“A Different Side of Ourselves”

High school student and kindergartner laughing over lunch

Every day, students who walk into our Old North End Community Center classroom are greeted by a poster that reads “What Does it Take for a Community to Thrive?”  It is an essential question that guides all of our learning. Every experience students have is seen through this lens. Sometimes, looking through that lens feels like using a microscope, as we focus on a singular idea. Other times, it feels less like a lens and more like a prism, allowing space for a variety of perspectives to emerge and shine. The more community partners that we meet with, and the more learning environments we explore, the more perspectives are added to a complex picture. What does it take for a community to thrive? We might not have the answer, but we certainly have a far better sense than we did several weeks ago. 

Students visit with Deena Murphy, at King Street Youth Center
Students visit with Deena Murphy, at King Street Youth Center

Meeting with Deena Murphy, from King Street Youth Center, really impacted me because she talked about how the youth in burlington need a place to go where they can get help, a place where they can form a community. She also talked about the struggles that she faces, and how challenging it is to build community.
     – Gabi

Learning about community with David Glidden, at Outright VT. 
Learning about community with David Glidden, at Outright VT.
High School students meeting with 5th graders
At the Sustainability Academy, BCL students discussed thriving communities with 5th graders…
High school student and kindergartner laughing over lunch
…and laughed with the Kindergartners!

I know I’ll remember our time at the Sustainability Academy, because it surprised me how smart and aware of social issues the younger kids were. Their questions surprised me and I couldn’t believe how much they already knew about community and sustainability–even in 5th grade. It gave me a lot of hope for future generations because I think that awareness is the foundation for change.
     – Lulu

Jerry Greenfield with ice cream and students
Jerry Greenfield talks with students about community building and social change…over pints and pints of ice cream!
Copy of IMG_4012
“The best thing about being Jerry is that people are so loving.”  – Jerry

Among the many people and partners we met with, a few smelled distinctly of wood smoke. In late October, BCL spent a day in the Monkton woods with the Walden Project, a program of Vergennes Union High School. Both BCL and Walden are place-based, and just how different they are is the purest expression of their commitment to doing what can only be done in the landscape each program inhabits. 

During our day together, we walked the ¼ mile path into the forest; explored Thoreau’s philosophical stance on materialism; cooked a stew over an open fire; and explored the rural setting in small groups. It was different, for sure…but the Walden Project’s investment in community-building felt familiar.

Four students walking through the woods
City kids heading to school in a place without sidewalks…
Students gather around a campfire in the woods
In the woods, a circle, a fire, and an intense engagement with philosophy.

It was really interesting that they are outside everyday. That takes a lot of risk if you’re new to the program or if you aren’t used to the elements. It was wild that we met repeating students–kids that actually wanted to come back for a second year. Also, the insight you get about nature and community… I don’t think I saw a single student really use their phone and they were really in the moment, experiencing the outdoors together.
     – Liliana

It was fun getting to spend time with them and learn about what they do. It was nice knowing we are not the only people trying to have a different learning space in school. I like spending time in the woods to learn and have their own version of Morning Meeting. I also liked meeting new people.
     – William

It made me jealous, honestly. My whole life, I’ve been wanting to learn like they are.. The woods and outdoors have always been a huge part of my childhood and ever since I was little I’ve wanted to explore careers in the outdoors. The whole “classroom” felt and looked like something I would have created as a kid. I just hope that sometime in the future I can experience school like they are.
     – Lucie 

Students cooking and eating around the campfire
Lunch, Walden-style: Stew du Jour. And yes, that’s a grilled cheese rake.

After our Walden day, I was left thinking that everyone needs their own learning environment to thrive in. I myself would not like to be in the Walden project, I don’t think that it would suit me well as a learner. But I was thinking that even though they are completely different, both the Walden project and BCL are place based learning environments. It’s clear that the  idea of community can take on so many forms. At the Walden Project, their sense of community is really amongst themselves, where at BCL a lot of our community comes from the partners and the people that we work with. In both places, it feels like there is a strong sense of community even though we are so different from each other.
     – Jensen

I feel like the purpose of school can really happen with less structure, actually. In a classroom in the woods, you’re not trapped. It seems to me that school should be more about long-lasting life lessons, things you can apply in the real world.
     – Rhiannon

5 students smiling and looking at the camera

I will definitely remember our time with the Walden kids, not just because of their different way of learning…but because that program looks like something I would love to be a part of. I love the thought of doing schooling differently and being outside while learning. I want to do more of this–more learning that feels more real-world, less like school and more like BCL. I’ve become more confident when I speak and less nervous in big groups. I’ve built relationships with kids I’ve seen in the hallways of BHS for three years now. Without this program, I’d never have the chance to interact with them, and form a real community.
     – Rubie

I think education and the way we educate is what decides if a community thrives.
     – Juan

Over the past few weeks, BCL students have had a number of opportunities to reflect on what it is that has helped our own group gel. During a recent activity, the group came up with the following: 

After adding the words that first came to mind, one student noticed a word that should also be included: FUN. They’re right. A community that plays together stays together.

Students smiling and looking off camera
Work hard, PLAY hard.

I feel that having fun together lets us project a different side of ourselves. We can connect in other ways, based on interests we may have in common or what we may be curious to try. I also just feel like the more we have those warm-hearted moments, the more we tend to want to talk more about those memories.
     – Liliana

Making time for fun really brings us together. I think it really helps us build more community. The activities that we do create a more family-feeling program. Laughing with other people truly brings you closer to them.
     – Rubie

Students huddle over something on the floor
The teachers had no idea what was happening here, and still don’t. (An indicator of “community,” maybe?)

Overall, I think I have learned that it’s good to bring in people that might not be in your group because they bring in different perspectives that you need.
     – Gabi

Throughout this semester, I have learned how much I care about community, and the presence it has in my own life. Taking BCL inspired me to write a college essay focusing on the sense of place and community I have in my life and what that means to me. BCL had allowed me to dive into what the feeling of community means and my curiosity about how to help a community thrive and grow.
     – Galen

During our study of community, I’ve learned that everyone has pain points and that judging someone’s life as “easier” because of socio-economic status, etc, isn’t a fair way to go about living. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses and you never know what’s going on in someone else’s life even if you might think you do. I’ve learned to go through the world with more empathy, or at least more respect for others’ emotions and opinions, because everyone comes from somewhere and I’ll probably never fully know where that is.
     – Lulu

In BCL, I see students being able to listen and trying to understand someone’s point of view, even if they do not agree with it. We are such a tight knit group. We really do care about each other, and I would like to believe we would want to be able to have civil discussions and try to understand where someone is coming from, even if we don’t agree with them. Honestly, my other school experiences have not been a good place for dialogue. I have seen many examples of people treating others horribly when they don’t agree with their views (especially political and controversial ones). When it feels hostile,  people can’t try to listen or understand. In BCL, I feel like I’ve practiced and learned to be open to new opportunities and meeting new people. It’s important to not be afraid, and to talk to people and get insight.
     – Tyler

I have learned about not judging other people with my eyes. In order to create relationships and a better community, you need to listen to other people’s thoughts instead of the initial perception of them that your brain creates.
     – Jonathan

There is not a true definition of thriving. It takes something different for everyone to succeed and be happy, and we don’t really know if it is possible to balance it out for everyone to thrive. All we can do is keep trying to improve.
     – Isabelle


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