Embrace It

BCL can be hard to describe. It’s easy to use educational jargon (place-based, real-world, student-centered, etc.), but these words often miss what the experience is really like. Even though it’s hard to capture, students know it, because they feel it. 

BCL is unique because there is an emphasis on community and connection. Our teachers don’t just want us to learn material, they want us to have rich relationships and profound learning experiences that lead us to insights into life. We focus on applicable knowledge – things that will inform the way you exist with friends, in school, in neighborhoods, in cities, and in the world.


I would describe BCL as an experience unlike any other school experiences. We learn in a very different but amazing way. We spend time learning about our community and issues that happen in our neighborhoods. We learn about how our community can thrive. On top of that we have so much fun! Learning outside of the classroom is very special and having this experience is super meaningful. Overall, I think I feel a lot more engaged. I feel as though in BCL the things we learn about I actually want to be learning about and I actually understand how they relate and are relevant in the real world. So I think that the connection to the real world from the learning in BCL makes it feel different than your conventional learning experience in the classroom.


At school we do learn but not as much as BCL. BCL is more like a deep learning place.

And yes, everyone should do BCL if they want to learn about things and at the same time want to improve their writing and reading skills and get credits while learning a lot.


I feel like before BCL I saw myself as just a student who’s here to be taught by teachers and do my work, but BCL is different. It really  helps students grow as young adults. The program sees students not as students, but as kids with knowledge and the power to make change. The experience has helped my overall confidence grow.

Together with artist and community organizer, Christine Hill, and Burlington’s Land Steward, Dan Cahill, a group of students used Event Mapping to connect more deeply to the natural world. 
When you turn on your senses, the present moment offers moments of discovery.
At the Fleming Museum, students were drawn in to miniature scenes of trauma and resilience.
BCL students consulted with Burlington’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Waterfront to help redesign Leddy Park.
On one of the last days of the semester, a walk down Church St. resulted in an impromptu lesson in civil disobedience: a protest targeting the financial machine that funds the climate crisis.

At the end of the semester, students engage in an activity that asks them to collectively synthesize and demonstrate their learning. It’s an opportunity to surface insights, connect ideas, and pose our favorite kinds of questions: the kind that are massive, open-ended, and complex. The experience of collective synthesis also centers values, and it quickly becomes clear what matters to each of us, and to all of us.

Boniface explores what it means for a community to thrive.
Priya explains what sustainability means to her.

BCL is a very strong community. Most classes at the high school, you sit with a couple of friends the whole year and never spend time growing as a community. In BCL, the experiences mean so much more because we’re experiencing them together, and we take time to grow our connections and relationships to make the entire experience that much better. Also, the work in BCL is so much deeper and more personable and relatable than what you do in a normal classroom. I’ve learned so much more through BCL than I would have from a textbook.


One thing that makes BCL unique is the overwhelming sense of community being able to talk to people that I thought I would never would’ve talked to and being able to have a place where you belong.


In BCL, I learned quite a lot about inclusion. Some people may not be that talkative, so when it comes to group discussion, people who talk less get drowned out by the people who talk more. People who talk less in meetings or group discussions, like me, usually want to be part of the conversation, but they [may not be ] comfortable being in a big group or crowd of people. So, it’s up to people who are having a conversation with you to include you in it… As long as there are others who are able to make you feel welcome and don’t make you feel lonely, then the job is done. What most people forget is that even a slight “Hi” can change someone’s life, because it shows that you care about them without the need to know who they are. It’s always common for people to say they struggle to have conversations because they often can’t think of things to say, but what I tell you is that in a caring community it is much easier than it seems. That’s all it takes to show that you care and want to share the love.


Human connection is the first step in having the ability to advance in any area of our lives, and you shouldn’t be afraid of human connection – you should embrace it.

On a rainy morning, we adopted a coffee shop as our “third space.” 
In BCL, fun is literally on the schedule.
Fun. In a cone.

In BCL, community is more than something we experience–it’s something we try to understand. What are the elements or variables that help nurture a sense of connection?  What is in the special sauce? This semester, students themselves identified a key factor. The following emerged out of students’ weekly “Expos,” assignments that invite students to explore a wide menu of resources and then to analyze salient ideas. To be clear, this theme emerged from students’ own research.. And when an insight like this is discovered, as opposed to being assigned, the revelation feels different. 

The article and video in More Connected, Yet More Alone honestly shocked me. It made me think about my friends and me, and overall just the norm in today’s world. I think that we are way more addicted to our phones than we think we are, and this definitely includes myself. I love how in BCL we try to disconnect ourselves from the internet and have more vulnerable and heartfelt and constructive conversations. I think that a time where I felt very connected to people without using my phone was when the Danes were here. They were really into connecting with people and were very good at it. They made us feel comfortable and they accepted us which made us want to connect with them. When they were here I found myself not on my phone as much at all. Maybe it was because they were here and we wanted to have as much time with them that we could, or maybe it was because we were so intrigued by meeting new people and were so interested that we did not feel the need to use them. Through the whole semester, everybody in our BCL community feels like family to me, and I feel like I could connect with every one of them without using a phone. You can feel the difference. If someone asked me to sum up BCL, I would describe the sense of togetherness and how comfortable I have become with everyone here. I think that everyone here feels like they can express themselves to each other and I think that BCL has taught me how to express myself better than I had before this amazing experience. It feels a lot happier and a lot of kids are involved in their learning, which I thought conventional school wanted. I think that I have felt happier here with these people who are all engaged and are all learning this way.


When we were spending time with the group that was doing “event mapping” with Christine as our nature guide, everyone felt happy and belonged just because we were enjoying time in nature, by identifying new plants, flowers, and trees. My favorite was the red trillium, a beautiful flower with three petals that has a curved shape. I was surprised how our community can like to be involved in nature and learn about each small little part that can exist. I hate how social media and technology is such a bad addiction for many people, and affects them from seeing such a beautiful life that exists in the “outside world”. A quote from a BBC article said  “It’s the fact that all of my networks are on Facebook, Messenger, on WhatsApp and I had no contact with the outside world.” The activity in the park was a very nice experience and I felt completely involved with all my four bodies: mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally. I didn’t have to worry about the time or use of an app on my iPhone. I sketched my own maps instead of making a video. That is why I did two maps that represent paths, routes, many bird sounds and especially the city sounds, because I wanted to be away from technology. 


In an opinion article from the New York Times, writer Kathleen Sharp shares an experience when she  went hiking and car camping with a lot of other people, at Mt Rainier National Park in Washington State. There were hundreds of people there. Going in, she noticed they were all different people. She could tell their politics were different from the signs and bumper stickers they had. There were some Trumpy people, some liberal people, from all over. Even though they were all different, they all got along. Everyone she talked to was nice. They respected each other’s experience. For example, when there was a dad watching a waterfall quietly with his kid, nobody bothered them, they all just walked quietly by. This led the author to consider a new perspective: “Put average citizens in the woods, miles from home and away from their phones and other devices, and chances are they’ll lend you their stove, strike up a conversation and perhaps share beer.” It seems like all we really talk about is technology stuff, and when you don’t have your phone, you really talk to people, and talk about different stuff. She kind of seems to think that the divisions out there aren’t as big as the media makes them sound. I think that makes sense. I think phones and media have a big impact on what people think, and when you aren’t using or listening to your device, there’s not as many things to be in disagreement about. This makes it so people get along more. 


Adults always say “put that phone away” or they will always say how our cell phones are controlling our life. And even though it is hard to admit, they really do control us and our everyday choices we make. Reading an article by the New York Times really did show me how much of a distraction they can be. They not only hold the power to make us feel bad about ourselves, but they can take all of our attention away from those who surround us. And that can end up making other people feel worthless, and that you really don’t cherish the time you have with them. A quote from the article that really stuck out to me was “every experience is being mediated and conceived around how it can be captured and augmented by our devices.” This really stuck out to me because of how focused most everyone throughout my life is on getting a picture or a video of every little thing that is going on. And yes, don’t get me wrong, it is so much fun to look back on pictures and videos. But sometimes by pulling out a camera and shoving it in someone’s face ruins the whole moment. This is why I really enjoy BCL so much. It is highly encouraged to not have our phones out for the majority of the day. And to be honest, it feels really good to get off the phone for a significantly long period of the day and to just enjoy the people and things that are going on around you. [It helps that] everyone here knows each other, and at this point of the year we know each other pretty well. It’s a great feeling to have people surrounding you that really know and care about you.

A group of students woke up early, at bird o’clock…
…to make some new friends at the Ethan Allen Homestead.
A new tradition, BCL alumni returned to help BCL8 students make sense of the transition from BCL back to the (rest of the) real world. 

I think BCL is a very tight knit group and I think that makes it very very different from conventional school. We spend all day together and explore experiences that bring us together in a way school normally does not. I think this makes learning a lot easier and we learn way more because we are more comfortable being vulnerable. I have never felt this kind of connection in another class. I have made friendships that I would have never made in normal school and I love that.  I would recommend it to anyone because even if it is uncomfortable or not something that they think they will love- it is still a valuable experience. School is about learning and figuring out what works for you. I thought BCL would be really hard for me because talking and writing and reflecting on my experience has always been something I was less comfortable with. Some parts of this were hard, but overall I think I learned a lot and improved on these skills. I also learned that I really liked community engagement and how much you can learn from people you do not know. I learned a lot about myself and I think that EVERYONE SHOULD DO BCL.


BCL is an opportunity to grow. You come into class and you can already have the feeling that you are supposed to be there.


I have always sorta enjoyed school, but the most enjoyable parts have always been the people and immersive activities. Those are two things that happen in BCL. You get to hang out with people you are connecting super deeply with and then all of you get to do cool activities that you never would have done before. BCL also motivates me to show up fully at school because it’s an immersive experience and if you miss just one day that experience is not as strong. I think overall anyone and everyone should do this class because it helps you to develop into a new person that is empathetic, empowered, curious and inclusive.


BCL is unique because I have had the chance to find the things that I care about most. There is also a feeling of love, friends, family, community and all the people that are around you. 


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