Digging In

As the Burlington City & Lake program unfolds, students are engaging with more and more complex systems and ideas. In many ways, this increasing depth is a key element of the BCL arc. Each day, we spiral back to big ideas, and then blow them wide open with new context, perspectives, and real-world connections. And merely describing the depth of students’ thinking wouldn’t nearly convey its richness. Students themselves are the best conduits for what it means, in BCL, to truly dig in. 

Emily Fredette and Alysha Magnant, from the Vermont Department of Health, brought data sets that illustrate key issues in Burlington’s public health.
Greta Spottswood, a psychologist with the Community Health Centers of Burlington, explains the interconnectedness of health and mental health outcomes. 
Jeff McKee, CEO of the CHCB, helps us understand how a mission-driven health care organization can respond to both health needs and inequity. 

“The pandemic has completely exposed everything that is wrong with the system, and I hope that a silver lining of this is that we can improve our health system, and make it work for all Americans.”

This excerpt from a longer journal entry stands out to me because this is so relevant. The pandemic, while mitigated in Vermont, is still raging in the rest of the country. Vermont did a really good job shutting down and keeping COVID out, but the virus was here, and the Vermont medical statistics were as unequal as the rest of the country when controlled for race. Part of this entry that gives me a little bit of hope is what I said about a silver lining. I do think that this is a time of change. Many of our systems are inequitable and broken, and no one has taken a step back and reflected on them for so long. I hope that this moment, and these realizations will lead to some conversations about how to make our systems, especially the health system, more accessible and equitable… Times like these are when humans need to examine themselves, and I am hoping that this will lead to a paradigm shift, allowing our systems to work for more of the population.


“Why are there so many industrial developments when we don’t have enough shelter for everyone in Burlington already?” Tourism is definitely important in Burlington and everywhere else for the economy. And I get that, however all this money that’s going to fancy hotels and attractions can be used on something way more important. And that’s affordable housing and homeless shelters. We’re moving too fast to the future, that we aren’t repairing what’s broken in the present. Everyone should have somewhere that shelters them, especially in Vermont where the weather is so unpredictable. We do have homeless shelters, but it’s evident that there isn’t enough by the amount of homeless citizens out on the streets. Every time I see one, I feel like we failed as a country. Among them are people who served for America. I even know of someone who lost a limb. And what do we give them back? Dirty looks and loose change. Regarding affordable housing we also have some, but some areas are clearly run down and need rebuilding. My friend lives at Salmon Run, with a bunch of other immigrant families, and guess where they are located? Right next to the sewage plant, which of course is smelly and wafts around their community. It’s hard to see that there’s things wrong and want to make change when a majority of people are middle class and are somewhat stable. But we have to stop putting Band-Aids on bigger wounds. 

Exploring Burlington’s transportation history with UVM professor, Luis Vivanco. 
Local historian, Jeff Potash, describes life on Archibald St. in the 1890’s…
…and tells the story of the discovery and restoration of the singular turn-of-the-last century Shul Mural.
Archival maps opened up many, many questions… 
…and having landmarks within sight helped the maps come to life!
“Burlington’s history is a history of its relationship with the Lake.” 
A scavenger hunt led students to Burlington’s only deep water land-access.

Depending on your privilege, the local economy can work for you or against you.

With enough privilege and power you can get almost anything you want. That’s how it has always been and that is how it will always be. Burlington elites have always been first in line… There are many examples from history: Buying bikes that cost relatively nothing to them, raising the trolley tax to stop labor workers from riding it to and from work everyday. Today, these systems remain inequitable. Housing in Burlington is very expensive, for instance, and affordable housing in Vermont is not even livable and the cost gets higher as the family gets paid more.

Ha Nhi

It was great to learn more about the history of Burlington, its history of transportation, and the history of the waterfront. Burlington means more to me now that I know more about its history. This is really something that I think they should teach in schools. People should know the story of what came before us as well as what might happen after us. It means more to know what they did and what they’re going to do with the land we live on.

Some history is sad, of course, like knowing about all the land that is now unusable because of its toxicity, just because of people’s previous actions. But it also gives me hope for what we can do to fix or mend the problems that have been caused because of us. Now that I can get a glimpse of Burlington’s history–from the buildings by the Waterfront to the marble industry and the ice storage units from the 19th century–everything is coming to place, and everything feels more important. 


Neighborhoods now look so different compared to 50 years ago. Different styles of homes, different people, different roads. I think it’s interesting how back when Candians, French, and Germans lived here it was all about your people and being with them. Judy Dow told us a story about someone who made a brand new home for their mother, but she didn’t want to move there because it was too far from her people. This shows how strong communities were back then. Now, people only live somewhere if they have the money to live there. Personally, Riverside Ave wouldn’t be my first choice of a home or a neighbourhood, and I’m sure many people can agree.


What does it take for a community to thrive? I’m trying to answer this question each week to see how my answer changes with a deeper insight into my community.  I feel like I have learned so much more about the history of Burlington, and I feel more connected to the city.  [We should all have a better understanding] as a community of our history, which helps explain the way things are now.  Knowing more about history makes you feel more connected to what was happening long ago and helps you know that you are able to make the change you want to see. 


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