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.”

BFA Fairfax Celebrates Music In Our Schools Month

 IMG_3612As winter turns to spring, the BFA Fairfax community looks forward melting snow, spring sports, and maple sugaring.  However, another popular event also marks this important time period during the school year. Every March, schools across the country celebrate Music In Our Schools Month (MIOSM).  MIOSM is an annual celebration during the month of March that engages music educators, students, and communities from around the United States in promoting the benefits of high quality music education programs in our schools.  BFA Fairfax has taken part in a multitude of activities during the past two weeks to show off the talents of our music department students and faculty, as well bring the community together to celebrate the benefits of music education.

On Saturday, March 24th, 2018, fifty middle school chorus students from BFA Fairfax participated in an event hosted by United States Senator Bernie Sanders.  Senator Sanders organized what he called a “Town Hall Meeting on Arts and Education” in order to bring awareness to the importance of arts education in our school and the important skills and values that it teaches our students.  


Seven choruses from around the state performed, including high school groups from area schools such as Essex and South Burlington High School.  In the words of BFA choral director Christina Maynard, “BFA students were engaged audience members for the rehearsals and were in awe of the performances by the high school groups.  They expressed their excitement to me and were wide-eyed as I reminded them that in a few years, they will be performing that caliber of music.”

Before the concert, Senator Bernie Sanders met with the over 200 students that attended (elementary to college students) in the Band room at CVU.  He spent about 45 minutes fielding questions from the students ranging from, “Did you ever sing in chorus?” and ‘What is your favorite band?”, to very serious questions about gun control and health care.  BFA Fairfax students asked thoughtful questions that truly reflected the high quality education that they receive. Many students were eager to talk to Mr. Sanders personally and were able to get autographs and photographs with him.  IMG_1152

BFA Fairfax received many compliments on their singing as well as their outstanding behavior during the very long day.  It was a fantastic learning experience for our students and teachers and we are hoping that Senator Sanders will host the event again next year!  Thank you to our wonderful chaperones and the overwhelming community support for our music programs.

On Tuesday, March 27, the elementary school came together for the afternoon to celebrate music in our schools month. Students & staff were able to take part by listening to a variety of musical performances from teachers and classmates. The elementary school was treated to multiple musical acts including singing, ukulele, guitar, drum circle, saxophone duet, and even a guest appearance from the BFA Fairfax middle school chorus and high school band. It was wonderful to be able to come together for an afternoon to appreciate the talent, support, and pride that our school community has for the arts.IMG_1151

Lastly, on Wednesday, March 28, the Fairfax community was treated to the annual pops concert, with performances by the combined Fletcher and BFA Fairfax Elementary bands, as well as the BFA Fairfax middle school band and chorus, and high school band and chorus.  In front of a standing room only crowd in the Richard A. Brown Gymnasium, student musicians kept attendees swaying, clapping and tapping their feet to the sounds of pieces from Queen, the Who, the Beatles, and many other well-known groups.IMG_1150

If the events of the past two weeks are any indication, music is alive and well at BFA Fairfax.  We need to extend our heartfelt thanks to our music educators Christina Maynard, Ian Flint, and Sarah Wolff, our supportive community members, and most importantly our talented student musicians.  We look forward to seeing you at our upcoming music events:

Grades 3-5 Concert, May 16

Grades K-2 Concert, May 21

MS/HS Concert, May 23

THE FWSU STORY: March Madness is Alive at BFA Fairfax

For sports fans everywhere, the month of March brings the transition from the winter to spring athletic season, the (hopeful) spring thaw, and the inevitable excitement created by the NCAA basketball tournament, more commonly known as “March Madness.”

BFA Fairfax Bullets Varsity Basketball team

BFA Fairfax is experiencing its own version of March Madness this week as our Varsity boys basketball team will be playing in the Vermont Division 3 Final Four for the first time in ten years!


Led by a strong core of veteran players, a talented group of underclassmen, and first-year Varsity coach Dave Demar, the #6 seeded Bullets will take on #3 Williamstown in the state semifinals on Thursday, March 15 at 8:15pm.  A win would put the team in their first state title appearance since 2008, and hopefully pave the way for BFA Fairfax’s first-ever boys basketball state championship. Prior to 2008, the last boys team to experience this level of success dates back to 1965 and 1966 when the boys won the Class M Northern Final at UVM’s Patrick Gymnasium. Although our girls basketball program has had a number of league titles and final four appearances in recent years, the last girls state title dates back to 1981. Needless to say, a win on Thursday night will create a level of basketball fever that the community of Fairfax has not experienced for quite some time.


For those interested in purchasing tickets to the game, they will be on sale in the high school main office until 12pm on Thursday.  The Fairfax community has always been extremely passionate about basketball, with unbelievable levels of fan support at all games, at all levels of play.  We look forward to bringing our community together once again as the Varsity boys look to make history on Thursday night in Barre.


See you there, 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: Fletcher Engages with National Author on World Read Aloud Day

In support of World Read Aloud Day, which is February 1st, children’s book author Mara Rockliff visited our school today.  Mara started her visit sharing a picture of her rowhouse in Pennsylvania. Then she shared a map of what it would look like if she were to drive to our school for a visit. The drive would take about eight hours, but she said it would be a little be longer than that because she would need to stop at Lake Champlain Chocolates first.


Our visit started with some questions that were generated by second and third graders during their library time with Mrs. DiGiulio. The audience learned that she is inspired by events in history that most people would not know much about. She gave the example of watching a jazz movie with her daughter and they realized that all the jazz players were boys. After doing a little research she found out about Lil Hardin Armstrong and her contribution to the history of jazz. This is what inspired her new book, Born to Swing.


The audience learned that she has written over 50 books and she chose to virtually share her book Gingerbread for Liberty. 

Christopher Ludwick is a German-born American patriot with a big heart and a talent for baking the best gingerbread in Philadelphia. No one goes hungry if he can help it–“Not in my America!” he says. When cries of “Revolution!” begin, Christopher marches off to feed General Washington and his hungry troops. But Washington never expects his favorite baker to sneak off on a risky secret mission across enemy lines…


Mara Rockliff shared that she has written a collection of mystery books under the pen name of Lewis B. Montgomery. She chose this name from her favorite three authors, C.S. Lewis, E.B. White, and L.M. Montgomery. At the end of our time with Mara, the students in first, second, third, and sixth grade also had the chance to meet her dog Daisy who often keeps her company while she writes.

THE FWSU STORY: Art Exchange Teaches Fletcher Students About Community

A collaborative art project is connecting Fletcher Elementary School students with their peers at BFA Fairfax in an effort to build an increased sense of community.


The idea for a student art exchange was born from a two-day Professional Learning Institute organized as part of the Franklin West Supervisory Union’s teacher inservice days earlier in the school year. The district’s Learning Institutes promote collaboration and professional learning between FWSU schools and capitalize on expertise both within and outside the supervisory union.

Fletcher Elementary’s second and third-grade teacher, Lorrene Palermo, along with art teacher MC Baker, and BFA art teacher Kim Desjardins, conceived of the art exchange idea based on the concept of artist trading cards, or ATCs. Introduced in 1997 by Swiss artist Vanci Stirnemann, ATCs resemble sports trading cards in both appearance and concept. Originally, artists created unique trading cards that were signed and traded as part of a collaborative cultural performance. At Fletcher and BFA, students created and exchanged unique bookmarks based on the original idea.bookmark1

“We wanted to build a connection between our students as well as a greater sense of community,” Baker said. “Our schools are so close to each other yet they often seem so far apart. Too frequently we live in our own little world. It’s important to learn about – and with – others.”

Students from both schools used FaceTime, an online video communication platform, to work on the project. In Fletcher, students studied American Abstract Expressionist painter Mark Rothko’s “color field” paintings and discussed how colors evoke emotions in art.

“Students were excited to see that their art can reach a wider audience,” Baker said. “It helps them understand that their work can easily be viewed both in the school hallway and across the globe. The word “audience” is no longer limited by someone’s ability to drive to a gallery or theater. There are many ways to share art.”


At Fletcher, Lessons emphasized art-related vocabulary, as well as Rothko’s style of adding layers of colors and tones to a painting. Using textured rollers, brushes and their hands, students worked in groups to design paintings on large sheets of paper that would ultimately be divided into the individual bookmarks.

“The group work was lots of fun and an exciting, collaborative approach to making art,” Baker said. “It complimented the project’s theme of a community share through art.”


Using music, books, discussion, yoga breaks and other sources of inspiration, students brainstormed the words that would ultimately be written on their bookmarks. The final step in the project was to learn about mazes and labyrinths and create such a design on each bookmark using three-dimensional paint.

“The ideas was that there would be a centering and calming word on one side, followed by a finger maze or labyrinth on the other side,” Baker said. “The whole bookmark would be created from the student’s paintings and would be a resource for them when they need to refocus.”


According to Baker, the project focused on four Global Goals, including teaching students about good health and well being, reducing inequity, providing a quality education and peace and justice within strong institutions. The project also focused on art standards that included students creating, presenting, responding and connecting.

The bookmarks were exchanged between the Fletcher and BFA students.

THE FWSU STORY: It’s Time to Take the Plunge!

The Penguin Plunge is Special Olympics Vermont’s largest annual fundraising effort with events in Burlington and at Stratton Mountain. Last year individual BFA Fairfax members joined forces to create a truly amazing Penguin Plunge team.

A BFA Fairfax student bravely takes the Penguin Plunge to support Special Olympics Vermont.
A BFA Fairfax student bravely takes the Penguin Plunge to support Special Olympics Vermont.

Together, the 16 team members raised just under $4,500 for Special Olympics Vermont! Their fundraising efforts provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in thirteen Olympic-type sports for more than 1,310 athletes with intellectual disabilities. The organization works to break down barriers for children and adults with disabilities and provide life-changing sports opportunities. Unified Sports offers students with and without disabilities opportunities to train and compete together as they build communities of respect and inclusion.

The BFA Fairfax Penguin Plunge Team 2017!
The BFA Fairfax Penguin Plunge Team 2017!

This year’s Penguin Plunge will take place at the Burlington Waterfront Park on February 3, 2018. The event starts at 9am and teams will enter the water in staggered waves beginning at 11am. We are looking for participants! Please join, Heather Weeks, Cindy Anderson, Saybra Varisano, Madison Lutz, Michelle Lynch, Wyeth Haddock, Hunter French, Wyatt French, Rowan Albee, Tristan Metruk, Josh Metruk, Aydin Naylor, Adam Lawrence and Oliver Lawrence plunge into the icy waters of Lake Champlain.

Taking the icy Plunge for a good cause!
Taking the icy Plunge for a good cause!

Want to be part of the Penguin Plunge in 2018? There’s still time to register for the BFA Fairfax team. If you would support the work of Special Olympics Vermont you can make a donation to our team – it’s fast and easy.

Team BFA Fairfax!
Team BFA Fairfax!

Join us at the Penguin Plunge 2018 and cheer us on as we show that we’ve got 32 degrees of courage!

THE FWSU STORY: A Closer Look at the Arts at BFA Fairfax Elementary

The last few weeks have provided multiple opportunities for our elementary students to showcase their hard work and performance skills to authentic audiences and our students have not disappointed.

The cast of Hansel & Gretel

This time of year is always full of events that engage our community in celebrating our music, visual, and dramatic arts programs. Whether a band concert, a holiday choral concert, a showcase of student artwork posted throughout the school, or a drama performance, our students are challenging themselves to learn and grow.

3-5 Grade Concert
3-5 Grade Concert
3-5 Grade Concert

The Arts programs at BFA Fairfax have steadily grown over the past few years through the opportunities and numbers of students participating. I am so proud of our students for enthusiastically embracing the opportunities to act, sing, play music, and create artwork.

Elementary Artwork
Elementary Artwork
Elementary Artwork

We are fortunate to have amazing staff members that foster our students’ interest and share their passion for the Arts.

K-2 Concert

Finally, a huge thank you to our community for providing the financial support, continuing to attend our concerts and plays, and admiring our emerging artists.

Elementary Artwork
Elementary Artwork

The past few weeks have served as another reminder to me that the Arts are thriving at BFA Fairfax Elementary!

Principal Tom Walsh

Thomas Walsh is the Principal of BFA Fairfax Elementary Middle School and is a regular contributor to the FWSU Blog. You can follow him on Twitter @educatamount

THE FWSU STORY: BFA Fairfax Students Experience World Cultures at the International Festival

On December 1st, students in BFA World Language classes attended the International Festival in Essex.

The International Festival is held in Essex each year.

The students were working to meet the Culture Proficiency in the World Language Proficiency Based Graduation Requirements. The International Festival is sponsored by the Vermont Performing Arts League as “annual celebration of cultures from around the world, bring their crafts, food, music, and dance to our doorstep.” The field trip was organized by BFA World Language teachers Kerri Brien and Alana Torraca.

“It was a great experience at the Vermont International Festival to see the other cultures around world and experience what they experience.” -Student

Students learned more about world cultures through this experience.
Students learned more about world cultures at the International Festival.

The students’ goal was to answer the question: “What is culture?” and help to create a diversity statement for BFA.  When they arrived, the students entered an exhibition hall filled with crafters from over 40 countries. They interacted with the crafters and were able to purchase items for themselves and others.

Items from around the world were available for purchase and were on display.

“It was exciting to move in sync toward a cultural competency goal with our growing World Languages program!  I witnessed BFA Fairfax students at the Vermont International Festival tasting international foods they’ve never seen before and bringing home the unique crafts from a variety of countries.” -Kerri Brien, Spanish teacher

Musicians provided students with an intercultural learning experience during the trip.

Within the main hall, there were two performance spaces featuring a variety of musicians from different cultures. Several students took advantage of the opportunity to dance along with other students in attendance.

The international food was an incredible experience for our students!

Near one of the performances spaces, the Festival had a food court where students were able to purchase ethnic food from countries including Ethiopia, Austria, Africa, Turkey, Tibet and the Philippines.

Students presented their learning to the rest of the school.
Cultural Ambassadors presented their learning to the rest of the school.

“Because Fairfax is such a small school the International Festival was a great way to view all the cultures we don’t usually see.” -Student

After a morning spent exploring culture, the students returned to BFA to begin the work of making meaning out of their experience-which is where learning happens. They created visual representations of culture. They surveyed other students and staff about diversity. The students displayed their cultural ideas at a cultural fair in the high school main lobby. They displayed artifacts (many from the collections of their teachers), videos and their definitions of culture. Students from the elementary, middle and high schools stopped to speak with and learn from our cultural ambassadors.

“As we continued to explore culture and diversity after the festival, students looked at diversity statements from other schools and discussed the need for a diversity statement at BFA.” -Alana Torraca, French teacher

Clothing from around the world was on display at school.
Clothing from around the world was on display at school.

“It’s important to show that diversity is not what you look like or what you wear; it’s about what you believe and value”- Weston, student