week, students at BFA Fairfax welcomed visiting school leaders from Kenya into their gardens and classrooms. It was an incredible opportunity for the visiting team to learn how to start a farm to school who want to start a farm to school program in their own community. The 10-day trip to Vermont was made possible through the generous support of VT Center for International Learning Partnerships (VCILP) and the Bay and Paul Foundation.

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BFA Fairfax students Shannon and Caitlin present the School Farm to Brother Kennedy and Florence Maina from Kenya.

” It is incredible all they are doing from saving orphans to building economic communities to building equality between genders.” – Grace Zelazny, BFA Fairfax student

Students leading BFA Fairfax’s farm to school club gave a tour of their grounds, orchards, and facilities, shared about their projects in their farm to school class, and told the story of how their program grew into the multifaceted collaborative project it is today.

Partners from Kenya, with Dr. Mary Lynn Riggs of VCILP, tour the Fairfax School Farm

Partners from Kenya, with Dr. Mary Lynn Riggs of VCILP, tour the Fairfax School Farm

“The work Brother Kennedy and Florence Maina are doing in Kenya is wonderful. They seek economic sustainability and gender equity through education. Creating a food system where people learn to garden in sustainable ways is at the heart of their work”  – Fred Griffin, BFA Fairfax High School Language Arts Teacher

As part of the effort to build capacity and strengthen rural community development efforts in Kenya, Dr. Mary Lynn Riggs, VCILP’s Program Coordinator, arranged for Brother Kennedy Oronjo and Florence Maina to visit the Farm to School program at BFA Fairfax.

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Brother Kennedy of St. Charles Lawanga in Kenya, interacts with students involved with sustainability and the BFA Fairfax School Farm.

“We know something about how hard things are in parts of the world. It was eye-opening to hear specifically what was going on in Kenya and Brother Kennedy’s school.” – Hannah Rainville

Farm to school programs increase students’ access to local, healthy foods, helping to address hunger and connecting students to where their food comes from to promote local agriculture and healthy eating habits. Brother Kennedy Oronjo and Florence Maina run two schools in Kenya for economically disadvantaged children, most of whom are orphans, one in Nairobi and one in rural Rodi-Homa Bay. The communities they serve struggle with food insecurity, economic challenges, and gender inequality, and they are building a farm to school program to address these issues and provide opportunities to young people. Their goal is to address hunger and food insecurity within the community through education and applied learning while at the same time boosting their rural economies. In the end, they envision a system similar to the one BFA Fairfax and other Vermont schools have developed.

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BFA Fairfax High School Language Arts Teacher Fred Griffin is a student advisor for the Farm to School Club.

“We want to find ways to link not just our Farm to School program, but our school with the project in Kenya. Heifer International was adopted by BFA Fairfax four years as a care-giving mission. Last year our student body purchased a water buffalo, two flocks of chickens and a sheep for Heifer to distribute. Livestock are a vital part of a sustainable food system. We are going to explore linking Heifer, Brother Kennedy, and our school by targeting his project as the beneficiary of our animal gifts.” – Fred Griffin, BFA Fairfax High School Language Arts Teacher

Students in Fairfax started their farm to school program only two years ago, and the program has since expanded rapidly. The students, both in farm to school classes and in the farm to school club, manage an apple orchard, a greenhouse, vegetable and herb gardens, and plan to add a chicken coop, a hoop house, and a pollinator garden this spring.

Signs of Spring at the BFA Fairfax Farm!

Signs of Spring in the greenhouse at the BFA Fairfax Farm!

“It’s great that they are trying to improve their lives.” – Anna Spiller, BFA Fairfax student

The project has been funded by two Vermont Farm to School grants, in 2016 and 2017, but the true success in their program comes from the creative integration of agriculture into the school curriculum and the deep community connections students and teachers have fostered with neighbors, student families, and the local agricultural community.

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Brother Kennedy and Florence review the plans for the BFA Fairfax School Farm to gain inspiration for a project in Kenya.

“I think it is pretty cool that they are looking at Farm to School here in Fairfax as a way to build a sustainable program of their own.” – Quentin Stoneburner, BFA Fairfax student

BFA Fairfax was chosen this year as one of Vermont’s exemplary Farm to School grantees and is featured in the 2018 Farm to School & Childcare Program Report. After seeing a successful farm to school program in Vermont, Brother Kennedy and Florence hope to bring tools and lessons learned back to Kenya to inspire the development of their own farm to school programs.

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Parsnips from the School Farm were served during a meeting with partners from Kenya.


Special thanks to Gina Clithero at the Vermont Agency of Agriculture and BFA Fairfax High School Language Arts Teacher Fred Griffin for contributing to this story.

THE FWSU STORY: When a Keychain Is Not Just a Keychain

Three years ago when planning how to integrate innovation spaces into FWSU schools, we explored the emerging technology of 3D printing. At that time, many schools seemed to be using the technology to print everyday objects, like keychains. Although this was new and trendy, the leadership team agreed we wanted more: our 3D printing experiences for students would be centered on design thinking and problem-solving. We set a goal to use this technology to do more than “just print keychains.” We wanted to strive for a learning experience that would empower our students to create objects with real purpose and positive impact.

Today our Innovation Labs are well established and we have successfully used 3D printing technology to solve problems and bring creative design to new levels. Students have printed all sorts of objects along the way (some may have even resembled keychains!). At the same time, 3D printing has become an important tool, the GEMS Innovation Lab has also focused on the important concept of global sustainability. To apply this concept authentically, the Lab has used the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a framework for several student learning experiences.

One such class called Global Inquiry asks students to study global issues and problems associated with the SDGs and then take action. The overarching idea is that we all need to participate in order to solve the world’s problems. Small steps taken by a large number of people can add up to a great deal of progress. This is the second year of the class and students have completed wide-ranging projects from a solar oven to a blog raising awareness about shark finning, to work with an elementary classroom to reduce the use of plastic shopping bags. All of these projects took small but meaningful steps forward toward one or more of the SDGs.

One of the groups in the current class wanted to do something about SDG #15: Life on Land. After doing some research, they decided they would like to raise money to symbolically adopt a hippopotamus. They planned to ask for donations but also wanted people to show their support for the cause by displaying an object. The students focused on 3D design and arrived at the idea of a “hippo charm.”

Several design prototypes were created before the students decided on a flat circle with a raised logo. Next came the question of how it could be displayed. Once they were printed, some were backed with magnets, and others had a ring threaded through a hole at the top of the design. While students could hang these from backpacks to display their support, the charms quickly became known as the “keychain” option.

The students have received a steady stream of dollar donations and have given out their hippo charms in return. An additional design, a “hippo figurine”, created by another student in the class, has also become a popular request. The project is well on its way to raising the needed funds for the symbolic hippopotamus adoption. More than that, it is showing once again how small efforts can add up to positive change. Call it a keychain, call it a charm, in this case, it is more; it is students making a positive impact on their world.

If you wish to know more about this project or are interested in participating in some way, you can contact the Global Inquiry Class through the GEMS Innovation Lab by email or connect @gemsinnolab.

THE FWSU STORY: Fletcher Students Learn About Financial Literacy

Plan ahead. Isn’t that what we’ve always been told? In Fletcher, students have begun to do just that, and they are working to secure their financial futures in the process.

Each student received a certificate signed by State Treasurer Beth Pearce.

Each student received a certificate signed by State Treasurer Beth Pearce.

The Reading is an Investment Program is an initiative of the Vermont State Treasurer’s Office. It encourages students to learn about financial literacy through children’s books. This year’s theme, “Creative Ideas Pay Off,” encourages librarians to share the stories of entrepreneurs and their innovative ideas and projects that have led them to financial success. Creativity and planning skills are emphasized as students share stories that provide inspiration and a framework for their future financial plans.

The program provides a book list that focuses on money management, as well as a reading log for students and suggested activities that teach students about personal finance. In Fletcher, all students shared financially-themed books as part of library classes with Librarian Emily DiGiulio.

"The Bridge of the Golden Wood" by Karl Beckstrand and Yaniv Cahoua

This title was included on the book list: “The Bridge of the Golden Wood” by Karl Beckstrand and Yaniv Cahoua

“Our students gain an understanding of financial concepts as they make connections to the stories and characters in the books,” DiGiulio said. “The books include young characters making a difference in their families and communities and help students understand financial issues. Through reading, book discussions, and reviewing ideas with partners in the activities, students begin learning about the role money plays in our lives while building their skills for financial well-being.”

Three books are included in the program this year. The Bridge of the Golden Wood, By Carl Beckstrand, tells the stories of successful businesspeople and how they have turned creative ideas into practical solutions. It also teaches the relationship between goods and services and the relationship between expenses and sales. A second story, Barbara deRebertis’s, Count on Pablo, tells the tale of a young boy and his grandmother who develop a successful plan to market their wares. The final book, Soda Bottle School, by Laura Kutner and Suzanne Slade, discusses how a young girl evaluates the wants and needs of her customers.

Another title was "Count on Pablo" by Barbara deRubertis

Another featured title: “Count on Pablo” by Barbara deRubertis

“Supporting students in thinking about money management, financial success, and ingenuity at an early age is a critical step in setting the stage for creating adults who behave in a financially responsible manner,” Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Teacher Leader Denette Locke said. “It’s great to see this theme extend beyond the classrooms and into library classes.”

DiGiulio registered each student at Fletcher for the program, presented the lessons, facilitated discussion and awarded each student a certificate signed by State Treasurer Beth Pearce.

This title was a favorite of the students: "The Soda Bottle School" by Seno Laura Kutner and Suzanne Slade

This title was a favorite of the students: “The Soda Bottle School” by Seno Laura Kutner and Suzanne Slade

According to DiGiulio, the Vermont State Treasurer’s Office provides the incentive for a 529 College Savings Account and students are selected by having their name drawn to win. “Having access to this account gives our students the opportunity to have funds for their future educational goals,” she said. “This program provides our students with an equal opportunity to have this college fund that will grow over the years as it adds to their repertoire of positive financial choices.”

Three Fletcher students also received recognition for their participation in the program’s “Be Money Wise” poster contest.

“It’s great to see students connecting a variety of disciplines and making meaning of their interconnectedness,” Literacy Teacher Leader Julie Steves said. “Reading and math go hand-in-hand so to use great books to teach financial concepts makes total sense.”