Students as City Consultants

Many learning opportunities during the  semester have been initiated by BCL faculty. Some have grown out of ongoing planning with community partners. A few opportunities, however, have emerged organically. These serendipitous moments have been all the more meaningful because of how grounded they are in the real world.

Recently, one such opportunity came our way. A few weeks ago, Brian Lowe, the City of Burlington’s Interim Chief Innovation Officer, reached out with an opportunity to engage with BCL students in a way that would have intrinsic value to the City. Since 2016, the City of Burlington has been practicing a new form of data-driven decision-making. BTVStat, a program inspired by the CitiStat method, engages city departments to collect, analyze and present data, with the goal of improving city services. This iterative process has been described by Mayor Weinberger as “the steering wheel we had been missing.”

The next stage in Burlington’s investment in data is a deliberate initiative that applies the early successes of BTVStat to a broader goal: ensuring equity. The invitation from City Hall was for BCL students to consult on an early draft of the framework for what will be the city’s first Equity Report. Our collaborative consultancy was remarkably rich, with students offering insight on everything from the City’s working definition of equity, to its choice of indicators and metrics.

Just as palpable as all of the specific policy discussions, however, was the feeling in the room, a feeling best expressed by students themselves.

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I felt like I was on the same level as the city staff. They were looking to us for feedback and really valued our opinions and took all of them into consideration. They were not only asking our opinions on it, but asked specific questions. This showed that they really care about what we think and were eager to hear from us. I was very glad that we had background knowledge of the Equity Report document going into the meeting. Often in meetings between youth and adults, the adults feel they have something to teach the youth. This was not the case in this meeting. Our preparation and engagement gave us the chance to be on the same level as them.

  • Simran

I really liked being a part of something bigger than yourself, and meeting with people whose decisions really matter. I also liked how they reached out to us and actually wanted to hear what we had to say. Usually at these kind of meetings/conversations the students just listen to officials talk about something, but I liked how this was different. In this meeting, we answered questions, asked questions, and made them think about their work and how it can be improved. If we went to City Hall just to listen about the equity report I wouldn’t care as much, but because they wanted feedback from me it made me and my peers way more engaged. I observed students not just asking questions, but following it up after an answer because they actually cared about the question.

  • Finn

We were not just an audience for a presentation, we were present for a very meaningful experience. This is because we were helping with something real and that could have positive impacts throughout Burlington.

  • Isabel

It was really cool to actually have our voices support a new vision for Burlington. I didn’t even really realize how cool of a discussion it was until I got home and thought about the opportunity to join a Board. Usually I don’t feel heard when It comes to adults, but they were so excited to hear what the group had to say and that was a great feeling. Being on the the front lines, seeing the policies and developments happen is pretty cool.

  • Awa

At some points it was slightly awkward to talk to the city officials…but as we got deeper into the conversation I believe they slowly realized how serious we were about helping them to improve their draft. It was very interesting to see how the city works, and to get out to City Hall and review unreleased materials. I could see future collaborations between BCL and the City, as we have had success multiple times meeting with city officials. I hope that future BCL students can get to visit community partners and city leaders like this more often. I could see BCL becoming more integrated with city matters, and become an easy student-to-city link.

  • Wyatt

I thought that working with City officials was a really unique and interesting experience. In the moment when it was happening it didn’t seem like that big of a deal, but it actually is. It’s not everyday you see City officials asking teenage students their thoughts and opinions on decisions being made for our community. Those City officials were truly interested and taking into account the things we had to say. The official we were working with was not only listening to what we had to say and writing things down, but he was also asking US questions as well. This is the first time I have ever seen students interact with officials and have their voices be heard.

  • Denise

The experience of getting to go to City Hall and meeting with the City officials, I think, definitely enriched the education and learning that has taken place for me. The interactivity of it mattered too. If they came to us with packets and had a Powerpoint to talk to us at school (where I’m focusing more on my grade than actually really learning the material), it just wouldn’t have felt the same.

The City officials were great. They genuinely seemed to want our input which helped us feel more engaged and a part of the conversation. This ultimately made me soak up the information so much more. After all, you learn when you want to learn.

As a side note, now I find that I’m curious about how I would learn in other subjects if they were taught more like BCL. In short, I’m thinking “Wow, It’s really cool how I came across the insights that I have now–and that this experience and my reflection will actually be a graded assignment.”  I realize that I would never have had this opportunity to learn about government, or myself, in “traditional school”. BCL is leaving a (powerful) mark in my brain, as I’m able to see how I’m growing.

  • Wondu

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