THE FWSU STORY: The Hive is Alive! GEMS 6th Graders Explore the Importance of the Honey Bee

A small group of 6th Graders gave us the “buzz” on bees this week as they presented their work on the importance of honey bees.  For four weeks, these students studied the honey bee and all the intricacies of the hive; culminating in an hour-long presentation, complete with costume, simulations, and snacks!


Students learn about the honey bee.

The students had an opportunity to participate in a workshop shop with Kurt Valenta from Exordium an authentic learning experience with a lot of hands-on components, all within the classroom setting.


Mr. Kurt Valenta from Exordium shared the importance of the honey bee.

The presentation focused on 5 key concepts: Pollination, Community, Communication, Energy, and Design.

Students learned about 5 key concepts about the honey bee.

Students learned about 5 key concepts about the honey bee.

Each component was connected to the Driving Question: Why are honey bees important and what can you do to help?


Students discuss their learning with their classmates.

The students lead their peers through two simulations – demonstrating honey bee communication and pollination.


The class was energized by their learning experience!

The 6th-grade class was energized by the experience provided by their classmates. One student commented, “They obviously put a lot of work into this presentation.  You can see the process of beautiful work.  They were well-rehearsed and prepared.  I had so much fun!”

THE FWSU STORY: BFA Fairfax Students Engage in Financial Literacy Program

Students and staff in grades four and eight partnered with Junior Achievement and People’s United Bank on June 6th to engage in a day of financial literacy.


Junior Achievement (JA) is a non-profit organization that provides age-appropriate programs for youth in grades K-12, focusing on financial literacy, entrepreneurship, and career exploration. People’s United Charitable Foundation (People’s United Bank), is a long-time supporter of JA’s mission. The People’s United Bank Foundation has provided the funding for all the materials and People’s United Bank employees volunteered to present the programs in the classrooms.

Students learned important financial literacy skills using a fun and interactive game.

Students learned important financial literacy skills using a fun and interactive game.

Students in grade four participated in a range of activities to increase their understanding of what it means to be an entrepreneur.  Students engaged in learning activities that explored the traits of an entrepreneur and deepened their knowledge of human, capital, and natural resources in different regions of the country and the impact on business, and the finances and problem solving of running a business.

Materials provided age-appropriate instruction for 4th graders about business and entrepreneurship.

Materials provided age-appropriate instruction about business and entrepreneurship.

In grade eight, students investigated types of careers based on skills, interests, and values.  Students explored the importance and impact of education and work skill development on career offerings.  In addition, students deepened their understanding of gross and net income, taxes, opportunity costs, credit, and the value of different types of insurance coverages.


A self-knowledge treasure hunt allowed students to reflect on their learning and assess their financial literacy.

We are really appreciative of Junior Achievement and People’s United Bank for partnering with BFA Fairfax to provide this important learning opportunity for our students. The content and activities were engaging and relevant.  The program made direct connections to the Common Core State Standards and provided an authentic opportunity to engage with the Vermont Transferable Skills.  We had a great day of learning and encourage other schools to participate in this program.

Resources for financial literacy learning were provided to students.

Resources for financial literacy learning were provided to students.

For more information about the Junior Achievement program, contact Jennifer Connolly at

THE FWSU STORY: Young Children at GEMS Make Meaning Through Discovery

Children learn best through play and this works very well when you teach a concept such as patterns. As they enjoy activities involving patterning, young learners understand that the sequencing of such items allows for making predictions about what comes next. 

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Learning about patterns in the early years of education is an important developmental milestone for children. Patterns help children learn sequencing and making predictions which help children develop mathematical skills, structure, and establishing order in everyday life. Children learn to use patterns to determine the days of the week, months, daily routines, odd and even numbering. Children learn by moving patterns, by watching the way water flows through objects to teach creative thinking and to use building structures and bridges to help children think about constructing and how things fit together.  Children first develop patterning skills by sorting objects by color, shape, size, and similarities such as the number of holes in buttons.  Simple patterns begin to develop when children are exposed to color patterns such as red, blue, red, blue (AB) patterns, and then begin noticing patterns in their daily environments.


In music class, children have been learning about musical patterns by playing colored bells that go along with familiar songs. The children also learned about patterning when trying to keep the beat to familiar songs by tapping on the drum.

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Patterns are everywhere in life! Help your child discover them in their homes, outside, or in any environment.


THE FWSU STORY: New Assessment Measures Physical Fitness at GEMS

The Vermont Agency of Education has made some changes in the state assessment system this year in accordance with the Federal “Every Student Succeeds Act” (ESSA). One such change is the implementation of Physical Education assessments in targeted elementary, middle, and high school grades.


Students at GEMS practice physical fitness in PE class.

The Vermont Agency of Education has selected FitnessGram to serve as its statewide physical education assessment for both state and federal accountability purposes. FitnessGram is a non-competitive fitness assessment developed in 1982 by The Cooper Institute and is currently the most widely used fitness assessment tool nationally. Our state views this assessment as an important measure of good health as opposed to athletic ability.

This year, in May, each student in grades four and seven will be assessed in four areas: aerobic capacity, muscular strength, muscular endurance, and flexibility. Body composition will not be measured or reported. Because this is the initial year of the testing, parents will not be receiving individual student results.


Students assess their physical fitness with FitnessGram

FitnessGram Assessment includes:

Curl-Ups: The curl-up test measures abdominal strength and endurance, which is important in back support and core stability.

Push Ups: The push-up test measures muscular endurance of the upper body.

PACER Test: The PACER (Progressive Aerobic Cardiovascular Endurance Run) is the default aerobic capacity test in FITNESSGRAM. Aerobic capacity is perhaps the most important component of any fitness program. Research indicates that acceptable levels of aerobic capacity are associated with a reduced risk of high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, obesity, diabetes, some forms of cancer, and other health problems in adults.

Sit and Reach: The sit and reach test is a common measure of flexibility, and specifically measures the flexibility of the lower back and hamstring muscles.

If you are interested in learning more about the assessment and the standards it is designed to measure, please visit:

THE FWSU STORY: GEMS Students to Create Projects in New Outdoor Woodworking Center

With generous funding from the Georgia Elementary Middle School PTCO, the first-grade team was able to purchase tools and other supplies to create a woodworking center. Our center is now complete with safety glasses, aprons, gloves, hammers, screwdrivers, pliers, a saw and miter box, levels, measuring tapes, and speed squares.

Supplies available in the woodworking center at GEMS.

Supplies available in the woodworking center at GEMS.

Eighth-grade teacher Brad King and students from the middle school built a movable table that will support flexible learning opportunities to work outside in the fresh air and sunshine – and to let our creativity run wild!

A table built by middle students at GEMS

A table built by middle students at GEMS

After a few safety lessons, small groups of first graders will be able to head outdoors to the woodworking center. With adult supervision,  the students will be able to use hammers, drills, screws, and measurement tools to cut and create anything they can imagine!

Students at GEMS will uplevel their skills using various tools and be able to apply some of the math we have learned this year in the context of their woodworking projects.  Finished pieces can also be painted and decorated, integrating opportunities for artistic expression as well.

This new center will provide every first-grader a real opportunity for connected hands-on learning and success. Students kids are very excited to get outside to make something with their hands and try out all the new tools.

Thanks to the GEMS PTCO for their generous support!

THE FWSU STORY: BFA Fairfax 8th Grade Students Find Adventure in Boston

On April 19 and 20, the BFA Fairfax eighth grade team departed on our annual trip to Boston, Massachusetts.  I was once again reminded of the importance of creating learning experiences that challenge and enhance students’ worldviews and perspectives.



During our two-day journey, our students had the opportunity to learn about the history of Boston, visit important landmarks of the American Revolution on the Freedom Trail, explore a wide variety of exhibits at the Museum of Science and the New England Aquarium, and take in a performance of The Blue Man Group and a Duck Boat tour.



The other learning experiences were also equally important.  Students implemented important life skills like time and money management, healthy and appropriate risk-taking, and problem-solving and coping with situations that cause anxiety and discomfort.  We were privileged to watch our students navigate the city, experience the architecture, interact with an urban landscape, and cope with hustle and bustle of city life.




Once again, Rhonda Siemons, our technology integrationist, created a closed group on Facebook that allowed us to engage parents, students, staff, and community members with updates of our travels— text, images, and videos.  The use of social media continues to provide a connection in real time that enhances this experience for all.

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Thank you to Jennifer Skerrett, Emily Wills, Jerry Bailey, Michelle Messier, Nichole Wehman and Dylan Callan for going above and beyond the call of duty for our students.  I appreciate all of you and your efforts to make this trip to Boston a success.  I feel fortunate to work with you!



Also, this trip would not occur without all the countless hours of coordination and planning by Sally Billado.  I want to express an enormous amount of gratitude to her for making this trip run flawlessly.



Finally, a big thank you to the Fairfax/Fletcher community for supporting this experience.  I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to go on this trip with our students.  Watching them experience Boston was an important reminder of the value of living each day and being thankful for the opportunities we get to experience.  We are confident that it was time and money well spent.  These students were great representatives of our communities.  The learning and experiences created memories that will last a lifetime.








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