THE FWSU STORY: BFA Fairfax Welcomes Incoming Sixth-Graders to Middle School with Orientation Guide

BFA Fairfax sixth-graders were off to a great start this fall and spent a lot of time learning the routines and expectations of middle school. Moving from the elementary building to the middle school wing can sometimes be a little intimidating, so the sixth-grade staff always takes it slow at the beginning of the school year to ensure a successful transition.

New sixth graders are welcomed with an orientation presentation designed by their peers and teachers.

New sixth graders are welcomed with an orientation presentation designed by their peers and teachers.

Four students who registered just as school started were a part of this process and received the benefit of our beginning-of-the-year activities. After about a month into the school year, the sixth grade received several new students and teachers and students did our best to make the new students feel welcome. However, after a couple of days, we realized a few things had been forgotten here and there and wanted to do more to help our new students feel more confident and successful with their transition.

Students greet incoming sixth graders.

Welcoming new incoming sixth graders.

Librarian overview

Providing information to new students on how to navigate resources such as the library.

Mrs. Carpenter met with the most recent “new to BFA student” and a couple of other sixth-grade peers to brainstorm the issue. It was decided that we needed a better, more personalized orientation guide to provide to students and families when a new member joins our grade, in addition to the Middle School Handbook.

Getting comfortable with lockers just takes a bit of practice. Here are some instructions to get started.

Getting comfortable with lockers just takes a bit of practice. Here are some instructions to get started.

Peyton Metruk and new student Hailey Shoram took on the project and immediately jumped in with many new creative and outstanding ideas. The two students tailored the orientation guide to the BFA Fairfax middle school and collaborated with Melinda Carpenter (6th Grade Science/Geography Teacher), Principal Tom Walsh, and Nichole Wehman (5-8 Guidance Counselor) to make sure they included everything a new student may need to know or wonder about coming to Fairfax.

Introduction to Science & Geography with Mrs. Carpenter.

Introduction to Science & Geography with Mrs. Carpenter.

Peyton and Hailey questioned each other, peers and adults that support the 6th grade, independently problem-solved and checked in with Mrs. Carpenter for feedback, and then made improvements. Both students demonstrated a high level of leadership by making appointments with staff for pictures and interviews, learning new technology, and by holding themselves accountable for high-quality work with notes and checklists. Peyton and Hailey used excellent communication and presentation skills to complete the 42 slide project and Peyton spent many hours of time outside of school to ensure exceptional quality, a testimony to her dedication and engagement.


The overview also included details about school lunch.

Specifically, the Google Slides orientation will be used to introduce new students to teachers, learning spaces, expectations, unified arts, voice levels, field trips, flexible learning opportunities, and much more around BFA Fairfax. Toward the end of their work, Mrs. Carpenter asked Hailey and Peyton to reflect on the experience. Hailey, our new student, thought the project really helped her get to know the sixth grade even better and thinks it is a great resource for new kids coming to Fairfax.

Unified arts opportunities like chorus and music were also featured in the presentation.

Unified arts opportunities like chorus and music were also featured in the presentation.

Peyton described her excitement at working on a project that enriched her writing and communication skills, which are personal goals for her. When asked about which step in FWSU’s Action Plan best demonstrated her work with the project, Peyton identified Leadership and Flexible Learning Environments as clear indicators of her engagement in the BFA Fairfax Sixth Grade Orientation Guide. Many thanks to Peyton and Hailey for an excellent and informative resource that BFA’s staff will use for many years to welcome new students!

THE FWSU STORY: Educators Develop Innovative Professional Learning Practice

Identify-Learn-Improve cycle

Several teachers from all 3 schools are wrapping up their graduate-level professional course offered by FWSU. In the Innovation Mindset Through Collaborate Apprenticeship course, teachers explored ways to incorporate innovative ideas to improve learning.

Innovators Mindset by George Couros book cover

Couros, G. (2015). The innovator’s mindset: empower learning, unleash talent, and lead a culture of creativity. San Diego, CA: Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc.

Throughout the course, teachers were challenged to actively design an innovative learning practice for implementation. Participants began by identifying an authentic, practical innovation practice for their own instructional setting that connected with a personal set goal. After some research, teachers selected an idea they wanted to deepen their learning about and agreed to develop a plan through a coaching partnership with the instructor.

All of the learning was completely personalized for each teacher. Instead of meeting in traditional sessions, teachers organized their course schedule around research, planning, implementation, and reflection. A variety of amazing new learning activities developed as result.

In the end, the participants collaborated with colleagues and the instructor to share their creative learning ideas, and most importantly, develop emerging strategies for innovation!

THE FWSU STORY: BFA Fairfax Senior Shannon Mahoney Named Vermont Presidential Scholar

On January 8th, the recognition ceremony for Vermont’s Presidential Scholars was held at the Statehouse in Montpelier. Governor Phil Scott welcomed the students and recognized their contributions to their schools and communities as well as their commitment to learning. Among those honored was Bellows Free Academy Fairfax senior Shannon Mahoney.

Governor Phil Scott

Governor Phil Scott announces Vermont’s Presidential Scholars.

Shannon was one of the 20 students selected from the many nominees across high schools in Vermont. Shannon’s work at BFA Fairfax on the Farm to School project is well documented and was certainly a part of her qualification and selection, but there are so many more attributes that make her a worthy recipient of this honor. Shannon represents BFA Fairfax through her academic excellence and participation in a variety of extracurricular activities that benefit our students and community.

Shannon Mahoney, Vermont Presidential Scholar

Shannon Mahoney, Vermont Presidential Scholar

Shannon has been a committed athlete throughout her years at BFA. She has played soccer and skied with our Nordic Ski team. This year, Shannon is the captain of the Nordic Team. Shannon has served as an officer and leader in student government as well. Every year she has been either a class, student council, or National Honor Society officer (and even held multiple offices simultaneously at times). Shannon has been a member of Peer Support, helping other students in need. Of course, Shannon was also the founder and president of the Farm to School Club.

Shannon balances her academics, participation, and leadership with a strong desire to prepare for her future. She has attended the National Youth Leadership Forum in medicine and is currently working towards her LNA certification at the Northwest Technical Center. Shannon plans to continue her education and pursue a career in nursing.

Shannon Mahoney and family.

Shannon Mahoney pictured with her family.

BFA Fairfax is honored to join the Vermont Agency of Education and Governor Scott in honoring Shannon as a Vermont Presidential Scholar. Shannon Mahoney exemplifies the spirit of learning at BFA and is truly a kind, caring, nice and deserving young person.

BFA Fairfax is proud of you and your accomplishments, Shannon!

THE FWSU STORY: Rethinking New Year’s Resolutions – Say Hello to Lifestyle Change in 2018

Want to be successful in keeping your resolutions this year? Then don’t make any!

quit making new year's resolutions

Instead, replace the January-New-Year’s-Resolutions ritual with a long-term plan for accomplishing your goal, which, for most of us is probably a lifestyle change.  Even if your goal is to buy a luxury car or the latest technology tool, it still might mean a lifestyle change to get that new car or technology.

long term goalsTo get started, make a list of what you want to do in 2018. 

Some examples might be:

  1. Achieve a healthy weight
  2. Stop buying daily double lattes
  3. Exercise before going to work
  4. Work only 40 hours a week
  5. Spend the entire weekend with family and friends

make a long term plan

Next, look at the list and make it manageable; you’ve got 365 days to work on a doable plan!

  1. Lose 3 pounds a month
  2. Save _____ each month (your double latte $)
  3. Spend 30 minutes a day doing an enjoyable physical activity
  4. Work more efficiently (Eat the Frog First)
  5. Balance weekend time among family, friends, and self-care

So, now that you have some items to address on your list, it’s time to prioritize them!  For example number 3, 2, 5, 1 (taken from above).

You’re ready to make a long-term plan!

  • Choose two or three priorities and develop a plan that includes a checklist to make parts of your plan visible so you can see your progress. For example, spend 30 minutes a day doing an enjoyable physical activity.
  • What NEED are you trying to fill? Are you doing it to become more fit, toned, balanced, relaxed, to de-stress?

Make a plan today

Calendar Map your Plan

Weeks 1 – 3:  Explore some gyms, workout classes, videos (check them out online), talk to friends and join them for a class. Maybe you don’t like classes or exercising with others, you could try an outdoor sport. DON’T OVERCOMMIT: This is not the time to sign up for a three-month or annual gym pass or exercise class membership until you know that is what you want to do.

Week 4 – 7:  Make your decision about what you like to do (make sure you enjoy it or want to try it for a month or so).

Remember that it takes at least 66 days to create a new habit. Be patient with yourself.

Week 8:  How do you like your decision?  Need to adjust it?  If so, do so.  Try something else.  Just don’t give up or use a vacation as an excuse not to do anything.

Week 9:  Is what you are doing meeting your need for doing it?  If not, why not?  Explore further, and don’t give up-modify and adjust!

create new habits

Pulling it all Together

  1. List what you hope to accomplish in 2018 and make sure it’s doable. You can always accomplish something small and then do the next step of an originally too big goal.
  2. Prioritize. Limit your goals to 2 or 3.
  3. Explore what is needed to get started (Can you live with reducing your double mocha lattes to 2x week to save $ for that new piece of technology or luxury car or expensive trip? If not, maybe start with cutting back by 1 a week).
  4. Reflect on your progress. Keep notes or a journal or write it electronically (there’s an app for that!).  Adjust.  Use a calendar and check off each day you meet your short-term goal.
  5. Can’t do it alone? No need to! Rely on a trustworthy friend who can offer both coaching and encouragement.

you can if you think you can

You can do it! I would love to have members of our FWSU learning community share their progress and am here to offer you support if you need it!

Bonnie Poe FWSU Wellness Coordinator

Bonnie Poe is the Prevention and Wellness Coordinator, PBIS Coach, and SBSAS Grant Coordinator for FWSU schools

THE FWSU STORY: GEMS Paraprofessionals Support All Learners

Recently, Georgia Elementary School paraprofessionals participated in an after-school professional development opportunity to better understand and serve students in their daily responsibilities.


Beth Peloquin of the VT Agency of Education trains paraprofessionals in the MTSS model.

Training, provided by Beth Peloquin and the VT Agency of Education, focused on Early MTSS approaches (multi-tiered system of supports) which align with PBIS (positive behavior interventions and supports) practices that are implemented in all classrooms within our school.


As part of the training, paraprofessionals reviewed their role in supporting school-wide expectations with PBIS.

MTSS is defined as “the practice of providing high-quality instruction and interventions matched to student need, monitoring progress frequently to make decisions about changes in instruction or goals and applying child response data to important educational decisions. Based on a problem-solving model, the MTSS approach considers environmental factors as they might apply to an individual student’s difficulty, and provides services/intervention as soon as the student demonstrates a need.

The work of paraprofessionals is key to providing personalized interventions for students.

The work of paraprofessionals is key to providing personalized interventions for students.

Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) is based on a problem-solving model and aims to prevent inappropriate behavior through teaching and reinforcing appropriate behaviors. Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) is a process that is consistent with the core principles of MTSS. PBIS offers a range of interventions that are systematically applied to students based on their demonstrated level of need and addresses the role of the environment as it applies to development and improvement of behavior problems.


Paraprofessionals discussed their learning with colleagues.

Both MTSS and PBIS are grounded in differentiated instruction. The goal is to describe the shared characteristics of these approaches as a basis for highlighting how best to meet the needs of children experiencing academic and social difficulties in school.

Paraprofessionals will be completing module 1 this month and will follow up with module 2 and 3 to complete the extensive training this year. Understanding student behaviors and their academic needs are pivotal to the success of each and every child. For more information visit the Vermont agency of education at the following link here.

THE FWSU STORY: BFA Fairfax Students Communicate Lake Champlain Basin Science #AGU17

BFA students Lily Sweet, Malachi Witt, their teacher Mr. Lane and Project Manager for St. Michael’s College VT EPSCoR CWDD Livia Donicova traveled to the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in New Orleans, LA.


At the largest geophysical conference in the world, Malachi and Lily presented a poster and talked to a few of the 23,000+ scientists in attendance about their research.

Logos for CWDD, BREE, and VT EPSCOR

Malachi and Lily have been conducting research this past year on phosphate movement and factors contributing to stream health in Black Creek.  Black Creek begins north of Cambridge, VT and flows 27 miles or so along Route 108, through East Fairfield and Sheldon. It is the last major tributary to the Missisquoi R. prior to its outflow into Missisquoi Bay.

Research on phosphate movement at Black Creek.

Images taken of the headwaters, near midpoint, and the mouth of Black Creek.

Their research project is part of a statewide (a few teams from Puerto Rico and New York are also included) program based out of St. Michael’s College and the University of Vermont.  The VT EPSCoR program is a National Science Foundation-funded program designed to encourage research nationwide.

Lily Sweet and Malachi Witt at their poster in the Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, LA

Lily Sweet and Malachi Witt at their poster in the Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, LA

Their trip to New Orleans was funded by the VT EPSCoR /CWDD/BREE program.  In addition to presenting their poster through the Bright STaRS Program At AGU Lily and Malachi had a full schedule of poster presentations, oral presentations, and lectures by scientists from around the world.  Much of the “fresh, hot science” from the convention continues to be reported in the national and international media.


Malachi Witt discusses phosphate movement with a visiting scientist at the AGU poster hall in New Orleans, LA

The Shoemaker Lecture on Tuesday, 12/12 was a highlight for Lily.  Titled, “ The New Jupiter as Revealed by Juno” it featured information and photographs from Juno’s mission to Jupiter never before seen by the public.

Image of the surface of Jupiter taken by Juno Mission shown at AGU Shoemaker Lecture.

Image of the surface of Jupiter taken by Juno Mission shown at AGU Shoemaker Lecture.

Malachi’s favorite part of the convention was the Sharp Lecture, “From Tectonics to Tractors: New insight into Earth’s changing surface” This talk was about weathering, erosion, and soil.  It highlighted his interest in agriculture research. In addition to making connections and accessing current data for use in the science classes he teaches at BFA Mr. Lane met with a few of the scientists he works within Permafrost research.

Dr. Vladimir Romanovsky from University of Alaska-Fairbanks Geophysical Institute presents research indicating a rise in permafrost temperatures across Alaska

Dr. Vladimir Romanovsky from University of Alaska-Fairbanks Geophysical Institute presents research indicating a rise in permafrost temperatures across Alaska

During the 5-day conference, Mr. Lane and his students had a few hours to explore the French Quarter.  This area is the oldest part of New Orleans and dates from the early 1700’s when the city was under Spanish rule.  It features early colonial French and Spanish architectural, as well as a French Market and Jackson Square.


Malachi, Lily and Livia in Jackson Square, site of the acquisition in 1803 of Louisiana territory pursuant to the Louisiana Purchase.

Attending and communicating science at AGU Fall Meeting was a great experience. We want to say a huge thank-you to the VT EPSCoR, CWDD, BREE Program for this memorable opportunity as well as providing students from around Vermont with authentic research experiences.

THE FWSU STORY: BFA Fairfax High School Expanding Opportunities for Student Voice & Choice

The YATST team is working hard this year to strengthen student voice and agency and to expand communication, understanding, and collaboration between our faculty and student body regarding Proficiency-Based Learning.

YATST, which is part of Vermont’s Up for Learning, stands for Youth and Adults Transforming Schools Together. The BFA Team includes 4 sophomores, 5 freshmen, and 5 adult advisors: Mahlia Parsons, Natalie Bates, Kiana Labor, Theresa Trenholm, Abby Sweet, Jarrett Sweet, Samantha (Sammy) Bidwell, Samantha (Sam) Langlois, Delaney Sweet-Werneke, Danielle Kicsak, Harold Vance, Dave Buckingham, Mark Ladue, and Linda Keating.

The BFA High School YATST Team has been especially busy over the past several months working to understand the impact of previous student engagement in Proficiency-based Learning, gather information and ideas from stakeholders, and to fine-tune their knowledge and skills in developing a greater sense of agency for high school students.

Analyzing the Data

The Team met in September to analyze data from previous years. The data included a survey done by Communicating High School Redesign in 2015/16, Mindset, Motivation, and Metacognition (M3) in 2016/17, and All-School Dialogue Day in June 2107. The analysis was used to both identify the need for a Freshman Dialogue Day and spearhead the planning.

Freshman Dialogue Day

During Freshman Dialogue Day, the Team led their peers in making some agreements about how the morning would proceed. First, they assessed a current level of understanding of Proficiency-based Learning, followed by a dialogue protocol called Wagon Wheels that guided students’ response to an article on rigor, relevance, relationship, and responsibilities (the Four Rs). Finally, the Team asked the Freshmen class 5 questions as part of a Chalk Talk, which is a protocol for students to silently get their responses out on large paper. The questions were:







Design Day at Lamoille Union High School

Design Day allowed the team to think more deeply about the data collected from the Freshmen and get support from another high school YATST team, our hosts at Lamoille. The Teams used modified Consultancy Protocols to explore several dilemmas, ideas, and questions.



YATST Facilitator Training

Most recently the Team attended a facilitation training at Randolph High School facilitated by Marissa Barbieri from the Bay and Paul Foundation. Students were able to practice several new protocols developed by the National School Reform Faculty. The Team chose the Affinity Protocol to work with, which actually helped refine our goals and determine viable action steps for the next phase of the student leadership work.

LKDEC010 (1)

LKDEC011 (1)


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