I write this blog sitting at my 4 year old’s soccer practice. Is she here for soccer skills and to be the next Megan Rapinoe or Mia Hamm? 

Nope, not even for one second. It’s about the connection. 

She’s here because of the joy of being around others. The fun, the high energy, and most importantly the social connection with her peers.  She’s lucky. We have daycare and she has been able to connect with a group of friends daily. My high schoolers though, have not. And we are concerned.

Many parents have emailed and called to voice concerns about their child’s social and emotional well-being. Many students spent last school year completely remote or only connecting with others two days a week. Then, summer came and if they didn’t work they sat at home on their devices or glued to the television. I’m not knocking the value of decompressing, we all need that time. It’s imperative to our health.  However, when this becomes the norm for our students we should be concerned. How do we acknowledge and support the mental and social health of our young adults? How to we get out them out of the house and engaged with others?

With this in mind, we started the first day of school with a co-curricular fair. Grades 9-12 students spent time meeting the student leaders of approximately 40 co-curricular groups offered at BFA. 

The very clear message:

We want you and you belong!

Well documented research shows us that students who participate in co-curriculars are more likely to attend school, achieve better academic scores, have higher levels of self concept and self worth, and increase their capacity to demonstrate resilience and problem solving skills.

Today, we offered time for all clubs to meet and for students to select wellness activities such as fishing, meditation,  nature walks, writing, and pick-up sports. 

How can you help your student make connections? 

-Ask your student what they did and what else they would like to have access to.  

-Support your student to create connections at school and in the evenings. 

-Encourage them to join a cocurricular or create a club that does not exist. All they need is an advisor. 

We are here to support your student and help them reengage with their peers. We want them to be joyful and take advantage of the opportunities BFA- Fairfax has to offer. 

We want them to be connected.

Elizabeth Noonan is currently the Principal of BFA Fairfax High School and is a new contributor to THE FWSU STORY.

Bringing Choice and Connection to GEMS Middle School

This year, the Middle School at GEMS is starting a new initiative to increase opportunities to build relationships and connections during our lunch and wellness time. Each week, students will have choices for their recess or wellness with supervised activities like the walking path, team games, yoga, or dance. Then lunchtimes for groups and clubs to play and explore together just like Art Club, Technology Club, Student Council, and board games. Students will still have the option to choose a traditional cafeteria lunch and open recess in their choices. 

How does this work? Each Wednesday, students will have a menu of options to choose from for the following week. Students will select their preferred choices and opportunities to explore the following week. These groups are fluid so they can try different options each week.

This also enables us to reduce the size of students that are eating together which will hopefully help us stay safe and healthy.  Most clubs will meet in classrooms with groups far less than a normal classroom size.

We are excited about bringing more options to our students and see how they connect with others and find new interests and opportunities to explore! 

This blog was written by:

Julie Conrad is currently Principal of Georgia Middle School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow her on Twitter @JulieConradVT

THE FWSU STORY: Taking Learning Outside with GPS Technology

As part of the Friends Of Fletcher Elementary (FOFE) after-school program, a group of 15 students in grades 3-6 are participating in geocaching activities once a week.

The group began their learning adventure by first learning about geocaching. Geocaching is a real-world, outdoor adventure. Students are learning to use GPS devices to navigate to hidden containers called geocaches. It combines technology, wellness, and gamification all in one learning opportunity. After learning how to navigate to a waypoint to find traditional geocaches, students then learned how to program GPS devices to hide their own geocaches.

First, the group mastered traditional geocaches, A Traditional Cache is the simplest form of a geocache. It consists of a container with a logbook and is located at the posted coordinates.

Next, the students took on the challenge of mystery caches. Unlike the traditional geocache, the posted coordinates are unknown. Geocachers must first solve a puzzle to get the correct coordinates. Once they have that figured it out, they have to input the data into the GPS and then try to find it like the traditional geocache. Students have had fun challenging themselves with coding and ciphers to find mystery caches.

After accomplishing this challenge, the group took on multi-caches. Multi-Caches include multiple stages in addition to the final container with a logbook. They start with coordinates for a Multi-Cache are the first stage. At each stage, the geocacher gathers information that leads them to the next stage or to the final container.

Students now face the challenge of designing a geocaching adventure themselves. They will take all the skills they have been developing and put them all to use in a GPS final challenge.

THE FWSU STORY: Fletcher Students Participate in “Sweet” Learning

Students in Miss Fecura’s first and second-grade classroom at Fletcher Elementary recently hit the road to tour three bustling Fletcher sugarhouses.

Each stop featured a thriving maple producer who is also a parent of a child in that classroom. The students are studying states of matter, and there is no sweeter way to observe the phenomenon first hand than to tap a Fletcher maple, collect the sap, and watch the transformation to sticky-sweet liquid gold.

Throughout the day, students each tapped their own maple tree, first learning how to identify the proper trees and tap sites. They hung buckets, learned about the importance of sugar content, studied the reverse osmosis process, heard about tap lines and how they are set up, and were in awe of the hard work and long hours it takes to produce maple syrup.

At each stop, students sampled maple treats like maple cream on crackers, maple candy, and of course, maple syrup itself. Students also learned about sustainability, seeing how many sugarhouses use the byproduct of syrup-making to clean their equipment.

They learned about the many regulations that govern syrup production, and the importance of specific weather in producing a bumper crop.


THE FWSU STORY: Fletcher Students “Harvest” New Food Learning

Kimchi and maple glazed carrots may not ordinarily be selections one would expect to find on a school lunch menu, but a new program at the Fletcher Elementary School is tantalizing the taste buds of students and helping them learn about the nutritional and economic value of local foods.


The Vermont Harvest of the Month program supports seasonal eating, healthy diets, and the local economy, by highlighting a different food at the school each month. In February, students learned about cabbage and sampled a variety of kimchi recipes. Earlier this week, maple syrup was spotlighted and students enjoyed maple glazed carrots. Each of the featured selections is purchased from a local grower, and presented to students by The Abbey Group, the school’s foodservice contractor, along with fun facts and nutritional information.

“The Harvest of the Month was designed to give fruits, vegetables and other local produce some exposure,” Abbey Group Executive Vice President and USDA Nutrition Specialist Scott Choiniere said. “The idea was to have restaurants, grocery stores, schools and other institutions promoting the same vegetable or fruit for the month.”


Fletcher Elementary is part of the Franklin West Supervisory Union, which has formed a cutting-edge committee known as the Whole-School, Community Child Committee. The group focuses on health education, nutrition environment and services, employee wellness, family engagement and community involvement. It is facilitated by Bonnie Poe, a long-time educator, and former Fletcher School principal. Tara McMahon, School Nurse, and Sandra Simmons, School Counselor, represent Fletcher on the committee.

Vermont Harvest of the Month is organized by three non-profit groups and offers free ready-to-use materials to classrooms, cafeterias and the community. The resources include printable posters, educational lesson plans, recipes and a suggested reading list that allow connections between classroom learning and tastings, which take place during students’ lunch period.


“Exposing students to new foods, foods found locally, and new recipes, offers opportunities to make choices about what to eat that will have a long-term impact on their health,” Poe said. “New food choices and new recipes can eliminate the boredom of eating the same things every day or week.”

According to Poe, the Vermont Harvest of the Month Program provides schools an opportunity to address standards from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a group founded by the American Heart Association and the Clinton Foundation to combat childhood obesity and support children in sustaining lifelong, healthy habits. The Alliance encourages schools to offer three additional servings of vegetables per week, a different fruit every day, fresh fruit at least weekly, address cultural diversity through food, provide whole grains and to offer a legume-based food at least weekly.


“The program provides an opportunity for students to learn about their community and the impact it has on them now and in the long term,” Poe said. “It supports healthy decisions in the future and cam promote better school attendance, better grades, increased focus and more energy.”

“Harvest of the Month is important because we get to try new foods,” fifth-grader Ava Ardovino said. “The maple carrots were really good.”

“The benefit of this program is to learn new things about yourself like which foods you like and you don’t like. It’s better to look back and know you tried something than to say you wish you had tried it,” fifth-grader Hailey Zamuda said.


“You are never going to know if you like something or not until you try it,” fifth-grader Anna Villeneuve said.

Each month’s food selection is also featured on the school’s lunch and breakfast menu.

While the Vermont Harvest of the Month program is open to schools, restaurants, farms or businesses, starting this year individuals can take the pledge and participate from home. Participants are encouraged to submit their photos and taste test results on the group’s website.

Radishes, mixed greens, winter squash and sweet potato are among the foods to be featured in the coming months.

Read more about Harvest of the Month.

THE FWSU STORY: Gold Medal Fun in BFA Fairfax Elementary Physical Education

Every four years students throughout the state of Vermont experience the excitement of watching fellow Vermont athletes compete as members of the United States Winter Olympic team.  


From skiing and bobsled to skating, snowboarding, and curling, young Vermonters watch their idols and role models participate in a multitude of events with the hope of “bringing home the gold” to their country and home state. Vermont holds the highest per capita percentage of winter Olympians of any state, so it’s only natural to have this pride and excitement hit so close to home for many fans, young and old.  

During this first week of the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, students in Ms. Weeks’ elementary physical education classes have taken part in their own Olympic experience.  Through extremely creative modification of the various events, Ms. Weeks has provided opportunities for students to experience moguls, ski jumping, biathlon, curling, nordic skiing, speed skating, and hockey.  

Accompanied by a daily live stream of Olympic events during class, students have been thrilled to take part in the same activities as their Team USA heroes. Feedback and comments from students included: “I really liked curling and trying to get the scooter into the circle in the middle of the gym”… “my favorite was hockey because I’ve never played ice hockey and it let me try something new” … “I’ve really liked watching the snowboarding, seeing them do jumps and stuff” … and best summing up the experience was … “it’s SO cool!”

Needless to say, fostered by their experiences in physical education classes, combined with the daily news and excitement from PyeongChang, we now have a large number of future Olympic hopefuls right here at BFA Fairfax.  


THE FWSU STORY: STEM Learning Opportunities Continue to Grow at BFA Fairfax Elementary/Middle School

To better prepare for their future, students need to develop a skill set for solving complex, real-world problems.  Innovation is prevalent throughout our PreK-8 school.


Kindergarten STEM Challenges, Grade 1 Magnificent Mondays, Grade 3 & 4 Innovation Day, Grade 5 Innovation Hour and Grades 6-8 Flexible Learning Opportunities allow students choice in what they would like to design or construct.  Below are just a few examples of the many great learning opportunities that are happening school-wide.

Pre-K students are creating digital stories using MyStory. Kindergarten classes are using Zoom to partner virtually with classes in Florida where they are analyzing weather patterns.  Grade 3 and 4 Science students are completing a variety of STEM challenges while also learning how to use new makerspace resources.  Grade 5 students are designing light up e-textile pins and programming robots. Grade 6 students applied math logic while using Cricut machines.

On an individual level Christina Ashley, a Grade 8 student, designed a 3D lamp as part of her Flexible Learning strand. She not only had to learn how to design and print the lamp in 3D but she also had to develop a deeper understanding of how circuits work.   Jacob Antonovich, a Grade 7 student, has become our resident leader in the area of 3D creation and printing. He created his own chess set to use during our school’s Chess Club.  He continues to support other classmates with 3D design and printing.  Dahilia Maynard, another Grade 7 student, used Makey Makey and Scratch programming to create a digital story.  All of their final working products reflect several iterations directly linked to computation thinking.

Our PreK-8 students are provided many opportunities to drive their own learning using a wide range of resources.  Oftentimes they determine how they will move their idea from concept to completion.  These opportunities regardless of magnitude, further develop their ability to understand how computation can be used to solve problems in all aspects of life.

Elementary Students 3D Designing and Printing

Middle School 3D Lamp


rhonda siemons


Rhonda Siemons is the Technology Integration Specialist (PreK-12) at BFA Fairfax. You can follow her on Twitter @rsiemons


THE FWSU STORY: BFA Fairfax Students Create Community with Winter Carnival

In the middle of winter, students and staff can certainly use a change of pace to bolster their spirits. At BFA Fairfax, the student council organized the Winter Carnival to provide activity and build school spirit. This is the third year that the students have organized the event and the results keep getting better every year.

Student Council president Casey L kicks off Winter Carnival
Student Council president Casey L kicks off Winter Carnival

“Our Student Council mission is service to the school. Nowhere is this more important than in creating community. Winter Carnival was an exercise in creating community through healthy play.” – Fred Griffin, Student Council Advisor

There was one change to the format this year that seemed to have a positive impact on participation. Typically, Winter Carnival activities have been held at the end of each day using a modified schedule with reduced class times each day. With our new flexible schedule, all classes do not meet for the same amount of time so condensing classes would have been confusing for all. We decided to take an hour each day at a different time of day to hold activities. That meant on Tuesday, Winter Carnival was first thing in the morning, Wednesday it was right before lunch, Thursday right after lunch and Friday it was at the end of the day.

Tuesday started off with a friendly, but competitive dodgeball tournament. Fifteen students from each grade took to the court in a round robin tournament to earn points toward the ultimate championship (and bragging rights) at the end of the week. Students played, cheered or participated in a quiet activity (board games, karaoke, cookie baking) elsewhere in the building.

Class of 2020 cheer for their musical chairs competitors

On Wednesday, students competed in rousing rounds of Limbo and Musical Chairs. If you’ve never seen high school students play musical chairs, one thing is clear: this is not the elementary birthday party version of the game! It starts with 40 students and slowly works its way down to a final champion.

“We had more participation and excitement from the spectators in the stands than any other year. For example, the day we played limbo and musical chairs greatly exceeded expectations in terms of involvement. The crowd was very involved and a huge amount of people played limbo.” – Casey L, Student Council President

Class of 2021 vs Class of 2018 in Tug of War Finals
Class of 2021 vs Class of 2018 in Tug of War Finals

Thursday students competed in basketball and Friday concluded with the Tug of War. At the end of the week, the Class of 2021, our 9th graders, were well ahead of the rest of the school in the points standings. However, it wasn’t over yet.

The culminating event was the Winter Ball. Every student earned a point for their class by attending the Winter Ball. On Saturday evening, over 150 students dressed in their winter finery showed up to celebrate the week and strut their best dance moves.

In the end, for the first time in memory, the 9th grade remained on top and claimed the title of “Winter Carnival Champions.” They ended the streak of this year’s seniors who have been the victors for the last two years.

“My favorite part of winter carnival is seeing students work together, step outside their comfort zones and laugh” – Katherine McElroy, Student Council Advisor

Thank you to all members of the Student Council and their advisors for organizing the events and to all BFA Fairfax students for showing their school spirit as we await the arrival of spring.

“I am personally most impressed with this because we never mentioned anything at all about a reward for the winner of winter carnival, and I was never asked.” – Casey L, Student Council President

THE FWSU STORY: BFA Fairfax Plans Sweet New Addition to School Farm

The PreK-12 Farm to School Program at BFA Fairfax continues to grow at an astonishing pace. In May there will be an exciting new addition to the School Farm: honeybees are coming! This is an important step toward sustainability.

A student cleans propolis from a hivebox.
A student cleans propolis from a hive box.

“Upwards of 40% of the fruit and vegetables we eat depend on bees to pollinate them —this includes almost everything in our berry nursery, orchard, and vegetable gardens,” said Fred Griffin FTS Coordinator.

Students in the Farm to School class have reconditioned wooden hive boxes that were donated to the program. Propolis, the “glue” bees use to seal openings and to secure their hive, had to be scraped from surfaces. Honey frames were repaired and all of the exterior hive parts received a fresh coating of white paint.

Hive boxes getting a fresh coat of paint.
Hive boxes getting a fresh coat of paint.

Each student in the class is currently preparing a photo essay on one aspect of bee life or bee-keeping.  The reports will be shared next week. “We are going to have a class of bee experts!” said Griffin.

An informational flyer explains bee facts to students and staff.

In support of The Bee Project, members of the Farm to School Club prepared a “Bee Facts and Bee Myths” flyer for distribution throughout the school. “Honeybees are gentle creatures. We need everyone to know this. They never sting unless their Queen is in danger or unless you are stealing honey. Students and teachers will not notice they are on site unless they visit the hive!” said Griffin.

The future home of bees on the School Farm.
The future home of bees on the BFA Fairfax School Farm.

As part of the preparation for The Bee Project, the first semester Farm to School class constructed raised beds for a 1500 square-foot Pollinator Garden adjacent to where the hives will be located. Community members have pledged perennials to go along with the flowers students will seed and transplant in April and May.

THE FWSU STORY: Tooth Tutor Lindsay Sheehan Keeps Smiles Healthy

FWSU is excited to welcome Lindsay Sheehan as our new Tooth Tutor. Lindsay is a Registered Dental Hygienist and has an Associates Degree in Accounting from Community College of Vermont and an Associates Degree in Science from Vermont Technical College. She is currently employed as a Dental Hygienist at a private practice in Williston.  

Lindsey Sheehan, FWSU Tooth Tutor
Lindsey Sheehan, FWSU Tooth Tutor

Lindsay lives in Charlotte, but moving to Fairfax in February. Her hobbies and interests include snowboarding, hiking, kayaking, line dancing, and riding her motorcycle. Lindsey looks forward to educating students about the importance of oral health and helping ensure all students are getting regular dental care. She can assist families with finding a dentist and accessing the healthcare system.   

Tooth tutors help keep smiles healthy
Tooth tutors help keep smiles healthy.

The Tooth Tutor Program is designed to increase education and access to dental care beginning in childhood. The program provides classroom dental health education as well as school-wide support for oral health. Regular dental visits and good oral hygiene habits are emphasized to help prevent dental disease. Additionally, Tooth Tutor has expanded beyond prevention and now includes links with community oral health professionals. The program builds and maintains working relationships with students, families, and healthcare providers. These relationships decrease barriers and increase access to available resources. 

Welcome to FWSU, Lindsay!