The launch of Burlington Experience 1 [BE1] started with two sunny, 70 degree days which seemed to match the mood and energy of our new group. Thanks to Burlington School District leaders and Burlington High School administrators, 13 students were able to switch their schedules around and join this mini version of Burlington City & Lake Semester for Quarter 2. Thank you to everyone who helped pivot their plans at the last minute to make this possible!
As Dov Stucker and Peter McConville were already committed to teaching in their respective departments at BHS, they were unable to be full-time faculty for BE1. Andy and Signe are leading the class, along with Shelburne Farms educator Courtney Mulcahy. Andy is still the project director, and Signe is the lead teacher, now officially employed by BSD. It’s great to have Courtney along with us, a new energetic educator with so much project-based and outdoor education. The partnership with Shelburne Farms is a key ingredient that makes this program possible.
So, how is Burlington Experience like Burlington City & Lake Semester? Well, much is the same – the location, the theme of a thriving community, morning meetings with check-in questions, journaling and meeting with community partners. The ONE Center is our home.
We have Inquiry Projects and student-led projects, along with a final project — TBD. Students will help create some of the days of learning, and you will see us out and about in the city as we rediscover this place we call home. And of course we met with Migmar Tsering, the Building Manager at the Center of Recreation and Education in the Old North End Center, a traditional musician and a friend of the program – a must.
What’s different is that we meet from 9:00 am to 12:00 pm, only half days. BE1 counts for a Social Studies credit and an English credit. We have two 10th graders. We have made many adjustments to our projects, and we don’t have enough time to do everything we would like. We’re not able to share food, and we leave hungry for lunch. We spend as much time outside as possible, sometimes even in the snow and rain. When we’re inside, our chairs are stationary to allow for appropriate distancing and we leave the windows open for ventilation. Masks and plenty of layers are the fashion!
We have already begun to explore city systems in Burlington. On day two of our BE1 experience, we explored natural systems in Burlington’s backyard, the Intervale, with Burlington Wildways Project Director Zoe Richards. We were lucky enough to watch salmon spawning in the Winooski River, with the morning sun giving us remarkable visibility into the water. Some fish appeared to be defending gravelly areas on the river bottom, chasing other fish away; other fish occasionally turned on their sides and flapped their tails, as if to clear away the sediment on the river bottom. Our observations led to many more questions than answers, but that’s a gateway into an inquiry mindset, which we want to cultivate in the Burlington Experience.
This amazing natural phenomenon gave us lots to journal about – and things to sketch – as we began our exploration of all kinds of systems and what these systems and our community need to thrive.
So, we’re off to a great start. We hope that the COVID cases in Vermont come back under control so that we can continue to meet in person through the next three months. BE1 meets Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, and sometimes virtually on Wednesday. We have lots to learn about the place we call home, Burlington, and we’re grateful to be on this journey together.