THE FWSU STORY: Integrated Story Writing & Technology at BFA Fairfax Preschool

This year in Preschool it was my goal to embed technology use in meaningful ways.  With our school offering many technology pathways it was important to me to begin to pave the pathway for successful digital learning even for our youngest learners. When we began a literacy unit on retelling stories the two objectives seemed to the perfect match for some exciting learning. To do this it was important to create a lesson that could merge the two content areas. Merging the content would expand opportunities for learning and allows me to reach learners at multiple levels and learning styles.


We began by working on our literacy curriculum of retelling a story and building book knowledge. Students first learn about the role of an author and illustrator. We practice identifying important features of print such as words, spaces, picture, where to begin reading and the direction of print.

pkstory3In order to support story writing, we practice identifying story sequences including beginning, middle and ending events. Together with a large group, I model and we practice writing stories using a simple story strip that helps the children break down their story into four parts. The children are asked to identify the character, events (first, then) and an ending. Students then work to create their own stories.


After all of the pre-teaching of story writing and creating a draft we are then ready to practice using the iPads.  Students are given an opportunity to draw, erase, insert pictures and play using the app “My Story.” Working in small groups the students create a profile and practice identifying and writing their names.


Students are able to connect the learning they have done by identifying themselves as the author and illustrator of their very own book.  The children use their story strips to transfer the stories onto the iPads and practice making the illustration and words match to tell a logical story.


Flexible and differentiated learning allows the children to work at individual levels.  Some work to identify the letters in their name while others work to type all of their text, including spaces and punctuation. Listening, following directions and the ability to attend and persist are practiced as we take turns creating our stories.

The students are excited to share their books with their peers and families and our digital tools created an opportunity to take our learning to a whole new level.  Connecting skills to personal learning is a meaningful tool with powerful sticking potential.

K french


Kristie French is an Early Childhood Educator at BFA Fairfax.

THE FWSU STORY: BFA Fairfax High School Departments Welcome Morning Collaboration

High School teachers at BFA Fairfax are working to adapt their curriculum and instruction to meet the changes in teaching and learning associated with proficiency. A structure that helps to provide time for this work is our morning Collaborative Teacher Time. Teachers throughout BFA meet every morning from 7:30-8:10 to work together on a variety of initiatives relevant to their work at school. Two mornings a week, high school teachers meet with their department colleagues to work on the shift to proficiency.


All of the departments have used the time to develop learning scales for each proficiency and indicator for which students will be assessed. They have worked to update their course descriptions and the program of studies to include the content indicators and transferable skills. Part of this work required each team to ensure that students have sufficient access to each indicator over the course of their high school journey.


As a brief aside, BFA’s proficiency-based graduation requirements are framed in terms of Proficiencies, Indicators, and Targets. Proficiencies are the broad content topics like Reading, Algebra, or Civics, Government, and Society. Indicators are the next layer in the framework. They are specific skills and knowledge that make up each proficiency. Examples are Solving Equations within the Algebra proficiency, Identifying Key ideas in a Text in the Reading Proficiency or Describing how Government Actions Directly Impact Citizens within the Civics, Government and Society proficiency.  The Target level is where students work every day in class. They might be learning to solve a system of linear equations, analyzing characters in a book, or evaluating a public policy in their math, English or Social Studies class. The students’ work and evidence on the targets help teachers to understand and evaluate progress toward an indicator. The collection of indicators determines a student’s overall Proficiency; the collection of Proficiencies determines their readiness to graduate and move onto college, career, or the workforce.


So you can see there’s a lot of work to be done. In recent weeks, the science teachers have been working on their new course sequence that provides students with science content and methods. The English teachers regularly look at student work to make decisions regarding the effectiveness of their learning scales as well as the student’s demonstration of the content. Math teachers use the time to create common assessments and then analyze the outcomes. It is not unlikely to walk into a debate about a current issue when the social studies department meets. They also develop common assessments, look at student work, and create new learning opportunities for their students.


Although it is only a small amount of time each day, the teachers use it consistently and effectively to continue to make progress toward proficiency. Obviously, they work throughout their day, at weekly faculty meetings, and at home to develop and improve proficiency-based teaching and learning at BFA. It’s a journey that begins with the Class of 2020 but will continue to evolve for many years.

THE FWSU STORY: Georgia Students Step into their Future

In the middle of January, all seventh and eighth-grade students participated in Step into Your Future at Georgia.


The purpose of this program is to engage our middle school students to begin discussing their futures in high school and beyond. These discussions give students information about how the choices people make expand or restrict future opportunities. Students explore the relationship between credentials and earning potential. They think about the relationship between their interests, abilities, talents, and their future work. They also learn strategies for facing challenging situations as they navigate their education. The discussions support the concept that education takes many forms, but it is ultimately up to the individual to deliberately set goals and follow through.

The discussions occur over four days during our Opportunity Time in small groups of students with an adult discussion leader. Each adult leader is provided with comprehensive lesson plans designed to encourage dialogue.


The seventh-grade lessons are designed as a foundation for mature decision making and include the following topics: role models and goal setting, developing self-knowledge, understanding human behaviors, coping strategies for the demands of high school, and planning for the future.

The eighth-grade lessons have practical information about the value of levels of an education: earnings based on education levels, information on high school dropouts in our state, alternative programs in high schools, different types of education, high school graduation requirements and college admissions information and self advocacy strategies.


For GEMS students there is a culminating seminar where eighth grade students get to listen to a panel of high school seniors who were former GEMS students attending area high schools. These students take questions from the audience and share their experiences about choices that are made during high school and how those choices can impact their future. They reassure the eighth graders that although high school seems scary and it’s such a big change, it ends up being okay.


Feedback from past Step Into Your Future weeks has proven that this session helps relieve some of the anxiety about this big transition to high school. Our intention is to engage all of our students in a serious discussion about the next phase of their education to help them step into their future with more confidence and knowledge.

THE FWSU STORY: Prehistoric Giants Teach Fletcher Students About History and Science

Three prehistoric beasts took the Fletcher Elementary School gym by storm Monday. The brightly colored larger-than-life guests were part of the Dinosaur Science Series, educational programming infused with engaging antics, that is the brainchild of paleontologist and comedian Bob Lisaius, otherwise known as Dinoman.

Fletcher Elementary School third grader, Serein, assists paleontologist and comedian Bob "Dinoman" Lisaius by holding a "dinosaur egg" during a whole-school presentation on Monday.

Fletcher Elementary School third-grader, Serein, assists paleontologist and comedian Bob “Dinoman” Lisaius by holding a “dinosaur egg” during a whole-school presentation on Monday.

Dressed in a multi-pocket vest and tan hat, Lisaius, burst onto the scene in Fletcher Monday in full explorer regalia, taking students through a spirited history of dinosaurs and the earth, supported by the use of props such as an actual meteor fragment, dinosaur skull, teeth and feces, as well as a variety of fossils.

Dinoman, a.k.a. Warren, VT-resident Bob Lisaius, uses a clothesline and stuffed animals to teach Fletcher students about the Mesozoic Era and the creatures that lived at that time.

Dinoman, a.k.a. Warren, VT-resident Bob Lisaius, uses a clothesline and stuffed animals to teach Fletcher students about the Mesozoic Era and the creatures that lived at that time.

With student volunteers holding each end of the line, Lisaius used a clothesline adorned with various stuffed creatures to create a historical timeline that illustrated the history of dinosaurs and major events that impacted their existence. Working his way from one end to the other, Lisaius chronicled the life and plight of some of earth’s biggest inhabitants.

Comedian and paleontologist Bob Lisaius uses a balloon and skewer to demonstrate how oxygen traveled through dinosaur eggs in order to reach the developing young.

Comedian and paleontologist Bob Lisaius uses a balloon and skewer to demonstrate how oxygen traveled through dinosaur eggs in order to reach the developing young.

The experience culminated when three life-sized inflatable dinosaurs came to life, the largest reaching the gym ceiling and towering over students with a watchful, toothy grin.

“They looked so big and real,” second-grader Harrison Frennier said of the creatures. “For a minute I had to remind myself that they were full of air and that we weren’t back in the olden days. They looked like they might start chasing us at any second and we would have to run for our lives. It was so real.”


Bob “Dinoman” Lisaius holds a dinosaur tooth for Fletcher Elementary School students to view during a presentation on dinosaurs Monday.

Two of the inflatable dinosaurs were made by the prop-maker of Jimmy Buffett’s stage sets, while the third was made by Lisaius himself, who lives in Warren, VT, and travels the country doing hundreds of shows from his Dinoman Science Series each year. The real-life paleontologist and funny man offered up a witty blend of sass and science that the students found riveting.


Fletcher Elementary School fifth-grader, Bryant, along with paleontologist and comedian Bob “Dinoman” Lisaius, demonstrate how a Tyrannosaurus Rex balances on two legs with its very short arms.

“Engaging students requires a whole new set of skills today,” STEM Teacher Leader Denette Locke said. “You have to infuse really engaging experiences with very targeted learning. Dinoman kept our students’ attention with humor, silliness and amazing props, but also taught them a lot of important information about history at the same time. It was a great combination of learning and fun.”

Fletcher Elementary School fifth grader, Bryant, and Bob "Dinoman" Lisaius, demonstrate how a Tyrannosaurus Rex balanced on two feet.

Fletcher Elementary School fifth-grader, Bryant, and Bob “Dinoman” Lisaius demonstrate how a Tyrannosaurus Rex balanced on two feet.

The 45-minute show transported the audience through the Mesozoic Era, which took place between 66 and 252 million years ago. It is also known as the “age of the reptiles.” Divided into the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, the Mesozoic Era is well known in modern history as the backdrop for Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park series of films in which dinosaurs break free from an amusement park and go on the hunt for humans.

Warren, VT-based paleontologist and comedian Bob "Dinoman" Lisaius stands in front of one of three inflatable dinosaurs used during a presentation at the Fletcher Elementary School on Monday.

Warren, VT-based paleontologist and comedian Bob “Dinoman” Lisaius stands in front of one of three inflatable dinosaurs used during a presentation at the Fletcher Elementary School on Monday.

“Back then life was nothing like how it is now,” sixth-grader Logan king said. “Most of the creatures that lived then have either died off or changed a lot. They had to adapt a lot to survive. The dinosaurs might have some ancestors here now, but the dinosaurs themselves are all gone.”


Lisaius and his dinosaurs have been on perpetual tour for the past several years, receiving rave reviews from critics including those at the LA Times and Wall Street Journal.


“This really brought science to life for our students,” Locke said. “Textbooks, and even films can’t replace a life-sized dinosaur coming to life right before your eyes. This is something our students won’t ever forget.


Students at the Fletcher Elementary School learned about dinosaurs Monday with paleontologist and comedian Bob “Dinoman” Lisaius. Here, Dinoman uses one of three inflatable dinosaurs to bring the presentation to life.

THE FWSU STORY: District 1 Music Festival Highlights Exciting Week of Musical Learning and Performance for BFA Fairfax

The week of January 29 was a busy one for students and faculty in the BFA Fairfax Music Department.  The week not only served as the lead-up to the annual District 1 Music Festival, but BFA Fairfax was fortunate to be able to host a guest clinician to work closely with our band students.  


On Thursday, February 1st, BFA Fairfax welcomed Frank Parker to work with our middle and high school band students.  Mr. Parker is the director of bands at Quakertown Community High School in Quakertown, PA.  He spent the day working on musicianship and rehearsal techniques with our students.  According to BFA Fairfax Band Director Ian Flint “Our students are rarely exposed to any teacher but myself, so it is a great opportunity to have another director spend a rehearsal with them.  Mr. Parker had great things to say about our students’ level of achievement and what we have going on at BFA. Many things that we have been doing to grow the band program at BFA come from the model that they have in Quakertown, just on a smaller scale.”

BFA Fairfax students enjoyed the opportunity to work with Frank Parker.

BFA Fairfax students enjoyed the opportunity to work with Frank Parker.


Mr. Parker also served as the guest conductor for the Wind Ensemble at this year’s District 1 Music Festival.  He has conducted numerous festivals in the Mid Atlantic region and was very excited to come to Vermont and experience our educational system.


On the night of Friday, February 2nd, ten BFA Fairfax students participated in the District 1 Music Festival held at Enosburg Falls High School.  All ten students had auditioned previously and were accepted for spots in the chorus, concert band, or wind ensemble. Rigorous rehearsals on Thursday night and all day Friday culminated in a spectacular concert on Friday night.  BFA Fairfax Choral Director Christy Maynard stated “We are very grateful to Enosburg Falls High School for hosting the festival this year.  We enjoyed rehearsing in their auditorium and band rooms and were made to feel very welcome in their beautiful school.  The students had a chance to make new friends and experience working with guest conductors.  



Congratulations to all participants in this year’s music festival!  We are looking forward to the next opportunity to hear the amazing talents of our student musicians at BFA Fairfax.

THE FWSU STORY: Georgia Elementary Students Sharpen Communication Skills

Georgia Elementary students have been participating in a “mix it up” lunch day, monthly, and plan to continue for the rest of this school year.


GEMS students find their match in “mix-it-up” lunch!

Upon entering the cafeteria students draw an index card with a number which designates a table they need to eat at on that given day. At that table is a question that everybody needs to read and reply to.

Each table has a different question and everyone needs to express their thoughts with their “new” friends.  Toward the end of their lunch period, the microphone is provided for all to share.


Students making new connections with peers over lunch.

Some of the most sought-after skills in the 21st-century workforce are Interpersonal Skills, Oral Communication, and Listening Skills according to Fortune500. Creating such opportunities within the school day allows students to develop and practice these skills in new situations outside of their comfort zone.


Mix-it-up lunch at GEMS!

Many students were reluctant at first, but have inquired as to “when will we do the cards again” and look forward to “mixing it up” monthly. Children are making new friends and are learning a lot about their peers and staff within our school.

They are honing communication skills and enjoying the opportunities provided each month that will serve them well into the future.

THE FWSU STORY: Innovation with Lego Mindstorm EV3’s

BFA Fairfax 5th-Grade Science Teacher Sandy Brown, along with the support of Technology Integrationist Rhonda Siemons, are collaborating to integrate STEM into the classroom.


STEM challenges with Lego Mindstorms.

By integrating Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) into learning, students develop computational thinking skills such as critical thinking and are able to make gains in science and literacy. These important skillsets are the foundation for fueling the next generation of innovators.

Recently, Mrs. Brown was awarded a grant to purchase Mindstorm EV3 Robot kits.


5th graders unpack the Mindstorms!

Mrs. Siemons has led the 5th-grade students in several inquiry lessons allowing the students to explore all of the components of the kit. Next, the classes began to work with partners to take these parts and design working automated robots. Through thought-provoking, engaging lessons students work together with peers and persevere through challenges.


Students explore the Mindstorms.

Using these newly developed skills, students are looking foward to begin programming the robots to complete a series of challenges.

Students engaged in learning more about STEM.

Students engaged in learning more about STEM.