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

Featured

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  therapydogs.org.  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.

4E_SDG_Icons-17

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.

IMG_0870

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.

IMG_0817

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.

collage-1.jpg

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.

collage-2.jpg

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.

IMG_3846

IMG_3852

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.  

IMG_3856

IMG_3854

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.

IMG_3853

IMG_3850

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.  

IMG_3849


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.

LRFPC4

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.

IMG_3745

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.

IMG_3710

IMG_3705

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.

IMG_3715

IMG_3701

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.

IMG_3773

IMG_3695

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.

IMG_3682

IMG_3686

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.

IMG_3657

IMG_3738

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.

IMG_4610

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.

IMG_4637

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.

IMG_4631

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.

IMG_4578

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.

IMG_4643

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.