RCE Greater Burlington - 2020

Burlington City & Lake Semester: A Place-Based Approach to Education for Sustainability
Basic Information
Title of project : 
Burlington City & Lake Semester: A Place-Based Approach to Education for Sustainability
Submitting RCE: 
RCE Greater Burlington
Contributing organization(s) : 
Burlington City & Lake Semester
Shelburne Farms
University of Vermont
Focal point(s) and affiliation(s)
Andy Barker
Organizational Affiliation: 
Burlington City & Lake Semester
Jen Cirillo
Organizational Affiliation: 
Shelburne Farms
Walter Poleman
Organizational Affiliation: 
University of Vermont
Format of project: 
Place-based educational program for local high school students
Language of project: 
Date of submission:
Friday, October 30, 2020
Additional resources: 

The Flexible Pathways Initiative, created by Act 77 of 2013 and found in statute under 16 V.S.A. § 941, encourages and supports the creativity of school districts as they develop and expand high-quality educational experiences.
At what level is the policy operating?: 
A Vermont Portrait of a Graduate (PoG) clarifies the expectations for College and Career Readiness as described in the Vermont Education Quality Standards.
At what level is the policy operating?: 
Geographical & Education Information
United States
Burlington, Vermont
Address of focal point institution for project: 
Burlington City & Lake Semester
Burlington School District
150 Colchester Avenue
Burlington, VT 05401
Target Audience:
Socioeconomic and environmental characteristics of the area : 
Burlington is that largest city in the state of Vermont with population of approximately 43,000. It is situated on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain at the mouth of the Winooski River. Burlington is home to the University of Vermont and Champlain College, and became the first city in the U.S. to run entirely on renewable energy.
Description of sustainable development challenge(s) in the area the project addresses: 
Two of the primary sustainability challenges facing Burlington are water quality in Lake Champlain and lack of sufficient affordable housing.
August, 2018 to September, 2020
Research indicates that place-based education helps students forge stronger ties to their community, promotes stewardship attitudes, and encourages active citizenship. It is rooted in the idea that the local environment – complete with its natural and human histories, economic and social issues, and political and ecological dynamics – can provide a robust and integrative context for learning about sustainability. Much of the power of this approach stems from the fact that participants are immersed in the system they are studying, thus providing many opportunities for active learning and deepening connections to place.
Burlington City & Lake Semester's mission is to empower young people as citizens, students, and community members through authentic, collaborative real-world learning experiences in and around the city of Burlington. The program objectives are to:
1. Embed the values of Equity & Inclusion in all aspects of our program: students, faculty, partners and curriculum
2. Create an integrated curriculum focused on real-world experiences and authentic projects
3. Create opportunities for student voice, choice and leadership
4. Create partnerships in the community that connect students and adults
5. Connect students to the uniqueness of Burlington as a place
6. Build community among students to support social and emotional learning
Activities and/or practices employed: 
Exploration and inquiry in the City & Lake Semester (BCL) is guided by a set of essential questions: Where are we? Who are we? What does it mean to thrive? By studying Burlington’s past and experiencing its present reality, students look toward the future with the hope of answering: Where are we going? How do we get there? As the city, its needs, and its opportunities change, so will the topics studied by students. BCL is dedicated to real issues and responding to the community in real time. Past projects include:
1. Collaborating with the City of Burlington on their annual equity report
2. Working with professional artists on community art projects
3. Creating a short documentary film about Burlington’s people and neighborhoods to share with families moving to the city
4. Studying the health of Lake Champlain while collecting data alongside local scientists and advocacy groups
5. Representing Burlington’s youth voice in a global sustainability network
6. Working with local transportation groups on equity issues around public transportation for youth in Burlington
Size of academic audience: 
The BCL program is designed to serve 20 Burlington High School students each semester.
City & Lake Semester enjoyed a very successful two-year pilot phase, serving a diverse group of 77 Burlington High School students, in four cohorts. The immersive schedule and downtown home-base allowed for innovation in many areas, including (1) an integrated and project-based curriculum, (2) partnerships with adults in the public, nonprofit, and business sectors, (3) regular opportunities for student leadership, (4) integration of social and emotional learning, and (5) student-centered, proficiency-based assessment. Student outcomes were very positive, with survey data and qualitative measures indicating improvement in student empowerment, sense of belonging and community connection as a result of the program. Students also reported deeper understanding of essential course themes, including sustainability, social justice, civic engagement, place, and community.
Lessons learned: 
We believe the pilot program has clearly demonstrated the value of community-based learning at the high school level and the effectiveness of the BCL program and curriculum. It is clear that BCL is aligned with many of the strategic goals of the Burlington School District (BSD) and Vermont Agency of Education and can serve as a model for further innovation in the area of Flexible Pathways and personalized learning. The program puts BSD on the leading edge of the shift towards student-centered, place-based, authentic learning in Vermont and around the country.
Key messages: 
The Burlington City & Lake Semester is an immersive semester program for interested Burlington High School students. We use the city as our classroom, exploring the people, places, problems and possibilities of our community. Our curriculum focuses on the following themes: Sustainability, Sense of Place, Community and Identity, Civic Engagement, and Social Justice.
Relationship to other RCE activities: 
Teachers and students from City & Lake Semester have been highly involved with RCE Greater Burlington activities over the past two years, and are considered integral members of our network. For example, they played a lead role in hosting the 8th Americas RCE Regional Meeting in September 2019, including facilitating a robust discussion of the Sustainable Development Goals during a visit to the Community Sailing Center. BCL students also presented at the 2020 Americas gathering recently hosted by RCE Salisbury, and spoke about what drew them to the program, highlighting their use of ‘city as classroom’ as a springboard for education for sustainability in the Greater Burlington area. As a part of Global Goals Week, BCL students taught 5th, 6th and 7th graders in local schools about the Sustainable Development Goals, and participated in the Cultivating Pathways to Sustainability program at Shelburne Farms.


File Name Caption for picture Photo Credit
Image icon BCL at CSC.jpg (834.07 KB) BCL students hosting an event at RCE Americas Meeting in 2019 B. Jenkins
Image icon BCL at Rock Point .jpg (542.99 KB) 24 BCL representatives, 17 Goals M. Camp
Image icon BCL SDGs.jpg (94.77 KB) Making sense of a complex, interdependent global system
Image icon BCL lake research.jpg (148.5 KB) Lake research
Image icon BCL jam session.jpg (1.19 MB) BCL jam session
UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
(https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdgs) and other themes of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)
SDG 1 - End poverty in all its forms everywhere 
SDG 2 - End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture 
SDG 3 - Ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages 
SDG 4 - Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all 
SDG 5 - Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls 
SDG 6 - Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all 
SDG 7 - Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all 
SDG 8 - Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all 
SDG 10 - Reduce inequality within and among countries 
SDG 11 - Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable 
SDG 12 - Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns 
SDG 13 - Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts 
SDG 14 - Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development 
SDG 15 - Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification and halt and reverse land degradation, and halt biodiversity loss 
SDG 16 - Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels 
SDG 17 - Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development 
Curriculum Development 
Plants & Animals 
ESD for 2030-Priority Action Areas
Priority Action Area 2 - Transforming learning and training environments 
Priority Action Area 4 - Mobilizing youth 
Priority Action Area 5 - Accelerating sustainable solutions at local level