Relaxation and Meditation in Kindergarten

Part of our daily routine in Kindergarten includes a relaxation and meditation time after recess.  We use this part of the day to settle our bodies and brains to prepare for afternoon learning.  Relaxation takes many forms.  Sometimes we lie on the floor and listen to meditation stories or listen to a guided practice of tightening and relaxing the muscles in our bodies.  Other times we sit and follow along with a meditation practice on Mind Yeti or with Moovlee, who is a mindful monkey.  We end each relaxation time with a wish or mantra for the afternoon.

After relaxation, students engage in mindful coloring.  This activity is done with relaxing instrumental music playing.  We work on coloring pictures with very small details.  Or we draw pictures in our Mindfulness Journals about the meditation story that was listened to in Relaxation.  

Some thoughts on this part of our day:  

“When I am laying down, it makes me feel calm.”

“I color slowly.  It helps me feel relaxed.”

“I like relaxation.  You can think about being calm.”

“I like meditation coloring because you can use whatever color you want.”

“I like meditation stories.  They sound pretty.”

“Listening to the meditation stories makes me calm.”

“When I’m doing meditation coloring, it makes me feel calm and it makes me feel like coloring neatly.”

“Listening to music at meditation is beautiful.”

Tis The Season of Giving and Celebration:

Amidst the continuing Pandemic we are often reminded that there are both needs, but also so many generous individuals and families in our community. Each Holiday season, some of our regular traditions at BFA Fairfax are to support area families in need with their own celebrations.

With the holiday season in full swing, one thing that never ceases to amaze is the generosity of this community in support of its families who need extra care during this time of year. Each year, the BFA Fairfax Mental Health team organizes a Mitten Tree to help support those families that are part of our learning community that need extra support for the holiday season. In addition to the Mitten Tree, the National Honor Society, in partnership with United Way and Operation Happiness, has been holding a Holiday Food Drive. This food drive will support families from across our region with the food they need to have a holiday meal. Students have set up boxes in classrooms with flyers indicating current need and our community has been hard at work to ensure that no family goes without this season. On Wednesday, NHS students will work with United Way to sort toys for Operation Happiness that will go on to support 36 local families. This effort has truly been a demonstration of BFA’s mission at work. Ensuring that students leave here with an understanding of what it means to be community members who demonstrate responsible social and civic behaviors. 

For the last two years the BFA Fairfax Mitten Tree has taken on a virtual format amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Community members access a Google form to select their Mittens rather than selecting them off the tree as in years past. While this new format was a break from tradition it has allowed the BFA Miten Tree to be shared near and far and is now accessed by a wider portion of our own and surrounding communities. This year the need in our community generated nearly 250 virtual mittens and as of 8am Monday, December 13th all of them had been selected by community members, teachers, local businesses, and those outside of the Fairfax community who wanted to ensure all families had a wonderful holiday season. This outpouring of compassion and support at a time when so many are in need is one of the many things that makes this community so special. I want to send a heartfelt thank you to all of those who participated for their generosity and for modeling for our students what it truly means to be a responsible and engaged community member at a time when community is what we need now more than ever. 

And it wouldn’t be a holiday season without our students performing in our annual Band and Choral Ensemble Holiday Performances. It was such a joy to enjoy two nights of full attendance for both our Middle Grades and High School performers opening the season.  Sitting in the High School Gymnasium with so many families and community members to share the holiday cheer as our ensembles and featured performers sang, played and spoke to a packed house on each night truly made the week both for those in attendance and for those watching via Facebook live. 

Also in the Holiday Spirit, on December 10th, the BFA Chamber Singers participated in the annual Madrigal Festival sponsored by ACDA.  While it looked a little different this year because of Covid-19 precautions, the singers had an amazing time and put on a spectacular performance.  The Chamber Singers were professionally recorded at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Burlington where they received some advice from the wonderful retired music educator, Carl Reccia.  Students were then able to catch the opening matinee of Steven Spielberg’s adaption of the classic movie/musical, “West Side Story”, shop, and have dinner before meeting approximately 200 students from schools around Vermont to perform “Carol of the Bells” and “Deck the Halls”.  The singers were introduced by Burlington’s Mayor, Miro Weinberger and performed in front of the huge lighted tree on Church Street.  Each school then moved to their own “station” on Church Street to perform on their own.  Many community members and parents came to see the performances and it was a festive and fun experience.


Justin Brown is the Principal at BFA Fairfax Middle School. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @jbrownenator

ABC’s of Fourth Grade

Ms. Godin’s fourth grade class has been busy learning about non-fiction writing using ABC Books. The class read many ABC books, learned about plagiarism and how to take notes, then, each student chose a topic they were either curious or passionate about. Subjects range from Famous African American Women to World Leaders.

Index cards were given to each student to collect information on their subject A-Z. On the back of each card was written the source. On the opposite side students collected information on their subject. After students were done gathering information they were given a rubric of how they would be scored. This rubric gives them precise information on what they need to include to get the grade they want. A checklist was also provided for students to make sure they have included everything.

As students create their ABC Books using the app, Book Creator, they look to their notes and checklists to make sure have included everything on their slides. Pictured here are a couple of students’ books in progress.

When they are finished each student will present his/her book to the class.


Aimee Toth is the Principal of Fletcher Elementary School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY.

Student Leaders: Climate Action Club

Charlotte Wood, founder of BFA’s Climate Action Club, leading the YCLA retreat at Goddard College on November 17, 2021. 
BFA Fairfax Climate Action Club members gathered together at the beginning of the YCLA retreat.
BFA Fairfax Climate Action Club members gathered together at the beginning of the YCLA retreat.

YCLA stands for Youth Climate Leaders Academy and is a program created by Vermont Energy Education Program (VEEP). The YCLA program is designed to support high school students across the state in planning and implementing projects that mitigate the negative impacts of climate change. During the YCLA kick-off retreat sessions, students committed to pursuing action against climate change are given opportunities to collaborate and connect with other students and a variety of experts on various sectors of climate change action, become more inspired, and have fun. The YCLA retreat includes time for school teams to plan their projects, receive professional project consultations, and participate in various project skill-related workshops. This year’s retreat was led by BFA’s own Charlotte Wood!

The BFA Climate Action Club was thrilled to participate in YCLA for the fourth time in a row. Students a part of the club were eager to dedicate time to climate change project planning, collaborate with other students in similar boats, connect with and receive guidance from professionals, and attend workshops beneficial to both themselves, as individual activists, and to the development and execution of their projects. 

Beatrice Angelino, Charlotte Wood, Adeline Wood, Magda Eckstein, and Csenge Hutkai, members of the energy subgroup, creating a systems map in relation to their project.

Currently, the BFA Fairfax Climate Action Club is actively working on two main projects, which fall under the umbrella of their ambitious long-term goal of one day reaching net zero as a school. First, the energy subgroup of the Climate Action Club is currently working on obtaining solar to charge the school’s electric buses, which are presently being charged through our school’s electric system, which majorly relies on fossil fuels. Second, the waste subgroup of the Climate Action Club has been creating a survey to understand better what areas of waste management/disposal BFA students need to be educated further on. The waste subgroup has also connected with the school’s food group to develop and identify efficient ways to reduce waste at BFA Fairfax. 

Laura Heil, the club’s advisor, Gracie Clark, Makayla Shanahan, Csenge Hutkai, Charlotte Wood, Beatrice Angelino, Magda Eckstein, and Adeline Wood at the end of the YCLA retreat.

During the YCLA retreat, BFA students were able to make meaningful connections with other students from across the state trying to implement actions against climate change, devote time to project planning and development, receive support from experts, and attend workshops valuable to the creation and execution of projects. Additionally, members of the club who attended were able to spend quality time with one another, creating deeper connections and relationships within the club. 

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

The Importance of being thankful and kind…

There is nothing easy about the ongoing circumstances that have impacted us all since March of 2020. The ramifications of the COVID-19 global pandemic are profound, wide ranging, and leave us frequently with a feeling that it will never end. This week, as we approach Thanksgiving, I find myself reflecting on all the things in my life that I am grateful for, and the kindness I experience both personally and professionally. 

Research has found that people who regularly express gratitude are healthier and happier. Gratitude requires an appreciation of the positive people and experiences in our lives. It is easy to focus on the challenges and the unfairness that we all have encountered throughout the pandemic. However, taking a moment daily to identify one thing that you are thankful for will result in feeling better. 

I am thankful for so many people and experiences, both positive and challenging, in my life. This was a challenging weekend for my family. My dog of thirteen years peacefully passed away on Saturday and we were all filled with sadness, laughter about funny memories, and a sense of gratitude for the unconditional love Buddy provided us. It was a powerful reminder that we are going through something that others may not be aware of, and the burdens we carry.

After twenty-five years working in public education, I constantly remind myself how fortunate I am to work with amazing educators, students, and families. This has never been more true than over the past two years. I am grateful for all the dedicated staff members at BFA Fairfax who continuously and selflessly meet the needs of all of our students. One of the best parts of being a Principal is the opportunity to engage with students. BFA Fairfax has amazing students who remind me daily about their positivity, resilience, and ability to demonstrate kindness. Finally, I value and respect all of our families for their patience, as well as their gestures of appreciation and support.  

I understand that there is so much that potentially divides us, and we are reminded about this every day in the media. However, I remain convinced that we have more in common than our differences. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your lives, sharing my successes and challenges, and remaining mindful of the importance of being thankful. I hope you all have the opportunity to spend some quality time with the people you love, eat a good meal, laugh, and get some rest over the coming week. I appreciate the ongoing support of this amazing community. Be safe, be kind, and be well!


Thomas Walsh is the Principal of BFA Fairfax Elementary School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY.

Fletcher’s Music Program: Beat Boxing, Boomwhacker and more!

This year at Fletcher school, our new music teacher Katelynn Maher has been building relationships with students while getting to know them. 

Grades 5-6 exploring a beat boxing program called Incredibox

We have had a wonderful time in music this year playing music and singing together. Grades 5 and 6 just finished creating “suspenseful music” projects in a program called Garage Band. Students in grades 3 and 4 have been working on music literacy skills including rhythmic reading as well as learning notes of the staff. Grades K-2 have been working on music literacy skills including steady beat, rhythm, movement, and improvisation. Movement and learning games are so important in our music classroom. Students of all grades have very much enjoyed singing and playing instruments in the classroom. We are currently working hard to prepare for our virtual winter concert that will be sent out in December!

4th grade body percussion and boomwhacker playing

3rd grade playing a game to learn notes on a staff

2nd grade playing a piece to prepare for winter performance

1st grade learning a song on boomwhackers for winter performance

Kindergarten with scarf movement to music

Our goal moving forward this year in music is to continue to build music literacy skills at each grade level, and continue to build a community of music lovers who can express themselves in groups as well as individuals.

Aimee Toth is the Principal of Fletcher Elementary School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY.

Wednesday Exploratory Experiences 

In the midst of the ongoing challenges presented by Covid-19 in our schools, BFA Fairfax Elementary continues to look for ways to provide our students unique learning experiences that require problem solving, creative thinking, and collaboration. This year we are using our Early Release Wednesdays to pilot a different format to engage students in inquiry activities. We remain aware that we are preparing our students to be citizens in a rapidly changing world, to work in jobs that will require an ever changing set of thinking skills, and for occupations that do not currently exist.  

Coincidently, I recently attended my daughter Gracie’s Family Day at her college. Gracie is a freshman at the Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Throughout the day, I observed many examples of amazing student work and encountered a consistent theme of supporting students in understanding themselves, learning to advocate, and developing employable skills. The focus on students learning from their mistakes, giving and receiving critical feedback, and having space to be creative resonated with me. 

This visit provided many valuable connections to our student learning opportunities, and the skills and dispositions we want them to demonstrate. In Vermont, we refer to employable skills as transferable skills. The Vermont Transferable skills are:

  • Clear and Effective Communication
  • Creative and Practical Problem-Solving
  • Informed and Integrative Thinking
  • Responsible and Involved Citizenship
  • Self-Direction 

As a PreK-12 school we continue to prepare our students to learn and demonstrate proficiency in the Vermont Transferable skills. We constantly are looking for ways to embed learning experiences that foster these necessary and important skills. 

On our Early Release Wednesdays we are piloting a different format and schedule that allows for exercise, inquiry, collaboration, creativity, and fun. On Early Release Wednesday, our students participate in a range of learning experiences that provide opportunities to develop these skills and dispositions in flexible learning environments. Here are some examples of activities in which our students have participated:

  • Stop Motion Animation
  • Google Drawing
  • Insect Investigations
  • Making Applesauce & Apple Cider
  • Kinesthetic Movement To Support A Healthy Lifestyle
  • Ocean Animal Investigations  
  • Building Structures In The Woods
  • Cardboard Creations
  • Coding
  • Autumn Art Projects

This is not a new focus, but rather a different structure that we believe will allow for more student voice and choice, community engagement, and collaboration with community partners. We believe that our students are never too young to drive their learning in ways that foster the development of 21 Century Skills. Our mission at BFA Fairfax remains to ensure all students become informed, literate, critical thinkers who demonstrate responsible social and civic behaviors. Thank you to our staff and community for their ongoing efforts to support our students as we prepare them for a rapidly changing world. 

Thomas Walsh is the Principal of BFA Fairfax Elementary School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY.

Intermediate French Students Get a Taste of Culture without Leaving the State

At the museum, students were able to see works by Edouard Manet, Edgar Degas, and Claude Monet, including the first Monet painting to be brought to the United States. Many were surprised to learn that Shelburne Museum had so many original paintings by Claude Monet. One student commented, “I’m really glad you taught us about looking at the paintings up close and then backing away so that you can see the shapes and images slowly come into focus.” 

On Friday, October 8, BFA’s intermediate French class took their learning about French impressionists beyond the classroom and visited Shelburne Museum. Here they saw the collection of impressionist art housed in the Electra Havermeyer Webb Memorial Building which is a reconstruction of the Webb family’s 1930’s New York city apartment. Before visiting, students spent the week learning about the French impressionist movement, Claude Monet’s controversial exposition of “Soleil levant” at the Salon in Paris in 1874, and some of the vocabulary to discuss the difference between a classical and impressionist work of art in French. 

Many students hadn’t visited the museum since they were children and enjoyed visiting the rest of the grounds, riding the carousel, exploring the Ticonderoga, and soaking in the perfect fall weather and scenery. They capped off the field trip with lunch at the Skinny Pancake in Burlington and said that the crêpes were “délicieux”! 

Written by: Madame Alana Torranca

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

Reconnecting

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