This entry was written by Burlington High School junior and BCL Fall Semester student Mary Lenihan.
I used to never want to go to school. Waking up at 7:00 a.m., sitting in a classroom, being lectured on a topic that I had little interest in, sitting with students that I had never talked to before…these things just didn’t work for me. Sure, I got good grades, but I wasn’t motivated to learn. The Burlington City & Lake Semester program (BCL) changed that for me. It taught me many things, and it showed me that I learn best in a close-knit community where everyone supports each other without judgement. In BCL we do things out in the community, and we as a group have formed our own special community. Through community partners, we have learned about important problems in our community and have had a voice in finding possible solutions. In BCL, students and teachers are treated as one. We are all learning together. Teachers aren’t higher up and our voices matter just as much as theirs. I found that being in this type of learning environment motivated me.
Throughout the semester in BCL, we focused on the theme of thriving. We asked questions about whether our city’s systems are thriving, whether the lake is thriving, and whether the Old North End, where our home base is located, is thriving. We came up with various answers to those questions, and I found myself thinking about whether I myself was thriving as a learner. I realize now that at BHS, I wasn’t really thriving. I got good grades, but I wasn’t motivated to learn or participate in larger discussions. I was content with sitting quietly in class. BCL created a nurturing environment in which we could all count on each other. This helped to me thrive as person and as a learner.
This learning environment has also helped me to set and reach my goals. If you were to ask anyone who knows me, they would probably say that I’m very quiet. BCL helped bring me out of my shell, and helped me become more confident in sharing my thoughts and ideas. In small groups, I have become very comfortable sharing, and sometimes I even find myself leading the conversation. Talking to larger groups is still difficult for me, but all of the teachers recognized my strengths and things I need to work on, which motivated me to push myself and work on sharing out. In the second quarter, we all chose a Graduate Expectation [GX] to focus on and collect evidence to demonstrate. For my GX, I chose to focus on Personal Development. After exploring data collection as a class, the idea that “We measure what we care about, and we care about what we measure,” inspired me to track my own sharing in larger groups. Since I was trying to increase my confidence and my participation, I pushed myself to share more often. I definitely still have a ways to go, but because I am measuring my progress, I notice myself actually trying to improve. I will keep working on this because finding a purpose in learning has made me happier.
Not only has BCL helped me to create and reach goals, it has also improved my asking questions and making connections. In the beginning of the semester we were given journals graded on four criteria: Capturing the Day, Thinking on Paper, Questions & Connections, and Organization & Presentation. I found I was really good at taking notes. I had pages filled with notes from when we met with community partners, but I was having trouble asking the “Big Questions” of the day and making connections to prior knowledge/experiences. After realizing that I needed to work on it, I started to focus on questioning. Even if a question seemed “stupid,” I would write it down. It’s important for active minds to be asking questions, because there is a lot to wonder about the world. In school we are often so focused on getting good grades that sometimes our curiosity vanishes. I have learned that curiosity motivates us to go deeper. It is the place where questions come from, leading to expanding our ideas, generating new perspectives and creating rich connections. This cycle also leads us right back to more questions. It is how we grow our thinking and grow as individuals. This kind of learning and growth is something we can carry with us throughout our lives. And it can all start with a journal and a group of people sharing a common experience.
I have been going to high school for almost three years, and my parents for the first year or so would ask me every day when I came home from school, “What’d you learn today, Mary?” I would respond with, “Uh, I don’t know.” I never wanted to talk about school. My parents eventually stopped asking me because I would respond with the same thing every time. During BCL, I would come home after every Blue Day and tell my parents about what I learned, or some cool fact about Burlington, without any prompting. During parent teacher conferences, my dad went up to the teachers and said, “Thank you. Mary is actually talking about school.” I believe that every student should go home and want to talk about what they learned that day. All students should have the opportunity to learn about issues within their community and beyond. All students should feel like they have people that support them and that they can trust and count on. I am truly going to miss BCL. It will be something that I remember for the rest of my life.