A New Year

January 10th marked the first day of BCL8–the eighth semester in the Burlington City & Lake journey. The group of students that walked into our homebase in the Old North End Community Center arrived ready to go. In an early round of reflections and goal-setting, that readiness was palpable. 

I am really looking forward to being able to work with such a good group of students and faculty to be able to further my understanding of how the city works. I think it is so important to know more about the place you lived than just what you learn from school. I also think being able to learn by other people besides teachers will be really interesting, such as community partners and people who work in the community.


I’m looking forward to having fun but at the same time learning things that I’ve thought about but never took the chance to learn about. I’m  also looking forward to meeting new people in the community.


I’m looking forward to learning things that aren’t just in textbooks. I want to go out in Burlington and learn from different people who are passionate about issues or topics and not just hear about some far away issues or topics from a teacher in a classroom. 


In our first few days, we were lucky to spend time with Abenaki educator, Judy Dow. Along with colleagues from Shelburne Farms, Courtney Mulcahey, and Aimee Arandia Østenson, Judy helped students orient themselves in both place and time. Context matters, and in BCL, it feels essential to ground ourselves geographically, as well as on the “long body” timeline. So much of our time in school is divorced from place. In BCL, it’s at the heart of our learning.

Abenaki educator Judy Dow shared stories of the way Burlington used to be…
…and then led us on a (cold!) walk where those stories came to life!

The conversation that we had with Judy Dow about the diversity and marginalization of ethnic groups in Burlington made me think a lot about the layout of the city. In my reflection following the day, I wrote in my journal, “People can be so fixated on ruining other people’s communities in the name of sameness [and keeping things the way they are] – over and over in history, we hear about people in power afraid of change… Some things I’m wondering about: was the placement of Church Street and the retail hub a deliberate try to invite more Anglo-Saxon people into diversity hotspots in order to break it up? Are there benefits of letting cultures be together by themselves and not mixing (not forcefully)?”

It got me thinking about urban planning and I know that every decision is made with some reason or purpose in mind. So what were the reasons for these decisions? Learning about that made me think harder about urban planning decisions being made these days. Have we started making those decisions for the opposite reasons? How much effort is being made to integrate and welcome all Burlingtonians to public spaces? 


In the past, people in Burlington didn’t like immigrants. Judy [Dow] told us about the “French Canadians who were discriminated against, and told to only speak English.” These were one of the rules which show oppression and more power against the immigrants who do not speak English. This superior position and power was also used against a Nigerian girl who just wanted to progress. She was discriminated against by the color of her skin. 

I know that immigrating to Burlington is important for everyone. Everyone comes from different places now, speaking multiple languages and being smarter. The community of Burlington wants to give freedom and support others to live with happiness. That is why, we now see people coming to study from many different countries as international students because they want to progress and change their lives. They want to give their families a better place to live…but racism and discrimination are still there because is part of this community story. 


On my second day of BCL, we dove deeper into learning about Burlington and it’s background as a city and the people who have lived here for generations. Going into our discussion with Judy Dow, I thought that I had a pretty decent grasp on Burlington and its history. However, like we discussed, so much of this history was left out because the stories of marginalized peoples are not written in the textbooks. When Judy shared her heartbreaking stories of French Canadian and Native peoples having their children shipped away, schools torn down, and used as eugenics test subjects, it left me pretty shocked. I had always seen Burlington as this little nook in the corner of the nation where nothing really bad happened and social injustice rarely took place. 

By the end of that Wednesday, when we took the time to reflect on our discussion, I jotted some of my thoughts in my journal. “These people were discriminated against because of their fear of the unknown,” I wrote. Those in power didn’t understand the other group’s language, culture, or intentions which led to the atrocities that they facilitated, in the name of feeling “safe” again. This made me wonder about other instances of social injustice in our country. I recognized a frightening pattern of language barriers and misunderstandings that led to people in power feeling threatened. 


After reading this Judy’s Land Acknowledgment  twice, I have found how powerful it is. Judy speaks with so much conviction and power. Her words just sweep you up and flood around you. I love how she uses stories of past failures and the repetition of history, how she refuses to keep seeing it repeating itself time after time. I also love how not only does she use constructive criticism but she acknowledges people’s wrongs and instead of totally abolishing them she institutes the correct way to acknowledge the land that we live on.

“The protocol is about building a relationship with the land to learn her story. It’s a protocol that has been followed for honoring the land by Indigenous people living on Turtle Island forever. It’s a relationship of equality, love, and honor, a journey that one takes over time with the land to develop a relationship.”

I found myself reading this quote again and again. I love how she uses her pronouns for the land, and I love how she brings equality and love and honor to the relationship. It reminds us that we not only need to be kind to each other but to the earth and the land beneath us. This is very eye-opening for me and makes me feel more educated. It makes me want to try harder to show more gratitude for the land. And do my very best to spread the word 


The Abenaki were the original caretakers of this land that we live on, yet even though we are learning more about them now, why is it that this history isn’t a part of our early learning and present history. Wendy Hallock, from Shelburne Community School, wrote “It’s encouraged that we include indiginous history and really all perspectives when we teach any history.”  Why is it encouraged and not a mandatory part of our curriculum, when other parts of our history that only involve rich white men are a mandatory part of history class?  


Reading through my journal, I found that I had written down the history of Burlington that Judy Dow was telling us about, and that many of the things she was showing us had a story/history. Just the idea of how the buildings you walk by everyday have a story, made me think back to how on a walk down North Street, Dov showed us how a random building we walked by…was one of the houses listed in the Green Book, in the 1940s. The Green Book was a book that named places Blacks could safely stay. The house and the Green Book opened up my mind… I wrote in my journal, “If I asked somebody who was around in the 1940’s living in Burlington what was life like compared to now, I wonder what their response would be?” I would want to know this because so much has changed, and I want to learn from the perspective of someone who experienced it first hand.  


In our early quest to explore what it takes to thrive, we also expanded to the global scale. Shelburne Farms Director of Professional Learning, Jen Cirillo, led students through an interactive exploration of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. This is a powerful framework, and has already helped BCL8 students connect to new friends in Denmark! (Stay tuned for updates on the Danes!) 

The U.N. Sustainable Development Goals  take center stage…
…as students design their ideal neighborhood –  with an eye towards sustainability. 
After a mapping activity, students discussed their sense of place with one another…
…and with Shelburne Farms educator, Aimee Arandia Østensen
Why are these students staring at a phone? 
Oh! They’re chatting with fellow students from Denmark!

In my journal I wrote about what the definition of a city is, and I concluded that it was a collection of systems that work together to run a city. The problem is that there are both public and private systems, and only the public systems are available to everyone. Private systems separate people of higher class or position to have access. The public systems are run by the government, using taxpayer money, and the goal is that they are able to give back to everyone. Private systems are run by corporations so they are only available to those who have something to offer to the corporation in charge. 

I am excited to explore systems in Burlington that are both public and private, because I feel that I am unaware about what systems are in place. The well-functioning systems typically go unnoticed when there is nothing to report on in the news. I read about the past BCL groups that got to work with people from transportation systems, renewable energy systems, and food systems. “Each experience has offered rich insight, and deepened our connection to this complex little city”. To learn about a system and be able to contribute ideas to make it work better would feel very empowering. Since systems have so much control over the city, working with systems is one way that we could truly make an impact on the community. 


Thinking about thriving communities also brought up many questions for me. How can we make sure everyone in a community is thriving? When it comes to low-income families or households they almost always have fewer opportunities. For a community to thrive, everyone needs to be thriving. So, how does a community help everybody thrive? Watching videos about the least livable cities really brings to life my privilege. I have grown up with little worry about affording food, housing, healthcare, etc. Obviously, I have had hardships, but this really puts them into perspective. I have also always had strong social connections, which has been such a privilege. Having friends and family to count on has always been extremely important. Without a strong support system, navigating life would be impossible for me. Framework for thriving communities also recognizes the importance of these connections, “Thriving communities are rich in personal connections that foster belonging.” I think that one way to help others in the community thrive is by forming connections. Strong relationships with others are where that sense of belonging and confidence comes from. I believe that these connections are extremely important to a thriving community. 


I spent a lot of time trying to find my own place, whether that be at home, school, theater, friends and within myself. At BCL, one of the things we value most is place, but how do you turn a group into a community and how do you find your own place in that community? … 

From the conversations in class and the sources I explored, what I’ve come to understand about finding one’s place is that it takes willing vulnerability. In BCL no one is forced to share more than they want, which allows everyone the time to make decisions about how they want people to see them. I’ve felt that when I’m given the decision to be vulnerable it makes me feel safe to. Finding your own place is more like a creation; I don’t think you can really just find it. You have to be willing to take a risk and put work into finding yourself through connecting with others. 


As our learning began to take us into the city, real questions began to emerge about vexing issues. 

Jeetan Kadkha, Employment Specialist and Caseworker at AALV, helps students understand just how hard it is for New Americans to survive–let alone thrive–in our expensive city. 
Gussie shares the results of her interview about the housing crisis.
Boniface and Tess  compile data points on Burlington’s cost of living by
comparing prices at the corner store with prices at Walmart.
At Contois Auditorium, the site (in non-COVID times) of City Council meetings, students met with Seven Days Political Reporter, Courtney Lamdin.
Courtney Lamdin engaged with students for an hour, taking questions about everything from local controversies to the role of journalism in a democracy. 
Students discussing the rationale and impact of Burlington’s declaration that racism is a public health emergency with Nyla Ruiz, the Public Health and Engagement Officer in Burlington’s Department of Racial Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging.

One thing I feel like I understand deeper now is the struggles that happen with politics in Burlington. I did not know how many different ideas and opinions there were in Burlington because I have grown to know this place as mostly Democratic and like-minded,  and getting to hear more about all the different opinions and views was very interesting. 


One thing I feel I understand differently about Burlington after today would be whether our city feels welcoming and hospitable. I think hospitality is something everyone should strive for. After talking with Courtney Lamdin and Nyla Ruiz, it’s clear that both of their jobs revolve around making sure people whose voices we don’t usually hear are being heard.  


In the article, Framework for Thriving Communities, in the section titled Strong Social Relationships, it states that “thriving communities are rich in personal connections that foster belonging,” which means that communities have to adapt to the culture in order for the community to have a common understanding as the individual. Either a workplace, community, shared identity and faith, for the community to thrive, what is needed is confidence to act when things need to be changed or improved…and also need to support individual aspirations. What a community really needs to thrive is equity because it’s about ensuring that every individual has an equal opportunity to make the most of their lives and live… It’s not fair to have a belief that no one should have poorer life chances because of the way they were born, where they come from, what they believe, or whether they have a disability. Part of a thriving community is to provide options of things that meet everyone’s needs, and also to help each other in time of needs.


Equality means everyone getting the same things. Equity focuses on unfairness and people not getting the same things. Justice means having normal things that are good for everyone. My new idea is that things should not only be fair but we should give everyone justice so everything can work for everyone. 

A time when I experienced inequality was in middle school. It just felt so unfair by the teachers how they made feel like I wanted to quit school but I always wanted to raise my voice. I wanted justice. But deep down we knew it wouldn’t work because even the Principal and Assistant Principal were like the other teachers. The only time I shared my story of middle school was in a summer program called Racial Justice. That made our voices rise and I felt open up because the teachers were so kind and supportive in the program. 

In BCL we are learning about equality, equity and justice, and  learning about things that have been with you is a feeling of opening up. 


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