Burlington Experience Students Have Their Voices Heard in New Podcasts


Charles McConnell

BHS junior Nolan Simon records his podcast about “Big” John Van Hazinga. Photo: Charlie McConnell/Register

Down the art-filled, old catholic-school halls of the Old North End Community Center, Burlington Experience (BE) students were gearing up for their final presentation of learning: two student-made podcasts focusing on different aspects of the Burlington community. 

BE is an off-shoot of the Burlington City and Lake Semester (BCL) sporting shorter days and a shorter term length. Typically, a BCL semester ends with a public art project and an in-person event to celebrate it. BCL Project Director, Andy Barker, said this final project emerged from the group wanting to create something they could share widely, despite in-person restrictions. It also served as a project the groups could work on remotely at home, if need be. 

“Podcasting is a super interesting way to work with media, interview people, and let the story emerge and make sense of it as you go along,” Barker said.

The students created two podcasts: One focuses on interviewing high schoolers from different Burlingtons around the country.  The other chronicles the storied life and local influence of  “Big” John Van Hazinga–owner of Ridin’ High Skate Shop in Burlington, Vermont.

Diwas Dahal (left) and Rory Stein (right) work on editing down their interviews for their podcast.
Photo: Charlie McConnell/Register

Rory Stein—a junior who worked on the team featuring Burlingtons—said their project sprang from a brainstorming session held between the two groups. His group wanted to interview schools around Vermont but Stein felt that going broader would lend to more interesting similarities and significant differences. 

 “I wanted to take it more [inter]national,” Stein said. “the idea of having Burlington be the connecting factor stood out to me.” 

In the end, they interviewed high school students from Burlingtons in Washington, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Ontario. 

While editing these interviews together, senior Diwas Dahal said he was surprised by some of the differences in high school experiences they discovered. He said a high school in Burlington, Kentucky offers its students a chance to earn an associate’s degree. Seth Harte, a junior in the same group, discovered a high school in Burlington, Washington that boasts a large campus, three cafeterias, and lavish sports facilities. 

Harte suggested that by talking to different schools across the nation, the BHS community can find ideas to implement as they move into the new space in the Macys’ building.

“[With] everything that’s going on, we’re going to start almost like new and we don’t need to go back to the way things were,” Harte said. “What can we take from Burlington, Washington, and implement into our new BHS?”

After initially struggling to find a clear direction, the second group that was interested in business found themselves gravitating towards the story of “Big” John Van Hazinga. Van Hazinga and his Ridin’ High co-owner Samantha Steady were convicted in June 2020 for marijuana distribution. This resulted in the notorious “Free Big John” mural painted on the side of the business, at 2 Pearl Street.

Their podcast features an interview with Big John and their group discussion about the Burlington business owner’s life and his impact. They all agreed having that conversation with Big John heightened their standards for the finished product.

“We need to do justice to Big John’s name,” junior Liam Morton said. “Not like paint an inaccurate picture but, since he allowed us to interview him, I think we owe him a good job on our podcast.”

A Burlington Experience student working with staff on their podcast.
Photo: Charlie McConnell/Register

Students created the rubric their podcasts would be judged by after listening to selections of podcasts and noting their strengths and weaknesses.  Attempting to create professional-sounding podcasts of their own has given some of the students, like junior Anna Diebold, a finer appreciation for the ones she hears on her parents’ radio.

“We don’t have the best equipment,” Diebold said. “But it still makes me appreciate how well some of these [professional] podcasts are done now that I know what a well-done podcast sounds like and the process behind it.” 

BE will submit their finished projects to an NPR competition for podcasts made by high-schoolers. 

“I just want to connect [our podcast] to the listener,” Harte said. “It’s an interesting way of hearing the different towns through high-schoolers and you kind of get a sense of our America through a different lens.” 

To listen to the podcasts created by Burlington Experience students, click the embedded links below.