What BHS Should Be

As a place-based program, Burlington City & Lake Semester is always seeking projects that we could only do right here, and right now. In the Spring of 2022, the clearest call for student engagement and impact has been the process of redesigning school itself. 

Over the past few weeks, BCL students’ recent efforts to reimagine school paved the way for more concrete student consultancies. This approach isn’t new. Bringing student voices into authentic community decision-making is in Burlington City & Lake Semesters DNA. Over the past few years, BCL students have consulted with city professionals on urban design (e.g., Moran Frame), City Hall initiatives (e.g., Burlington’s Equity Report and BTVStat), and policy dilemmas (e.g, the BPD’s police practices). 

In late March, BCL8 engaged in a series of deep consultancies with the architects, designers, and decision makers behind the BHS/BTC 2025 Project. The student perspectives in those consultancies were rich, complex and insightful. 

Architect Brian Leet welcomes 22 students, three architects, and six Burlington School District leaders to a full morning of dialogue about how students’ values should be embodied in the BHS/BTC design. 
Director of Property Services, Marty Spaulding, offers context about designing learning environments. 
With architect Randy Burnett, students offered their perspective on how to design shared spaces in a way that builds community…
 ….and nurtures inclusion and belonging. 

Shared spaces like hallways, cafeterias, and the library should be an inclusive space for everyone. As for the hallways I feel as though lockers are unnecessary. At old BHS I didn’t know one person who used the lockers that were there since everyone just carried around all of their belongings. I think lockers are a waste of space, and that space can be used for other things. In the hallways I think putting up artwork that students have created is a great way to start new connections, maybe even some lounge chairs or couches in the hallways if they are wide enough give students more places to go to do homework in any free blocks or study halls, instead of the library being the only solid place to go to do work. 


Spaces can be designed with lots of art incorporated to give the school a fun and uplifting feel. A good way to have connection in the school is to add comfortable seating spaces other than the cafeteria or library. This gives students a place to relax and socialize when they need a break from work and separates it from the lunch room. There could also be private study rooms, designed like conference rooms or cubicles, incorporated in the library, so students who get distracted easily can accomplish their work. These could also be places for homework help where students and teachers or tutors can meet. Outdoor classrooms and an outdoor courtyard with seating is another way to bring a sense of belonging since it is easy to connect deeply with nature. 


I think we need a lot more school spirit in our community. We need to have posters of all sports hung up around the school. I also was thinking maybe some fun old sports news articles framed around the school so people can read them. The entrance should have a cool mural of either BHS or something cool, it will make coming into BHS fun. Having kids put their artwork up around the school would also be a great idea, they can show off and make the halls look fun at the same time.


I think something that I value a lot is nature and color. After going to school at the Macy’s, it made me realize the importance of natural lighting and windows. If there is anything I want from this school its windows and lots of nature. I’d like to be able to see trees or grass or something and I want as much natural light as possible. I’d also like some kind of mural space or something. If at any point there is a big open wall, don’t necessarily break it up or anything because I think it would be cool to have some big art piece.


Main community spaces should be obvious and welcoming. The auditorium and gym should have comparable facilities to one another so students feel like they are being valued equally. The cafeteria should have good seating and multiple different food options to accommodate students. There should also be quiet small spaces for students to eat in if they feel overwhelmed by the lunch atmosphere. The entrance and the office should be right next to each other. The entrance should be visible from the outside as an entrance. All students and visitors should be able to walk through the front doors. There could be a person there greeting you that can answer your questions or give you directions… The library should have a large community space but also small separate rooms for silent work and to just decompress. If everyone’s needs are being meet then school will be a place people want to be. 

At another station, Brian Leet engaged students in dialogue about how the school could be more connected to, and welcoming of, the community.

It’s important that the entrance feels welcoming and the immediate layout of the building is simple enough to navigate as a first-timer. The auditorium should be able to host people and events from outside the school; close to the entrance and functional for different types of events. It should also take more advantage of the great landscape around the school – outdoor classrooms should be made in Arms Forest and by the lake. They could be open to public use when the school isn’t using them. I think solar panels should be installed at the old building site since that space is no longer usable. The sign for the school should also be more visible.


I value learning outside the classroom the most. The new design should incorporate nature and feature open spaces like a courtyard and outdoor classrooms. A connection with nature is very important to mental health and many students have a difficult time spending all day inside, so connecting with nature will allow students to destress and learn more. 


School should be designed so that there is a large connection to the outdoors. I have heard from almost every student that they would like nature to be more integrated with their school experience. So having outdoor cafeterias, large windows, and things of that nature would be very beneficial. There should also be support centers in the school that can help with schoolwork or mental health issues that someone is having. This would make students feel more connected and cared for.


A school community should be for everyone.  Shared student spaces should come in a variety. Some students may be drawn to large open spaces, while others are more partial to close cozy spaces…and each space should have variety within it.  Quiet spaces and loud spaces should be incorporated, greenery should be everywhere, and there should be lots of windows for natural light…Natural light helps people feel connected to the outside world. So does open space, in the form of comforting hallways and places to hang out, and free space that doesn’t have a real purpose but is free to use.


Students shouldn’t get stuck doing something they don’t really like. Instead, you would reach out to community partners that have things to do about your subject and you would work with them. Unlike regular school where you are in a classroom all day, you could be in the city or outside and not stuck in one place all day. I think that this way of school would provide a better learning experience for everyone.


I think the school building should be a very active community center. Spaces should be designed not only for the school but also for the community. Hosting community blood drives, voting, plays, sports, etc. I think having the community feel connected to the school is a huge thing, the school budget and other city decisions will have more support if the community feels connected, community members will be more inclined to be involved with the school, and it will overall bring the community together. Beyond just the space, I think the school should encourage and create more opportunities to engage with the greater community, like we do in BCL. Students should connect with community members and learn about the community and city they are a part of. I think this will encourage connection and belonging for both the students and the community members. 

The school should be designed with input from the community, so they feel more connected to it and so it is a place they want to be a part of. Things like artwork or murals from community members could help involve the community. 

At a consultancy station with archichitect Nathalia Ellis, students were asked what values they care most about… 
….and how those values should show up in the new school’s design.

I just hope the school can do a good job of prioritizing the mental health of students and making sure what they are doing is something they want to be doing. A lot of people feel isolated or forced in school, which changes the whole way of learning for the kids who feel that way. If we work on mental health and make students feel like they have at least one person to talk to or even a teacher it changes a lot. It’s hard to notice when a student is going through things but that’s why we should have them feel like they don’t have to keep everything to themselves.


I value feeling comfortable and like that I can express myself. I think if people feel comfortable in school then they are more excited to come to school. Having places where people feel like they can be themselves and hangout and talk with their friends important to me, and if the spaces are nicer and look like people put thought into them.


A typical student spends 8,884 hours over nine years at school. There are a variety of subjects, and people; everything should be welcomed. It should have both outdoor and indoor activities. The school should be a communal space where each kid has an equal environment to roam. There are many varieties of learners and types of learning. I think schools should be equipped for everyone…and be made for all learners.


Students can feel connection and belonging when their values matter. If the school had a room that focused on mental health, for example a meditation room, that would be good for kids who feel stressed and need some time to relax. The school should also have big windows that let in natural light because natural light just overall makes everyone happier. Outside learning should also be in the design because students are more creative when they are in an outside setting. 


I feel like the new school needs to be sustainable and use 100% renewable energy. Using solar panels could be a good way of being more sustainable. Also using less single use plastics would make the school more sustainable. There also needs to be trash, recycling, and compost all around the building while also teaching students how to recycle/compost properly. Having an outdoor learning space would help reinforce these values.


How should a teacher engage with their students? Trusting is a hard thing but if a teacher is kind, generous and always helping, it can make the student trust the teacher little by little,  because trust isn’t something that just happens in a second… Well, if the students are feeling like to give up on school and feels like they see no career, than a teacher like an advisor or guidance counselor should help them walk through it, because there shouldn’t be any students feeling like they are done while they really have many opportunities. School should feel trusting and caring.


I would definitely say that it is important for the design to show that students have more freedoms. Our hallways at downtown BHS are so plain and there’s nothing to really look at besides a blank wall. I would definitely make comfortable seating and relaxing spots that students can hangout with friends. Just something different than the usual table and chairs would be nice. Those hangout spaces would be awesome to have to get a break from school, especially after a big test or finishing a huge workload. Overall, wellness should be a value that is incorporated into the new school, I think both teachers and students would highly benefit from having a school be built off these values.


Everything matters when it comes to education. Not only does it count what subject matter you’re learning, but it matters the environment in which you’re learning… School should be a place where learners thrive. It should not be a place that feels hostile or draining…or a place where I dread going. But I believe and hope that we can change school and education so that it evolves.


We need to design the new high school to help support everyone’s wellbeing. We really need to prioritize wellness in our new school. The one bummer is that none of us will actually be doing this work for ourselves or our classmates. We’re helping with the process now, but the results will really just be for younger friends or siblings. However, even though we won’t go to this new school, we still have an important perspective. 


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