Making It Work

When COVID-19 hit in late March, the BCL4 group had to pivot quickly. The group continued its flow of learning and projects online, and brought the larger community together for students’ Window of Hope event. When the semester ended in June, there was a palpable feeling of grateful arrival. We had made it

Even amidst the celebration and virtual high-fives, the BCL faculty knew that COVID wouldn’t be gone in September. For BCL to run in the Fall, we would need to get creative. Luckily, the program had many advantages: First, its curriculum is based in the real world, so it was easy to transition to teaching and learning outdoors. BCL’s embedded personalized learning opportunities (Inquiry projects, etc.) also provided an opportunity to double-down on student-centered learning. The program’s facility with small group learning allowed it to create nimble student groups. Finally, the fact that BCL had piloted online learning in the Spring allowed faculty to design a plan for remote Wednesdays that includes autonomous experiences, partner collaboration, and collective meaning-making.The look and feel of BCL might be a little different, but it’s beating heart is still there, even in the midst of a public health crisis–and BHS’ recent closure.

A small group discusses natural and human systems.
The whiteboard might be smaller, but we can still collect ideas from a student brainstorm.
Rehema shares from her Journal, as Elle looks on.

In the first few days of the BCL5 program, we introduced the essential question, “What does it mean to thrive?” We turned our attention first to natural systems, where students had a chance to make observations at the Waterfront. Below the boardwalk, where the land meets the lakeshore, students were invited to use their senses, and to take notes and sketch in their journals to begin to wrestle with this question. Even though many students had spent countless hours at the Waterfront, it was a revelation to be asked to see the place through new eyes. After documenting plants, animals, and natural relationships, the group met with City Naturalist, Alicia Daniel. Together, students discussed the complex definitions of “human-made” and “natural” and surfaced key questions about competition, dominance, and diversity.

The following day, we tested out our emerging ideas about thriving in the human community of Burlington’s urban core. We took short city walks and looked for parallels and challenges to our ideas about thriving in natural communities — a preview of the City Systems unit that we’ll begin in the days ahead.

Journaling at water’s edge.
Alicia Daniel challenges students to think deeper about invasive species. 

On our third and fourth day together, BCL5 met on the campus of Hula Lakeside — The Burlington Surf Club. This beautiful setting allowed us to turn our attention to the question of what we need to thrive as individuals, and as a group. We met outdoors, and took full advantage of the recreational opportunities offered by the Club. Students took new risks, on the water, on bikes, and in the context of a newly forming community. They interviewed classmates, wrote biographical vignettes, and shared their writing with the whole group. The location invited intimacy, connection, and a willingness to dive into a new approach to school. 

Lila takes over the reins as Morning Meeting leader.
Before friends, families, or colleagues get too jealous, know that it wasn’t balmy on the beach — it was downright cold! 
Exploring the lakeshore.
Trying mindfulness and yoga with Roxanne Scully.
Taking full advantage of the setting included using on-site facilities…
and biking to nearby destinations.
On the only day that week without wind, it was warm enough–60 degrees–to put paddleboards into the lake. 
Kyle showed us the strokes…
…and off we went.
Exploring the breakwater — a Burlington landmark since 1836.
Place-based learning at its best! 
Coming back, some of us…got a little wet. 
Andy leads a discussion about theoretical frameworks related to personal thriving (e.g., Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Csikszentmihalyi’s State of Flow, etc.) .
Creative mixed-use of corn hole gear — now an “affinity mapping” wall for student-generated interests! 

What is all of this like for BCL5 students? The following anonymous reflections capture the spirit of this unique experience.

It’s been nice to have close bonds with people that I didn’t know before. The ability to be outside and integrated in the city is great, and the amount of people that BCL teachers has had us meet with is amazing, I’m grateful for that.

I love it! Being outside and learning about things that actually matter is amazing! I’ve really enjoyed how much discussion there is and getting out into the community!

It has been a very enjoyable experience for me but also a little bit of a kick in reality. I don’t usually read the paper or watch the news, so to talk about real things happening right now is somewhat unsettling. It makes me want to make a change.

So far BCL has showcased all the ways I can and can’t apply my typical school-work ethic to my BCL work. BCL just feels different. I’ve had a lot of fun because of how collaborative all the work is, and I feel like I can really connect with people through what we’re learning, and how we’re learning about it. I also have challenged myself with the level of deep engagement I’ve been able to have.

My mental health has been drastically improved. I enjoy how we learn from experience rather than a lecture. Having diverse perspective also gives us a better understanding of what’s going on. I’m so grateful that we can still meet during these crazy times.

At Peace.

The baggage of my school books no longer weighs me down.

For the first time in months, I sit among peers.

In this moment,

All I am is here. 

This poem is something that I had just jotted down in my journal during some free time down at the Surf Club. It is in no way really connected to the specific learning we had been doing, but rather the experience and impact that it has already had on me. I realized how freeing it felt to no longer be in a traditional school environment. I also had noticed how much I missed being able to be physically near and learning together with academic peers.  Especially now, knowing that we are the only people doing in person learning, I felt incredibly grateful to be there and simply at peace for a moment. 

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