One of the refrains that BCL students hear their teachers repeat over and over is the idea that “we get good at what we practice.” This is true for academic skills, and it’s true for muscle memory–but it’s also true for more subtle, affective habits. If we practice kindness, we become kinder. If we practice laughter, lightness itself becomes easier.
From the very beginning, the Burlington City & Lake Semester program was designed to help create the conditions for connection. Along with Morning Meeting, Circle, and Fun Block are an infinite number of small, interstitial moments when all of us–students, teachers, community partners–can show up as whole-hearted human beings. Our society is often competitive, fractured, and stressed, but the importance for belonging hasn’t gone away. It’s a core human need.
At the end of the day, we all need to feel seen, known, and connected.
Community and belonging is important in school because it makes students feel welcomed and excited about learning. Belonging is also good because it helps build a community of students and friendships.The community and belonging in BCL has felt like being in one big community. It has also helped us build a new mindset to be able to create a new way to explore many things in life.– Damascene
For me a feeling of belonging has meant getting closer to my peers and learning more about them and how they interact with the world and others. I want to create a community in which everyone feels like they are accepted and appreciated and that they feel their voice is being heard. Inclusion has felt like my voice is being heard and people care for others input. With a feeling of belonging we allow ourselves to become more comfortable in this classroom and open up to others in a way that a normal classroom could not.– Nash
Community is important to keep the people unified. When people feel isolated and unimportant they create a disconnect between themselves and those around them. These people create a “me vs the world” mentality and it either results in depression or a selfish way of life. Everyone’s felt disconnected at one point so it’s important to not overlook the people who are actually in your life and recognize who cares.– Evan
In the beginning of the school year I really was only friends with one person in BCL. But now I have a big friends-group here. That is what belonging means to me–when I come to BCL and we are all so kind to each other and when we do Fun Block we all have fun together. That’s belonging to me. We all are comfortable with each other to the point where we all feel like a community where we can be ourselves. I love this community because I would have not been friends with a lot of these people if it weren’t for BCL. It feels so much different than regular school to the point where I don’t even want to go to the school, I just want to be here because we actually learn important things about the community we live in.– Hadley
Community, inclusion, and belonging are important because they are key in creating a equitable, safe, and positive learning experience for all members of the community no matter their appearance or background. In BCL, it has felt like all voices being heard, and making deliberate choices, so that the needs of all members of our community are met.– Isaac
At school, students put themselves into groups based on race, sports,and etc. If a student doesn’t feel like they belong to a certain group they will be by themself. BCL is different, because it is so easy to make friends here. Also the teacher and students’ connection is different from what it is at BHS. It feels like we can all learn from each other.– Yacin
Sometimes it’s complicated to become the person you want to become, so you tend to cling to a group that doesn’t necessarily suit you, but it avoids the feeling of loneliness. It’s hard to feel invisible in the eyes of society, to have the impression of not existing… As Dr. Vivek said in a podcast with Brené Brown: “I feel like I will disappear tomorrow, nobody will even care.” It’s important to feel good and feel integrated into the community. For example, our Morning Meeting allows all BCL students to share a moment together and get to know everyone better thanks to the question of the day. This shows how it is easier to feel included in BCL.– Angéle
When we are connected we have opportunities to form relationships and help others. If someone is not feeling connected we can reach out and help. “Being connected means greater opportunities to learn from each other, mine each other’s wisdom, and help each other thrive.” Having other people’s perspectives and experiences is one of the most helpful things when trying to create opportunities…Connection is the reason our world has evolved so much, and without it we won’t be able to move forward anymore. We need to find connections and bring our communities closer together, giving us opportunities to learn and progress to a thriving community. Without this we would be stuck, and our world problems will keep getting worse and worse…– Reid
Community in BCL has felt like being part of a common goal and system, it has felt like we are all part of the same organism in ways that other classes don’t feel.– Kai
The hardest part is creating that initial bond and trust that forms into community. In BCL, I feel a much stronger sense of internal community than in any other class or camp I’ve been in before, and it feels nice to be able to feel like a part of a collective here.– Hank
At the beginning of the year I think it was obvious that we were all kind of shy and it was not awkward but a little bit, our circles were silent and the room just kind of felt tense. As the year has gone on and we have all come together as a community there is so much more joy and comfort within the classroom at least for me personally. I feel like at the beginning of BCL I wasn’t being myself and I was holding back because I was scared of what the others would think but now I feel that I can be myself and it just makes it so much more enjoyable. At our first Circle everyone was kind of quiet and it was a pretty dry circle to be honest. Our circles now are so fun for me and I feel like I can share real things that are going on in my life without being judged by others. It just shows how we have come together as a community to help people feel more welcomed and comfortable.– Camryn
Morning Meeting is essential to building our community. Everyone gets a chance to speak and be appreciative of each other. Everyone gets a turn leading and it’s a way to update and inform each other of our lives. Nobody’s experience is invalid and we get to be fun with each other even on the slowest of mornings.– Vivian
Participating in Circle has been a great way of helping community, inclusion and belonging. We all feel comfortable enough to share with each other and talk about what we’ve been thinking about. It’s a great way to sit, undistracted, and just talk to one another. The activities we’ve done during Circles have been really cool as well. When we wrote words or sentences about another person it felt really great to look at them and know that my BCL community said those things and thought those things about me. This [level of connection] is important because everyone needs to feel a sense of belonging to feel welcome. Inclusion and community are so important and especially at school. When you don’t feel welcome as a student it can feel really isolating and you can’t learn and grow in that environment. Feeling like you are belonging gives a sense of comfort and safety that will really help a person’s learning.– Sara
Community, inclusion and belonging can be difficult, since everyone has different needs and wants. It’s really difficult to cater to everyone’s needs and wants and meet all of them, especially with a large group. Despite this, community, inclusion and belonging have all been layered into BCL. During activities, Fun Block, and our learning, it’s time where we all get to be together. The goal is to leave no one out. Everyone gets space to share their ideas, wants, and needs.– Lilia
Although every member of the BCL9 community can speak to the power of belonging, two individuals have particularly rich insights. Sam Broe is a Behavioral Interventionist, and has spent her career supporting students with developmental disabilities, learning differences, and other challenges. She has worked in conventional classroom environments, and has also supported learners as they transition into the world beyond school.
When you walk into BCL you are greeted by bright colors, a wall of windows, powerful imagery and a sense of community. You have found your place.
On the first day, students from all walks of life, all social groups and all varieties walk in and take a seat. My buddy wrings his hands nervously and clings close to my side. He gives a smile and a hello to the few faces he knows, but you can sense his nervousness. Morning meeting begins and Signe, Dov and Annika introduce the concepts of belonging, place and community. These are core values of the Burlington City & Lake semester. This is a safe place to be your authentic self, not just with teachers but with peers.
The student that I support is given an opportunity to be heard, to share ideas and to be a valued member of a community. He told me one day, “I like coming to BCL because when I share my stories, people listen to me. I get to run Morning Meeting, tell jokes and eat lunch with my friends.” This young man has expanded his listening skills, has stepped up to new challenges, been given a voice and has found a new “home” at BCL.
My role, which is usually a support role, has shifted. Now, my student navigates his days with me as an observer. His peers have taken an active interest in including him, explaining abstract concepts and teaching him. The friendships and trust he has formed in these few months is so beautiful to watch. This growth has been fostered by love, acceptance, empathy and kindness by an outstanding group of young adults.
Now, at the end of the semester, when students walk into the BCL classroom, it is filled with laughter, inside jokes, stories from the night before and authentic love and acceptance. BCL is not just a course used to fill credits, it’s a family and a community. These core values that have been instilled by BCL teachers carry into BHS hallways as well. Now, when students see my student, they stop and share a genuine interaction. His social circle has expanded from the peers he shares a classroom or sports with to 20 new friends.
“You deserve a circle of inclusion and influence, but it’s up to you to create it.” – Richie Norton. This is exactly what you get at BCL, and from the intentional acts of kindness offered by teachers and students on a daily basis. This is a safe place to be vulnerable, powerful, and accepted.– Samantha Broe
The other person with a deep insight into connection and belonging is Cosmo Duncan. Cosmo has always grown up knowing that he is different, but his need for community is no different than anyone else’s. In the piece that follows, Cosmo reflects and makes meaning, and finishes with a wish for us all.
If I have the feeling of belonging then I feel included, accepted, respected and I feel needed. But being part of a community does not mean you feel belonging. Where do I feel Belonging?
My Buddy Walk community: When I come to the Buddy Walk / Down Syndrome meeting I feel very welcomed. I get lots of hugs. There are many people just like me. I feel at home and I feel belonging. We help each other and care.
XC Community: People know me and some welcome me. But this year they always let me run alone. I did not feel at home, I felt sad. My old friends graduated and we had a new coach. It was a different community. I was part of it, but I did not feel belonging. I felt lonely in the middle of everyone.
Sharing places or interests like Cross-Country is not enough to make a feeling of belonging. You need caring and connections and you need to feel you are wanted. If you do not feel this group is “WE” then you don’t belong. If you feel part of the “We” then you belong too.
I have a disability and many times I fit in but I do not belong in the classes , I feel as if I am not family.
I have learned that humans cannot live and survive without others. That is what I know. I am human and I need to belong . I belong to a few groups. I want to belong to these groups, but many times I try and I cannot feel belonging. People help me and are nice but they do not really listen to me and they make me feel not so really part of it. I feel like an Island not like the ocean.
Belonging is important for a good community because people will participate and help the community grow and get better. If the people belong, they feel responsible for the community , for the place and the wellness of everybody.
I want to belong and I want to help my community do well. I enjoy doing useful things for my community, when I feel I belong.
When I am at BCL and when I am in my German class I feel all of these things are good and then I am happy and I want to help and I make the world better. In other classes and in the school every day I do not always feel that way. That makes me think . Sometimes I feel lonely. A community needs a place and it needs food and water and it needs to belong together. Then it is a good one.
Communities need EVERYONE to belong and feel they can just be happy.That will make it a good community.– Cosmo