Saturday, February 26, 2022

February Letter from the Principal


February 2022

Dear Great Falls Families,

I hope you all enjoyed the February break with your children. The winter vacation is always a nice time to re-energize for the next stretch of our school year. There are a lot of things happening in the next few weeks that I will detail below for your planning purposes.

February 28th - March 4th is Read Across America Week: This week we will celebrate Read Across America Week with some fun spirit days and school events. 

  • Join us for book-themed spirit days!  

    • Monday, February 28th - Bad Case of Stripes Day, wear stripes!  

    • Wednesday, March 2nd - I Want My Hat Back Day, wear your favorite hat!  

    • Friday, March 4th - Book Character Day, dress as a book character!

Incoming Kindergarten Registration Night: On Tuesday, March 1st at 5:30 pm, the Great Falls administration and staff will be hosting our annual incoming Kindergarten registration night. Please pass the word about this event on to any families with students entering Kindergarten in the fall! If you have a child that will be entering Kindergarten in the Fall of 2022 at Great Falls, please complete this Kindergarten Survey if you have not already:

Parent/Teacher/Student Conferences: Virtual conferences will be held on March 16th and 18th. The general purpose of our virtual conferences is to connect with your child’s teacher, as well as obtain an update on academic progress and “skills for life.” These progress checks may include students sharing their work products, goal reflection, and the presentation of other assessments and work by the student and/or teacher. As your child will be present, it is understood that issues that are private and confidential require a different forum for communication. It is expected that issues that are of serious concern would have been discussed prior to and outside of these conferences. IEP meetings, even in close proximity to conference dates, do not take the place of student-led conferences. 

Please expect to receive an email from your child’s teacher on Wednesday, March 2nd with directions on how to register for the conference.

Monday, March 14 is our Parent Connection Meeting with the School Committee: Join the Great Falls admin and School Committee members during our next in-person Parent Connection meeting on Monday, March 14th at 6pm in the Great Falls Library.

Wednesday, March 16th is the In-Person Book Fair:  It’s time for the Great Falls Book Fair! This time it will be online and in-person! Even though conferences will be virtual, families can come to the Great Falls library and shop in-person on Wednesday, March 16th from 1:00 - 6:00 pm. Revenue from the book fair helps support our library collection as well as our One School One Book school-wide project.

March Early Release Days: Students will be dismissed at 12 pm on Wednesday, March 9th, 16th, and 23rd.

As always, please feel free to reach out to me at any time with questions and feedback. I am available through email at and by phone at 222-1050.

Take care and be well,

Becky Fortier, Great Falls Principal

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

"A Day in the Life of a Kindergartener" at Great Falls


of a Kindergarten Student at Great Falls

A “Day in the Life of a Student” series happily continues at Great Falls. My most recent experience took me to kindergarten where I was the lucky principal that enjoyed the entire day with sweet Hazel. Mrs. Lyons made sure that I played the part by purchasing matching rainbow t-shirts with flashy sequin embellishment. Coolest shirt EVER!

Starting the day with a morning meeting is a powerful and important component of a kindergarten classroom. Hazel and classmates greatly benefited from taking the time to ease into the school day through a very thoughtful and comprehensive greeting, sharing, activity, and morning message. It was the perfect way to meet the social and emotional needs of kindergarten students while incorporating academic standards. It also reminded me why kindergarten needs a later creative arts block and how important an uninterrupted morning session is to start their day. 

Once the students were ready to learn, Mrs.Lyons transitioned into a literacy lesson followed up by centers. Kindergarten is the start to building a most solid reading foundation! Hazel and her classmates worked on understanding the relationship between sounds and words, reading fluency, understanding what they read, expanding their vocabulary, and building knowledge. They love learning together in a playful environment and benefited from the quick and engaging tasks found at each center. A favorite activity was definitely the rhyming memory match game. Wordplay helps kindergarteners understand how words are broken into individual syllables and how words with similar endings rhyme. Exposing young readers to how letters, sounds, and words work together really builds up their beginning reading skills. 

Lunch and recess came quick but the students (and me too) were hungry and ready to play. I was very curious as to what kindergarteners choose to do at recess and this experience did not disappoint! Recess is a time for kindergarteners to increase their level of physical activity and enjoy games with their friends. Recess encourages creative play and is one of the hallmarks of development for early elementary students. It is clearly one of their favorite times of the day! During this particular recess, Hazel and friends ran and I followed along as we ran to various continents, countries, and states! It was hilarious and at the same time - SO MUCH FUN! I got in a great workout and felt re-energized for the rest of the day! 

If I needed any more evidence for the positive results of cross-age experiences in an elementary school, witnessing reading buddies between fifth graders and kindergarteners would do it! The experience enhances personal and interpersonal skills while improving connectedness to school. The benefits of this amazing relationship increase empathy and relationships and was a joy to watch. Hazel clearly has established a great connection with her two buddies and looked forward to their time together. 

Kindergarteners learn by doing. They enjoy observing, asking questions, touching, and experimenting. Mrs. Lyons incorporated a science experiment about blubber by presenting the question “how do penguins stay warm”? The students were given special glasses that turned them into scientists. The students had the chance to make discoveries on their own. Hazel and classmates enjoyed the activity as they worked on reasoning and problem-solving skills in a safe and encouraging environment. They had a blast learning about how blubber works to keep penguins warm! When activities are engaging and fun, kindergarteners are more willing to participate and take risks. Having fun while learning also helps students retain information better as the process is enjoyable and memorable. 

The afternoon in kindergarten consisted of snack time, math, and social skills. It was wonderful to see a similar math warm-up activity used in fifth grade that was adapted to meet the needs of kindergarteners. Hazel and classmates engaged in several math activities that helped them to recognize numbers, count, and compute.  

From my experience in kindergarten, I would describe our youngest learners at Great Falls as fearless, energetic, considerate, daring, and kind. I am thankful for this opportunity! Special thank you to Mrs. Lyons and Mrs. Sawyer for allowing me to join your learning environments. A great big cheer to Hazel for being the best kindergarten buddy for the day! 

Next up in the “Day in the Life of a Student” series will be grade 3! Stay tuned for more adventures as I continue to stay connected to our students and gain a first-hand perspective of their days at school. 


***Special bonus!! During my day in kindergarten, Mrs. Lyons got the text message that she was going to be a grandmother for the 3rd time… this time to her first granddaughter! Congratulations, Mrs. Lyons! 🙌  💖  🐥

Saturday, February 19, 2022

"A Day in the Life of a 4th Grader" at Great Falls

 of a Fourth Grade Student at Great Falls

What a gift to spend Valentine’s Day with the sweetest student. Colton was kind enough to allow me to shadow him throughout his school day. He was full of happiness and pure joy! Seeing school through his eyes was an incredible experience. 

We started off the day by taking a moment to share a new read-aloud with our school community. I was fortunate to meet Village School parent and author, Ornella Ngabire. Ornella wrote the book "Smiley Girl" which delivers a call to action for kindness. To celebrate this special week and refocus on what it means to give back to others, Colton and I delivered a copy of her book to each classroom and the school library. 

It is no secret that our students are being introduced to technology at an early age. There is research that shows that by the time a student reaches fourth grade, they may be more tech-savvy than their parents. Fourth graders are familiar and comfortable with the use of devices and are able to easily adapt to new learning. On this day, I was able to attend Colton’s technology class with Mrs. Mason. He and his classmates were rock stars as they developed “book snaps” to promote and share a current book with others. Fourth graders love to express themselves in creative ways and this was a great way to keep students engaged.

It was interesting to discover that most fourth-graders pack their own snacks for school. The favorite snacks appeared to be fruit (Colton loves his apples), granola bars, applesauce, yogurt pouches, chips, and crackers. 

Joining Colton throughout the day reinforced how important it is to engage a fourth-grader in their own learning. Tapping into student interest and curiosity increases the level of motivation and progress. This was true during Colton’s time to advance along with the Iditarod Challenge.  Mrs. Stanley annually introduces her students to the legendary dog sled race and facilitates this exciting project. Colton and his peers were eager to solve problems and make decisions regarding their sled dogs. What a fun way to encourage problem-solving and real-world math and mapping skills.

Developing a growth mindset is essential as a fourth-grader. Throughout the day, Colton was given opportunities to acknowledge and embrace mistakes as part of the learning process. He was able to take risks when he felt safe and knew that making mistakes and learning from them as normal. Because of the growth mindset culture, it was interesting to see when fourth-graders would use grit and perseverance even when faced with academic challenges.

Fourth grade is the year when students really start to enjoy reading for pleasure. Whether it is historical fiction, fantasy, mysteries, or realistic fiction, when fourth-graders find books that are “just right” they are engaged and their reading stamina increases drastically. Colton loves graphic novels that include fantasy and science fiction. Finding the perfect genre for a fourth-grader may be tricky but once it happens, it’s like magic! Luckily Mrs. Sedenka is an invaluable resource and makes book recommendations part of her classroom culture. Fourth graders also enjoy being read to. The students were captivated at any point in the day when their teacher read aloud. …and I enjoyed it as well! 

Lunch and recess is a great opportunity for the students to be social with peers and share their favorite video games, activities, and plans for their free time. Colton highly recommends the chicken sandwich and fries. Unfortunately, the outdoor “feels like” temperature was below 10 degrees on this particular school day so recess was held indoors. The choices for indoor recess in Colton’s classroom included computer time, board games, reading, and drawing. Most fourth-graders chose computer time. 

Here’s a fun fact about me… I was first hired in Gorham in 1999 as a fourth-grade teacher! It is an amazing grade and the students at this age are so alive. They have big feelings about most things. Whether it is joy, excitement, anxiety, or disappointment, fourth graders are very animated. They do best in school when their teachers respond to their intensity with a consistent, relaxed, and light-hearted approach. The most important thing for a fourth-grader is that they feel safe, loved, and comfortable. The environment must make them feel secure so they are able to take academic risks. 

I absolutely enjoyed my day Colton! I was reminded of what a tremendous amount of social, academic, and physical growth occurs during this particular academic year. Students in this grade tend to be curious, sensitive, and serious about fairness and justice. They work hard during the school day and are being asked to do more things on their own than in earlier grades. Colton was a hard worker and a perfect companion for my “day in the life of a fourth grader”. Special thank you to Mrs. Sedenka, Mrs. Stanley, Mrs. Bryant, Mrs. Mason, and Mrs. Beaulieu for letting me visit their learning environments. Huge appreciation to Colton, who inspires me to never lose focus of the perspective of our students.