Origin Story

The work that it takes to develop a program like BCL isn’t always glamorous, but there are times when it does feel like a blockbuster movie… Four people with unique skills, working for years in parallel, unknown to one another… And then they find each other, and a team begins to gel.

Signe had been applying her passion for student-centered, inquiry-based learning for years–from her time at the Gailer School to her more recent work implementing Champlain College’s interdisciplinary Core Program. All the while, her interest in cross-cultural community-building kept leading her back to a powerful question: What would it look like if student-centered learning were equitable, accessible, and empowering?

All the while, in parallel, Peter had spent years on systems redesign–and applying the principles of place-based learning in his classroom. There, he found himself reflecting on a quote from Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man: “If you don’t know where you are, you probably don’t know who you are.” His passion for place-based learning led him into conversations with Shelburne Farms, where early iterations of a vision for a semester program were gaining momentum.

Meanwhile, ever since he left the Maine Coast Semester and moved to Vermont, Andy had been dreaming about starting a place-based program in Burlington. “What would it look like for young people in Burlington to feel a deeper connection to this place–and to one another–,” he wondered, “the way MCS students do on a 400-acre saltwater farm in Maine?”

Dov’s vision ran parallel to Andy’s. His experience overseas, his graduate work, and his years of facilitating community-based learning in Burlington and beyond left him asking a related question: “What would it look like for Burlington’s young people to authentically partner with adult professionals, and influence the future of their city?

When these questions came together, a shared vision for the Burlington City & Lake Semester began to coalesce. We found eager partners in the Burlington School District, who gave us the green light to create this program for Burlington students. A Community Visioning Session in May of 2017 tapped into the energy and ideas of students themselves, as well as recent BHS alums, teaching colleagues, community partners and city officials. Hundreds of meetings since then have brought us closer to realizing the potential for this project. Truly, the community response has been humbling.

Since then, we have developed a program inspired by the unique resources that set Burlington apart – and which make our city a remarkable place to live and to grow up. We are grateful for the contributions of many people and organizations, including the Burlington School District, the City of Burlington, the State of Vermont Agency of Education, the Burlington Students Foundation, the University of Vermont, and Shelburne Farms, among many others. We certainly wouldn’t be where we are without the funding, inspiration, and guidance of our local project partners.

Thanks to this support, since 2018, Burlington City & Lake Semester offers an immersive, cross-disciplinary experience for a diverse group of students, expanding their learning beyond the classroom walls, and allowing them to engage in real-world issues in the city of Burlington.

Our story is only just beginning. We welcome your insight, feedback, and support along the way.


The BCL Founders

Signe Daly, Peter McConville, Andy Barker, Dov Stucker