The FWSU Story: BFA Elementary Students Spend Time With Therapy Dog, Jazz

Earlier this fall, I was contacted by a community member who was interested in spending some time in our elementary school with her therapy dog, Jazz. Jazz is a black Labrador Retriever that has been certified as a therapy dog through Therapy Dogs of Vermont. I was immediately intrigued by this opportunity, not only as a dog lover, but as a school administrator trying to integrate effective ways to support all students.

“I like reading to Jazz because it is fun.”

After an initial inquiry, I quickly received commitments from ten teachers that were excited about this opportunity and willing to participate. After an orientation with students and staff, we settled into a consistent weekly routine.

“Jazz puts a smile on our face.”

Jazz and her handler Margo Rome spend a half an hour in the classroom making connections with students while they learn and engage in activities. Jazz and Margo often listen while students practice their reading or they participate in Morning Meeting with the entire class. Jazz loves the attention and often lays on her back for belly scratches. Jazz is now a celebrity in our elementary school and is greeted and petted by all as she walks down the hallways.  

“Jazz is quiet and calm while we read and she keeps us calm and quiet.”

Research has shown that therapy dogs positively affect our brain chemistry, reducing the stress hormone cortisol while increasing the hormone oxytocin that helps us feel regulated and comfortable. Interactions with dogs have also been found to lower blood pressure and heart rate, leading to a more calm learning environment.  

“We love reading with Jazz.”

Our students and staff share that having Jazz and Margo spending time in classrooms has been a positive experience and look forward to their time with Jazz and Margo each week. This resource is another way we can support students that have experienced trauma or that benefit from the opportunity to engage in mindfulness and regulation activities. I encourage you to explore having a therapy dog in your school through Therapy Dogs of Vermont at  Our school has greatly benefited from participating in this experience.

“I like reading with Jazz because she was listening to me.”

Thomas Walsh is currently Principal of BFA Fairfax Elementary School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @educatamount

Common Core for our Youngest Learners….. a Positive Beginning!



photo (23)

FWSU is ready to implement the COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS (CCSS), and we are committed to making school engaging for children.   In order to be “Career and College Ready”, our youngest children must believe they have something important to share, and they must stay excited about their learning.  Our mission is to hook our youngest and most eager learners.  They must ask their own questions and answer them.   They must solve big problems and use their inquiry to make sense of their world.  They must construct meaning.  They must want to run into school!

photo (43)

Children thrive when teachers offer them new and different ways to express themselves.  These pre-schoolers are using digital media to draw and sequence, talking about their stories as they work with an adult.


photo (24)

Block play is critical to the development of young children and supports many Common Core learning targets.    Through the manipulation of carefully chosen blocks and props, children develop spatial awareness and problem solving skills as part of their elaborate system of play.  Adults quietly observe and facilitate.  This child’s teacher asked a few honest questions and provided alternate language for the child to use as he describes  the story he had created.   She took a picture to document the detail of his work and scripted his story.

The teacher taking the picture below began a math lesson on measurement with these boys.

"He's really big- maybe 50 boards....   How big are you?  "

“He’s really big- maybe 50 boards….   How big are you?  “


The Common Core places emphasis on reading multiple types of text, both in print and digital forms.   Young students need practice to build their reading stamina.  They must learn to pay close attention to details, use phonics to figure out words they do not know, and use text features to locate important information.   These students each have their own book boxes with books they can read and learn from.  They have dedicated time during the day to read independently with “just right books”-  a  time that they learn to be independent and enjoy literature that they choose.

image Parents should expect children to be engaged in challenging reading, writing and problem solving tasks as a result of the Common Core.   At the same time, they can expect students in FWSU to be joyfully interacting with each other and with their world –  laughing, singing and sharing along the way!

 "Hey Mr. Dodge-  did you see the porcupines?   How many quills?"

“Hey Mr. Dodge-  did you see the porcupines?   How many quills?”


Are you looking for more information on the COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS as they relate to your young child?    The National PTA offers A Parents’ Guide to Student Success.  Click on the link for a quick 2-page summary of Common Core Standards at each grade level.

“Part of our job has not changed –   we must continue to instill WONDER, HOPE and LAUGHTER within our children.  What better way to help them become “Career and College Ready”?        Mary Lynn Riggs, FWSU Director of Curriculum
























photo (22)

First graders  examine a milkweed plant and work as a group to gether information and make sense of new information for a science investigation.  Students learn to participate in conversations with others by linking their observations and comments to the remarks of others.  They need opportunities and coaching to learn to ask and answer questions of each other,  to gather information, and to gain a deeper understanding- all skils demanded by the Common Core.


photo (42)

“Children must see themselves as leaders in a world where they can lead.”

Children learn early to share different ways of thinking and to understand that there are multiple ways of solving a single math problem.    They learn to describe their thinking and to listen to the thinking of others- and they do  not need an adult to always guide that process.


FWSU Administrators Seeking New Ways to Grow

Target 3 – Flexible Learning Environments. FWSU will maximize flexible learning environments by redefining the school day, promoting learning experiences that extend beyond the school classroom, and fostering creativity, innovation, and differentiated learning opportunities for all.

Action Step 1: Provide students w/ access to content, resources, and methods for learning beyond the school day and beyond the school walls.

Indicator of success: Students are engaged in answering authentic questions and solving problems in collaborative settings.

As a part of this year’s FWSU Administration retreat, principals and administrators were asked to get outside their comfort zone and challenge themselves to learn how GPS technology can be integrated into an educational setting.



To start, staff were introduced to Geocaching. Geocaching is the recreational activity of hunting and finding a hidden object by means of GPS coordinates. Geocaching is the real-world treasure hunt that’s happening right now, all around you. There are 2,484,378 active geocaches and over 6 million geocachers worldwide.  You can find more about geocaching by visiting the Geocaching website. FWSU recently purchased a set of GPS devices for all schools to use with students.

Bu24PRbIUAEPV9JAfter a brief introduction, staff were challenged with finding the hidden geocaches. Once they found a hidden cache, they had to complete a challenge in order to receive the GPS coordinates for the next cache. Despite some difficulty getting started, the teams preserved and met all of the challenges one by one.

Screen Shot 2014-09-04 at 12.04.44 PM

As they completed the challenges, the administrators then tweeted their responses including images of geometry in the area, written poems, and images of STEM Challenges.


This activity helped our school leaders see how this type of flexible learning can be easily applied to student learning. Geocaching challenges foster community and encourages a growth mindset for both staff and students.

FES Mapping for 2014/15 and Beyond!

Target 2 – Leadership in a Student Centered Learning Environment. FWSU will foster development of teacher & student leaders who provide innovative opportunities for local and global student-centered learning.

Action Steps – (1) Ensure students and staff take an active role shaping their learning using rich, authentic questions, problems they identify, & diverse resources. (2) Provide multiple avenues for students and staff to lead, advocate, and serve within the school and community

Indicators of Success – (1) Teachers embrace role of coach, facilitator and co-learner in a student-centered learning environment (2) Creativity and risk-taking will be evident and celebrated as learners embrace new technologies.


Tracey Godin, Jasmine Tremblay, Denette Locke.

As part of inservice, teachers at the Fletcher Elementary School took a leadership role in shaping the learning of students by continuing their work on curriculum mapping in the areas of Mathematics and English Language Arts. Mapping is a procedure for reviewing the “real” curriculum that is taught each day, week, and month of the year.


Lorrene Palermo, Cassandra Underwood.

This collaborative work demonstrates a diverse curriculum with rich, authentic questions, problems with which students identify, as well as the use of a variety of school, community and global resources including substantive use of technology.


Cathy O’Brien, Jannis Murphy, and Julie Steves.

We know that good schools do not happen by accident. They are built on a solid foundation of community, colleagueship, and good old-fashioned hard work.

curriculum mapping quote

FWSU Welcomes New Teachers

Target 2Leadership in a Student Centered Learning Environment. FWSU will foster development of teacher & student leaders who provide innovative opportunities for local and global student-centered learning.

Action Step – Ensure students and staff take an active role shaping their learning using rich, authentic questions, problems they identify, & diverse resources.

Indicator of Success – Teachers embrace role of coach, facilitator and co-learner in a student-centered learning environment.

photo (4)School officially started for new FWSU teachers this week. Our 12 new staff members spent the last two days learning about a variety of topics that will assist them with transitioning into our schools. The training encompassed all aspects of teaching and learning at FWSU, including introductions to our evaluation system, introduction to the SAMR model of technology integration, and introduction to the FWSU action plan.

photo 2 (3)

FWSU has developed a strong mentorship program to ensure that our teachers are successful. Day 2 of Orientation offers significant contact time between our new teachers and their mentors. The afternoon also provides work time for new teachers to prepare their classroom alongside their mentor and get ready for students next week.

photo 1 (4)We are extremely proud to welcome our new teachers to our system and wish them success. In the coming weeks we will highlight each of our teachers in more detail! Welcome!

FWSU Receives Grant From Bay and Paul Foundation For Global Student Engagement

Target 2 – Leadership in a Student Centered Learning Environment
FWSU will foster development of teacher & student leaders who provide innovative opportunities for local and global student-centered learning.

Action Step – Provide multiple avenues for students and staff to lead,
advocate, and serve within the school and community

Indicator of Success – Creativity and risk-taking will be evident and celebrated as learners embrace new technologies.


photo 1

We are excited to announce the Bay and Paul Foundation has granted FWSU $17,000 to continue its work engaging our students with other students from around the world. This grant allows all of our schools to continue work that has been occurring for the last two years. For example, this year students in grades 3 – 8 at GEMS and BFA collaborated with classrooms in South Korea and Mexico. The learning experiences for our student working with our partner classrooms has broadened their knowledge and understanding of other cultures and other’s notions of citizenship.

Our goal for next year, with generous grant, is to expand the program to more grades next year as well as building our capacity of working with additional countries in Africa and Asia.  In addition, the grant will support an opportunity for a team of FWSU early educators to study and visit Italian preschools, establishing partnerships with the Reggio Emilia teachers and students.

2014-06-09 08.11.43The Bay and Paul Foundation is an independent private foundation located in New York City. The Foundation’s education grants are for School Change and support a variety of efforts to empower students and teachers by promoting the practice of democracy in schools, encouraging student voice, advancing an ethic of environmental stewardship, and integrating academic course work with meaningful community service.


The Bay Paul Foundation recognized the FWSU Action Plan was aligned with its core mission related to school change, personalized learning, and student voice. It also recognized FWSU leadership in Vermont incorporating technology into our teaching and learning in all of our schools. We are excited to continue work offering students opportunities to be leaders not only in Georgia, Fairfax, Fletcher and Vermont, but also to use those skills to lead globally.


BFA Driver Educator John Viau Receives Award for Excellence

Target 1 – Student-Centered Learning. FWSU students will engage in personalize learning involving collaborative inquiry, problem solving and creative learning opportunities.

Action Step – Highlight, create and model innovative learning opportunities that promote collaborative inquiry, problem solving and creativity for students and staff.

Indicator of Success – Students and staff will apply existing knowledge to create original works as a means of personal or group expression.


BFA Driver Education Teacher John Viau was recognized as Vermont Driver Education Teacher of the Year, and he has been nominated for national recognition by the American Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association (ADTSEA) for his innovative teaching strategies.    John was chosen to showcase his effective use of digital tools, especially his innovative use of  instructional tools in the car that enhance young driver’s knowledge and skills in driver and traffic safety education.  The theme of this year’s National ADTSEA conference is Strategic Planning: Driver Education in the Digital Age, and John Viau has much to add to the conversation.

In the car 2CoachEyeAppAt BFA, students routinely mount their iPad over their right shoulder when they enter the car for driving practice.  John uses the iPad with the Coach’s Eye App to gather evidence and data so that students can analyze their driving skills once they are back in the classroom. Students can then share their own personal driving videos, reflect on their experiences behind the wheel, and practice with their parents.  Students use this digital tool to do analysis and self-assessment of their driving as a regular part of their instruction.


Students also work in groups to create PSA’s to raise awareness about safety issues such as drugged driving, animal hazards, and text driving. Groups of students are charged with creating powerful messages for the community using  podcasts, movie trailers, and presentation software.   They act as responsible citizens, educating their community on safety issues as part of their driver education experience.



John’s work with local law enforcement provides in-class instruction and simulations for students, and it also emphasizes their responsibility as responsible citizens,  a key outcome for all BFA students.

Alcohol Simulation

Congratulations to BFA’s Driver Education Teacher John Viau and BFA students for their innovative practice and their willingness to harness the power of technology to promote traffic safety within our school and community. The world is watching!


BFA Teacher John Viau recognized for excellence.


“Two aspects of John Viau’s practice  were recognized in his selection as Vermont’s Driver Education Teacher of the Year-  John’s alignment of his program with FWSU’s Action Plan and mission statement, and his extensive use of technology in his program.  John is also recognized by others for his leadership and the individual interest he takes in each of his students.”     Lindsay Townsend, VDTSEA Exec Director

GEMS Students Make a Difference

Target 4. Engaged Community Partners – FWSU staff and students will collaborate, innovate, create and conceptualize ideas and learning with local, regional, state, and global partners to make a difference in their community, state, and world.

Action Step – Plan and manage instruction around problems relevant to students and their community and develop solutions for authentic audiences.

Indicator of Success – Students challenge convention and make contributions in their community, state, and world.

Just before the holidays, GEMS Kindergarten and 1st Grade students found a way to support their local Georgia Food Shelf at a time when those in the community rely on it most!  This type of student leadership and community engagement are exactly the skills that we want our students to build as they progress through our school.

photo 2

The students decided to handcraft and sell bead bracelets with all proceeds to benefit the our local Vermont Fooddank.  The mission of the Vermont Foodbank is to gather and share quality food and nurture partnerships so that no one in Vermont will go hungry.

photo 3

Students took great pride in their colorful creations for a cause! Relevance in a students education makes a tremendous difference in their engagement. Students were certainly engaged and motivated while working for the benefit of others.

photo 1

Students enjoyed displaying their beautiful bracelets for friends, parents, and teachers to admire (and purchase!) – all for a great cause.

photo 5

Most of all, the opportunity allowed everyone involved to support friends and neighbors in need. It was rewarding for the children to recognize that their contributions can make a difference!

If you would like to become involved with the Vermont Foodbank you can learn more here.


BFA Celebrates New Student Athletic Leadership

Target 2. Leadership in a Student Centered Learning Environment: FWSU will foster development of teacher & student leaders who provide innovative opportunities for local and global student-centered learning.

Action Step: Provide multiple avenues for students and staff to lead, advocate, and serve within the school and community.

Indicator of Success: Student voice will have the power to impact the perceptions of others.

Last week, eight student-athletes from BFA Fairfax attended the annual VSADA Athletic Leadership Conference.

photo 1

Nearly 250 student-athlete leaders from Vermont High Schools attended this two-day conference held at the Sheraton in South Burlington, which included a full schedule of guest speakers, team-building activities, and a formal banquet recognizing the top-ten Senior student-athlete leaders from across Vermont.

photo 5

Our BFA attendees learned a great deal from the conference. They learned the difference between being involved and being committed, the importance of being surrounded with good people, ways to be the best possible version of themselves, the value of meeting new people and working with them to solve everyday problems, eyeing leadership opportunities, and identifying characteristics of a leader and recognizing those qualities within themselves.

photo 4

Following the conference, our student-athletes reported the following take-aways they intend to bring back to BFA:

“To always keep my head up and look forward to what lies ahead”

“What it means to be a leader, positive vibes and high energy”

“Excellence in small things is excellence in large things”

“Confidence, community, and leadership that will help unite all our teams”

“A positive attitude because it makes others around me better and believe in each other”

This conference is an annual highlight for our Student Athletes at BFA. It has a direct impact on the recent success of our athletic programs.

photo 3

We are pleased to recognize the following BFA student athletes who participated in the conference and wish them success as they emerge as the next group of leaders: Sean Stergas, Ben Bosland, Kyle Combs, Alex Chapman, Kaitlyn Barnack, Mikayla Sullivan, Emily Miner, and CeLynn Seimons.

photo 2

Way to go BFA student athletes! 

BFA Student Makes Connections with Alumnus in Hawaii

Target 4 – Engaged Community Partners. FWSU staff and students will collaborate, innovate, create and conceptualize ideas and learning with local, regional, state, and global partners to make a difference in their community, state, and world.

Action Step: Develop partnerships with global partners to carry out a project related to units of study.

Indicator of Success: Learning outcomes will be expanded to encourage curiosity, communication, and digital citizenry.

BFA Freshman Liz Jones recently began a personal study of Hawaii as part of her Math I 20% requirement. Former student, Amanda Ziegler (BFA Class of 2008) is currently studying Marine Biology in Hawaii and welcomed the opportunity to connect with Liz virtually to answer her questions. Liz and Amanda had an engaging discussion via FaceTime as they talked about the weather, the view, the differences between Hawaii and Vermont…… and about mongooses!

student pic

Mr. Tague’s Math I class encourages students to explore a topic of interest for several weeks during a flexible block each week known as “20% time”. 20% time is an innovative, flexible approach to offer students greater educational choices along with opportunities for them to develop their voice among their peers. It allows students to personalize their learning experience and collaborate with an authentic audience to deepen their knowledge.

Mr. Tague uses an “EdCamp” format for presentations. Students choose and sign up for presentations each week led by their classmates.  Presentations are conducted in small student groups. On “Presentation Day” students share their learning once, and attend four other presentation of their choice provided by their peers.  Students gain confidence, hone their presentation skills,  and develop new interests – all important parts of learning.

student w mr tague

“It was cool to talk with someone outside the school  and from another state about what I’m learning!” – Liz, BFA Freshman