First Impressions

Every semester is different. Not only are our curriculum, partners, and projects emergent (and often completely new), we start fresh twice a year with a brand new group of students.

It’s essential to get a sense of who each semester’s students are. After all, as we say in BCL, the people make the party. What’s the feel? What’s the flavor? Or, to use a guiding place-based question: “What can we do with these people that we couldn’t do otherwise?” 

It’s only been a few weeks, but it’s fair to say that BCL10 is playful, competitive, whole-hearted, connected, and ready. In the excerpts from students’ reflective and analytical writing that follow, their spirit shines through.

24 ninjas

BCL feels different from school because it just doesn’t feel like school. It feels more like [we’re] doing fun stuff and then reflecting on it. I also like how we are in close contact with our teachers. I think the relationships feel great.

– Innocent

In BCL, my friendships are stronger because I’m never with all my friends at once, really so it’s cool to see it. Also the teachers here don’t feel like teachers, they kind of feel like coaches throughout my learning.

– Kiernan

BCL is very hands-on and real-world based. In BCL, you are more involved with your community and community partners, a better understanding of the world/local systems and issues as well as how you can take action to make change. BCL is also a very accepting and welcoming place. All the teachers make sure you know all your peers and them before they start. Everyone is very understanding and it’s a very stress free environment. The teachers are amazing and do above and beyond setting everything up as well as making sure we have fun. 

– Summer

Overall, I feel like BCL has helped me express my thoughts on issues that go on in Burlington. ESPECIALLY since BCL isn’t set on one topic but instead has a lot of topics. Specifically,I feel like my relationship with my writing is getting better every day, because journaling consistently makes it better. Also relationships with friends and colleagues here are making me feel more open. 

– Annemiek
We didn’t waste any time: On Day 2, we were already mapping systems.

I usually ask questions for the answers or use common sense. So why write questions down? I kept asking and Dov said that writing down questions was using an inquiry mindset, and I will need to learn to use that. But I didn’t know what the heck that was. If it was important to learn why was it something I had never heard about? In an article written in Medium, it says “we should strive not to have an answer for every question, but a question for every answer…A humble and ongoing cycle of inquiry teaches students to leverage their core human capacities of love and intellect.” Learning in the traditional school system is preformative and [the system] values finding definitive answers. Most students struggle remembering so many things… Homework, studying, remembering, quizzes, potentially grade-crushing tests, and simply going to school is overwhelming. Many, if not most students struggle with mental health. A huge reason is school work. We should learn from a young age how we learn best…instead of blindly just doing what we see everyone else doing. So what is inquiry learning exactly? And why are we not taught how to learn in more effective ways? 

– Jayde

I was intrigued by Robin Pendoley’s quote about inquiry learning. “Effective learning is a cyclical process. We ask questions, explore those questions academically and experientially, and develop as much understanding as we can. The cycle begins again when we interrogate that understanding with new questions.” This resonates with me because so much of BCL is inquiry-based and this quote really helped me understand the point of inquiry learning. When we ask questions and explore them we learn so much more than if we were in a traditional classroom. With our groups at City Hall, we asked the question “What does it mean to belong at a traditional school?” That could be a one-word answer, but with Mohamad, we unpacked that question and it led to a deep discussion with real learning and everyone being able to share their thoughts. This quote and experience leaves me wondering why inquiry-based learning is not more widely used in schools. 

– Elliot

In the video, The Value of Asking Questions, I learned that kids ask a lot of questions. This shows that they are curious, and want to know answers. I have questions myself: How do kids come up with these questions? Where do they get their curiosity from? And how do parents answer them? It’s really astonishing. And these kids who asked these questions, they grow up to be smart, with knowledge of the world, which really shows why questions are a valuable thing to have. 

– Moe
Abenaki educator, Judy Dow, led a tour of the Old North End that focused on cultural continuity.

In BCL we really get out into the city and as Signe and Dov say, “the city is our classroom.’’ In the “Our Vision” statement, it says that “Students in BCL will deepen their sense of responsibility and care for themselves and the human and natural systems of Burlington by engaging in real-world collaborative learning, growing as individuals and building community.”  I already noticed that in BCL, we use our journals and our brains which really makes you think and do deeper learning. The stuff we learn here actually will impact us and stay with us. One thing that has impacted me already is when Judy Dow came in and we did a city walk. I will always remember how she said her family members were targeted because of the rise in the Eugenics movement that was going on across the country and in Burlington, Vermont… You cant learn this in school, you can learn it from someone actually telling you. That’s the expirence I have taken away from BCL so far: the stuff you learn here will actually impact the way you see things, the way you think about things.

– Henry

Before going on the walk around Burlington, VT, with Judy Dow, and other guests, we were asked a few brainstorming questions. The one that stood out to me was “How well do you feel connected to this land?” The walk with Judy really helped me answer/understand this question more. It’s really strange that I’ve lived in Burlington for about nine years now, and while growing up on this land I thought I knew pretty much everything about it, but I was wrong by a mile. One of many things Judy spoke about during our walk was that Vermont originally had 70% french speakers compared to today’s less than 2%, when she talked about this I found this very jaw-dropping. At the end of the walk we were asked to answer the question “How connected to this place, and to the land?” My response was, “I feel way more connected to this land now knowing more things than I did before and I’m wondering just how many other things do I not know about Burlington(Vermont) and the land.”

– Shayer
Neil Preston, Burlington Urban Park Ranger, challenges our sense of what “justice” really means.

A section of my journal that stood out to me was our justice walk with Neil Preston, and Andrew Romano. It was heartbreaking walking through Burlington seeing people struggling in the cold weather. Before our walk, I was complaining about how it was freezing, but as we continued to walk around the Old North End, I started to realize that I am in a great situation. Questions that came up to me on the walk were, Who is the most affected by this? And What can the city do to help? Martin Lurther King, Jr said  “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Hearing this is making me realize that just because I am not affected doesn’t mean I should not care, or judge the people who are homeless. 

– Majeni

While we walked past a camp that housed homeless people, I asked Neil what it’s like to force a homeless person out of their “home,” while also also giving them the support they need to get back on their feet. Neil said “enforcement and outreach don’t work together…I feel like I am breaking the trust that I might have built with some of these people over the years.” I know that for myself, this is an eye opener because I usually don’t even notice the homeless camps around Burlington. Now I know how the Parks system is involved–whether they’re displacing a camp for a certain reason, or giving help to someone in need. I grew up in a neighborhood where I could come and go as I pleased, I had a bed I came home to every night and food on a plate. 

– Walter

What does justice mean? I think it means when there is an inequality/someone does something wrong or bad, there is a consequence or punishment to balance that inequality/wrong out. When I asked Neil Preston to explain again what he thought what Justice meant he responded with Justice changes with time and through different lenses.” I agree with what he said…Neil hopes that what he and the rangers are doing will make sure [it] is fair on both sides and isn’t one sided. 

– Sasha
BHS Dean of Students, LeVar Barrino, helps us unpack Brené Brown’s ideas about Vulnerability.

When thinking about vulnerability, I used to think it meant being weak and not being able to carry your own weight. But…I had to do my own research, and what I discovered changed everything I thought vulnerability was. The first article I looked at was Nine Nobvious Ways to Have Deeper Conversations. This article taught me a lot how body language and even a simple comment like “the weather seems good to go snowboarding” can bring you closer to someone. And maybe that person would feel like sharing something they need to get off their chest, while not making this encounter weird. The other article I read was Vulnerability is Not a Weakness,  by Brené Brown. I’m already familiar with her work, but I never truly understood what she was talking about. There was something she said that touched me and it was “Vulnerability can show deep improvements in oneself.” This made me realize that truly opening up to a group of caring people can show how much charisma someone has.

– Jean-Baptiste
Aaron DaCosta led a yoga and mindfulness session.

In our journals, we wrote about wellness, not just physical wellness but also mental, emotional, and spiritual wellness. Our writing prompt was just to jot down anything we did over the weekend and what it did to us (mental, physical, emotional, or spiritual wellness). As I listed each activity and categorized them, I started to realize that I didn’t have much emotional, mental, or spiritual wellness, just mostly physical activities. After that, we headed to our other classroom room to do some yoga and after the yoga session, I felt really relaxed and calm…Yoga can really calm me down from a high point of energy. I know this is true as I have done it before. Right after basketball practice, I’m breathing hard, and tired. With a stretch at the end, it really calms me down. 

– Khiem

Aaron DaCosta, from the Boys & Girls Club, opened my mind more about the art of meditation and yoga. The grounded and relaxed feeling it gave me reviving me with energy was enough to start implementing it into my everyday routine. In my journal I stated that the exercise swung the energy in the room within minutes took me by surprise and I liked how it affected everyone differently. Some are super crazy with energy and yelling others one with themselves and relaxing. I have been trying to start my morning with 10 minutes of meditation and the inspiration comes from the mindfulness and yoga work we did with Aaron.

– Nevin

Being in BCL feels like my class is a tight community. No single class in school can replicate how BCL makes us feel about each other. BCL also lets us feel freedom and connection with others in the community such as the community partners who tell us of their experiences and help us learn.

– Djani
We gathered in Contois Auditorium to learn from the City’s Racial, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging Office.
Belan Antensaye helped us understand the difference between equality and equity.

On our field trip to City Hall, we learned about the cycle of preference and power, equity/equality, and we also talked about justice. One thing I took away from the experience is our conversation about justice. One of the partners at City Hall asked us “How do we get justice?” I really liked talking to the people that work for our community and make it a safer and better place for us.

– Shacar

After looking at my journal, one piece of writing stood out to me. It was from our time at City Hall when we talked to the REIB workers. When my group talked to Belan, we looked at the difference between equality, equity, and justice. I wrote, “I always thought equality and equity were the same thing and they were both good solutions to many problems.”After talking to Belan, I realized how different equity and equality are. Equality is giving everyone the same “thing” whereas equity is giving everyone what they need. An example of equality we talked about was stimulus checks. When COVID first hit, the Government just gave everyone the same check. This was effective in a way because it helped everyone, but there were definitely families that needed more than they got and families that didn’t need any help at all. Equity would have given everyone what they needed.

Justice is the obvious choice, but as I was looking at my journal I came across the time we were focusing on systems and I noticed that every solution sprouted another problem with it. My question now is “How can we get to justice?” 

– Ngang

[Our REIB partners explained that] justice means eliminating the problem in the first place. This is difficult, as no single problem is usually eliminated with one solution that never changes. This idea of justice is a little different from the idea of justice we discussed with Neil Preston and Andrew Romano… We’re assuming we’re making the morally right decision to eliminate the problem. This raises the question? What is ‘morally right?’ Is it up to the interpretation of the Majority? Is it an average of everybody’s general idea of morally correct? Is it something that some people just don’t understand all the time?

– George
Grappling with the impossible challenge of prioritizing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
We made arguments for which SDGs to prioritize…
…we connected the SDGs to the Queen City…
…and we engaged with UVM Ecologist Noelia Barrios-Garcia, who challenged us to think deeper about global inequity.

BCL is on a more personal level than conventional school. It feels like you are in a group of people who you would maybe get to know on some level, so you aren’t strangers with them for the entire semester…You are more likely to create bonds in this type of atmosphere. The interactions with community partners helps make a deeper connection to the community. The pacing of BCL is also much less rushed than normal school. BCL is a very ethics driven place, driven by the idea of making things right. 

– Ethan

In BCL, I talk to people I never talk to at BHS and I feel closer with some people in the group. I feel closer to the teachers because we spend all day with them and they feel easier to talk to. And I feel more connected to the Burlington community since we are able to talk to community partners. Overall, I feel like there is a better sense of community, since we spend all day, every other day, with the same group of people. We also do a lot of work with people from the outside community rather than staying inside all day talking about history. Also in school it feels like we study to have good grades, but in BCL it feels like actual learning. 

– Sofia

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