Lake Champlain has been the focus of our studies for the past few weeks. Burlington would not exist at all without the lake or the generous bay that graces this spot on the shore. So we set out to deepen the relationship that all of us have with this great body of water and gain a better understanding of how it shapes our community.
As an introduction to this unit, we aimed to put direct experiences at the center of our learning, an opportunity that school rarely affords. Beyond experiences, we also sought out people in the community whose lives are deeply tied to the lake. These kinds of connections – personal and interpersonal – lie at the heart of place-based education and maybe more profoundly, at the heart of what it means to be human. What better place to start?
On our first day, we began by journaling about our sensory experience of being at the lakeshore and taking the time to notice again a place that is familiar to many of us. Some enjoyed the invitation to focus on the sound and the smell of the lake, awakening senses that often take a backseat to our vision. Others struggled with the exercise! Everyone got the chance to reflect on the challenge, where much of the learning lives.
With our friends at the Lake Champlain Sailing Center, we took two hours to kayak and sail on a crisp, sunny day. In a fast-paced world, we don’t travel at the pace of nature very often – sailing with the wind, riding along behind a horse, or paddling down a river. The chance to be swallowed up by the immensity of the lake and sky – and to put the cares of the city at a distance – was also a way to understand the lake as a recreational resource firsthand. Recreation is currently one of the primary ‘uses’ of Lake Champlain, bringing in millions of dollars to Burlington’s economy every year.
Our next sections of the lake unit will focus on history and scientific research. But we began with some direct experiences by design. Experience is always interdisciplinary and therefore offers multiple entry points for students into a topic of study. At its best, it is immediately engaging. It doesn’t require any specialized knowledge to be accessible, but it can lead in so many directions. These are key considerations as we aim to create an inclusive teaching and learning environment in the City & Lake Semester. It’s also a way that we create relationships – and conditions – where stewardship and citizenship attitudes can sprout and grow in our group.
Journal excerpt: “I smell nothing in the beginning… my breaths pull in only the sharp breeze of a September day. In, out, my nose warbles from my cold but after a few minutes I notice it: the unique smell of lake… a slimy green-ness of rocks that have sat on the lakeshore for an eternity… the smell is good, mostly, with an after-scent that is a little ‘past.’ Too much of a good thing, maybe?” – Isidora