The FWSU Story: BFA Elementary Students Spend Time With Therapy Dog, Jazz


Earlier this fall, I was contacted by a community member who was interested in spending some time in our elementary school with her therapy dog, Jazz. Jazz is a black Labrador Retriever that has been certified as a therapy dog through Therapy Dogs of Vermont. I was immediately intrigued by this opportunity, not only as a dog lover, but as a school administrator trying to integrate effective ways to support all students.

“I like reading to Jazz because it is fun.”

After an initial inquiry, I quickly received commitments from ten teachers that were excited about this opportunity and willing to participate. After an orientation with students and staff, we settled into a consistent weekly routine.

“Jazz puts a smile on our face.”

Jazz and her handler Margo Rome spend a half an hour in the classroom making connections with students while they learn and engage in activities. Jazz and Margo often listen while students practice their reading or they participate in Morning Meeting with the entire class. Jazz loves the attention and often lays on her back for belly scratches. Jazz is now a celebrity in our elementary school and is greeted and petted by all as she walks down the hallways.  

“Jazz is quiet and calm while we read and she keeps us calm and quiet.”

Research has shown that therapy dogs positively affect our brain chemistry, reducing the stress hormone cortisol while increasing the hormone oxytocin that helps us feel regulated and comfortable. Interactions with dogs have also been found to lower blood pressure and heart rate, leading to a more calm learning environment.  

“We love reading with Jazz.”

Our students and staff share that having Jazz and Margo spending time in classrooms has been a positive experience and look forward to their time with Jazz and Margo each week. This resource is another way we can support students that have experienced trauma or that benefit from the opportunity to engage in mindfulness and regulation activities. I encourage you to explore having a therapy dog in your school through Therapy Dogs of Vermont at  Our school has greatly benefited from participating in this experience.

“I like reading with Jazz because she was listening to me.”

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: FWSU Learning Featured at United Nations Global Citizenship Event

Last week Superintendent Ned Kirsch was an invited panel speaker for the first celebration event for the International Day of Education for Global Citizenship sponsored by The Mission of the Republic of Korea  and the State of Qatar to the United Nations. Superintendent Kirsch was the only PreK-12 educator in the United States that formally participated in the event.

International Day of Education for Global Citizenship

Other speakers included Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, Professor of Economics and Director of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network; Mr. Matthew Hodes, Director of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations; Dr. Eunhee Jung, CEO of IVECA; Ms. Marie Paule Roudil, Director and UNESCO Representative; UN Ambassador from the Republic of Korea Chull-joo Park; and Charges d’Affairs, Abdulrahman Al Hamadi from Qatar.

FWSU Superintendent Ned Kirsch addresses International Day of Education for Global Citizenship

photo by Mr. Issac Humphrie

Superintendent Kirsch was invited to speak about how FWSU has been engaging schools throughout the globe both personally and virtually as a regular part of learning. In addition, he spoke to the initiative that brought the UN Sustainable Development Goals to FWSU. Last year students and teachers in each of our schools engaged in projects that addressed the goals. While other speakers were talking about what could be, Superintendent Kirsch was able to illustrate how students currently can and do engage with the goals.

UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development. The SDGs cover critical social and economic development issues such as poverty, hunger, health, education, global warming, gender equality, water, sanitation, energy, urbanization, environment and social justice

The United Nations developed the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to transform our world in 2015. Since then, 193 countries of the UN General Assembly adopted the 2030 Development Agenda titled Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The SDGs cover critical social and economic development issues such as poverty, hunger, health, education, global warming, gender equality, water, sanitation, energy, urbanization, environment and social justice.

After the presentations, the assembled guests were treated to celebratory musical performances by performers from across the globe. Pianist David Jeong, The UN Jazz Society Band, and Girls Be Heard were just a few of the featured performers.

This year FWSU students will continue their work engaging students around the globe, working to find solutions and answers to issues that affect us all and building inter-cultural competence to increase their understanding. This summer, student ambassadors at BFA Fairfax High School and their families are hosting 30 students from China in our annual summer cultural/language immersion camp and many of the ambassadors will also be visiting China this fall to continue their learning. Work is also underway to incorporate the SDGs across all areas of the curriculum to drive real-world learning and relevance for our students. Students in our elementary schools will again engage virtually through our work with IVECA. Finally, Superintendent Ned Kirsch will continue sharing the work of our students as an invited participant at the annual WISE Conference, part of Global Goals Week, this fall in New York City.


THE FWSU STORY: Second Graders Make A Difference at Georgia

This year at GEMS, Mrs. Ferguson’s second-grade class embarked on a journey to learn to knit and to make a difference in their local community.


Mrs. Ferguson’s second grade class began a knitting journey this year.

The project began in September. Every Monday, the class dedicated time to improve their skills. Members of the GEMS staff offered instruction and guidance throughout the year including librarian Mrs. Rider, math specialist Mrs. Wilson, Innovation Lab teacher Mrs. Payne, reading paraeducator Mrs. Dow and paraeducator Mrs. Palmer.

An imperfect start at knitting ends in neatly stitched rows.

Knitting is a journey! An imperfect start ends in neatly stitched rows.

“Each square shows their growth,” explained Mrs. Ferguson, pointing to a square of student work. One end is uneven, full of loopy stitches, many of which are connected to nothing. She points to the opposite end, “You can see how much they have learned.” The end she is pointing to has neat stitches lined up perfectly. As students became more proficient, they knit during class breaks and during read-aloud time. Many also knit at home, making gifts and accessories for family and friends.  By the end of the year, the class had created three blankets and one knitted ball to donate to the Franklin County Humane Society.


The second graders proudly display their knitting creations!

The students are proud and excited about their work. Not only have they learned a new skill, they have learned work habits such as perseverance and problem-solving. “One of our class focuses has been encouraging a growth mindset,” said Mrs. Ferguson. “This project demonstrated for the students that if they think that they can learn new things, they will even if the skill seems difficult at first.”

The students are also very pleased about how they’ve been able to make a difference in their community. The Humane Society was grateful for the donation. They said that the blankets would be used frequently to comfort animals. When the class was told that their hard work would be featured on the FWSU Story, one student exclaimed, “Maybe other people will see this project and want to do the same for pets where they live. We made a difference here, but maybe we will make a difference in the world too!” Interested readers can go to The Snuggles Project to learn how they can contribute in their areas.

Check out the video below to see more of the class’ journey.



THE FWSU STORY: Young FWSU Artists Featured in Franklin County Art Show

Last month, the Collins-Perley Sports Complex hosted the annual Franklin County School Art Show.  Students from BFA Fairfax, Fletcher, and Georgia Elementary and Middle School were represented as well as many other schools from our neighboring communities. Art teachers presented selected artwork to showcase their students’ accomplishments over the past school year.


On May 15th, Georgia Elementary Middle School presented an opening reception for the community, students, and art teachers to celebrate amazing art by our students.


It was great to see so many supporters participate and to see the amazing work from the smallest students in our county to our oldest students. A big thanks to FWSU art teachers Jenn Hart, Marc Choiniere, Kim Desjardins, MC Baker, Sara Wolfson, and Dorsey Hogg.

Be sure to join us for our next show in May 2019!

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.



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.  



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.



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.  


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.


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 and/or  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.


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.



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.



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.



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.



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.



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