STORY BY BENJAMIN LERNER
PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY BURR & BURTON ACADEMY
With the Rowland Project underway, Manchester’s Burr & Burton Academy (BBA) is doing more than just redesigning and transforming their campus. They are redefining education with a groundbreaking, modern, and collaborative approach that will bring students from the surrounding Vermont community together and provide them with unique and authentic educational experiences.
The generous philanthropic efforts of Barry and Wendy Rowland have already made indelible marks on BBA’s campus. Their gifts during the years have supported the Student Success Program, funded student and faculty travel, provided a phenomenal student center and classroom space in the Rowland Center, and funded the now fully operational agriculture science lab at Hildene, known affectionately at BBA as the “Dene Farm.” Their newest generous contribution has allowed BBA to launch the Rowland Project, which will bring the school’s forward-looking academic vision to life with the planned completion of Founders Hall in the summer of 2021.
Burr & Burton’s plan for the future of education is both integrated and cooperative, with less focus on the separation of individual academic and artistic disciplines, and more focus on bringing those individual disciplines together to create authentic learning experiences for a well-rounded life. As Headmaster Mark Tashjian explains, “Once kids go beyond the traditional learning that happens in high school and college, the world gets more and more integrated. We want our students to be prepared with integrative thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills.”
This inventively authentic approach to education requires a modern facility to accommodate it. True to that unifying philosophy, they plan to integrate the courses from BBA’s curriculum (both physically and academically) at Founders Hall. Classes taught at Founders Hall will consist of a wide range of subjects, including English, social studies, and the STEAM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics). There will be designated “maker’s spaces” in Founders Hall where students can collaboratively work on projects, and a library to make sure that students have nearby access to all the educational resources they may need.
Groups of individual classes will be organized into sections that Tashjian refers to as “learning neighborhoods.” Each neighborhood will typically consist of three to four classes, whose classrooms are grouped together based on overlap and connection of key concepts. With movable walls and open spaces between the rooms, BBA is creating an inventive and unique system of learning from the ground up. Students will have the opportunity to share cross-disciplinary educational experiences in a one-of-a-kind academic environment that is designed to foster creativity and intellectual curiosity.
Other plans for the Rowland Project include a new community courtyard at the center of campus to create a lively and vibrant space where students and teachers can come together and share ideas outside of the classroom. Such open spaces coordinate with BBA’s core philosophy. Tashjian explains, “We try to create a learning environment where students and teachers are working together—a collaborative environment of connection, rapport, and personalization. Done right, each student feels an emotional connection to the school and a sense of belonging and connection to [his or her] teacher.”
With the Rowland Project underway, and Burr & Burton’s 200th anniversary approaching in 2029, the school has taken bold steps to continue their legacy of academic excellence well into the future with their new facilities. As Tashjian outlines, BBA’s philosophy of collaborative cooperation extends far beyond the classroom walls. “The goal is to be a school that provides for and serves the Vermont community in the best ways possible…. We want to be a school that our community is proud of, and we want to be proud of how we serve that community. We rely on our community, and we want it to be able to count on us.”
When Phase 1 of the Rowland project is complete, BBA’s vision will be fully actualized in a beautiful, modern, and unique facility at Founders Hall. The goal, of course, is for local students to be given all the tools and resources they need to succeed academically and to discover their love of learning. For the teachers and staff at BBA, as well as the generous donors, being able to provide a top education to future generations of Vermonters is the most priceless gift of all.
To find out how you can make a difference and help BBA move forward with their educational vision,