BHS students settle into former shopping mall for first day of class

Published: Mar. 4, 2021 at 5:53 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Thursday was a day many Burlington High School families have waited for six months. School was back to in-person learning at the former Macy’s for about 400 students after the BHS campus closed down in the fall over PCB contamination concerns.

Booming music and a dancing mascot greeted students BHS students Thursday morning to their new Cherry Street campus in the old Macy’s. After a quick health screening, banners and balloons welcomed the students as soon as they walked through the Downtown BHS doors.

“This just kind of feels like a place we can call home, you know? Kind of our place now, where finally we can just be again,” said Wyatt Harte, a BHS senior.

“It’s pretty nerve-wracking. It’s also a bit intimidating, but I’m very excited that we’re able to be in person,” said Safiya Ibrahim, a BHS junior.

Many of the students had mixed emotions as they settled into their newly constructed classrooms. Harte says the best part of coming back is walking the halls with peers he hasn’t seen in a year. “There’s a lot of people in school that I’m friendly with, that you don’t really make plans with, and I got to see those people again,” he said.

For Ibrahim, it’s all about the transition to traditional education. “It’s way easier for me to learn in person than a screen telling me what to do,” she said.

There’s still plenty of signs of the old department store. The escalator is the most obvious example. Students say it’ll take time to get used to the new space. “The buildings are kind of tall. There’s not a lot of windows or doors,” Ibrahim said.

“The walls aren’t exactly soundproof, but it’s kind of nice because it’s nice to hear all these different voices and you feel like you’re kind of back in a community again,” Harte said.

From the gym to English class, the buzz of bustling bodies can be heard throughout the building. It’s this social setting that English teacher Andrew LeValley says he and his fellow teachers longed for. “I was so done teaching out of my home,” he said.

Like students, LeValley says educators are reestablishing relationships and a routine. And he says students learned a valuable life lesson, which he hopes carries into the classroom. “I think students are going to appreciate their education,” he said.

Downtown BHS is continuing the hybrid model, so students there Thursday will log back onto their computers Friday while the rest of the students take their turn.

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