A Different Experience

The Burlington City & Lake Semester feels different. It’s not just the change in venue, or the lack of bells and class periods… There’s a unique feeling in the air. Learning itself takes on a different shape. Every semester, BCL teachers expect the transition to this new approach to learning to take longer than it does. And every semester, the transition happens seamlessly. After a few days, once students are in the flow, it begins to feel more than normal. It begins to feel natural. 

On our first day, students rotated through short conversations, and journal-sharing.
Finley spins the infamous BCL “Birthday Wheel.”

The first day of BCL I was a little bit apprehensive and nervous, but when I arrived in the classroom and began to meet my classmates I began to settle in and feel better. The journal entry that we did as a class that day was about what makes the BCL classroom seem important. In my journal, I wrote: “I like the windows and the open layout of the room. The room has a [great] vibe. There are cool colors around the room and cool decorations.”

Seeing this new classroom that BCL happens in instantly made me like BCL more just because I would be able to see outside while I was in class. I believe doing work in this new class room that actually has windows and walls that go to the ceiling will increase my productivity and make me more focused. BCL’s philosophy, on the BCL website, says that We believe in the joy of learning.” Just having a decent classroom brings more joy to my learning. I already feel more engaged when I am in this space and I hope this will translate to an increase in the quality of my work.


During the first class of BCL we got introduced to our journals. We write in them every class. At first I was thinking, “why are we writing in journals?” But now I actually think it is a good way to write down how you are feeling or what you did during the day. … Writing in my journal is a great way to not only write down notes but it’s also a great way for the teachers at BCL to get to know me as a person better and see what I think about questions like these. 

A gallery of personal objects…
…became the launching point for personal storytelling.

In BCL we value curiosity. Why we do, is because “Questions are key to understanding the world around us.” In Karen Maeyens’s TED talk about the value of asking questions, she describes the importance of curiosity. We can learn so much if we don’t accept the world around us to be what it is without questioning it. This is why in BCL, our inquiry projects are based on questions. Inquiry projects are supposed to come from a place of genuine interest, which will help to make our questions stronger. “A good question is a sincere question that comes from genuine interest and curiosity and that seeks for understanding,” Maeyens says. In our projects, we will be determined to think deeper. 

Curiosity in BCL will also help us learn about other people, which is important to create an inclusive environment. When Natalia was telling me the story behind her object I got a decent story, but it wasn’t until I started questioning her that the real story came out. As Maeyens says, “Everybody we meet has so many stories to tell, and we can enrich our lives listening to them if only we know how to listen and ask the right questions.” 


Over the past couple of months, I have found myself becoming less and less curious. Maybe it’s because school is starting up again and I can barely ask questions there let alone ask questions outside of school. About two weeks ago I was working on a sewing project when my sewing machine stopped working. Instead of taking it apart and finding a way to fix it, I decided to give up on the project. I told myself I would go back the next day with a clear head, but I ended up just giving up. 

That is, until about 4 days ago, when I was babysitting a young boy around 7 years old. After a long debate, we decided to go to the park. After we were there for about an hour we decided to start walking back. And as we walked back he looked up in the sky and saw that the moon was out even though it was daylight, looking back at me he asked “Why is the moon out if it’s daytime?” I paused for a moment looked at the moon then look back at him. “I don’t know,” I said, brushing it off. “Why do you not know?” he asked.  “Guess I didn’t pay enough attention in Science,” I replied, smirking at my own joke. 

When we got back to his house We partook in one of his favorite activities which was waiting for the clock to hit 12 when a bird would pop out a little wooden mushroom. As we ate lunch he talked about why it was his favorite clock, and with big curious eyes, he asked me, “How do clocks work?” I took a deep breath and sighed. “Gears and other mechanical things,” I said. “How does the bird come out?” he asked. “I don’t really know.” And with that, there came no more questions. 

Later that night when I got home, I decided to fix my sewing machine. It turns out it was just a single thread stopping the bobbin, a simple fix really. But I was too scared of how much work it could have been. So I didn’t even try. That night, I read about how clocks work and it turns out they’re more complicated than I thought. I thought about how much I crave to be curious again, to question everything.

On our way from the Old North End to our next ‘class’ at City Hall.
“Life is more fun if you play games.”― Roald Dahl

I have always been the one to not ask questions during a class. Either because I am too scared to raise up my hand and say something, or don’t know how to put my questions into words. As I researched the importance of asking questions, my mind shifted. As I watched The Value of Asking Questions, I wondered “When and why do we stop asking questions?” Karen Maeyens brought up that it might be because we no longer care about questions, or are just too afraid to ask them. By asking one question, it can lead to new relationships, friendships, ideas, the list goes on. Not only is asking questions a key to open new doors, it’s also a key to unlock new doors for yourself. It can put new value, ideas, joys, interests into your perspective. 

In the TED Talk by a high school student, The Power of Inquiry, the main statement was how questions have the power to change the world. Everyone has been in a moment whether it was in school or out of school where they have been afraid to ask a question. Maya Laur said that 93% of kids that go to her high school are just too afraid to raise up their hand to ask a simple question. Why is it so hard to speak your mind when it is filled with confusion? By not asking questions, there has been room made for oppression, injustice, and suffering. All made from failing to inquire. 

I never considered how not asking questions could have such an impact on the world that surrounds us. I am no longer going to be afraid to raise up my hand and ask my question, even if I think it is dumb or doesn’t make sense. How can we as a community make everyone feel comfortable in asking the questions they have?


Sarah Montroll wrote in VTDigger, “Students are inside. Each student sits at their desk, spaced 6 feet apart, masks on, facing forward, and works independently. The teacher stands at the front of the room, but from this distance, their presence almost feels irrelevant.” I wholeheartedly agree with Montroll, as I’ve experienced this day in and day out for the past two years. I feel very lucky to be able to escape this cycle and try out this new style of learning. 

While it has been brief, my experience of alternative learning raises questions in my head. Why haven’t I always been taught this way, with a sense of community and introduction to real world skills and connections that are much more helpful than lessons in a conventional classroom? Is this the learning of the future, or will schools continue to partake in outdated teaching strategies? 


“Too often, success is defined as finding a definitive answer for the question asked by the teacher or test. Once the assessment is finished and unit ended, the content is “mastered,” and the learning is done. Traditional pedagogy makes learning performative, a process that starts and stops with the teacher.”

The Transformative Power of Inquiry

My experience at BCL already reflects this non-traditional pedagogy, and is one of the reasons I am so excited for this semester.  Where would our society be if there was more non-traditional learning?  Always having to seek a concrete answer must lead to problems. It causes people to settle on things, just to have a solution, even if they know it may not be correct. This is made worse by the fact that “traditional pedagogy” is often [taught by] middle aged white men and some women.  This creates an opportunity for the “single story” which we discussed with Signe.

When Dov asked us to define fairness in Friday’s class, I recall being frustrated when I couldn’t come up with a final answer.  What made the question more satisfying was when he helped our group to explore equity, equality and justice, which gave me a better idea on how to make things more fair.  This did not define fairness, but it helped me understand how to achieve fairness. A lesson I learned from this activity and the readings I’ve done is that there may not be a definite answer or solution, but by unpacking and exploring the elements of a problem, we can better understand how to create one.

Don Wright and Very Merry Theater invited BCL to do some improv theater. Even the BCL faculty made a scene! 

For a community to fully thrive, people need to trust the systems and all the systems need to benefit everyone and not just a select few people.  For our BCL community to thrive we need to trust each other and listen to others ideas…  Morning Meetings and Circle help us to get to know each other better, build trust with one another and that helps our community to thrive.


Not even a minute into the video, The Least Livable Cities in the World I found something that made me think of another aspect that can help communities thrive. At 35 seconds into the video it talked about how the city of Douala can’t provide needs like education and that made me think what I would be like without an education. Education hasn’t only helped me with getting a job and progressing in life but it also gave me the opportunity to meet so many amazing people who introduced me to even more people. Getting to know the people in your community is a great way for a community to thrive. If you look at community events like a highschool basketball game you’ll see people thriving everywhere, parents talking to other parents, students cheering for their team. Even the students playing in the game are thriving.

After getting more perspectives on what it means for a community to thrive, I’ve finally understood that for a community to thrive is for a community to be one family.


In BCL so far, I have heard the word “thriving” a lot. I didn’t fully know what it meant, until I looked at “Are You Thriving? Here’s a Checklist”. This made me think to myself, where in life am I thriving? Thriving to me is being my best self, mentally and physically. I looked at the thriving checklist and I checked off for most of the things that are necessary to thrive. According to Darcia F. Narvaez, thriving is when you’re in the state of good mental and physical health. Thriving can include mindfulness, laughing, eating well, sleeping well, etc. To answer the question that Signe gives us at the end of the day, asking if we’re thriving or not, according to the checklist I would say I am thriving most days in BCL.


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