A Day at the Fayston School

October 17, 2019Fayston, Vermont

Everyone should spend a day substitute teaching in their local Kindergarten Class. Ok, since this is not practical or possible, let me share my thoughts about how restorative this can be to your hopefulness for the future and how important it is to continue supporting our small elementary schools.

PE class under the parachute.

Maybe you read my blog last year: A Day at the Warren School. Doing so will set the stage better. In it, I expounded on the value of a small local elementary school in educating the children of the Mad River Valley. As a new substitute teacher, I was fascinated by the experience of spending several days working with every class, including many PE classes. You get to know the entire school body quickly. For the past two school years, I have also been substitute teaching at the Fayston Elementary School (FES), the smallest of the Valley’s schools. I am especially proud of the Fayston School because it is my hometown school. It is the elementary school of my youngest daughter, Abigail, who is now at the University of Vermont; my granddaughter Madeline, who is a Junior at Harwood Union High School, a very dedicated student, and athlete; and my grandson Hudson, who is now a second grader at FES and future rocket scientist. Oh, how much fun it is to have lunch with him and his buddies in Mrs. Joslin’s cafeteria – the Fox Cafe.

Mr. Russell and grandson Hudson.

Once again while subbing in Fayston, I have discovered the value of the small classroom size and the collaboration among the teaching staff including the important contribution of the para-educators and local community members. One-on-one special attention is provided to a significant number of the student body. I have had the pleasure of filling in for a para-educator on previous days, and enjoyed the many coachable moments that it provides. I even worked one-on-one with my grandson Hudson, on literacy. He is becoming a good reader, too.

The Van Loon barn on the Chase Brook.

In Fayston, like the other Valley schools, there is a diversity of personalities and academic levels among the students, combined with a highly seasoned staff of educators that blends into a strong, defining community/school spirit. I suppose that each community school has a defining spirit. I have enjoyed getting to know all of the kids in both Warren and Fasyton schools and the uniqueness’ among us. “All of us are individuals with our likes and dislikes. We each have strengths and things we are working on. And, for better or worse, we are all in this class together.” – that is my mantra. One could extrapolate that to be: We are all in this Valley together. Oh, but don’t let me fantasize about all of the great Valley kids happily together under one beautiful roof somewhere centrally located in the Valley.

The Fayston School.

Today, as laid out by Mrs. Abbot-Koch in her lesson plan, our lesson included a literacy activity on “Teamwork.” I cannot tell you how proud I am of the Fayston Elementary School Kindergarten class on how well they comported themselves with me as their substitute throughout the day. They and everyone at FES exemplified the theme of teamwork today. Of course, Kindergarten is a whole village/school, teamwork approach, including the caring and talented Mrs. Boyden, Mrs. Hoyne, Mrs. Jamieson and Mrs. McDonough, and Madam Lindberg, who all had their coachable moments today (to say the least). I really enjoyed sitting in on French and art classes.

The Fayston school bell is rung each year during graduation by members of the class.

The FES school building and grounds are well maintained by Mr. Whithy, providing a warm and comfortable setting for nurturing and learning. The walls are adorned with student art and positive slogans and messages. My new slogan is Fayston Elementary School – Discover our Good Nature. This pertains to the extended classroom beyond the walls of the school. Nature paths radiate in many directions, connecting the school to a town-owned forest on one side and Mount Ellen on the other. The recently restored Van Loon barn across the road is another unique outdoor classroom for an alternative learning setting. Parents and community members participate in school programs, including the award-winning Four Winds Nature program, resulting in the Fayston kids having the highest science scores in the district.

The upper unit returning from the outdoor classroom.

Let me not forget to state that the Fayston Kids also become the best skiers. This can be attributed to having three awesome ski mountains directly in the back yard and the most dedicated and qualified parents who provide the coaching and supervision. I have had the pleasure of skiing with the Fayston Winter Sports Program for many years, and I can attest to the dedication of the parents and the prowess of the kids’ and the parents’ skiing ability on the hill. This attribute alone is not to be underestimated. A huge part of the MRV’s economic sustainability is outdoor recreation, particularly wintertime sports.

Two intrepid first graders during winter sports PE.

Education, nurturing, and nutrition are combined with breakfast, snack, and lunch service provided from the FES kitchen under the direction of the talented Mrs. Joslin. Did you know that the FES lunch program also feeds the Waitsfield Elementary School? I’m not sure why, but substitute teaching, though not physically demanding, always makes me very hungry. Lunch was always my favorite part of school and still is, especially hanging with the kids.

Whole foods found locally, cooked and served with heart from the Fox Cafe.

Mrs. Joslin also organizes Farm Day, a daylong outdoor festival put on by area farmers, where kids get into all aspects of daily farming. The ethic of farm-to-table begins at an early stage here. Another daylong outdoor celebration in the late spring is Fayston Field Day, where the entire school competes and participates in all manner of fun activities, including a dunking booth where teachers get drenched. The activities culminate in a tug-of-war between the entire student body and the teachers. I was there last year, and we barely edged out the kids. Whew!!

Group learning with technology in first grade.

The Fayston Elementary School has maintained a consistent student population of 100 or more for many years. However, recently, enrollment has been adversely affected by the specter of the school closing posed by administrators and school board members at the district level and the option for school choice as a result of the move for consolidation. Now hovering at around 60+ students, the school has adjusted its classroom sizes, and teachers have been reassigned. This trend in reduced enrollment has caused the cost per student to rise. Reviewing the long history of the school demonstrates that the cost per student has always been the lowest prior to the option for choice and consolidation effort. The economic reality of the drop in enrollment and other forces at work, such as the lack of affordable housing for young families, are threatening the existence of this venerable educational house located in our town.

Inspirational messages abound.

I say venerable because the proficiency of the students has consistently ranked highest in the district and well above the state averages according to the NECAP scores. I have taken a casual survey of teachers at Harwood who confirm that Fayston students are held high in esteem for their successful educational preparedness entering middle school.

NECAP 2016 Fayston Waitsfield Warren Moretown Thatcher Brook State
Proficient With Distinction 5% 0% 0% 0% 1% 1%
Proficient 66% 75% 55% 62% 62% 45%
Partially Proficient 27% 18% 27% 31% 31% 40%
Substantially Below Proficient 0% 6% 16% 6% 5% 13%
Total Proficient and Above 72% 75% 55% 62% 63% 46%
Total Below Proficient 27% 25% 44% 37% 36% 53%
Average Scaled Score 448.5 446.9 439.4 443.8 442.1 439
Daughter Abby Russell, now a UVM Freshmen reading to her partner in a photo that is still in Mrs. Abbot-Koch Kindergarten class.

Why would the best elementary school in the district be singled out for closure? What can be done to reverse the trend and increase the population of students in the school? Maybe we should expound on the values that make it a great school instead of focusing on the economics. The high scores are attributable to the highly qualified teachers who have been there since I became an FES parent over 15 years ago. This is an asset that does come at a cost. At your local elementary school, the human resource is the most critical aspect of the goal of creating great students prepared for the challenges ahead. I am privileged to be working among them. In all of the words and voices that I have digested regarding school consolidation, I have not heard any teachers participating in the public dialog. Should we not consult with them on what is best for our ultimate goal?

Unfortunately, important decisions are being made at the district level by individuals who may not appreciate the value of and the high-quality attributes of the Fayston Elementary School. How many of these decision-makers have actually visited the school? That is why I recommend that each taxpayer take the time to visit your local school before you decide to vote to close any of the Valley schools. The Town of Fayston is a great place to live, breathe, and raise a family. Our school is a valuable resource for educating our children as well as a defining element of the Fayston community. It should be supported and promoted to strengthen enrollment and continue to be a place of excellent elementary education.


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