Burbank High School, John Burroughs High School, Dolores Huerta Middle School and Luther Burbank Middle School have been recognized by the State of California as 2021 Exemplary Arts Education Schools, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond announced on Thursday, April 29. Burbank, Burroughs, Huerta and Luther were among 33 middle and high schools throughout the state to receive the honor.
“This year has been especially challenging for our students and schools, but I commend these schools for recognizing that this is a time when the arts are more critical than ever,” Thurmond said in a media release. “These schools excelled in providing quality arts education, despite all the obstacles presented by distance learning. It is with great pleasure we honor these schools for their steadfast dedication to arts education that plays a powerful role in supporting wellness, bridging social divides, and expanding creativity and critical thinking in our students.”
According to the California Department of Education, “In addition to meeting the Arts Standards and Dashboard eligibility criteria, to apply to be recognized as an Exemplary Arts Awardee, schools must offer sequenced instruction to all students in a minimum of three of the five arts disciplines identified in the Arts Standards: Dance, Media Arts, Music, Theater and Visual Arts. They must also show one level of improvement for at least one student subgroup in one of the following three areas based on the Dashboard: School Climate, in the area of Suspension Rate; Student Engagement, in the area of Chronic Absenteeism or Graduation Rate; Academic Achievement, in the area of English Language Arts, Mathematics or College and Career Readiness.”
Evaluation teams from the state visited school finalists in April and conducted “interviews with school and district administrators, teachers, students, parents, and community partners, including Board of Education President Steve Frintner and Superintendent Matt Hill,” explained Burbank Unified School District Arts & CTE Coordinator Peggy Flynn. “Classroom observations of virtual classes in visual, performing, and media arts as well as Career Technical Education (CTE) and Arts, Media, and Entertainment (AME) were also conducted.”
Flynn shared some comments about JBHS, BHS, Huerta and Luther from the evaluation teams: “Clear that this school and district are striving for the highest standard in arts education”; “Their work with Special Education and ELD students is truly exemplary”; “Enthusiasm by all parties involved. Wonderful teacher, parent and student interviews”; “Wide variety of partners and stakeholders.”
Every two years, elementary, middle and high schools across the state may apply for this recognition. Burbank Unified has had a number of schools recognized in previous years. Elementary schools apply in even numbered years and middle and high schools apply in odd numbered years. In 2020, four BUSD elementary schools – William McKinley, Walt Disney, Joaquin Miller and Providencia – were recognized as Exemplary Arts Education Schools.
Schools can only qualify to apply if they have improved on one area of the Dashboard that shows how the arts impacted growth, Flynn said.
“That’s why some years we have fewer [recognized],” she added. “All of our schools would get it if it was open to all schools!”
“Since we are an Arts for All district our programs are aligned JK-12 and most have similar programs,” Flynn also said. “The best thing about BUSD is each school is unique to its community (demographics, teacher backgrounds and training, socioeconomics, etc.) so while we have the same programs at each school and they meet the state standards – each program looks a little different to best meet the needs of their students while still providing an excellent arts education to ALL.”
“During a very difficult year, everyone remained focused on delivering high-quality arts instruction,” commented BUSD Superintendent Matt Hill. “These awards highlight the innovation and creativity of our teachers and students.”
“When people think of Burbank Unified Schools, they often think of our nationally recognized programs in visual and performing arts,” commented Burbank High Principal Tom Crowther. “For the CA Department of Education to honor four BUSD schools amongst only 33 recipients this year as ‘Exemplary Arts Schools’ is really evidence that even in a pandemic our students, teachers and directors have found ways to shine.”
“It is a testament to them and to the fashion in which all of our schools and the entire Burbank Community embraces, celebrates and cultivates the arts,” he also said. “When we return to campus next fall, these programs will be instrumental just as they have been key in guiding is all through this unique time period of distance teaching and learning.”
Flynn noted Burbank High’s Animation, Photography, Broadcast, Digital Video Production and Visual Arts programs, along with the performing arts programs such as Vocal and Instrumental Music and Drama as standouts. While the pandemic posed challenges, particularly for performing arts students to sync in performances, the district used a number of apps and media programs to facilitate remote learning and continue student growth.
The school’s mentorship program brought in outside professionals from Nickelodeon and the Musicians At Play Foundation to engage with students as well, adapting to the remote learning format.
“John Burroughs High School is honored to be given this recognition for our Arts and CTE Programs,” said Burroughs Principal Deborah Madrigal. “Our faculty and staff recognize that access to the Arts and CTE programs are a critical part of a complete high school education.”
“Their dedication is evident in how hard they have worked to support and improve our programs,” she continued. “We would like to thank the entire Burbank community for the consistent support they have given us for many years. This recognition would not have been possible without the support of the community and district leadership. GO BEARS!”
Flynn pointed to Burroughs’ robust Visual and Performing Arts programs and Arts, Media and Entertainment classes, such as Drama and Musical Theater, Photography, Journalism, Braodcast, Digital Video Production, Animation, Choir and Band, as examples of the engaging arts programs for students.
Photography students focused on digital processing of images, since the school’s on campus darkroom was closed during the pandemic. Musical Theater and Drama students put on several remote performances throughout the year, including the ongoing web series written, performed, recorded and edited by students, Flunk’d.
She also mentioned the ongoing support of professional musicians from the Musicians At Play Foundation who adapted to remote learning constraints to continue to provide engagement for music students.
“We are so happy and grateful for this award for our school community,” commented Luther Principal Oscar Macias. “Much like being named a 2021 California Distinguished School, this distinction shows our commitment to the arts, not only at Luther Burbank Middle School, but in the Burbank Unified School District. We are truly blessed to be in a district that has created and sustained partnerships with the likes of The Burbank Arts and Education Foundation and our business partners throughout Burbank.”
“This award also represents the dedicated hard work of the entire community of Luther Burbank Middle School,” Macias added. “I want to recognize our learners, faculty, support staff, parents/guardians, and the school administration team. I am super proud of everyone and am so lucky to be able to work alongside with them.”
Luther’s Vocal and Instrumental Music, Visual Arts, Drama and Digital Media classes also adapted to remote learning, Flynn said. Teachers brought in guest artists and coaches to add to the experience and utilized apps and online programs for students to learn and develop.
Instrumental music students were able to have instruments at home to practice with regularly. Digital Media students focused heavily on developing their technology skills, along with students in the other arts programs.
“I am so proud of all the work our teachers and students have done this year,” commented Huerta Principal Jennifer Meglemre. “They have produced some incredible art even in these most difficult circumstances.”
Meglemre pointed to Huerta’s vocal music program as one of the school’s standout arts programs for engaging students.
“In the summer of 2020, our beloved choir teacher, Mrs. DeMore, decided to retire. She was an unstoppable force who led our choirs to many first place awards in choir competitions and was invited to bring our advanced choir to perform in a concert at the Lincoln Memorial in 2019,” she explained. “She created our successful choir program and this year Mrs. Casey Solow has stepped into her shoes and filled the role beautifully.”
“Even in this challenging year of distance learning, Ms. Solow has produced several virtual concerts and even took our choirs to a virtual completion,” Meglemre added. “With the help of our long time choreographers, Amanda Richardson and Dominic Matas, our choir program continues to be as strong as ever under new and enthusiastic leadership.”
Home recording became a major part of class for Vocal and Instrumental Music students at Huerta, like the other schools, Flynn noted. Students would record individual parts at home, which were then edited together for performances. Visual Arts and Digital Media classes also made use of apps and online programs to increase student engagement.
“ELD and English Language Arts GATE teacher Lori Pacino was recently selected to pilot a DC Entertainment project called DC’s Comics in the Classroom with her classes,” Flynn also said. “The program connected students with graphic novelist and illustrator, Dustin Hansen, through a series of prerecorded videos where he demonstrated and shared his professional history and creative process.”
“Each video was tied to a lesson that guided students through the development of their own graphic novel and a culminating live stream event with Hansen is planned where students can share their work and ask Mr. Hansen questions.”
“This recognition doesn’t come easy under normal circumstances,” said Flynn. “For so many of our schools to receive this honor, at a time when funding is tight and a pandemic has caused so many challenges, is huge!”
“It speaks volumes about the commitment and determination of our principals and teachers who work so hard each and every day to ensure all students benefit from an arts education,” she added. “They know how important it is to provide creative outlets for kids and the impact arts have on our students’ social emotional well being and academic achievement.”
In addition to the specific programs mentioned, each school boasts of additional arts programs and classes and the integration of arts in many academic classes.