The Power in Connection

Ruby Guth is a junior at Burlington High School and participated in Burlington City & Lake’s first semester this past fall. 

Over my high school years, my idea of learning has drastically changed. Now that the semester of BCL is complete, I have a good sense of what kind of learning has worked best for me, and why. Burlington High School is great, in my opinion, but just like any other big public high school, it is hard to feel connected as a community with your peers and educators. Through the years, I have begun to understand the difference between education and learning. BCL has certainly made me aware of how important the distinction is. Going through the school’s system of three years in middle school, four years of high school, and possibly many years after that in college, we are educated using standardized material, and go through the motions to build ourselves a career. However, systems have issues. Barriers. Imperfections.

I have done some further thinking about what BCL has done to combat these overlooked barriers to learning in the school system. Over the past few weeks, I have reflected on the lack of opportunity, through standard high school, to learn about things we truly care about. I believe that learning comes way more naturally when you understand why you are learning it in the first place. In the BCL semester, we encountered a key idea in social science: “We measure what we care about, and we care about what we measure.” This seems relevant to my experience of school as well. When I’m learning about things I care about, I care about learning. I feel passionate, and want to further understand what it is I’m being taught. For many students, a lack of connection has a huge impact on their experience of school. It’s hard to thrive, and meet your full potential, while sitting at a desk and taking in information, or taking a standardized test. No wonder learning doesn’t feel connected to the real world.

Why is it that high school students never seem to know what they want to do as a career when they’re older? Because they are not given the chance to have real world experiences, and to discover something they care to learn about–something they could potentially devote their life to. Meeting with our many community partners through our program has been a wonderful hands-on experience. We learned about things that matter through people who are passionate about their jobs. Over the BCL semester I have grown to understand not only the difference between education and learning, but also the importance in doing something meaningful with my life, and doing something that I care about. I want to go into the field of psychology for a career, because I am interested in learning more about people, and how we function. This has been an interest of mine for a long time, but through many experiences in BCL of human bonding through vulnerability and connection I have developed a passion for it. I now feel connected to my own path after graduation.

Another challenge in the traditional school system is how hard it is for many people to make social connections, and to find a community inside the school. This feeling of not being included can impair their enthusiasm to learn. In the process of writing this piece, I talked to one of my BCL friends, Eva, who explained her personal views on how the Burlington City & Lake Semester had shaped her learning. Eva lives and learns with Williams Syndrome, which doesn’t make her unable to go to school and be educated, it just makes it harder. Eva reflected on the difference between learning at BHS and learning in BCL, saying, “It’s inclusive… They want people with different backgrounds and identities to be a part of this group. I feel like everyone actually cares what I have to say, and I personally think I have really insightful, different ideas, because of my experiences.” When I asked Eva what her favorite memory of the semester was, she answered, “When we were talking about our life story, and we brought three objects in that were meaningful to us. We all bonded, and learned from each other’s experiences.” I personally agree with Eva that we simply have a lot to learn from each other. We have a lot to learn about the community partners we meet with, a lot to learn about the way our city works and thrives… But we also have a lot to learn about one another.

Over the course of this semester, I learned so much from other people in the real world. We did a lot of work in BCL to create connection between one another as well and ended up building a strong community. We also used connections to deepen our reflections so that we could build off of our learning and other people’s work. Through discussions I’ve had with Eva, and my other peers, my understanding of the things we are learning in class, our community, and our culture, has grown and deepened. Overall, the learning we do in BCL feels more connected to the real world, to each other, and to our own values and interests. After this semester, I feel more connected to my learning, my community, and to my impact in the real world.

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