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

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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  therapydogs.org.  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

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!

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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.

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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?

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Students discuss their learning with their classmates.

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

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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.

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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 jconnolly@jawm.org.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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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

THE FWSU STORY: How Sensory Breaks Get Our Bodies “Just Right” for Learning

Everyone processes information in different ways and has different sensory needs. As adults, we have all developed ways to meet our own sensory needs. This may look like going for a drink of water after sitting for awhile, using a standing desk, or chewing gum.

students in a yoga pose during sensory break

Children are the same as us; however, they have not yet mastered how to get their sensory needs met consistently and appropriately. As a result, students may engage in unexpected behaviors to meet their needs. All behavior is a form of communication and should be looked at as such.

a buddha board provides sensory break

We can be proactive as adults by incorporating sensory breaks or “brain breaks” into a student’s or classroom’s schedule. A sensory break or “brain break” is a fancy term for taking a break from a seated learning activity. For children with sensory needs, this is often referred to as a sensory break or sensory diet.

a quiet sensory corner provides a rest from sensory overstimulation

What are the benefits of a sensory break?

Sensory breaks can be beneficial for the development of self-regulation. Self-regulation is a skill that is developed over time and for some students may need to be directly taught. It is a skill that allows us to manage our surroundings and our reactions to the things going on around us.

a student uses the mini trampoline on a brain break

Self-regulation is an important component of social-emotional and academic success. When our bodies are calm we are better able to access the environment around us. When our bodies are overly tired or overly energetic it is difficult to focus and pay attention. As as a result, we may not be able to take in all of the information we are presented.

classroom sensory tools

Sensory breaks allow us to get our body “just right.” Sensory breaks can be used to up-regulate a body that is too tired or down-regulate a body that is too energetic. Everyone’s body responds differently to sensory breaks and therefore it is important to see how you respond to a sensory activity. For example, some people may find that running around decreases energy level but for some, this may increase energy. Regardless of the sensory activity, it is important to end a sensory break with breathing. Breathing is the best and most effective way to reset our bodies.

a play sandbox is a great sensory tool for some students

Why is it important for teachers to incorporate strategies throughout the school day?

A sensory break is a time set to get their bodies “just right” for learning. It is a time that allows for a child to rest and reset their brains so they can focus. If students are too tired or too energetic they may not be able to take in a lesson the teacher is giving. It has been suggested that children from kindergarten through third grade need a break every 15 minutes.

students color during a sensory break

Children in fourth grade and above it is suggested to have a break every 45 minutes. However, this may not always be a realistic expectation given your school day. So if you can get at least one break in every 1-2 hours given your grade level, that is ideal. Breaks do not need to be very long – around 10-15 minutes is ideal.

THE FWSU STORY: Meet BFA Fairfax Senior Minh Thu

Minh Thu is a senior at BFA Fairfax this year. She is enrolled in a variety of courses and plans to attend college next year like the other members of the Class of 2018. Unlike the others, Minh has joined BFA Fairfax for the year from her home country of Vietnam. She spent last year in Vermont as an exchange student at BFA St. Albans. Minh enjoyed living in Vermont with her host family and decided that she would like to stay in Vermont for an additional year. Her parents supported her decision and Minh enrolled at BFA Fairfax using our ability to accept foreign students through the Department of Homeland Security’s I-20 program. High School Principal John Tague recently chatted with Minh to get her thoughts about her experiences in Vermont and at BFA Fairfax.

Minh Thu is a senior at BFA Fairfax this year through the Immigration I-20 program.

Minh Thu is a senior at BFA Fairfax this year.

Where are you from? My family lives in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. I was able to be there for a month last summer.

What do you like best about Vermont? I like the scenery of Vermont. The fall season is beautiful. I like maple syrup and ice cream too!

What do you miss the most about Vietnam? I miss my mom’s cooking. She gives me recipes but they don’t taste the same when I make them!

What are your favorite classes? I enjoyed Chemistry and Anatomy and Physiology last semester. This semester, Public Speaking is my favorite.

What are your plans for next year? I will be attending Montana State University to study nursing.

Minh with her classmates

Minh with her classmates.

Are the two BFA’s different? Teachers in both schools are friendly. Students in Fairfax are friendlier. Fairfax is a smaller school which is nice, but St Albans had more sports choices.

What else would you like people to know? People should plan to visit Vietnam someday to experience the interesting culture and food. Most people know about Vietnam from the war. There have been many new developments since the Vietnam war and there are museums to learn more about it.

Anything else? I love American fast food. I have pizza every week. I like Whoppers and Big Macs, but the Whopper is better.

We love to have students in our school from across the globe. It offers our local students a wider perspective on the world outside Franklin County! We are fortunate to have Minh join our student body.