Muir Middle School Celebrates 100 Years

Before a gathering of more than 100 current and former teachers, middle school marks a century of excellence.

(Photo by Ross A Benson)

On a recent bright and sunny day, roughly 100 former and current teachers and administrators from John Muir Middle School were invited to attend a 100th anniversary celebration.

The four-hour event began at 11:00 a.m. and kicked off with a slide presentation as memories flowed and were rekindled.

Lunch and drinks were also served, and everyone had a grand time, eating, drinking and reminiscing.

The Muir Mortals, an alumni band, played and entertained the crowd gathered on a grass field.

Dr. Greg Miller, the principal, spoke to those in attendance and was at the same time enthusiastic and proud.

“Our biggest goal is to create good people. We want them to be scholars, artists and athletes. But more importantly than that, we want to create great citizens who are going to contribute to our shared society,” he said. “That’s our goal and it’s been the goal for 100 years. That’s why we’re here today with all these folks. One to bring them back but two to acknowledge the work that they do because at the heart of any great school is the staff. You cannot have a great school without having great people working there.”

Miller said there are currently 1,494 students at Muir, which is the most ever in the school’s history.

Dr. Greg Miller, Principal of John Muir Middle School. (Photo by Ross A Benson)

And because nothing stays the same, Muir has also seen its share of changes.

“I’ve been here 11 years and when I got here Muir was already a great school. The biggest changes have been we have a lot of new programs like robotics and engineering that we didn’t have in the past. We’ve added a lot of things to the campus. We have a lot of art on campus, murals, mosaics and we have a statue that we didn’t have before,” Miller said. “We also have expanded our student activities, so we now annually have a day of student engagement which is either Muir United, which is focused on respect, support and acceptance of one another, and we also have Muir Empowered, which is a day focused on mental and physical health, so we’re focused not only on the academic side of it but helping kids to be both mentally and physically healthy and having a good and safe experience.”

Ninety-year-old Bert Pierce misses his days of being a teacher and counselor at Muir, which began in 1959 and went through 1994.

“In 35 years, things have changed a lot. The kids were still great. The staff was wonderful, and I loved working here. I spent the first few years teaching, and then I got my counseling credential,” he said. “So, I spent more years as a counselor than as a teacher. It was very different in that the parents were very supportive. We had a lot of families together as opposed to the situation today. There were virtually no minorities. When I pulled out pictures from the period all the girls wore skirts below the knee, all the boys wore jeans and leather shoes and I never saw anybody in athletic shoes unless they were out for physical education.”

Pierce, who at 90 was the oldest at the gathering, taught English, social studies and mathematics, and was a substitute teacher for 22 years at every public school in Burbank, said Muir seems like family.

“I supervised a Y[MCA] club and took them on outings to the beach overnight and things like that,” he said. “It was wonderful. After I had been here for a year, they hired a young lady and put her in the room next door and a year after that we got married. All of my children, three of them, all went to John Muir, and I have many ties. I only live six blocks away, so it’s easy to keep in touch.”

Pierce said it would be harder to be a teacher and counselor today.

“It was a very comfortable time to be teaching. I’m glad I’m not in a classroom today. In particular, after the COVID situation,” he said. “I am not handy with a computer or with any of the electronic gadgets. Things were much simpler then. We had blackboards and chalk. Drugs were virtually unheard of, but now it’s a major problem. But I do miss the kids.”

Li Ann Asmussen attended Muir from 1977 through 1979 and then Burbank High and college in the 1980s. Asmussen is an art teacher at Muir for students in grades sixth, seventh and eighth.

“I love being at Muir, especially since it’s 100 years old. It’s incredible,” she said. “As far as the students are concerned, it’s teaching a sense of community, belongingness and creativity. It’s a place where they can come and tell us what they need to tell us through their art.”

While cell phones, chrome books, iPads, Apple Watches, tablets, and the like are everywhere, and are useful, they can make interaction with people more difficult.

“I think they’re more disconnected now because they’re so absorbed within their own little world. Because of their availability to technology, not only with their phones, but with their chrome books and the gaming and all that,” Asmussen said. “I just think that kids need to be kids and they need to get outside and play more, and they need to be able to do something artistically without looking at a resource like a tutorial on how to do this. They need to find their own art instead of looking at other people’s art and recreating it.”