Teachers, students make new downtown BHS location their home

We are checking in with the new Burlington high School building and some of the changes made to make it feel a little more like home.
Published: Sep. 6, 2021 at 8:38 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Burlington High School will be staying downtown in the old Macy’s building for a few years. That has school leaders trying to make it feel like a school.

“We wanted to make sure we’re ready and in place now that we had all students coming back for the first time in this building,” said Lauren McBride, the principal at BHS.

A long summer is drawing to an end and students are hunkering down in their new high school home.

Principal McBride says they started slowly, giving students and teachers a chance to reorient and settle in all at once.

“It’s a little bit unusual, but I’m trying to find the best out of this whole building,” said Gordana Pobric, a math teacher.

Pobric says this year feels different. She sums it up best with a metaphor.

“Like you move in a new house, you add a little of this and that and more and more, and every year it gives you a little more of a homey feeling,” said Pobric.

And a home provides comfort, something school administrators say they are working on, too.

“Last year we did a lot of work in trying to understand what it was like to have students in the building,” said McBride.

They spent the summer tweaking what they had to create a better learning environment.

The gym got finishing touches, cafeteria tables added, walls were brought to ceilings in the noisiest parts of the building and art was added.

They also worked on the layout.

“We also made some internal tweaks on where classes could be located to help to support all of the faculty and staff and students for teachers,” said McBride.

So how are the students doing?

They came back in numbers-- 930 this year, up from 920 at the end of last, in part because of a large incoming class.

For the seniors who now have been in two schools and seen the hybrid model, they just are happy to be in a building with friends again.

“I’m really excited, I’m excited for the year, I’m excited for sports. I’m ready to get to it,” said Ethan Park, a senior at BHS.

“Good to be back seeing everyone in the hallways, it does get a little busy, but it is good to be back,” said Cooper Smith, another senior.

The two seniors are getting used to navigating the crowds and adjusting to restrictions, but they are still seniors and senioritis is setting in.

“Looking forward to second semester a little more. It’ll be a little more relaxed, things are still a little stressful, but what can you do,” said Smith.

School administrators say this is also an opportunity. As they plan for the new building to be built by 2025, they are also trying things in this building, like access to resources, different layouts and what students like and don’t like to influence the building of the new school.

With recent violent crime in the Queen City, school leaders are also looking at safety downtown.

Just two weeks ago, Edmunds Middle and Elementary School found a bullet hole in the window of one of their schools.

But McBride maintains their new building is safe, even entrances and exits in and out of the building are fewer than at the old building. There are only five ways in and out of the building, all locked.

McBride also says it’s all about presence.

“We are really present, so during the day, you will see the student support team that’s walking through the building, checking bathrooms, checking doors, making sure students are where they are supposed to be. Even during lunchtime, we have different student support team members. Our leadership team, that’s really present during lunch at the front doors, at the side doors just checking in with students, just making sure they are staying on campus, that they are not leaving, that they have access to food here,” said McBride.

McBride says that is a lot of the work that has been done ensuring that they are visible and there to connect with students as things come up throughout the day and the year.

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