THE FWSU STORY: GEMS Second-Graders Become Nature Explorers in Four Winds Trip

Today’s on The FWSU Story, we are pleased to feature a guest post by Julie Ferguson, a second-grade classroom teacher at Georgia Elementary Middle School. 


GEMS students experience their first field trip to the Senesac property in Georgia.

Earlier this month, the second graders at GEMS enjoyed their first field trip, organized by Four Winds volunteers.


Students learn about trees!

It was a wonderful trip to the Senesac property in Georgia which provided children with the opportunity to learn about trees in one of the best flexible learning environments around: the great outdoors!


Students talk about their learning.

Students started off their morning with a puppet show about what a tree does and why it’s important. Then the students broke into classes and visited three stations.


Students loved exploring the outdoors!

The children learned how to identify different trees and about the parts of the tree and their jobs. These students were proud to share their new learning with their families and classmates!

Julie Ferguson Teacher


Julie Ferguson is a second-grade teacher at Georgia Elementary Middle School.




THE FWSU STORY: Students Celebrate “The Best Part of Me”

Elementary teachers across the United States have been engaged in writing projects using photographer Wendy Ewald’s 2003 book, The Best Part of Me: Children Talk About their Bodies in Pictures and Words. The book highlights and celebrates various aspects of body differences. The writing project can build community and self-esteem by encouraging the kind of reflection that comes with the integration of visual images, the writing process, and the written word. The following guest blog post by GEMS Third Grade Teacher, Stacey Sullivan, explains how her class engaged in the project.

We began our year with a writing project that was inspired by Wendy Ewald’s book:  The Best Part of Me, in which students write about the best part of their bodies and help to compose a photograph that highlights their best parts.

a student's mouth

A student shares how their mouth is the best part.

Every year I like to begin with a focus on our strengths, passions, and the things we like best about ourselves.  I want to get to know my students through their eyes, I want to see them the way they see themselves.  This was a great project for doing that.  It was also a good way to ease us into the writing process.


“The Best Part of Me” by Wendy Ewald.

Together we took this piece through the brainstorming, writing, editing, revising, and publishing steps. Students found this piece easy because they were able to write on a topic that they know a lot about… themselves!  The poem format also gave students the freedom to express themselves without worrying too much about structure.  There will be plenty of time to worry about run-ons, fragments, grammar, and syntax.  In poetry, it’s all allowed — we just chalk it up to stylistic choice!

Sullivan's Scholars!

Sullivan’s Scholars share their superpowers!

Students were in charge of the composition of their portraits.  They had imagined exactly how they wanted their body part captured and had the final say in which shot was used. The results are truly magical.

A student captures how their hands are the "best part."

A student captures how their hands are the “best part.”

Next, we are focusing on writing personal narratives.  Students have already begun the brainstorming process by listing people and places in their lives that are important to them and thinking of small moments they have shared together.  We will try to zoom in and make the story come alive for the reader by describing what happened.  We will focus on showing instead of telling.  We do this by using figurative language, dialogue, and focusing on our senses: what we heard, saw, tasted, felt, and smelled.

Teacher Stacey Sullivan

Stacey Sullivan teaches third grade at Georgia Elementary Middle School. She blogs at and is active on Twitter @sullyteaches.

THE FWSU STORY: What’s a YATST? Empowering Student Voice and Agency

Recently a group of BFA High School Freshmen and Sophomores convened in Montpelier as part of a movement to bring student voice to the forefront of high school transformation. The two-day workshop was organized and sponsored by UP for Learning.

Members of the YATST team at BFA Fairfax.

Members of the YATST team at BFA Fairfax.

Here is how UP for Learning defines itself as both an organization and a movement:

“UP for Learning helps educational institutions across the country fully engage students in their own learning through a research-based model that focuses on deepening youth-adult partnerships in schools. On the cutting edge of the national movement toward student-centered education, UP for Learning provides expert coaching, facilitation, and training to youth-adult teams. It offers strategies and tools for building a school community in which learning is engaging for everyone and youth are fully empowered. Based in Vermont, UP for Learning also conducts policy advocacy to elevate student voice in learning and decision-making on a state level. UP for Learning helps schools fully embrace student voice and youth-adult partnership as central to their school culture. Fostering student voice—empowering youth to express their opinions and influence their educational experiences so that they feel they have a stake in the outcomes—is one of the most powerful tools schools have to increase learning.” — Toshalis and Nakkula, “Motivation, Engagement and Student Voice” Executive Summary, 2012

YATST team in action.

YATST team in action.

Act 77 has given Vermont high schools policy-based “permission” to transform learning for students; it is critical the students have a voice in what changes are occurring on their behalf and how those changes are communicated, implemented, and experienced. “Student voice” can be also be described as the expression of perspectives, beliefs, and attitudes about the experience of learning, including the structures and processes, from the students’ viewpoint and in their own words. Adults have largely created those “processes and structures.”  So, what would happen if students and their voices were in partnership with those adults in co-designing the shifts in learning as high schools are remodeled under Act 77? That is where YATST comes in. “Student voice” can be also be described as the expression of perspectives, beliefs, and attitudes about the experience of learning, including the structures and processes, from the students’ viewpoint and in their own words. Adults have largely created those “processes and structures.”  So, what would happen if students and their voices were in partnership with those adults in co-designing the shifts in learning as high schools are remodeled under Act 77? That is where YATST comes in. So, what would happen if students and their voices were in partnership with those adults in co-designing the shifts in learning as high schools are remodeled under Act 77? That is where YATST comes in.

YATST team engaging in training.

YATST team engaging in training.

YATST, which stands for Youth and Adults Transforming Schools Together, is a network of youth and adult teams across Vermont high schools dedicated to ensuring that both students and adults are highly engaged in school change that is responsive to our rapidly changing world.

YATST student leaders pose for the camera!

YATST student leaders pose for the camera!

Most of BFA’s school-based YATST team members are already UP for Learning veteran leaders having participated in teaching and leading their Freshmen peers last year in understanding the role of motivation, mindset, and metacognition in proficiency-based learning. Ten team members joined together for this Montpelier training to strategize a plan to engage high school students who will be required to graduate with proficiency beginning in 2020 in amplifying their voice in their own learning. As sophomores, Kiana Labor, Natalie Bates, and Theresa Trenholm are continuing their leadership this year along with new Freshmen leaders Sammy Bidwell, Jarrett Sweet and adult leaders Danielle Kicsak, Mark Ladue, Harold Vance III, David Buckingham, Linda Keating, and John Tague. One way they will do this is by expanding the leadership team to include more Freshmen and Sophomores and to co-create an action plan that addresses helping their peers and faculty understand the concept of “agency.” YATST defines agency as “personal power with purpose,” and the team will add goals and tools that promote engagement and buy-in and address the 4-Rs that build agency: Rigor, Relationship, Relevance, and Shared Responsibility.


YATST team collaboration.

These students are clearly committed to establishing a culture of student voice at BFA Fairfax. Ninth grader Sammy Bidwell sums it up, “To put more student voice into our school system will improve the learning environment. Everyone learns differently, but not everyone feels they can speak out or do something about it.”


Linda Keating


Linda Keating is the Director of Curriculum at FWSU. She is a regular contributor to the FWSU Blog. You can follow her on Twitter @Educate4ward


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!