ELABORATE KICK OFF BY THE BFA FAIRFAX MIDDLE SCHOOL
Al Daniels, Pat Nilsson, Jim Lonergan, Jen Skerrett, Marc Choiniere, Marlene Karr, Marc Brunelle (Sound FX) and the entire Middle School Faculty and Para educators
This web page contains an article written by Jedd Kettler, County Courier Staff Writer. The four photos shown on this web site were also taken by Jedd Kettler which appeared in the November 13, 2003 issue of the County Courier. I would like to thank The County Courier, on behalf of the BFA Centennial Committee and BFA-Fairfax, not only for the excellent coverage they have given us, but in addition, allowing me to share these items with you. These photos are much clearer and sharper than any I could possibly take and Jedd did an excellent job of covering and writing up the event. Many, Many thanks to all of you at the County Courier.
Jennifer Skerrett and Lisa Griswold display some food items that were not around at the time of the school's founding.
(County Courier Photo by Jedd Kettler)
BFA Fairfax Principal Scott Lang portrays school founder Hiram Bellows while Vice Principal and emcee Tom Walsh looks on.
(County Courier Photo by Jedd Kettler)
BFA Fairfax teachers Ellen Knight and Jan Jeffords perform a scene from of "Our Town," in the school's gymnasium on Tuesday, November 11, 2003
100 Years Of BFA-Fairfax Adds To Students' Education
History Of A Town Through The Eyes Of Its School
By Jedd Kettler
FAIRFAX: The lights went out. Middle-school students in the BFA-Fairfax gymnasium gasped and applauded at the spectacle that followed. White and colored lights flashed from the darkness. Smoke rolled through the hollow face of a large clock, ushering in a visitor from more than a century before.
Hiram Bellows, whose philanthropy brought BFA-Fairfax to life 100 years ago, appeared to be stepping through the clock into the year 2003.
So began a special unit at the school in which students will learn about the history of their school and what life was like when it was founded. The special unit will culminate in another school assembly on Friday, Nov. 21, with presentations by students to demonstrate what they have learned.
This is just one of the many events that are commemorating the school's 100 year milestone throughout the year.
"It teaches them about their school and about their town," said BFA-Fairfax School Board Chair Peg Stewart.
The school and the community have seen dramatic changes since the school's founding, some that might be difficult for younger generations to fathom.
At Tuesday's assembly teachers offered students a broad range of unique classes they can attend this week and next.
"They go by their interests," said Pat Nilsson, a sixth grade teacher at the school. "So it's student driven."
The classes range from acting and other theater, website design, cooking, dance, meteorology, interviewing those who lived through the time, and many others to help today's students get a better understanding of the changes the building, the town and world have seen over the course the past century.
"There've been a lot of changes," said Albert Rich, who was born in 1907 and is the oldest living graduate of the school. Rich grew up in Fairfax and graduated from BFA-Fairfax.
"I started (at the school) when I was five years old," Rich remembered. "I was a good student."
Rich said that though he lived in the village and could walk to school, many of his classmates took the "bus" from farther away. Buses in the early 20th century were not at all like the ones BFA-Fairfax students ride today, though.
"They were drawn by horses," he remembered. A photograph confirming Rich's recollection can be found on local historian Henry Raymond's website www.vtgrandpa.com/index.html. Raymond, who is vice-president of the Fairfax Historical Society, has set up a special page looking at the 100 year history of the school.
Later, the old buses were called "barges" and looked much like an old truck with a wooden box on the back. They had wood stoves in them to keep the students warm as they travelled on cold winter days.
Transportation is not the only thing that has changed since BFA-Fairfax opened, and there is more to the history than outright contrasts with our lives today.
One difference between school today and school in Hiram Bellows' day is that today, every child has the opportunity to attend school. For some, such as Bellows himself, school was out of reach because of its cost.
Bellows was born in Fairfax in 1798. Because his family could not afford the fees for the academies, he was unable to receive the equivalent of a high school education.
Bellows did go on to success, however, taking over his father's leasing and mortgage business, serving as a state senator in 1845 and 1846, and playing a role in the forming of the Vermont and Canada Railroad Company. When he died at the age of 78 in 1876, his estate was estimated at over half a million dollars. Apparently Bellows always regretted not being able to continue his education and wanted to help future generations who might face similar deprivations. In his will Bellows laid the seed for a "free school" in the town of Fairfax, by bequeathing shares of the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad companies.
"It is my wish that children of indigent parents receive ... advantage of said school in preference to those who have ample means of support of their children," Bellows wrote in his will.
Lee Minor, the vice-chair of the BFA-Fairfax Trustees, said, "He left a trust so everyone would be educated."
It was not until more than a quarter of a century had past and the stocks had matured enough to erect the first building that Bellows got his wish.
The free, public school opened in 1903 and from an initial graduating class of one in 1904, the school began to grow. In the following fall there were 270 total students registered at the school, according to Raymond's website.
Since that time the school population has grown to about 1000 students. BFA-Fairfax is the largest - and one of the few remaining - schools with students from kindergarten to grade 12.
The original school building burned in 1941 and was rebuilt the following year. Additions were made over the years to accommodate the expanding school population.
Changes to the campus over the years have been dramatic. "What used to be a pond is now a field (for soccer and other sports)," said Minor. He said he remembers catching frogs in that pond 20 years ago.
Starting in January 2003, the school and the community began celebrating the school's centennial with a long list of events, including alumni days, the dedication of new baseball dugouts, school-wide photographs, special landscaping projects and other school events.
On Nov. 21 from 1-2:30 p.m. the middle school students will take part in a gala presentation of what they have learned in their special unit, said Nilsson. The event will include skits, a Hiram Bellows look alike contest, music and visits from representatives of Vermont's congressional representatives.
The school-wide celebration of the 100-year history will end with graduation in the spring, with a commemoration of the school's first graduation ceremony.
Nilsson said the events, and the involvement of both the school and the larger community are natural for the area. "We love our kids. We love our town," she said. "The town people and the school just work so closely together."
Henry A. Raymond
November 12, 2003