We have arrived at the end of our first full week of the Burlington City & Lake Semester, and it feels like a perfect time to share a glimpse of these first few days. Before reading further, we apologize if it feels like peeking through a keyhole… No blog post could capture with any fidelity the complexity or richness of these days.
Home Away From Home
Our homebase is a classroom on the second floor of the Old North End Community Center, a building recently purchased by the Champlain Housing Trust, and partly managed by Burlington’s Parks Recreation and Waterfront Department. Parks and Rec has been a wonderful partner–generous, responsive, and creative. When students first walked into the room, there were audible exhales, and visible smiles. When asked what their response was to the space, they mentioned the natural light, the plants, and the “homey vibe.” We feel fortunate to have a place that we can live into, and where students are already showing that comfort can lead to taking risks.
Our group is remarkably diverse, and who we are is already one of the best parts of the program. Each time we glance up and see our group, we feel like we need to pinch ourselves. It feels like a dream… Learners from every neighborhood in the city, from every imaginable social group, held together by one thing–that they all had the desire to be on this journey. Early on, we invited each to share the reasons that they made this bold choice, and although each story had its own motivation and flavor, there was a common thread: wanting to “do school differently.” Over the next few days, we’ve explored this theme further, and students have spoken eloquently about feeling ready for greater purpose, collaboration, and voice. It’s an amazing group of young people, and although our first day had its share of moments of awkward hesitation, we’ve already been heartened to see more and more moments of courage, as students have shed their shells and connected more deeply with one another.
Along with the time spent investing in our nascent learning community, we have already dipped our toe into BCL’s real world curriculum. Our first unit is focused on exploring the city, and on unpacking the complexity and interdependence of the systems we usually take for granted. Although the following barely scrape the surface, it offers a taste of what we’ve embraced in these first few days:
- We introduced and explored a variety of frameworks of “systems thinking.”
- We hosted Andrea Todd, whose ready laugh and candid stories helped offer context to students’ exploration of multi-modal transportation in Burlington.
- UVM Anthropology Professor, Luis Vivanco, shared the fascinating story of Antanas Mockus, the Mayor of Bogota, a man who used a radical combination of administrative creativity and performance art to transform his Colombian city.
- Vermont Agency of Transportation Archaeologist, Brennan Gauthier, led a walking tour of Burlington’s transportation history, highlighting everything from transformative tunnels to hidden ravines–and clearly making the case that the history of movement is the history of Burlington.
- Students began to apply their understanding of the transportation system to specific issues they face in their neighborhoods, designing simple “levers of change.”
What an amazing few days. But what we’ve done doesn’t compare to how it has felt. There is a palpable feeling of both intent and inquiry, focus and playfulness. And it’s infectious. How lucky are we that we get to dig deeper next week?