‘War at Home: Students Respond to September 11th’ – A One-Act Festival

Earlier this month, the cast and crew of BFA Fairfax High School’s One Act Play, War at Home: Students Respond to September 11th, gathered in the classroom with nervous energy awaiting the arrival of the bus. Today was the day that they had been working towards for the last two months: festival day.

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Cast and crew preparing for the performance

Every year the Vermont Drama Council and Vermont Principals’ Association host the High School One Act festivals across the state. Between four and six schools attend each regional festival for a 16-hour day of theater, friends, laughter, tears, and joy. Students are responsible for the majority of the festival activities from the host school’s decoration and organization of the day’s events to running the Liz Lerman Constructed Response Forum after each school’s production. Students from all walks of life and communities gather at the festival to participate in the incredible world of theater.

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Students in our ‘Phantom of the Opera’ classroom

As the BFA Fairfax bus arrived at Milton High School the energy and excitement was palpable! Students from different schools embraced each other upon arrival, the gracious hosts from Milton provided a quick tour around the building, and then students were off to opening ceremonies. Perhaps the most wonderful thing about theater is how it brings people together.

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All the schools on stage for open mic

Next up was workshops. Fairfax students attended a range of hour-long activities; everything from makeup design, to Vinyasa yoga, and even stage combat was offered. Then the performances began. Six incredible performances from Lamoille, Milton, Stowe, Essex, BFA St. Albans, and, finally, BFA Fairfax. Each performance showcased talented actors, thoughtful stage hands, exuberant lighting technicians, creative sound designers, and more. After each show, the directors leave the students with generous volunteers to participate in Forum while the director’s have a meeting to discuss the strengths of the performance. Ultimately, two high schools move on to the Vermont State One Act Festival. In between performances, students have meals, participate in an open mic style Coffee House, and socialize with their peers.

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Students perform at Coffee House

While all the students of course want to win, incredibly the most important part of the day to the students is the participation in festival itself. Never have you felt a more loving, excited and accepting energy as is found in the festival environment. Fairfax’s cast and crew talked at length about how their favorite day of the year is festival because there is truly nothing like the energy of being surrounded by 200+ passionate theater students.

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Awards

Several Fairfax students received recognition for Excellence in Acting: Annalise Durocher, Nathan Langlois, and Sophie Lee. In addition, Sophie Lee, a Fairfax senior, was selected to be a member of the VT State Drama All Star Cast, which will perform at the State Festival. The Fairfax ensemble was also recognized for Excellence in Tragic Timing. Congratulations to Milton High School and Essex High School for moving on to States! BFA Fairfax and Lamoille High School will be co-hosting the State Drama Festival at Lamoille Union High School on April 7th and 8th for another incredible day of high school theater.

Special thanks to Directors Marcy Perrotte & Sara Villeneuve for contributing to this FWSU Story

Flexible Scheduling at BFA High School

Although spring is still just a hopeful thought, high school students at BFA are already planning for the next school year. The 2017-18 BFA Program of Studies was released this week and represents some of the changes that are happening at BFA to improve teaching and learning. The Program of Studies includes 23 new courses including Interdisciplinary Courses designed for our sophomore students.

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The Interdisciplinary Courses were developed based on feedback from students from the Class of 2020 about their hopes after a year in our new Freshman Core. Other new courses were developed by the various academic departments to provide more opportunities for students to pursue an area of interest.

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Another aspect that will be different for students next year is the introduction of a flexible schedule for classes. Currently, students are enrolled in four 75-minute classes each day. The new flexible schedule will have classes that are 45, 60, 75 and 90 minutes long. The classes will run concurrently throughout the day with different start and end times. 

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Students might start the day with a 45-minute class, followed by a 90-minute class and end the day with a 75-minute class and 60-minute class. The goal is to provide flexibility for learners and match the courses with an appropriate amount of time for the subject and the learners. Interdisciplinary courses will run for 90 minutes, while introductory world language, art and band classes might last only 45 minutes. Some courses will retain their 75-minute length if that time frame works best and others will become 60 minutes long.

The new flexible schedule will allow our students who attend the Essex Tech Center, CTE, to enroll in a 45-minute class at BFA before they board the bus to Essex. BFA students currently start their day at Essex with a math, English or Social Studies course before they begin their program. Our new schedule provides that content instruction at BFA, keeping our tech center students connected to their teachers and peers, and still gets them to the tech center in time for their program.

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The last change in next year’s schedule involves Support Block. Support Block is a 30-minute block that students attend every day to allow time for homework, make-up work, clubs, or quiet social interactions. Next year, Support Block will occur at the end of the day. This change was proposed by students and supported by students for a variety of reasons.

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“All students, having been through all of their classes before Support Block, what they want help with and what they can handle on their own.  – Rachel P., student in her proposal to move Support Block

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Students who play sports sometimes have to be dismissed early to travel for away events. Support Block at the end of the day will reduce the amount of academic class time our student-athletes miss on early dismissal days. Lastly, with support Block at the end of the day, our CTE students will be able to check in when they return from Essex and maintain their connection to their Support Block teacher and peers.

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Flexible scheduling is a step toward the concept of “Mass Customized Learning” which shifts instruction from a time-based to a learning-based approach.

It’s an exciting time for students and teachers at BFA as we begin to reimagine our school day and year to improve teaching and learning and best meet the needs of our students.


Target 3 Flexible Learning Environments – FWSU maximizes flexible learning environments by redefining the school day, promoting learning experiences that extend beyond the classroom, and fostering creativity, innovation, and personalized learning opportunities for all.

Indicators of Success for this Goal – The definition of school day is flexible and responsive to the needs of students.

Action Step – Develop opportunities for students to demonstrate transferable skills in authentic settings

Transferable Skills and the Engineering Design Process at BFA-Fairfax MS

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Over the past month, teachers at BFA-Fairfax Middle School have been attempting to redefine students’ Initiative Time (or Supported Study) experience to be more student-driven, with the purpose of helping students develop 21st-century skills like self-direction, creativity, leadership, and problem-solving.  Last month, for instance, students in Mr. Psaros’ (8th-grade social studies) Initiative Time visited Lake Champlain Chocolates to learn about chocolate production, then donated homemade chocolate to the St. Albans Rehabilitation Center as an act of service to the Franklin County community.  Similarly, students in Mrs. Messier’s (7th-grade science) Supported Study are choosing to participate in one of four project-based learning units over the course of the next several weeks.

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While considering ways to bring together science and math principles from their respective curricula and pose a challenging, authentic problem for students to take the lead in solving, Mrs. Hamm (8th-grade math) and Mrs. Barnes-Cota (8th-grade science) had an idea.  Over the past 10 school days, students in their Initiative Time groups have been immersed in an engineering design process, building and racing two different types of lego-like cars: solar-powered and battery-operated.  Students have worked in groups of four or five, building their cars in preparation for a race against other teams of students with the same type of car.  Students have been extremely engaged, and the air of competition is palpable.  Mrs. Barnes-Cota reports that students have built cars, recognized design flaws, collaborated with their teammates to fix those flaws, and rebuilt their cars to optimize performance.

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An interesting twist: this experience is the first of three.  This time, students are following the directions that come with the car kits.  Next, students will be free to modify and adapt the cars they have built to improve speed and distance.  Finally, in the third iteration, students will be given a pile of parts and just one simple direction: “Build!”  After each round of designing, building, and revising, students will be assessed (and will self-assess) on four of the five Vermont Transferable Skills:

  1. Clear and Effective Communication
  2. Creative and Practical Problem Solving
  3. Responsible and Involved Citizenship
  4. Informed and Integrative Thinking

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Students must demonstrate evidence of these transferable skills in order to graduate from high school.  These Transferable Skills are also the infrastructure for goal-setting within their Personalized Learning Plans, both in middle school and in high school.  Perhaps most important to note about this learning experience is that students are in the driver’s seat (pun intended) when it comes to their learning.

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Learning is a “Blast” at Fletcher Elementary

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Rigorous learning and having a “blast” can go hand-in-hand, as Fletcher Elementary School fifth graders found out recently. Brightly colored model rockets soared into the sky from the school playground, leaving a trail of smoke and newfound knowledge for the school’s fifth graders.

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The young scientists participated in a five-day, 25-hour learning experience at Starbase, an educational affiliate of the U.S. Department of Defense, located on the Vermont Air National Guard Base in Burlington. The program focuses on teaching students about physics, chemistry, technology, engineering, and math, along with possible careers in those fields.

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“It’s all hands-on,” fifth-grader Eric Wimble said. “We learned everything by doing experiments and projects and that will help me remember better than just reading a book.”

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Starbase lessons include everything from exploring an actual F16 fighter jet in the hanger to flying a variety of planes using high-tech flight simulators. Other lessons focused on learning about gravity through cooperative games and learning about air pressure by experimenting on marshmallows.

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“Everything we did was related to an actual real-life problem or idea,” fifth grader Chase Murray said. “It just made sense.”

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In addition to academic concepts, the Starbase program aims to foster collaboration and healthy decision-making by students, as well as building community and exposing students to cutting-edge technology. Each “Starbaser,” as they have come to be called, selects a “call sign” for themselves, just as pilots on the base would do. Students and staff are referred to by their call signs, which reflect one of more personal interests or attributes, throughout the Starbase experience.

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Starbase opened its doors in 1994 and has more than 1,300 student participants annually. There are both Burlington and Rutland, Vermont, campuses.

During the program’s physics component, students study Newton’s Laws of Motion by conducting hands-on experiments that include building and launching model rockets. Many parents and much of the rest of the school turned out to watch the Fletcher fifth graders launch their rockets in early February. Other Starbase topics include fuel mechanics and aerodynamics, much of which is learned through experiments and observations of military planes that enter and exit the base on which Starbase is housed.

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“Starbase is a combination of rigorous and fun academics, career exploration, and the teaching and building of community and social skills,” fifth-grade teacher Cassandra Underwood said. “It’s the whole package, and it takes place in an exciting and engaging atmosphere.”

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Building blocks of matter, physical and chemical changes and atmospheric properties are all emphasized in Starbase’s chemistry strand. Additionally, technology innovations including the latest in mapping, nanotechnology, robotics and chromatography (a method for separating organic and inorganic compounds to determine their make-up) are featured.

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“It just makes you want to learn more and more,” Murray said. “It’s so much fun that you can’t get enough.”

Target 3. Flexible Learning Environments – FWSU maximizes flexible learning environments by redefining the school day, promoting learning experiences that extend beyond the classroom, and fostering creativity, innovation and personalized learning opportunities for all.

Action Steps – (1) Increase access to resources for all students. (2) Provide students with access to content, resources and methods for learning beyond the school day and beyond the school walls. (3) Develop opportunities for students to demonstrate transferable skills in authentic settings.

Indicators of Success – Staff, students and the community embrace digital, social, mobile learning styles. (2) The school calendar and definition of the school day is flexible and responsive to the needs of students. (3) Students engage in answering authentic questions and solving problems in collaborative settings. (4) Flexible learning environments are the context for collaboration and extend beyond the classroom.

PBIS for Paraeducators

On Monday, November 21st, Chris Dodge and Frank Calano designed and facilitated an in-service training for paraprofessionals.

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The focus of the institute, PBIS for Paraeducators, explored the elements of Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) as a part of a Multi-Tiered System of Support and its application to support universal best practices for all students. PBIS is a schoolwide system of support that focuses on teaching strategies  and supporting student behaviors to create a positive school environment. Paraeducators play an integral role in supporting student and applying PBIS strategies to promote the school-wide success of this approach. The training provided the background information about PBIS along with its practical application. Paraeducators had an opportunity to practiced strategies on with peers by recognizing and labeling positive behaviors.

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The institute concluded with a presentation from Joelle van Lent on the topic of Differential Discipline, “Fair is not equal. Fair is meeting the needs of every student”. She covered the importance of developing relationships and creating a sense of belonging for all students.  This was a thought-provoking training that had a practical application and connected the topic of PBIS with daily work of a paraeducator. It was an engaging presentation which concluded with a thoughtful group discussion.

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Paras had this to say:

  • My take away from today is to try to inspire the child to be part of the group so they feel like they belong and are invested. 
  • Learning my child was not unique and what causes a lot of the problem.  There is no simple solution, but being here.
  • Celebration Moment: My ah-ha moment was Joelle’s presentation. Defining differential discipline as being both a community challenge and community solution. She brought specific scenarios that I could relate to my specifically assigned students. I now have ideas to work with – as well as utilizing PBIS language. I am looking forward to Fairfax having a more cohesive approach to these behavior challenges. Thank you.
  • I learned that rewards that are relational are about social connection not “related” to the problem that arose.
  • Good Company, Good Info!  Love Joelle! Thank you for group work. This was one of the best!  Hope we can work with teachers on this in the future.
  • I am going to re-evaluate how my “lunch bunch” group is set up, including having them participate in brainstorming their rules and responsibilities. Thank you for today.
  • Addressed how we can change behavior at all levels.
  • Joelle always bring me to a good place to start fresh with our kiddos!
  • Positive behavioral integration system, naming the behavior you want them to repeat. Taken – when you notice them reaching the expectation.

It was a great day of professional learning!

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Target 3. Flexible Learning Environments: FWSU maximizes flexible learning environments by redefining the school day, promoting learning experiences that extend beyond the classroom, and fostering creativity, innovation, and personalized learning opportunities for all.

Science Friday at BFA: Kindergarten Students Engage with the Outdoors

outdoork1Last year our Kindergarten team began going out into the walking trails behind our school every Friday.  The intention was to engage students in hands-on learning opportunities outside of the classroom and explore the wonderful woods and trails on our school property.

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Every Friday they focus on a different topic through the outdoor classroom.  This week, students in Mrs. Green’s class read the book, A Log’s Life by Wendy Pfeffer. The class talked about what to look for in our woods.

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Each student was given a partner, a plastic bag to collect materials, and a Popsicle stick to dig.  They spent time exploring decayed logs and stumps, looking for evidence of insects and other wildlife.  Back in the classroom, the children sat with their partner and looked through what they brought in.  Each child received a Tri-lens to examine what was in their tray and made discoveries about roots, soil, bark, and moss.

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Teachers report that Science Fridays and their walks outside have been extremely engaging and have provided many benefits for our students.  They share that students naturally engage in play-based learning and spontaneously form collaborative groups while in the woods.  Other benefits include increased student awareness of their natural surroundings and the differences in Vermont’s seasons, as well as increased engagement and focus inside and outside of the classroom.  We look forward to continuing these flexible learning opportunities and increasing our students’ appreciation of all that Vermont has to offer each season.

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Eighth Grade at BFA-Fairfax Heading to Boston in April 2017

In late June of 2015, BFA-Fairfax Middle School teachers met with principal Tom Walsh for a two-day retreat to discuss ways to best meet the needs of students in the coming school year. Tom provided donuts. Despite the donuts’ sky-high glycemic index, the middle school faculty sustained an engaging, thoughtful discussion that lasted all day, churning out ideas that had immediate and positive impacts on students. For instance, the staff agreed that homework would be eliminated in the middle school.  Teachers charted the implementation of student PLPs. Technology integrationist Rhonda Siemons helped teachers generate methods for engaging families via Schoology. Perhaps most exciting was the decision that, beginning in 2017, each eighth-grade class would travel to Boston to support curriculum and instruction across core academic classes.

Inside the Boston Museum of Science.

Inside the Boston Museum of Science

On April 20-21, 2017, students and teachers will be busy learning and team-building in one of our nation’s oldest cities. Mr. Psaros will spend much of this fall and winter teaching students about our nation’s democratic roots, with a look at our election process as well as a deep-dive into the origins of our constitution and its Revolutionary War influences. What better way to extend this learning than to stand in the Old South Meeting House, where Samuel Adams persuaded the Sons of Liberty to dump 30 tons of tea into the Boston Harbor? Or to visit the home in which Paul Revere lived at the time of his messenger ride to Lexington?

Statue of Paul Revere.

Statue of Paul Revere

Mrs. Barnes-Cota will be teaching about forces, including the forces of electricity and magnetism. On the heels of these lessons, students will have the opportunity to stand mere feet from the world’s largest Van de Graff generator (see below).

World’s Largest Van de Graff generator, Boston Museum of Science

World’s Largest Van de Graff generator, Boston Museum of Science

On Tuesday, October 25, teachers and Principal Tom Walsh met with families to discuss the rationale for this field trip, as well as to answer questions from parents and students. Families were extremely encouraged and enthusiastic about making this trip happen. At the meeting, Tom made clear that our mission is to ensure that every student is able to participate in this trip, regardless of ability to pay, in keeping BFA-Fairfax’s commitment to the learning of every student and to the support of all our families.

The Massachusetts State House

The Massachusetts State House

Students, teachers, and administrators would like to thank the community for their continued support of our students. Fundraising efforts from last year’s “BFA’s Got Talent” show, as well as proceeds from middle school dances and bottle drives have helped to make this educational opportunity a possibility. It’s an exciting time to be an eighth-grade student or parent. We hope to make this trip to Boston a tradition at BFA-Fairfax Middle School for many years to come!