THE FWSU STORY: Fletcher Celebrates World Read-Aloud Day

Students at the Fletcher Elementary School recently celebrated the joys of reading by participating in World Read Aloud Day (WRAD). Established by LitWorld International, WRAD is an event that celebrates people across the globe reading and sharing books together while advocating for literacy for all.


World Read Aloud Day is a celebration of literacy in many forms: reading books aloud, favorite books and book characters, celebrating authors and illustrators, and connecting with readers around the world.


In Fletcher, several classrooms hosted celebrity readers who shared a cherished book to read aloud. Mr. Dodge, Mrs. Locke, Mrs. Steves, and a Fletcher parent were among the special guest readers who shared in the celebration of great books!


To help promote World Read Aloud Day, a whole group of book authors offered free virtual visits with schools. Fletcher 6th graders visited with the amazing author, Casey Lyall, who connected with them from her home in Canada. Ms. Lyall read to the students from her books and engaged in an engaging question and answer session with the students.


Another wonderful connection took place when several classes visited with Pennsylvania children’s book author, Mara Rockliff, who talked with students via a web connection. These author visits were incredible opportunities for students to engage with a professional author and share World Read Aloud Day globally.


In library-based art classes, all students listened to a read-aloud book and created a picture of their favorite book character. The characters became the focus of a library bulletin board where they are bounding out of a giant book! World Read Aloud Day was a great time for enjoying and sharing the love of reading for our students.



Emily DiGiulio is the Library Media and Technology Specialist at Fletcher Elementary School. Follow her on Twitter @Librologist .

THE FWSU STORY: Ultimate Achieves Varsity Status at BFA Fairfax

If you’ve never heard the terms cut, layout, flick, hammer, huck, flow, or pull in relation to a spring sport, that is soon about to change.

Ultimate BFA Fairfax Team Logo

Ultimate BFA Fairfax Team Logo

These terms are commonplace in describing various skills in the world of ultimate (formerly known as ultimate frisbee), which is set to become BFA Fairfax’s newest varsity sport during the 2018-19 school year. The Fairfax School Board voted at their January meeting to add the sport which, according to the Wall Street Journal “combines speed, grace, and powerful hurling at a grueling pace.”  


Students competing in Ultimate at BFA Fairfax.

In November 2017, the Vermont Principals Association unanimously approved ultimate as a varsity sport, making Vermont the first state in the nation to do so. Although it will be Fairfax’s newest offering in the school’s lineup of Varsity sports, ultimate is by no means new to the BFA Fairfax school community. BFA has fielded both boys and girls club teams for over a decade, garnering multiple Vermont state championships, as well as a girl’s national ranking in 2016.  Over the years, ultimate has possessed some of the highest participation numbers of any co-curricular offering at BFA Fairfax, and the decision to attain full varsity status should only serve to maintain, if not boost those numbers.  


Ultimate at BFA Fairfax

What is ultimate?  As a basic description, ultimate is played by teams of seven on a slightly smaller field than a football field.  Teams score by passing a disc down the field with the intent of one of their own players catching it in the end zone.  If the disc is dropped, possession goes to the other team.  What makes ultimate unique is that it is non-contact, and officiated by the players themselves, even at the World Championship level.  Responsibility for fair play is on the players, which is a valuable life skill unique to this exciting new sport.  


Ultimate Game at BFA Fairfax

The spring of 2018 will be as busy as ever for our ultimate club at BFA Fairfax.  However, this final spring as a club will surely be one of increased excitement as our teams gear up to don BFA Fairfax maroon and white as our school’s newest varsity sport in 2019!

THE FWSU STORY: Meet Cathy O’Brien, Fletcher’s Wellness Rockstar!

Note: In late 2017, Fletcher Elementary’s STEM Teacher Leader, Denette Locke, recognized Fletcher Kindergarten Teacher, Cathy O’Brien’s, journey to wellness with a nomination for the “Wellness Rockstar” designation from the Vermont School Boards Insurance Trust (VSBIT). Below is the profile VSBIT created to recognize Mrs. O’Brien’s inspirational story. 


Fletcher Elementary Kindergarten Teacher, Cathy O’Brien was recently recognized as a Wellness Rockstar by Vermont School Boards Insurance Trust.

“Catherine O’Brien exemplifies the definition of wellness and is a rock star extraordinaire,” said Denette Locke, one of her colleagues in the Fletcher School classroom on the day we visited. “She is a powerful role model who has demonstrated how valuable making good choices and taking care of one’s health can truly be.”

O’Brien has been an integral part of the educational community for the past 24 years and in the classroom, she instills an environment for learning for all,” said Locke. “She engages her students in practicing mindfulness activities, yoga and a variety of other fitness routines to help them succeed socially, emotionally and academically.”

Ms. O'Brien regularly incorporates physical movement into the classroom.

Ms. O’Brien regularly incorporates physical movement into the classroom.

“I do lots of (physical) exercises in school with my students because I know it helps their brains,” said O’Brien. “And as a result, several parents are supporting more movement for their children. “

O’Brien has served in various capacities, first as a kindergarten teacher, then as a first and second-grade teacher, and this year she is working with kindergarten students once again.

“There was never any question about my career, “O’Brien said as she laughed. “I knew I was destined to be a teacher because I’m surrounded by family members who are teachers.”

At three years of age, O’Brien received a diagnosis of Type I Diabetes.  “Though in my youth, I ate what I wanted. I now focus on eating foods low in fat … and have become quite invested in fitness.  For a long time I had put myself on the back burner and was not taking care of myself,” she said.  “Eventually, I recognized that had to change because, as a diabetic, I need regular exercise to regulate my blood sugar.”

Her foray into fitness began with a Jazzercise class.


Cathy enjoys various forms of exercise including Pilates.

“I was extremely apprehensive about group exercise classes,” she said, reminiscing. “Now, I love them and am a big part of the Peace of Mind Pilates Studio in Essex that one of my good friends owns.  I clean the studio and teach some of the classes. Three to five times a week I participate in Pilates, Barre, TRX, and yoga.”

In the warmer months, you might find O’Brien on a paddleboard practicing yoga poses or standing on her head. “I like being upside down,” she said.

O’Brien is anything but upside down most of the time. She’s moving throughout her classroom and is available to serve as a resource for staff seeking guidance about improving their fitness and reducing their stress. She also coordinates the annual staff wellness initiative at Fletcher.

As a Wellness Rockstar, Cathy O’Brien is a role model for staff and students alike!

Congratulations to Cathy O'Brien, Wellness Rockstar!

Cathy O’Brien is a positive role model for her students and colleagues. 

Congratulations, Cathy!

THE FWSU STORY: A Parent Guide to Extended Learning During the Holidays

Our students will soon begin the holiday recess and with no school in session, parents and families may be looking for fun, meaningful activities to engage their child. Here is a handy guide for parents to make learning fun over the holidays.

Parent Holiday Guide Banner

Although these are available any time of the year, we wanted to share them with you as an opportunity to explore when students are home for the next week during the holiday break.

Discovery Education logo

Discovery Education offers a wide variety of free family resources that you can trust for you and your children. Discovery Education has collected and provided some uniquely designed resources with parents in mind.

Discovery Education has virtual field trips that provide opportunities for students and their families to go beyond the classroom walls to visit and learn through immersive learning experiences anytime— no permission slips required.

Live From the Farm: Technology and Soil Science

Live From the Farm: Technology and Soil Science

Powered by Discovery Educations network of family programming, there are also several resources to engage students learning on amazing topics like shark weektelescopes, or virtual reality. They even have virtual class pets, live animal cams.

Shark Week featured on Discovery Ed

Shark Week feature

Here are links to additional resources you can find to help parents and students with learning:

  • Homework Help: Resources to help students and parents helping students find the answers they need.
  • Motivation Station: Creative and useful ideas for parents to help motivate kids.
  • Step-by-Step WebMATH: Get help for math problems in real-time, then see the solution and how to get there yourself … step-by-step.

Discovery Ed Virtual Field Trips

Please take advantage of these free resources and more so you and your students can enjoy learning anytime and anywhere.

THE FWSU STORY: BFA Fairfax Team Poutine Takes Second Place in UVM Aiken Maker Challenge

On Saturday, BFA Fairfax’s Robotics and Engineering Club, affectionately known as Team Poutine, participated in the 3rd Annual Aiken K-12 Maker Faire & Engineering Challenge (formerly known as the TASC challenge) at UVM, hosted by UVM’s College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences.

BFA Fairfax Team Poutine at the third annual K-12 Maker Faire & Engineering Challenge.

BFA Fairfax Team Poutine at the third annual K-12 Maker Faire & Engineering Challenge.

So, what’s with the name? Last year, when we were rebooting the team, students proposed a variety of options for a fun, new name. Of all the options, Team Poutine came out on top, with The Narwhals coming in a close second. In fact, it was close enough that we worked out a compromise: we adopted the moniker, Team Poutine, as our official name, and the Narwhal as our mascot.


Team Poutine’s official mascot!

My wife is a whimsical artist, and quickly needle-felted a Narwhal mascot for the team, who attends the events with us, and loves to ride upon the contraptions the team creates. Of course, the Narwhal needed a name, and only one name fit the bill: Poutine the Narwhal.



But why Poutine? Isn’t poutine just greasy, cheesy fries? No. Poutine is innovation. Poutine is taking components that don’t necessarily seem like they would go together at first glance–cheese, gravy, french-fries–and trying it anyway. Poutine is creating something new and glorious by reconfiguring the mundane.

This year’s challenge was to design a launcher for ping pong balls that would be both accurate and flexible, in order to get the balls through a variety of targets, from rolling on the ground to flying through the air, to banking shots in from opposing angles.

The challenge.

The challenge.

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Creating something new by rethinking the mundane.

Each team randomly selected the targets they would have to work with at the start of each match by pulling tiles from a bag.  The team then had time to strategize regarding how to best place those targets for the match, before entering their set-up period.


The team at work!

Scored ping pong balls were worth different point values based on how far away from the launcher they were set up, and whether the target was an easy or a hard target. Further points would be awarded if a team got closer to balancing the number of balls scored through all of the targets.


The team works on the prototype of their design.

Teams from middle and high schools across Vermont participated in the challenge this year, with a wide range of innovative means of approaching the challenge, from pitching style machines, to catapults, to flick’em up contraptions and even an impromptu human-breath powered launcher in the finals when one of the other teams’ original designs malfunctioned.


Students at BFA Fairfax started working together to innovate, design, and create their contraption early this fall, as soon as the challenge rules were released. After a brainstorming session early on, we had a number of design ideas that students wanted to pursue. One of the very first ideas the team tried out was to use a catapult for the challenge.  Ultimately, though, after looking more closely at the challenge specifications and discussing the pro’s and con’s of the different possibilities further, the team landed on creating a pitching-machine inspired launcher, with a pair of powered wheels spinning in opposite directions to shoot the balls forward.

The design process.

The design process.

The initial prototype the students designed was created entirely from parts that we already had available from previous challenges the team had participated in. The team quickly discovered, however, that we had never faced a challenge like this one before. The motors that we had were all geared much more for torque than speed. You can see the first prototype in action (or inaction) here.


Tools are essential, but so is good communication throughout the design process.

After some research on YouTube and Amazon, the team was able to find some new motors within our budgetary constraints that were rated for +/- 18,000RPM, and a potentiometer to adjust and control the speed of their rotation. And of course, as Uncle Ben would tell Peter Parker, with great power comes great responsibility. With the new motors, the team quickly discovered that they needed a new way to attach them to the device, and perhaps just needed a new device altogether.  As team-member, Robbie Dearborn put it, “I learned that the materials you use can change the entire plan. Some materials give you more opportunities to build in different directions; to design and build the concept you really want to build.” So, back to the drawing board they went, and then it was time to break out the 3D printer, saws, and screwdrivers!


The design takes shape!

Team Poutine learned the value of good communication throughout the design process, and the competition as well. But the actual competition wasn’t the only component. The team also presented their engineering design story to a panel of judges, reflecting on the entire process from start to finish.

The team presents their design to the panel at the UVM Aiken Maker Challenge.

The team presents their design to the panel at the UVM Aiken Maker Challenge.

When all was said and done, Team Poutine had climbed the ranks to second place overall, out of roughly thirty teams from across the state, and brought home a fun, new robotics kit to put to use for future challenges! But that’s not all they brought home with them. Team Poutine brought home a renewed sense of pride in our school and a lot of great ideas and positive energy.

BFA's Team Poutine takes 2nd place!

BFA’s Team Poutine takes 2nd place!

And this morning, they were right back at it, switching gears and starting fresh to prepare for what’s next: the FIRST Tech Challenge in Essex this February! This team of student innovators cannot wait to move innovation forward.

Harold Vance III

Today’s guest post was contributed by Harold Vance III, the Flexible Learning Coordinator at BFA Fairfax. He tweets at @SensingPlace.

THE FWSU STORY: Using Self Direction to Solve Problems in GEMS Innovation Lab

This year, GEMS Innovation Lab has a choice class offering for middle school students to explore and design solutions for authentic problems using rapid prototyping. This is the second year GEMS has offered this type of innovative choice class to students. You can review last year’s blog post featuring the class here.

Students review rapid prototyping process.

Students review rapid prototyping process.

Rapid prototyping is the speedy creation of a full-scale model. The word prototype comes from the Latin words proto (original) and typus (model). Prototyping allows the student product designers to design and test their products efficiently avoiding time-consuming and costly production.

Student using sewing machine.

Student using a sewing machine to create a project.

GEMS Innovation Lab provides students with a variety of tools to use for rapid prototyping.

This course allows students to become creative, critical thinkers. Working in teams students develop communication skills to create a dialogue to solve problems. The course encourages students to encourage to move beyond their current methods of thinking and engage in new, innovative methods.

The co-teachers Eric Hadd and Dayle Payne, facilitate the students to be active in their learning through self-guided discussions, questions, and the design process. While both teachers provide guidance in student discussions and questioning, they avoid giving answers to all questions promoting self-direction.


Students solving authentic problems in the innovation lab through rapid prototyping.

This innovative class allows students develop their inquiry skills, and to begin to engage in thinking more independently.


‘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.

BFA War at Home 1

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.

BFA War at Home 2

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.

BFA War at Home 3

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.

BFA War at Home 4

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.

BFA War at Home 5


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