THE FWSU STORY: Fletcher Elementary Receives Recognition for Positive School Climate

For the fourth consecutive year, the Fletcher Elementary School has been recognized for its exceptional support of a positive school climate and the social competence of its students.

Fletcher Falcons are proud of their VT-PBIS School of Merit ribbon!

Fletcher Falcons are proud of their VT-PBIS School of Merit ribbon!

For three years, the Fletcher School has been designated a Vermont PBIS School of Merit by the Positive Interventions and Supports Team of the Vermont Agency of Education and the UVM Center on Disability and Community Inclusion Collaboration. The designation recognizes the Fletcher School’s unwavering commitment to supporting a positive school climate and the social skills of students, which in turn bolster academic achievements. Prior to being designated a PBIS School of Merit, the Fletcher School was recognized for one year as a PBIS School of Recognition.

Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) is an approach to creating school-wide proactive systems that support students’ social-emotional and academic success. The Fletcher School has prioritized strategic, proactive teaching of school-wide behavior expectations and a formal system of behavioral recognitions and supports related to those expectations for all students. The school is in its fourth full year of implementing PBIS.

Fletcher PBIS Leadership Team (Left to Right): Sarah Tucker, Sandi Simmons, Principal Chris Dodge, Rebecca Cardone.

Fletcher PBIS Leadership Team

The Fletcher School has created clear and concise behavior expectations for each physical area of the school, on the school buses and for field trips. These expectations are modeled and taught to students throughout the year. Individual classroom and school-wide successes are recognized and celebrated regularly. The school’s PBIS Team uses data from classroom and office behavior referrals to identify students, location around the school, times of day and other demographics needing additional support. Behavior data is provided to families throughout the year as part of parent conferences. The team is coordinated by School Counselor Sandi Simmons.

VT-PBIS Ribbon

VT-PBIS Ribbon

In 2014-15, the Fletcher School was designated a Vermont PBIS school of Recognition based on its strategic use of data, celebrating school-wide and individual successes and working to support behavioral challenges, as well as noted decrease in behavior issues overall. For the past three years, the PBIS School of Merit designation has been based on a continuation of that work, as well as receiving exceptional scores on its state-conducted school-wide evaluation of its PBIS implementation.

This year’s award was presented at the Vermont PBIS Leadership forum in Killington. In addition to recognizing successful PBIS schools, the Forum offered a variety of professional development workshops that were attended by the Fletcher School’s team.

THE FWSU STORY: Celebrating a Positive School Culture at GEMS

School culture is as important as the instruction that takes place every day. Where students feel valued, welcome, and safe, and where there is a sense of community and individuality. That is where student success occurs.


A gathering of GEMS!

Such an atmosphere contributes to effective teaching and learning and to genuine communication, both within and outside the school. Classrooms at GEMS strive to establish a positive culture within local classrooms and as a whole throughout the entire school.

GEMS students
GEMS students participate in a school celebration!

Recently, our elementary school gathered to celebrate our first month of school. Students and staff gathered, all wearing their “I am a GEM” t-shirt.  stating: “I am Respectful” “I am Responsible” and “I am Safe”.

Students demonstrate Tae Kwon Do to their peers.
Students demonstrate Tai Kwon Do at the Schoolwide Assembly in September.

We were fortunate to hear a duet performed by two siblings and also observed a demonstration in Tae Kwon Do known as Chon Ji. We always start each assembly with the pledge of allegiance and a peer greeting and conclude with our state song.

Students demonstrating Chon Ji

Consistency in this part of our agenda helps students have a known consistent routine which helps foster positive student behavior.

Students performing a musical piece for their peers.
Students perform a song for their peers.

The students had this to say:

  • “I was so nervous to perform in front of everyone, but when I got down I felt GREAT!”
  • “My brother and I practiced a lot and we made many mistakes. When we performed, it came out perfect. I felt really good about playing and would like to do it again. It made me feel really good inside”

It was an incredible experience to bring so many students, all demonstrating such wonderful behaviors!

THE FWSU STORY: BFA Preschoolers Engage in STEM

Every day in preschool we work to integrate academic content and skills into our classroom. We believe that every interaction with our students is an opportunity for learning. Students are constantly learning through guided play, group activities, and one-to-one interactions with staff members. Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) activities are particularly engaging to our young learners. Recently, our class participated in a STEM lesson. The task was for students to identify, count, draw, and build a home so that all of their family could fit inside.

Recently, our class participated in a STEM lesson. The task was for students to identify, count, draw, and build a home so that all of their family could fit inside.

The activity prompted the children to think about their family individually and identify similarities/differences among their peers as we begin to build our classroom community. Guided conversations gave students time to share, reflect, and organize their ideas. We used Popsicle sticks to represent individual family members and help children work on counting skills.

Many of the children initially built long rows of blocks or tall tower. The people could fit beside or on top but not inside. The children were prompted again to build a home that could fit all of their family. Some children knew right away and set to work on building a structure that was tall and had an open center, while others tried multiple times or even make the decision to come back or revisit it later. Problem-solving, knowledge of spatial relationships, and the ability to attend and persist all played a role in the support each student required. Working in small groups created opportunities for flexible learning pathways and allowed students time to conceptualize at their own pace.

The Vermont Early Learning standards guide curriculum decisions. Data is collected to meet assessment objectives from Teaching Strategies Gold, an observation based assessment, are used to provide students with a rigorous curriculum that is both engaging and challenging. A play-based embedded learning approach gives students multiple opportunities to work towards meeting objective at a developmentally appropriate and individual pace. This multi-step activity presented many opportunities to observe and document student work. The project-based activity overlapped in eight developmental and academic domains and set the stage for future individual learning opportunities.

Kristie French

Kristie French is an Early Childhood Educator at BFA Fairfax

THE FWSU STORY: GEMS 7/8 Grade Students Build Community, Spread Kindness

What’s happening with GEMS seventh and eighth graders?


Students practice kindness and team-building!

This year on Fridays, students have time in their schedules for students to further develop their Personalized Learning Plans by learning and experiencing community service and team building cohesion.  Each team has also taken the opportunity to build a greater sense of community within the grades.  The eighth graders have planned and executed team-building activities to enhance this year’s theme:  One Goal, One Team, and No Limits.


Students unleash “kindness bugs.”

The seventh graders have pursued a different path of team building structures that are focused on kindness… Kindness Always Returns… Let’s Start a Kindness Boomerang! As part of their yearlong team building activities, each seventh-grade class will be focusing on KINDNESS, something we all feel the world could use a bit more of these days.

Purposeful kindness.

Purposeful kindness.

They are doing their best to take RANDOM ACTS OF KINDNESS to a whole new level by instituting PLANNED ACTS OF KINDNESS.  Classes who receive a special envelope means they were chosen as a recipient of one such act: animal/character shaped corner bookmarks, which they hope will add to and nurture students’ love for reading.

The many colors of kindness.

The many colors of kindness.

The seventh-grade students are not looking for public recognition for these gifts, but have asked teachers to take a few pictures of the students enjoying the gifts so the photos can be put on our new television displays.  They also asked the receiving classrooms to try to think of a planned act of kindness they could perform for another grade and help make kindness contagious.

Students create personalized kindness bugs.

Students create personalized kindness bugs.

Even if just one group finds the time to conduct a planned act of kindness, the 7th graders will happily accept that as a teaspoon of change moving this social experiment in the right direction.  If every grade level is the recipient of a kind act on the behalf of another group, then the path of the boomerang will be complete, and hopefully, we’ll all be better for it!


This is kindness in action!

THE FWSU STORY: Watch Fletcher Kindergarteners Read Stories to their Principal!

Emergent readers and writers are the absolute best, and I am very fortunate to have Kindergarteners frequent my office at Fletcher Elementary School. The routine remains relatively the same regardless of the day. They call the office from their classroom to schedule an appointment to read to me. (Keep in mind that scheduling an appointment in kindergarten terms means it happens immediately.)


Fletcher Elementary Kindergartener reads his story.

When they arrive, they often have plastic coins from the classroom cash register. They hand me the coins, on the down low, as if I had them all along. And then they read. Like famous published authors, they pause to show me the pictures as they tell their stories. There is no better break in the day than being read to by a five-year-old. And when it’s all said and done, they allow me to buy the books with the plastic coins slipped to me just moments before. I buy the books for my office library, which we admire together before they return to class. Amidst the organized chaos that is a school day, this is my silver lining. Please enjoy their stories.


Christopher Dodge is the Principal of Fletcher Elementary School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @FletcherFalcon


Proficiency: How BFA Fairfax is Transforming the High School Experience

Vermont’s Act 77 requires high schools to change their graduation requirements from a credit based system to one based on proficiencies starting with the Class of 2020.  High schools throughout the state have seen this shift as a challenge, a problem or, in the case of BFA Fairfax, an opportunity. Teachers at BFA were ready to use the law to change the fundamental way we look at learning. We knew it would be a lot of work, but we knew that change was essential.

The traditional model of education is based on the work of the “Committee of Ten” in 1892. Our system was based on earning credits through seat time and point collection. Students could pass classes and graduate with a 65% average. Think about it: a student could learn about two-thirds of the material in any class and pass. How successful would you be in your work if you missed or did not understand one-third of your job’s requirements? Students became skilled at “playing school”, that is, gathering just enough points to get by or gathering every possible point available regardless of the level of learning involved. We hoped to use Act 77 to shift the focus away from grades and toward learning.

Students share feedback on proficiency-based learning.

Students share feedback on proficiency-based learning.

Our first step was to adopt the Transferable Skills, a set of skills that are essential for success in college and careers and apply to all content areas. In 2015-16, we worked with “Communication” in all classrooms. Teachers collaborated to determine the essential knowledge, skills, and understanding for their content area which would become the Proficiencies, Indicators, and Targets within our Proficiency Based Graduation Requirements. Teachers had to debate the question: “What is essential for all of our students regardless of their future path?” We used a consistent process to prioritize the Transferable Skills and our Content Proficiencies.  The conversations were rich and the resulting proficiencies comprehensive and attainable.

While this work was being completed, the Class of 2020 entered high school. We thought we were ready. We had created the new Freshman Core interdisciplinary team to provide all ninth grade students with a common curriculum and a common set of teachers to support them. We had proficiencies and learning scales. As it turned out, we also had a lot of questions: How would we tell that students were indeed proficient? How would we recognize student achievement? How would we report student progress? How would we communicate with students and families? Every time we answered a question, three more came up!

In December 2016, a team of teachers and administrators from BFA joined colleagues from other high schools in our area to compare progress and share strategies. We learned that we were not alone in our journey. We were ahead in some areas, on track in others and we were exposed to some new questions. The most important thing that came out of this meeting was the creation of a model that captured the intent of our proficiency system. The “spiral” represents our desire to help students develop a body of evidence that included content indicators and transferable skills. It includes regular exhibitions where students demonstrate their progress “at this time”.

The Personalized Learning Process "Spiral"

The Personalized Learning Process “Spiral”

A team of teachers, known as the PBGR Oversight Team, was formed to answer the unanswered questions and create a path forward. With this graphic as our guide, we worked to develop a structure for the exhibitions, created a scale to describe a student’s level of proficiency, introduced single point rubrics to help students reflect on their learning, and developed a glossary of terms for consistent language and communication. At the end of the 2016-17 school year, we had redefined the structure of the school year, created a flexible schedule with different length courses and offered new courses to provide additional choices for students.

Over the summer, we shared videos that explain Proficiency and detail our plan for Student Recognition. We created a website that provides the latest information about Proficiency at BFA. On Tuesday, September 26th, we will provide families with information about Monitoring Student Progress (which will be available on the website) at a Parent Information Night.

PBGR Oversight Team

PBGR Oversight Team

We feel that we have made tremendous progress and truly taken advantage of the opportunity to change our expectations for student learning at BFA. All students will demonstrate their proficiency in all areas prior to graduation. Reflection, feedback, and continuous progress are essential components for learning and are present in all our work. Students will have the opportunity to demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways beyond the classroom through the development of their Personalized Learning Plans. All learning counts.

BFA remains committed to providing the best educational opportunities for our students. Beyond being a law that we must follow, Act 77 has given us permission to rethink our educational practices. We have made great progress, and we have more work to do. We plan to provide internships, community service and research opportunities for all students in their junior year. Seniors will participate in a Capstone experience as they prepare for graduation to demonstrate their readiness for college or career. We are working to answer the questions associated with those opportunities. And there will certainly be more questions as we go.


John Tague is the High School Principal at Bellows Free Academy in Fairfax. You can follow him on Twitter at @jtague252.


A Year of Innovation, Part 2

This is the second in the series featuring the unique innovative lab spaces enhance learning at FWSU.  FWSU is proud to offer innovation spaces in all three of our schools. and how each of them impacts student learning. Today, you can learn about the multiple BFA Innovation Labs.

Cricut 1

Last year, BFA designed two innovation lab spaces for both the elementary and high school. Throughout the year, students had the opportunity to learn and explore in each of these innovative learning environments.

Cricut 2

Prior to the school year, Technology Integrationist Rhonda Siemons, along with the middle school team, worked hard to initiate a new learning space for grade 5-8 students.

To begin the year,  middle school students have had an opportunity to explore the MS BFA Makerspace Hub to provide an overview of resources.  This initial experience allowed students to become familiar. Students were encouraged to make connections with using these resources to support their learning while exploring the following guiding questions: How can these resources connect to what you are doing in your classes?  How can these resources extend your learning … your passion?


A schedule has been created to support Flexible Learning time where students will be using many of these resources in support of their personal learning plans including green screen equipment, e-textiles, GPS, Cricut’s, robots, and many other resources. In the future, there is a group that is planning to participate in 3D Vermont using 3D design and 3D printing.


In addition to the Makerspace Hub in the MS, BFA has also increased the capacity of the High School innovation space with the addition of newly hired Technology Integrationist Sean Theoret. Now High School students will have additional opportunities to use the space with new classes as well as a resource for the core classes.


We are looking forward to all of the innovative learning projects that will be created in the new innovative spaces at BFA!