Year End Studies, Scavenger Hunts, and Students in Our City

Students in front of "Democracy" sculpture in downtown Burlington

During the final two weeks of the school year, Burlington High School students participate in the Year End Studies program, an opportunity to dive deeply into topics and activities not normally covered in a traditional high school curriculum. In the past Dov and I have separately taught courses on everything from ice cream making to local philanthropy to the local music scene. This year, in anticipation of the City and Lake Semester, Dov and I decided to join forces to explore Burlington with a group of students to see what we could learn.

We didn’t just want to learn about the city, however. We wanted to make sure that we had a good time doing it. And we wanted to be sure not to learn just a list of facts and figures, but to learn the stories that make Burlington what it is; sure, you may be able to point to Dunder Rock from Battery Park, but do you know why it’s called Dunder Rock? Do you know its centrality to Abenaki people? It was these depths that we were hoping to explore. We wanted to get to the essence of the city, and nothing is more essential than stories. So we went to find the experts best suited to share Burlington’s stories with us.

We pulled out our rolodexes, borrowed our friends’ rolodexes, and called on over a dozen community partners to help us better understand the social, cultural, economic, and even ghostly history of the Queen City. Over the course of a week, we gathered as much information on as many different topics as we could about Burlington, focusing mainly on the downtown corridor, with the aim of creating a scavenger hunt where we could share what we learned about our city’s unique history.  

We began the week of June 5th with Melinda Johns from Burlington City Arts who led us on a public art tour, followed by Gary DeCarolis of Burlington History Tours who shared with us the history of Battery Park and the waterfront. On Tuesday morning Prudence Doherty welcomed us to Special Collections at the University of Vermont’s Bailey Howe Library, while in the afternoon historian Kyle Obenauer and archaeologist Brennan Gauthier from the Vermont Transit Authority took us on a rain-soaked walk from the Fletcher Free Library in downtown Burlington down to the waterfront, documenting the city’s transportation history from horses to toboggans to streetcars to buses to boats to trains. Thea Lewis from Queen City Ghostwalk let us in on some of Burlington’s spookier secrets Wednesday morning, and in the afternoon arborist Elise Shadler from the VT Urban and Community Forestry Program had us looking up toward the canopy overhead, filling us in on the basics of urban forestry and Burlington’s inspiring commitment to trees. On Thursday we connected with Karyn Norwood from Preservation Burlington who led us on an architectural tour of the city where we learned our italianate from our chateauesque. On Friday morning Gail Rosenberg of Burlington Edible History led a culinary tour of the city before Sean Beckett of UVM and Burlington Geographic wrapped up the week with an ecological tour of Burlington’s waterfront.

By the end of the week, we all knew the Woodbury family from the Wells family and our Kings from our Follets. We learned why some doors are perched a bit too high for foot traffic, and where smugglers used to stash contraband when looking to avoid tariffs on foreign goods. After a quick lesson on rhyme and meter from youth librarian Megan Estey Butterfield at the Fletcher Free Library (our gracious hosts during our time downtown!), students rolled up their sleeves and created a scavenger hunt, focusing mainly on Burlington’s downtown core. It’s now ready for the public and you can access here. Full of fascinating details from our work with community partners, it should take you about two to three hours to complete. We hope it will leave you as we left it – never able to see the city the same again.  

While YES was a great way to get out and stretch our legs for the final two weeks of school, breaking beyond the walls of the school buildings, more importantly it provided an opportunity to showcase exactly the kind of learning we hope to foster within the City and Lake Semester. Mobile, responsive, and local. As we continue to plan for our 2018 launch, we’ll be taking the lessons learned and relationships forged from this work with us into our design stages.

And seriously. Give the scavenger hunt a try. And let us know how it went! In case you missed it, it’s right here.

– Peter

As Summers rolls in, we will be actively engaged in the mental work of planning for the City and Lake Semester, but our online presence will be scarce. We hope to reconnect with everyone in late August. Be well!

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