Healthy Neighborhoods/Healthy Kids: A Cross-town Exploration

4th and 5th graders work with Smart Growth Vermont to assess the safety of a street next to Callahan
Two Burlington, VT elementary schools, collaborate on a HN/HK study to explore what makes their city a unique place to live.


Burlington, VT
United States

During the 2008/2009 school year, Champlain and Lawrence Barnes Elementary Schools’ 4th and 5th graders collaborated by using the Healthy Neighborhoods/Healthy Kids framework to explore what makes Burlington, Vermont a unique place to live.

In the fall, students developed a quality of life list that identified neighborhood features needed in order for every living thing to be safe, healthy and happy.  Students identified features such as:  Food for everyone, Homes for everyone, Equal Opportunities for Education, Natural and Green Spaces, Safe and Clean Places to Play, Safe Streets, Access to Exercise and others as important for a good quality of life.

After creating the quality of life list, students compared the Old North End (ONE) and the South End of Burlington-two drastically different neighborhoods that house Lawrence Barnes and Champlain respectfully.  They used the same report cards to collect information in both neighborhoods and compared their findings by looking at similarities and differences.  Contrary to what adults thought would happen, students focused on the unique features that made each neighborhood vibrant.  They commented on how the ONE was easier to get around, and how yards were bigger in the South End.  What they didn’t focus on, was the socio-economic status of the two neighborhoods.  The ONE is the low-income neighborhood, and the South End is predominately middle class. 

Students decided which neighborhood features to focus on after they went on the neighborhood walks.  One group focused on Equal opportunities for Education. They created surveys for their both Barnes and Champlain 4th and 5th graders to complete.  The surveys asked questions about how students felt about school and if they felt respected and belonged.  They also interviewed the District's Diversity and Equity Coordinator, Dan Balon, and Guidance Counselor's Leslie Ryan and Karen Prouty.  After collecting all their information students decided to create a survey teachers could use for new and incoming students.  They also created activities that school groups could do together to make sure everyone felt welcomed and included. 

Another group of students was interested in Volunteering.  They met with a representative from the United Way of Chittenden County and learned about the many volunteer opportunities in Burlington.  They decided they wanted to volunteer themselves and so organized a musical performance for seniors at Cathedral Square. 

One other group was particularly interested in accessibility at Edmunds.  They worked with Michael Woods-Lewis to learn about obstacles his family faced regarding sending his child to Edmunds Middle School.  The group also interviewed and met with the principal and staff at Edmunds.  After collecting information about the accessibility issue at Edmunds Middle School, this group wrote letters and made recommendations to the school board regarding accessibility in the Burlington School District.

From volunteering to painting murals and planting gardens, students from Champlain and Lawrence Barnes 4th and 5th grade classes worked hard to make Burlington a better place to live for all.  Each group, and there were twenty, learned a lot about their community and planned a project to make their community a better place for all to live.

Students had ownership and voice.  They collaborated and explored issues across neighborhoods.  Students made presentations, wrote letters, planned projects, documented their work, and reflected on how two different schools can work together to make their shared community one where everyone feels welcome. 


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