Sunday, December 11, 2016

More on Developmental Designs ... Or a component of a consistent Tier One support and communication system

It is certainly hard to believe that the holiday break is just ten school days away. Students in band and chorus are working hard on finalizing their performances for the concert on Tuesday, 12/20 and other students are immersed in winter sports and a variety of PLP and explore block activities.

As a middle school, we recently added an additional component to our Developmental Designs practice. We launched TAB (Take a break) at a school wide assembly on a Wednesday afternoon a few weeks ago. After the assembly we used our extended weekly TA time to teach the procedure to smaller groups of students and as I walked around visiting TA's that afternoon I was pleased to see our staff modeling the procedures for our students.

As a learning community we have decided to undertake these very clear and defined expectations. These will help students with understanding when they are losing focus, helping themselves get back on track and taking accountability for their actions if necessary. These procedures are a natural addition to our DD practices already in place: the school wide signal for attention, our social contract and TA circles of power and respect. TAB is a best practice strategy that offers clarity and uniformity for taking breaks when necessary both in and out of the classroom. We are intentionally teaching this and after a few days of practice the students really are appreciating the routine of TAB. We know that routine and consistency help to establish a sense of trust in our learning environment. That trust is essential if all of our students are going to reach their full potential. Students are responding well to this consistent approach and teachers are supporting each other in the implementation. This collaboration is helping us to maximize learning opportunities. Please ask your student about TAB or any of the other essential Developmental Design components that we are utilizing at Barre City School.

Adults teach and model the TAB procedure for students

Some more information about TAB

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Closing the first quarter

We've done it!  We have reached the milestone of completing the first quarter of the 2016-2017 school year! You may ask if completing the first quarter of a school year is really that significant. My answer is yes, it is!

TA Food Drive Challenge!
The work that goes into the start of a school year is predictable, yet always new and exciting.

Tech Ed

Soon after the newness wears off we are absorbed into the daily routines that anchor us. We are immersed in  curriculum delivery, assessment and collaboration. Meetings begin to take place, we give meaningful feedback, and continuously work on increasing engagement and learning opportunities for our students. Amidst all of this we went on community service outings, team building field trips, held student teacher challenges and whole school assemblies. We offered varied after school learning opportunities and unique curricular experiences through explore blocks and teacher advisory. Some students utilized math knowledge and a growth mindset to finally solve the Rubik's Cube!

We acknowledged students for being positive "STAND UP" community members and worked diligently to help overcome learning obstacles and challenges. We offered enrichment activities for all.We participated in National days of recognition such as Unity Day and Walk to School Day. We even hosted a local news broadcast!
Teachers balanced classroom instruction with continued professional growth and implementing Developmental Designs and Standards Based Grading.

So, yes. I would say that for us completing the first quarter
is a significant milestone. Tomorrow we will welcome
students back to begin the second quarter of the school
year. How fortunate we are to have another new beginning anchored by the familiar, but fueled by the excitement of what is possible.

Teachers list what they are responsible for
during a PD activity. We have an amazing,
dedicated and experienced staff!

      National Walk to School Day 

Unity Day Activities

TA Greeting

ABC 22 Unity Day Interviews   

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Reflecting on September

Reflecting on September

As summer turns to fall and the newness of the year fades away, I find myself reflecting on our first month of school. The promise that the new year holds and the excitement we felt as we welcomed our students back is still palpable and continues into October.

Our students are now immersed in a variety of learning opportunities; these are essential to a middle school experience that is whole child centered. In addition to our core instruction, we have a vibrant unified arts program, daily enrichment opportunities for all, multiple support blocks, explore classes and teacher advisory. These offerings are built into the schedule each day. We have after school tutoring programs, social skills groups, club offerings, and multiple sports offerings for our students. Personal learning plans are part of the core curriculum and our student voice group, Students on the Move, have already planned and facilitated our first whole school assembly of the year. They are now busy planning activities for Unity Day.

Every morning after I welcome our students, I walk the three floors of BCEMS and try to get into as many teacher advisories as I can. During these first few weeks I have spent time in each advisory and I am pleased to say that all students and teachers are holding morning meetings that include a greeting, a message and a warm up activity for the day. In addition to the morning meetings, there are weekly extended advisories which allow for more in depth team building. I continue to be impressed with the work our staff is doing to address not just the academic needs of our students, but their social and emotional needs as well. As a Middle School, we have committed to utilizing Developmental Designs as the ├╝mbrella" for our work in building a strong learning community. This work has helped us be clearer with students about expectations and routines, which leads to increased engagement and trust. It also encourages a balance for all students during both social and academic learning times.

In addition to faithfully practicing Developmental Designs, teachers continue to promote a growth mindset and civic mindedness. These opportunities are helping our students see that hard work and mistakes lead to greater learning. Our school counselors continue to provide ongoing opportunities for students to learn about positive school citizenship through lessons and discussions about navigating friendships and being upstanding school and community members. We are looking forward to welcoming parents in on October 6th for our first parent, student, teacher conferences of the year.

Our Parent Teacher Organization sponsored our yearly fundraiser, Walk, Run, Fun, and yesterday all students enjoyed their time out on our athletic fields dancing and walking or running. As I looked out over the field and then participated with the different teams of students, I found myself feeling very proud of our Barre City students and grateful for my colleagues, our BCEMS families and community members. Thank you all!

Morning Meeting 
Students harvest vegetables from the garden
to be served for lunch 

Our first student vs. teacher challenge of the year 
Great team building during advisory 
School Spirit is strong at BCEMS!
Thank you P.T.O for a great day! 
8th graders measure rise and run and compare
to building codes

Saturday, September 3, 2016

And just like that....

In spite of this being in my 23rd year working in education, I am always amazed at how fast the first week of school goes. Just like that, it's over!

What a fantastic week it has been at Barre City. Our staff greeted children on the first day not only with enthusiasm, passion, kindness and dedication, but also having had two days of excellent professional development the week before. This year we are rolling out Developmental Designs middle school wide. We know that student success relies on thriving relationships, social and emotional skills and high engagement. Our students learn best when their learning community integrates their need for independence, success, relationships and fun. We are integrating these at BC so that our students truly enjoy their time at school and learning, and have the tools to be the best students they can be!

As I traveled the halls and visited each classroom over these past five days I was so impressed by the positive tone, respectful interactions and community building that was happening between all students and their teachers. I was able to join in a few games of "zoom", listen to 7th graders learning more about a "Growth Mindset", observe modeling of school wide routines and watch a cafeteria full of hundreds of students instantly respond to our school wide signal for attention, "show 5". Our pod meetings were engaging and meaningful. We all worked hard on establishing routines and students were engaged in educational opportunities not only in the core curricular areas and unified arts, but around our school citizenship goals. Our Guidance and Behavior Support staff designed and began delivering presentations to all students about bullying, harassment and being a positive learning community member. We will continue this work next week in our extended Teacher Advisories.

It is impossible for me to capture all of the positive of this first week in one blog post. Our Friday song was playing yesterday as I was walking out of  school at the end of the day to wave goodbye to the buses.  As students were exiting one of them paused. Over the music he said, "You know Mrs. Tolman, I love my TA, I really like my classes and I think this was the best first week ever! See you next week!"  He ran off for soccer practice before I could say thank you. I'll be sure to catch him next Tuesday and let him know that he was one of many, many things that helped to put a smile on my face as I reflected on this first, quick week of school. Thank you to all of the staff, students, families and community members for all they did to make it all come together without a hitch.
6th grade math 
PEAK TA's learning to work together

8th grade science community building 
Add caption

PEAK Team pod meeting 
Fifth Grade organizes their "clock partners"

Ujamaa Team Entourage

Monday, June 27, 2016

4th Quarter Celebrations - May Day service learning opportunities!

Follow this link to see a student created video summary that was presented to summarize our Vermont Principal's Association Service Learning Grant Project. Every spring the middle school participates in May Day. This is a day in which all of the middle school helps our school or community in some way. Each class has a different assignment. Dawn Poitras and our 7th and 8th grade student group, Students on the Move, coordinate this for us. We are grateful to the VPA for continuing to support this service learning opportunity for our students and community. Great job everyone! 

Video Link

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Third Quarter 

I wrote earlier this year about the rhythm that a school follows as we work through the days, weeks, months, and quarters. Typically, we center around the progress reports, report cards, assessments, vacations, whole school assemblies, and other ongoing activities. This year, our learning community came together in another way. We were called upon to support each other, our students and families in the loss of two children and one of our colleagues. Our community has been supportive, sensitive, understanding and professional as we have supported each other through these losses. 

During times of loss we become more aware of what sustains us. Connections to each other, routine, relationships, and human kindness are what helps us get through and move forward with compassion and strength.  Amidst the loss, we have much to celebrate as we think about the third quarter at BCEMS.

Our school was featured as a "Cool School" on ABC 22 and we were glad to share with the public some of the many things that make our learning community great. Here is a link to the videos from that day.

We are very proud of Miranda Walbridge who was notified in February that she is one of two Vermont students who has earned a $1,000 award, an engraved silver medallion and a trip to Washington, D.C., courtesy of the Prudential Community Spirit Awards. The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program is the United States' largest youth recognition program based exclusively on volunteer community service. The program was created in 1995 by Prudential in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) to honor middle level and high school students for outstanding service to others at the local, state, and national level. Congratulations Miranda! We celebrated this at our whole school assembly earlier in the quarter.

Here is a collection of images that capture the moments that we celebrate each day at BC. 


Friday, January 29, 2016


It is so important to celebrate with each other what is good and right with the world.  At BCEMS we have so much to celebrate each day, but every once in awhile, we are honored to celebrate special recognition for students and staff. 

Two BC middle school staff members have been honored recently for their work. 

Dawn Poitras, our Student Assistance Program provider and Students on the Move adviser was honored earlier this week at the Vt State House by Prevention Works VT. In 2013, Prevention Works VT initiated the Prevention Champion award to highlight the extraordinary professionals and volunteers who contribute to the success of Vermont’s prevention coalitions. Dawn was recognized as someone who has helped provide support for a healthier  life in our communities by helping to reduce risk factors for alcohol and drug abuse and build assets and protective factors for our youth and other community members. Congratulations to Ms. Poitras!

Gillian Fuqua, team Ujamaa's ELA teacher, has been selected as a Vita-Learn IGNITE educator.  She has been recognized as a transformative and innovative educator because of her work with technology to transform the learning environment in her classroom.  Gillian was recognized specifically for her use of Google Classroom and her use of Google Sites to create single locations where students can access materials for a unit. The goals of Project IGNITE are to:Identify innovative educators, Gather teaching artifacts to share with other educators, Nourish the spirit of innovation, Increase innovation, Transform learning, and Educator networking. Congratulations to Ms. Fuqua! 

8th grade student Kai Morse was recognized at our whole school assembly this morning with the Principal's monthly citizenship award. Kai was selected for this award for upholding the standards that are aligned with our middle school motto.  She exemplifies what it means to S.T.A.N.D. U.P. Congratulations Kai! 

Here are some fun moments from our assembly this morning. 

Whole School Assembly

Music Explore Block Update - an opportunity for community building

It is now half way through the school year and we have got our sea legs - students and teachers alike. Our new exploratory classes afford our middle school students the opportunity to experience subject areas that are new, exciting, or possibly intimidating or daunting - completely outside of their comfort zone. From my perspective, exploratory classes require stepping back and guiding more than teaching. Often times this means going into a class with an outline of student-led activities planned and coming out the other side with an entirely different set of accomplishments and experiences based on student ideas, interest, and motivation.

Over the course of the past five months I have had the pleasure of facilitating students in writing (and filming) short screenplays with original music scores, leading percussion ensembles, and experimenting with laying down dubstep dance tracks using an online composition program (introduced to me by a student, I might add!). The project I wish to share with you stemmed from my second quarter 6th grade enrichment class - a wonderful crew of six fabulously unique students. One day a member of the class was feeling really down about growing up within the city limits of Barre. He talked of the things that were upsetting about his neighborhood, feeling that his opportunities were limited. This sparked a conversation about how our own actions and attitudes impact the community as well as outsiders’ impressions of Barre.

Ms M: How did this project start?
Justice: One of our classmates saying how terrible a place this is. (Barre)
Ms M: What did I say about people from the outside?’
Justice: How people here are making it seem like a terrible place and how people don’t want to be here.
Ms. M: So that if the attitude from the inside is that it is terrible, then people from the outside are going to think that it is terrible, too.

And so the project commenced. Six extreme personalities came together to compose a song about their common ground...growing up in Barre City. They began with the negative things and feelings surrounding them. However, the group was quick to share the things they wished for their future and their community. The song’s dark beginning led quickly into an optimistic and hopeful finale.

Ms M: What was the easiest part of making the song?
Justice: Making the lyrics first.
Ms M: What was the hardest part of making this song?
Matt: Probably getting everyone to work together.
Justice: And putting it together to make sense.
Ms M: What made it difficult?
Matt: Different people wanted to do different beats.
Ms M: What helped us get through that and complete the project?
Seaaira: Probably teamwork.
Ms M: In other words, giving everyone a chance?
All: Yeah.
Ms M: Is there anything you would do differently next time around?
Matt: I would probably make a longer song.
Ms M: How about the form of the song...does it sound like a real song to you?
All: Yes.
Justice: Maybe next time we could try pairing different voices together and see how that sounds…
Ms. M: Did you have a favorite part of making the song? My favorite part is having the end result and hearing all of our work come together.
Matt: I like hearing it...we’re going to be getting our own CD. I’d like to hear how good I was singing…
Ms M: You actually are kind of interested in music as a career?
Matt: Yes.
Ms. M: For me the hardest part was maintaining my own focus and helping you all maintain your focus when we were recording...I counted - we took 39 takes (to get the final product).
Matt: What!?! It felt like 10.
Justice: Yeah!
Ms. M: The hardest thing was keeping you all excited and motivated to finish project, but it was worth it. It’s a really nice song and it has a really nice message.
Matt: We made a song within a month, and that was pretty cool.
Justice: You can come up with the lyrics in an hour, but then you have to add everything and then fix it, and then add things and then fix it…
Seaaira: To make it sound however you want it to…

And that is exactly what they did...they made it sound how they wanted it to sound - only 39 takes later. In this great effort, the students built their own community. One can only hope that this experience extends beyond the classroom.

Barre City
Sampling of lyrics

Let’s work together, make a safe place
Don’t let our sense of community waste
United we stand, divided we fall
People helping people is the heart of it all

Ridin’ bikes through the town
Seein’ who’s around, hopin’
Nothin’s goin’ down
No thorns in my crown
Buildin’ a bridge
Between family and neighbors
Sense of community
Fruits of our labors
Havin’ someone to lean on
When times are getting tough
Or celebrate successes
It’s all good stuff
So we turn to each other
To change the tune
The sad and sorry image
Will disappear soon


Lyrics by Ethan Bernier, Matthew Gustaveson, Hunter Roya, Trace Tassie, Seaaira Turner, Justice Womer, and Ms. Matthews
Music Tracks produced by Hunter Roya and Trace Tassie
Rap performed by Trace Tassie and Hunter Roya
Vocals performed by Matthew Gustaveson, Seaaira Turner, and Justice Womer
Production coordinated by Ethan Bernier and Ms. Matthews

Many thanks to Morgan Matthews, our choral and band director, for this post! 

I had the chance to sit in and observe one of the classes when the students were fine tuning their lyrics and tracks.  It was truly an inspiring learning opportunity for our students!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

BCEMS Middle School Mentoring

As adults, many of us can think back and probably name a person who had a positive influence in our lives. Perhaps this person volunteered as a mentor. Mentoring is a time-proven strategy that can help young people of all circumstances achieve their greatest potential. Mentors are caring, invested individuals who, along with parents or guardians, provide students with support, guidance, friendship, reinforcement and a positive example.

Research shows that these relationships have many positive benefits for our students. A 2002 Child Trends report titled "Mentoring Programs and Youth Development: A Synthesis" summarizes the benefits of mentoring relationships:
  • Positive academic outcomes
  • Prevention of youth risk behaviors
  • Enhanced social and emotional development
At BCEMS we know that in terms of academic achievement and personal responsibility, our mentoring program helps students have better attendance; an understanding of the importance of going onto higher education; and positive attitudes about school. Mentoring also appears to help reduce some negative youth behaviors and helps to encourage pro-social attitudes, personal responsibility and relationship building.

On January 14th, four mentor pairs from the Barre Youth Mentor Program traveled to Montpelier to participate in Mobius’ 2016 Mentoring Celebration at the Vermont Statehouse. Mentors and mentees attended a morning gathering in Pavilion Auditorium to listen to presentations given by Vermont Secretary of Education, Rebecca Holcombe and a reading of the Governor’s Mentoring Month Proclamation. Mentor pairs received tours of the Statehouse and enjoyed lunch in the Statehouse Cafeteria. It was a fun day learning a bit of history about our Statehouse and seeing the grandeur that is contained under the “Golden Dome”. They even had a lucky encounter with Lieutenant Governor Phil Scott who took time out of his day to have a picture taken!

I was able to briefly join the mentor pairs for part of their tour, and as I listened and watched I was so thankful for all of the mentors who volunteer their time to our students at BCEMS. I am so glad that some of our mentor pairs were able to get to the Statehouse last week, but am even more grateful for the relationships that I know will have an enduring, positive influence on our students.


Sunday, January 3, 2016

Happy New Year!

The school year is a cycle of promise and new beginnings. The patterns are familiar and full of hope and challenges both known and unknown. The best learning communities use a mindset that helps to propel students and each other forward through the year, address and move through challenges head on and celebrate successes. 

The second quarter principal's challenge asked each classroom to brainstorm a possible BC middle school acronym motto. A motto can point us in a direction and remind us of that direction when sidetracked by other, perhaps less important things. Once the individual classroom work was done, students
 then voted as a team on two per grade level.  The top acronyms from each team made it into the school wide challenge and put to vote.I was so proud of each team as I read the possibilities and the words that our students came up with. All of the entries showed vision, creativity and reflective and purposeful thinking. The entries also showed me that BCEMS students care about themselves, their education, each other and their community. Any of the acronyms created would have represented our values well. After voting over a few days, the motto chosen by staff and students (with a total of 99 votes) was S.T.A.N.D. U.P. The acronym was revealed at our December whole school assembly. This acronym stands for Self respect, Tolerance, Achievement, Never Quit, Do good, (with) Unity and Positivity This represents the ideals of what we want our learning community to be, the characteristics we want to exemplify and the message that we we want to convey to our community as a whole. 

I am confident that 2016 will bring great opportunities and strong teaching and learning to us at BCEMS. We will continue to advance our mission of doing whatever it takes to ensure success for every child. We will do this by working together as a learning community that supports all students in realizing their greatest potential. As we welcome students back from the holiday break, we must remember that our school has a wonderful opportunity and a tremendous responsibility to create for our students an environment of universal acceptance and high expectations. We are the ones who create the feeling of being welcomed in a place where success for all will happen. Our new Middle school motto will help to support this mindset.

S.T.A.N.D. U.P. and welcome to 2016!