Creating Unity with Marvelous Masks 

The start of each school year is a new beginning for children and the relation to their individual success is crucial. It is a time for meeting new friends, establishing relationships and building the foundation for a positive classroom community.
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Feeling valued, welcome, and safe is imperative for their confidence and growth and are the core beliefs of our Georgia Elementary School staff and community.

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To help kick-off the year with fun and artistic creation, Sarah Frechette and Jason Thibodeaux, have been working with elementary classrooms, inspiring creativity through the creation of individual mask-making.

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Students explored African Masks because there is a special connection between the creation and wearing steps of mask-making and the community that is established from such work. Students learn about self-expression, exhibiting individual personality, and the importance of each person’s special role within their community.

Masks will be displayed in each classroom setting and students will participate in a parade to showcase their work. Students had these things to say about their learning experiences with mask-making.

“I am a masketeer.”

“We are all learning together.”

“I can help you if you’d like.”

“I love art!”

“Thank you, Ms. Sarah and Mr. Jason”

 

Community Day Teaches Fletcher Students Lessons Beyond the Classroom

Fourth through sixth-grade students at the Fletcher Elementary school are lending a helping hand to some very unfortunate four-legged friends, and they’re learning a lot about supporting their community in the process.

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Fifth and sixth-grade classes at the school have been working with the Hulbert Outdoor Center, an organization based in Fairlee that works with students to promote leadership and community involvement, as well as providing a way for students to give back. Members of the group have visited the school and the collaboration culminated in a community day at the school on June 2.

In May, students spent time in the classroom deciding on a non-profit community group they wanted to support. Their search for a cause led them to the Franklin County Animal Rescue, which is currently closed to the public due to financial difficulties but hoping to reopen soon.

Leading up to the community day event, students facilitated a school-wide competition to see which class could collect the most dog and cat treats, as well as materials to make animal beds and toys. Collectively, they gathered over 1,200 items. During community day, the fifth and sixth graders worked with their younger fourth-grade peers to use the collected materials to make a variety of dog- and cat-friendly items including beds and catnip toys. Their creations will be donated to the Franklin County Animal Rescue.

“The students are very passionate about animals and they wanted to help a community group that was struggling,” fifth-grade teacher Cassie Underwood said. “They knew that the animal rescue was shutting down temporarily, but hoping to reopen.”

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Students also raised $500 to donate to the Franklin County Animal Rescue, and their donation was complemented by an additional $250 donation from the Hulbert Outdoor Center.

“It’s really nice to know that you are doing something for a real purpose,” fifth-grader Isaiah Burns said. “It felt great to stay focused on making the community a better place and to help us as students grow as people.”

“These kinds of projects are important because the fifth and sixth graders act as role models for the younger kids,” sixth-grader Jasmine Duncan said. “We can teach them to take care of their community so that when they are older they can step up and do a lot of good, too.”

“It gives them a place and a way to give back,” Underwood said. “It allows them to actually make a difference and demonstrate leadership skills.”

According to Nicholas Wood, Program Coordinator for the Hulbert Outdoor Center, “Projects like this are important for numerous reasons. Most importantly, it actively shows that students, who often feel powerless when it comes to making a difference in an adult world, that through their time and talents, they can make a difference. They can see a difference in their community following their projects.”

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Of the Fletcher students, Wood noted their caring and creative spirit.

“The fact that students were able to gather over 1,000 items to convert into animal toys and beds in a mere four days was substantial,” Wood said. “The animal shelter is a great starting point when we think about ways to give back to the community and make a difference.”

“We learned a lot about helping others and what it means to be part of a community,” fifth-grader Maggie Nadeau said. “When you help out your community you get to know each other more and if something happens to you maybe they will have your back.”

“We got a lot done in a little amount of time,” fifth-grader Jack Tinker said. “Everyone worked together to do their job and in the end that made us stronger and the community stronger.”

“We are so very grateful for this outpouring of support,” Franklin County Animal Rescue Resource Committee Chairman Lydia Strider said. “Not only is this truly humbling for us but a great opportunity for us to help shape students into kind young adults.”

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Strider emphasized that having students contribute to the shelter – both by donating funds and physical items – is a great opportunity for the children to learn the value of a dollar and how extensively their contributions can support the animals.

“There are so many wonderful non-profits and getting students involved with them early teaches kids how to remain active contributors in their community as they grow older,” Strider said.

“Before we left the school on Friday, one of the questions that students were answering was about what they can take away from this experience,” Wood said. “One student mentioned that is we could do all this for dogs and cats, imagine what we could accomplish for homeless and other people suffering. It was a touching thought from our perspective, a reaffirming prospect that students had those thoughts walking away.”

“Helping the animal rescue was an opportunity,” Burns said. “It taught me to continue to look for opportunities. I think there are ways to help people and animals that are all around us and we don’t usually see them or pay attention. We are changing that.”

FES Family Engagement Builds STEAM

Recently, Fletcher Elementary School celebrated another successful annual STEAM Night. STEAM Night is a culmination of extended student-driven inquiry.

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There are questioning prompts scattered among the exhibits in every classroom, students are not daunted by the impromptu questions that come from the many visitors. Questions that might elicit very short and uninspired answers on a traditional quiz provoke thoughtful, engaged, and informed responses when asked in the context of these exhibitions. Authentic exhibitions of learning are critical to building student ownership of essential academic concepts and skills in all content areas, but particularly when integrated into engaging STEM inquiries.

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Inquiry celebrates the natural, inherent curiosity of children. Fletcher’s STEAM Night exhibition model is framed to engage parents in the inquiry process. Parents can support inquiry-based thinking at home by asking open-ended questions — these kinds of questions are powerful tools to promote problem-solving, creativity and critical thinking.

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Fletcher Elementary School uses some Federal funding to support the engagement of families in their children’s learning. The use of these funds for STEAM Night enable Fletcher Elementary School to expand the experience beyond just an event for kids and families at school. The school purchased two STEAM books for families to take home so that they could continue to work on all of the proficiencies and skills that had been highlighted at STEAM Night through engaging activities for parents and children at home. Principal Chris Dodge noted that this investment in parents as partners in their children’s learning “helped to form a strong connection between school content and further educating both parents and students.”

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When students see the relevance of content across settings, including their own homes, they more easily and comprehensively make meaning of their learning and how it is applied to their own lives.

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Exhibitions of learning can take the form of final products, presentations, or performances. They can be used to authentically assess student learning, skill acquisition, and academic achievement. Exhibitions of learning allow students to present and defend evidence of academic learning and reflect on growth in proficiency in transferable skills.  Student growth and progress can be observed in “real time” when parents and community members are asking questions about the students’ inquiry projects. These “transferable skills” cut across all content areas and are truly portable tools for achievement success.

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Authentic exhibitions have a far-reaching impact on a student’s capacity to deepen their skills in communication, self-direction, problem-solving, and critical and creative thinking.

BFA Fairfax Farm to School Welcomes Spring

Spring has finally arrived and BFA’s Farm to School Program is in full bloom. The FTS program has two components: a club and a class. Students in both areas have been working to meet the goals of their three-year plan. BFA was recently visited by Erica Campbell from the office of Senator Bernie Sanders who gave the students positive feedback about their progress.

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Shannon, a student at BFA Fairfax, gave Campbell a tour of our Farm to School Farm and reviewed the current plan. “She was able to see the potential for our project through our three-year plan. She thinks that our program will become the ‘face of Farm to School in Vermont'” Shannon said. The visit was “absolutely brilliant. Ms. Campbell offered to provide us with connections and resources and hopes to bring Senator Sanders back to BFA Fairfax for our Harvest Dinner.”

Club students have been busy through the long winter getting ready to plant. In early “spring” a greenhouse was built and ready to start seedlings for transplant when the time was right. The next projects for the students are to build a shed and a bridge to provide storage and access to the gardens. This work has been made possible through the assistance of community partners and parent volunteers.

“Our club has lots of traction as we finish the first year of the plan. Everything we promised has been delivered. We have overcome obstacles for the progress of the program” – Shannon, FTS President

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Students in the Farm to School class have been working on composting. They have built a worm composting bin and hope to obtain the cafeteria food scraps to keep the worms fed and creating more rich compost for the gardens. “The students are working on a local community meal and learning about food ethics when they are not busy planting and tending the garden,” said Farm to School teacher Marjorie Hollocher. Hollocher and Fred Griffin will be joining forces to team teach the Farm to School course next year.

“It’s a powerful vision,” said Griffin,  “It draws people in.  We are building a diverse outdoor classroom that works in partnership with our school cafeteria, our townspeople, and our students.  This is exciting stuff!”

Students will be tending the garden throughout the summer awaiting the fall harvest. All that is left to do now is to hope for the right weather to foster growth in the garden that matches the growth in enthusiasm for BFA’s Farm to School initiative.

Labyrinth Coming Soon to GEMS

GEMS teachers have been engaged in teaching mindfulness practices to their students to improve academic success and emotional regulation. This fall a small group of teachers embraced an opportunity given through Launch FWSU. As a result of receiving the Launch funds provided through Bay and Paul Foundation, GEMS will be able to create a space to extend these mindfulness practices. The group decided to create a community Labyrinth on the school grounds.

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Labyrinths have one path that winds in a circuitous way to the center. Labyrinths are used worldwide as a way to quiet the mind, recover balance in life, and encourage meditation, insight, self-reflection, stress reduction, creativity, and gratitude. Over the winter students and teachers researched and designed a variety of labyrinths and finalized a design. Path cutting and stone installation is set for Saturday, June 3 at 9 a.m. with Sunday, June 4th as a rain date.

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The committee is excited to bring this to our Georgia community. Please contact JoAnn Harvey at jharvey@fwsu.org if you are interested in more information or are willing to participate.

Students Green Up Fairfax

Students, staff, and parent chaperones from BFA Fairfax participated in our annual Green Up Day activities last month.

BFAgreenup1Green Up Day is always the first Saturday in May and over 22,000 volunteers come together to remove litter from Vermont’s roadsides and public spaces. The day was launched in 1970, and since 1979 it has been officially organized by Green Up Vermont, a non-profit organization whose mission is “to promote the stewardship of our state’s natural landscape and waterways and the livability of our communities by raising public awareness about the benefits of a litter-free environment.” bfagreenup2.pngIn Fairfax, Students were dispersed throughout the town of Fairfax to pick up rubbish that accumulated over the winter months. Middle school students spent time bonding with their Initiative Time groups and forayed deep into Fairfax armed only with garbage bags, rubber gloves, and a firm understanding of safety precautions!  Elementary school students stayed closer to school, greening up the streets around the outskirts of the BFA-Fairfax campus. In addition, groups of students and staff cleaned up trash on the BFA Fairfax property itself — including the cross-country trails and recreation path — and weeded and mulched the flowerbeds surrounding the school building.bfagreenup3.pngThanks to BFA Fairfax educators Melinda Carpenter and Sandy Brown for making this opportunity happen for our community.  Their time and efforts to coordinate this event are so greatly appreciated. Lindy and Sandy mapped individual groups’ Green Up routes, organized parent volunteers, provided maps to teachers and parents clarifying routes, and put together a safety guide for each group to follow while they were greening up our community.

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Sandy Brown

There are numerous benefits to Green Up Day, including responsible and civic learning for our students. Green Up Day is both impactful and highly tangible, as the green garbage bags on the roadsides in our community are a highly visible reminder of the contributions students and parent volunteers made on this wonderful day!

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Melinda Carpenter with students

GEMS Elementary School Partners with UVM College of Education

“The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery.” Mark Van Doren

Each year the University of Vermont College of Education and Social Services graduates new teachers to fill classrooms around Vermont and beyond. Next year some of the future graduates will be learning and be honing their craft at Georgia Elementary School. A partnership has been established with UVM and this is the first such partnership in Franklin County.  Five student teaching interns per semester will be spending time learning from our teaching staff and becoming part of our community of learners.  Having a UVM new teacher professional development center onsite will be a benefit for GEMS.

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Our school is looking forward to partnering with UVM students next fall. Each student has already met their mentor teacher while attending a school function and completing their site visit.  Our students will benefit greatly from the enthusiasm and interests they all shared. A professional young group of future educators.” – Principal Steve Emery

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The goal of the teaching practicum is for each intern to engage in a variety of teaching and school activities that will encourage their development. The mentor teacher plays a pivotal role in the internship experience as well. They will guide the intern in the application of educational theory and practice within an actual classroom experience.

“Becoming a part of the community and understanding the environment has allowed me to grow as an educator over the course of a year and a half. My current school placement has opened their arms and welcomed student interns and their experiences to learn and adapt best practices. I am proud to see how far I’ve come as an educator from being hesitant to walk a class to lunch in comparison to confidently completing a two week solo with whole group instruction” – Molly Magnan current UVM intern (2017)

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“Forming this partnership is good for both UVM and GEMS. Our teachers get to share their knowledge and expertise with amazing future educators. In turn, UVM will also share with us the latest research on teaching. I know we will also find some “gems” in the rough who will someday teach at Georgia.” – Superintendent Ned Kirsch

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Target 4 – Engaged Community Partners. FWSU staff and students engage in authentic learning opportunities with local, regional, state, and global partners to make a difference in their community, state, and world.

Action Step – Engage community partners in a focused, collaborative inquiry process to address community needs

Indicator of Success – Collaborative projects and partnerships are part of the fabric of the broader community.