BFA Fairfax Class of 2017 Enjoys Graduation Tradition

As the school year comes to a close, BFA has many traditions that lead to the final ceremony: graduation. One such tradition is the Senior Class Trip. Members of BFA’s Class of 2017 embarked on a journey earlier this week to enjoy some time together in a relaxed atmosphere filled with sunshine, food, and activity.


The seniors chose to spend the day at Sugar Ridge Campground in Danville, Vermont. They boarded the bus at 9:00 AM and by 11:00 AM, were lounging in and around one of the two pools at the RV resort. In addition to the pool, students played “cornhole”, volleyball, and basketball throughout the day. Students challenged each other on the 18-hole miniature golf course.


“I loved the pool, the food, the whole thing…maybe there was a little too much sun!” -Tanner N, Class of 2017


The students ate lunch, dinner, and snacks thanks to the catering efforts of their class advisors and chaperones Judy Stewart, Ian Meunier, Amy Racicot, and Sarah Coon. Sandwich platters, chips, fruits, and veggies were the lunch offerings followed by a barbecue for dinner. Due to the beautiful hot day, water and sports drinks were consumed in great quantities all day long.


After a day of abundant sunshine and sunscreen (and a little sunburn), the students boarded the bus for the trip back to Fairfax having spent one last day bonding and enjoying a BFA graduation tradition.

“It was a great time. I would recommend it for next year’s class” -Hayden M, Class of 2017

BFA Fairfax 6th Grade Goes To Lotus Lake

Last week, BFA Fairfax sixth-grade students and staff attended the Lotus Lake Discovery Center for an overnight, nature-based learning experience in Williamstown, Vermont.

This is the tenth year that our students have engaged in this unique and highly engaging learning opportunity.


While at Lotus Lake, students and staff participated in a range of nature-based learning and team-building activities.  The mission of the camp is to:

  • Learn about the natural environment through outdoor experiences.
  • Grow in social relationships by broadening friendships and participating in group activities.

Students also had the opportunity to enjoy hiking, swimming, shelter and raft building, wire walking, fishing, fire building, cooking, making smores, and playing flashlight tag on this beautiful piece of property in central Vermont.

As students collaborated with one another to solve a variety of challenges, I was able to observe evidence of each and every one of the transferable skills that guide our middle school learning environment.

Students took on leadership roles, were self-directed in pursuit of specific goals, and took turns effectively communicating with their classmates to solve complex problems.  This trip was proof positive that authentic learning can occur inside and outside the classroom.

One task students were faced with was to build a raft that could hold an entire team of students using only the materials provided (rope, wood, and barrels). Not every team succeeded, but the learning that took place was invaluable. Take a look at this tweet from sixth-grade teacher Lindy Carpenter, and watch a team of learners exploring and learning from their mistakes.

The joy in this video is palpable!

Thank you to the sixth-grade teaching team for offering this unique experience each year to our students. Many positive memories were made and this experience will continue to foster our students’ love of Vermont and the outdoors.

This post was co-authored by Principal Tom Walsh and Principal Intern Chris Palmer.


Do Not Read This Blog Post (Unless You Want to Hear Student Voice in Action)


A few months ago, I was listening to a group of students have a conversation in our classroom.  It was a well thought-out conversation, capturing their various viewpoints on what was going on in our world today — politically, socially, and generally.  They were able to keep their minds open and demonstrate a Growth Mindset.  As well, they were able to respectfully disagree with each other, while supporting their own views and opinions.  


These students were practicing skills that will take them down whatever paths lie before them, with the capacity to overcome any obstacles that may get in their way.  In short, they were demonstrating Transferable Skills across the board.

Without both planned and serendipitous facilitation,  that could have just been a conversation in a classroom, overheard as a distraction, with students told to pipe down. And the learning? Gone otherwise unnoticed.  


In that moment, however, it dawned on me that what these students were doing was something important, something valuable, and something that is becoming more and more rare in our world today.  

They were demonstrating clear and effective communication.  They were self-directing: taking charge and directing their learning and research.  They were collaborating and working to generate solutions to real-world problems.  They were entering into roles of responsible and involved citizenship.  And they were demonstrating informed and integrated thinking. These are BFA Fairfax’s Transferable Skills.


Sometimes, we spend so much time as teachers trying to connect what we’re teaching to the real world, that we forget the learning transaction can occur in the opposite direction.  It is possible to take what our students are already doing outside the school environment and connect that to the classroom.  And, more than possible, it’s preferable!  When we are able to engage students in learning through their passions, the learning goes deeper and lasts longer.

I’ve been an avid podcast consumer for quite some time now.  The one downside of living in the same town I work in is that I no longer have a regular commute to satiate my podcast appetite.  

So, naturally, podcasting was one of the first things that came to my mind when I was overhearing these students’ interactions.  I think they actually thought I was joking when I first brought up the idea.  

Then, they humored me, and we recorded our first episode of Do Not Listen To This Podcast.


In no time, they wanted to jump right in and start preparing for the next episode.

And we started the website, and got on iTunes and YouTube, and started connecting with people from around the world.  

And now these students are talking about legacy.  As all three of them are looking forward to graduation in June, they’re reflecting on our podcast and the opportunity it has presented them, and wanting to ensure that it continues going forward as an opportunity for other students to engage in.  They’ve dubbed it “our Saturday Night Live,” envisioning the revolving cast and multitude of seasons, and are looking forward to listening to it, and engaging in the conversations throughout the years to come.  


And by the way, we want you to listen to the podcasts! You, too, can join in the conversation on our Google Site, Facebook, Twitter, Buzzsprout, youTube, or iTunes.



Today’s guest post was contributed by Harold Vance III, the Flexible Pathways Coordinator at BFA Fairfax. 

BFA Baseball Has Successful Spring Training Experience At Historic Dodgertown


The BFA Fairfax Varsity Baseball team returned home from Florida on April 28 after a successful week of spring training at Historic Dodgertown in Vero Beach. The traveling entourage – comprised of sixteen baseball players, two coaches, the head coach’s wife, their daughter, and many of the player’s family members – departed for Dodgertown on April 23. The team spent the week together training, competing, bonding, learning, and creating memories that will last a lifetime.

This is the 113th season of high school baseball at BFA-Fairfax and our second trip to Florida for spring training. The 2017 team is extremely appreciative of the support we received to make this trip possible. Over many months, dating back to last Fall, the team strived in a variety of ways to give back to the Fairfax community. The numerous emails we received from people in the Fairfax community commending players for their service, for being responsible, and for their good work truly warmed the heart. The time we have spent and will spend, with the Little League baseball players in town is simply the best. We are continually seeking new ways to give back locally. Thank you for your support.

Three players on this year’s team made the first-ever Florida trip in 2015 making this a week of “firsts” for most of the boys. First time flying. First time away from home. First time budgeting money. First time swimming in the ocean. For everyone, it was a week of hard work and learning the importance of time management, nutrition, rest, and recovery. We took advantage of nearby Vero Beach as well as the pool and recreation area on the Historic Dodgertown campus. We also chartered an airboat tour of a local conservation reserve area – a fascinating experience enjoyed by all. Sharing these experiences together made for a wonderful and fulfilling team adventure.

To any baseball player, the highlight of our trip was the opportunity to train and lodge on hallowed ground. Dodgertown was the spring training home of the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers from 1948-2008. The Dodgers left for Arizona in 2009. Historic Dodgertown was re-born in 2013 as part of an effort to preserve the rich baseball history of Dodgertown in Vero Beach. Historic Dodgertown is now the largest spring training program for youth, high school, and college baseball teams in the country. The moment you step onto the property you feel immersed in baseball greatness. Historic Dodgertown is a living museum that breaths life every spring into 60 years of professional baseball history created by more than 140 Major League Baseball Hall of Famers. The same fields that we played on at HDT were maintained by groundskeepers who once manicured the fields for major league spring training games. The experience is surreal. Even more so how quickly you begin to feel at home.

The daily work in the Florida sunshine was productive, fun, and very tiring. The 2017 Bullets love to work so by week’s end the boys were exhausted. The training principles we followed boiled down to (1) immersion, (2) engagement, and (3) quality instruction. The Historic Dodgertown experience creates the opportunity for immersion – that is, diving deep into the baseball curriculum. As coaches, we take seriously the responsibility of delivering quality instruction. The most important ingredient is player engagement. The Bullets were invested in the process and eager to soak up the Historic Dodgertown experience. As a result, they made great progress in a short amount of time and had fun doing it.

Coaching is teaching so as an educator it’s an amazing experience working with student-athletes who are positive, enthusiastic, hard working, and striving for excellence. Co-curricular participation is an extension of the educational opportunities afforded by a school to its participants. Our spring training trip to Historic Dodgertown was a rich, demanding, multi-dimensional educational experience. The boys had the time of their lives learning, laughing, and just being a kid living a ballplayer’s dream.

None of this would have been possible without the tremendous support we received from the Fairfax community, the BFA school board, and the BFA administration. A trip of this magnitude requires planning, organization, teamwork and devotion. It is parents, players, and coaches coming together as a baseball family. Positive parental and community support is the backbone of a strong high school sports program. Thank you one and all for making our dreams a reality. We endeavor to make you proud!

“Are We There Yet?” BFA Fairfax 8th Grade Flexible Learning Experience in Boston

On April 20 and 21, the BFA-Fairfax eighth grade team boarded two coach buses for two days of learning and laughter in Boston, Massachusetts.  


In my seventeen-year career as a principal, I have never ventured out of state with students.  This experience made a profound impact on me and reinforced the importance of creating learning experiences that challenge and enhance students’ worldviews and perspectives.

Our students had the opportunity to learn about the history of Boston, visit important landmarks of the American Revolution on the Freedom Trail, explore a wide variety of exhibits at the Museum of Science and the New England Aquarium, and take in an IMAX movie and a Duck Boat tour. Less tangibly, but of equal or greater importance, was everything that students learned as they walked the city of Boston and spent a night away from their home in a city filled with scientific and historical wonders.  


We were privileged to watch students navigate the city, experience awe at its architecture and vibrancy, and overcome anxiety about being away from home. An unanticipated — but fortuitous — outcome was the dynamic connection with parents and staff through Facebook.  Rhonda Siemons, our technology integrationist, created a closed group on Facebook that allowed us, at last count, to engage 100 parents, students, staff, and community members with updates of our travels — texts, images, and videos.  


We received so much positive feedback and appreciation from parents about being able to follow along and comment on this trip. Thank you to the Fairfax/Fletcher community for supporting this experience.  We are confident that it was time and money well-spent. The learning and experiences created memories that will last a lifetime.  


Thanks to Dana Hamm, Ben Psaros, Melody Wilkins, Ashley Barnes-Cota, Nicole Wehman, Chris Palmer, and Sally Billado for all their time and hard work to make this trip the profound success that it was.  We were so proud of our students and staff for their positivity and willingness to take a risk and engage in such a unique learning experience.   We are all so grateful to have had this opportunity.  



Special thanks to Principal Tom Walsh and Principal Intern Chris Palmer for co-authoring this story.

Fletcher Students “Bridge” Classroom and Real-Life Learning

Two teams of fifth and sixth-grade students from the Fletcher Elementary School have received first and third place awards at Vermont Technical College’s Middle School Bridge Building Competition.


“We really feel like we accomplished something big,” fifth grader Reed Stygles said. “We took everything we knew from the classroom and put it together with the new things we learned about bridges and we came out on top.”

Now in its third year, the Randolph-based competition required students to construct bridges in advance using only wooden popsicle sticks, white glue, wooden toothpicks and dental floss. Other structural requirements only added to the challenge. Bridges had to be over three feet in length and adhere to 10 other technical specifications.

“There were a lot of rules to remember,” Stygles said. “We kept making adjustments to make sure that we didn’t do anything illegal.”

Students’ experience with the engineering design process began in their classrooms, long before the competition, and those attending the competition participated in nine additional after-school bridge-building sessions sponsored by the school’s parent group, Friends of Fletcher Elementary.


“We learned about the design process in class and then used that knowledge with this project,” fifth grader Malayna Sweet-Werneke said. “The first step is imagining and designing. We planned out our bridges and decided on the roles each team member would play before we constructed it. Then, we started building.”

Sweet-Werneke said that seeing the other successful bridges at the competition gave her a lot of ideas for improving her own team’s creation.

“The redesign process is important,” she said. “You test things out and gather other information to make your bridge even better. You’re not done after you build it once. You can always make improvements and I have lots of ideas for next year.”

One Fletcher team’s bridge that weighed 3.2 pounds supported an 82-pound weight load. The team had predicted that the bridge would support just 25 pounds.


“Estimating how much weight the bridges will hold is tough,” fifth grader Jack Tinker said.

“We all worked together easily and felt great about it,” fifth grader Evan Roberts said. “I learned that we can accomplish better things when we work at a team. I think that’s true about bridges and other things.”

While 51 teams of middle school students from around the state participated, Fletcher students placed first for building the lightest bridge and third for creating a bridge with the most structural efficiency.

“Knowing that the culminating celebration for their hard work was to be part of this bigger picture, the competition, was incredibly motivating. It was exciting to watch our students combine their classroom knowledge with what they learned about bridges to create a successful outcome,” STEM Teacher Leader Denette Locke said. “It’s a perfect opportunity for our students to combine science and math and to be leaders.”


During judging, points were awarded for bridges that held the most weight and had the greatest structural efficiency. Additionally, aesthetics and originality of design, presentation, and each team’s ability to closely predict their bridge’s failure point also received points. The presentation segment of the competition included a panel of judges interviewing students about their work.

“Model bridges promote the study and application of physics and engineering and help students develop hands-on skills,” competition organizers said. “Participating students get to experience what it is to be an engineer, designing structures to a set of specifications and then seeing them perform their function.”

“It’s a great opportunity for students to pay particular attention to precision in their work,” Locke said. “It was also exciting to see so many of our female students so engaged with science, a field that is statistically dominated by males.”


Campus tours also made an impression on students.

“Someday I am going to college so it was interesting to see the campus and start to think about the things I saw that interested me,” Sweet-Werneke said.

“Participating in the VTC Bridge-Building Competition is a great opportunity for students,” parent volunteer Aimee Tinker said. “Not only do they get to practice their knowledge of bridge structure and how it pertains to weight load, they do so while working as a team, exercising communication skills and idea-sharing.”

Prior to the competition, the students hosted John Diebold, Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor from VTC. Diebold talked with students about his profession as an engineer.

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 – (1) The school calendar and definition of the school day are flexible and responsive to the needs of students. (2) Students engage in answering authentic questions and solving problems in collaborative settings. (3) Flexible learning environments are the context for collaboration and extend beyond the classroom.

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

GEMS Students Challenged to Develop Highly-Effective Habits for Best Year Ever

This year’s incoming sixth-grade students were introduced to the “Best Year Ever Challenge.” Given the challenge of creating the best year ever, students are learning how to create and maintain an ideal community at school. Students will be learning throughout the year how to implement Seven Habits of Highly Effective People into their individual lives with the intention of enhancing their own communities by investigating communities (groups of people) and what makes them desirable. During the unit of study, students are interviewing community members and are engaging with guest speakers and literature. Students have developed a lesson on teaching about one of the Seven Habits to a third-grade group of students.


There will be multiple opportunities for students to reflect on their own contributions to the greater community, provide feedback to others, and make revisions to their work and actions. Each student will purposefully share their growth in learning with their families during student-led conferences.


One of the lessons is Habit #7 – Sharpen the Saw explains how important it is to have balance in your life. Think of the scenario of a man sawing down a tree. He is not making much progress. A passerby offers him advice to stop and sharpen his saw. He explains that he is too busy sawing. Habit 7 reminds us that we are more productive when we are in balance – body, brain, heart and soul. We need to take the time to recharge so that we can be more productive and successful. A dull saw will not get as much accomplished as one that has taken the time to be sharpened. This habit is about taking the time to care for your body and mind. It is not something you can binge on, it must be built into your busy schedule.


The sixth-graders spent time discussing and taking part in sample sharpening activities; coloring, healthy food choices, one-minute fitness challenges, and riddles.