Showing parents how to help their children succeed
Serving schools and families since 1990
An elementary school principal in Vermont leads his school into the new academic year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
This RFE Subscriber Spotlight is based on an interview with Chris Dodge, Principal of Fletcher Elementary School in Fletcher, Vermont.
An educator who is very serious about the content of any material that leaves his building, this elementary school principal relies on five RFE publications and finds creative ways to fund them.
Nestled in the Green Mountains of Vermont with its verdant forests and ridges that provide opportunities for hikers and skiers, is the small rural community of Fletcher. Some folks work in town and others on their farms. Fletcher is within commuting distance to the more urban Burlington-Essex area, so some residents also travel there for work. Fletcher Elementary School is a small school (enrollment of around 110) for students in grades PK–6 led by Principal Chris Dodge, a 25-year veteran of the education field.
Chris is a native Vermonter whose mom was a teacher for her whole career. His journey in education—all in Vermont—has allowed him to do a number of different things, beginning with teaching grade 4 and then a loop through grade 2 and grade 3. He found that supporting the social-emotional learning of students was an area in which he was particularly interested, so he went back to get his master’s degree in counseling. That was followed by working as a school counselor for a couple of years, which sparked what he calls becoming a bit of a self-proclaimed school junkie when he went back to get his administrative license 14 years ago. His experience has shown him that the Fletcher community is incredibly committed to his school and all the children who go there.
To help deliver on that commitment, Fletcher Elementary recently renewed its subscriptions for five RFE newsletters: Math + Science Connection (Beginning and Intermediate Editions), Reading Connection (Beginning and Intermediate Editions), and Nutrition Nuggets. Chris looked at the available publications on the rfeonline.com website to make targeted decisions based on parent feedback.
“We decided to add Nutrition Nuggets, for example, when we did a parent survey in 2019 and asked parents what information they wanted us to send home that would engage them and their students,” explained Chris. “One of the hot topics for us was nutrition. Nutrition Nuggets turns out to be a really good fit and I think the newsletters get high readership with the parents.”
Parents will provide feedback to Chris via email that they conducted an activity from Nutrition Nuggets, or that they and their children played math games and did science experiments from the other newsletters.
“Parents are all able to do the activities with everyday materials,” adds Chris. “For us, roughly one in three of our students qualifies for free lunch. That means I can’t send home something that tells parents to go to the store and buy these $20 worth of materials! But most families have a mason jar and a measuring cup. The activities are simple, easy to follow, and in plain English. I appreciate how accessible the newsletters are in both materials and content, and also readability.”
Considering the financial constraints of his rural community, which only multiplied when COVID-19 came on the scene, Chris is frugal when it comes to his school budget. That has led him to find creative ways to fund his subscriptions.
Chris explains, “I have funded the newsletters in a couple of different ways, including a Medicaid grant. We also have a section of our school’s continuous improvement plan called Safe and Healthy Schools through federal Title 1 funding. That’s how I funded the Nutrition Nuggets newsletter, for example. All together I am funding the newsletters through four different sources.”
Communicating with parents through materials such as the RFE newsletters took on enhanced importance with the appearance of COVID-19 in March. Fletcher Elementary, like most schools, pivoted to remote learning—with a comprehensive weekly learning plan sent home via email or another online platform. As the summer draws to a close, the school plans to open in September within a hybrid model
“Half of our students are returning on Mondays and Tuesdays, and the other half on Thursdays and Fridays,” says Chris. “The reduced number of students on campus allows for greater social distancing. Everyone will wear a mask. We’ll do serious cleaning constantly. For the three days in between, students will learn remotely, and Wednesdays will be used to deep clean the building. We have also organized a fully remote option for students who are medically compromised or who live with someone who is.”
Fletcher Elementary faced most of the same challenges that other schools encountered throughout the country and world earlier this year. Remote learning was new to everyone at the school, but Chris was amazed at how quickly teachers used new tools and gained new knowledge. Ensuring that all families had adequate technology equipment and know-how was the biggest challenge. Chris also had an unexpected revelation.
“One unexpected silver lining was that we noticed some students who had been less engaged in the in-person classroom became more engaged online,” noted Chris. “For some, it seemed to increase their comfort level. Now, the key becomes learning from that and carrying forward all of the positive practices into our daily teaching, regardless of whether it’s online or in person.”
RFE publications that were helpful in supporting the new learning experience were the free COVID-19 special editions that RFE made available to subscribers and others through the rfeonline.com website. Chris sent them home, along with other learning materials, with meals to students. Going forward, he plans to use the RFE newsletters as the new school year presents its own set of challenges that are not unique to Fletcher Elementary.
“Strategies to make and maintain connections between kids are essential. Since students won’t see each other in person as much, we need to be creative about how we connect them,” adds Chris. “We will definitely use our family email list to distribute the newsletters. Almost all of our families are able to access email, so this works pretty well. We also use our website to allow families to access archived issues.”
Since Chris is drawn to small rural schools and all the challenges that come along with them, that makes Fletcher Elementary an ideal place for him to engage in his commitment to education and his love for his home state.
“I think Vermont, on the whole, places a very high value on schools and education,” said Chris. “We really emphasize the social-emotional learning as being as important as academic learning, and I love that.”
While Chris Dodge and administrators and teachers from schools around the country all bravely face the unique circumstances presented by the 2020–2021 school year, RFE has pivoted to help as well. Newsletters are being researched and written with all teaching scenarios in mind so the guidance will be as valuable as always. All subscriptions are delivered electronically now as well, so educators can download their monthly issues wherever they are and whenever they want. The responsibility for supporting the education of children is felt by everyone involved in the field now more than ever.
Guided by an experienced and caring leader, Chris Dodge continues to break new ground by making knowledge available in whatever ways work for the community he serves.
To check on Fletcher Elementary, visit: www.fletcherelementary.org
To learn more about the publications to which Chris subscribes, visit:
Fletcher Elementary School
Past Subscriber Spotlight:
Past Subscriber Spotlight:
Past Subscriber Spotlight: