Letter To The Editor: Don’t Sacrifice Minuteman Because Of Other Concerns

Photo: The Garden Classroom at the Burbank.

To the editor:

In my capacity as Co-President of the Burbank Elementary Parent Teacher Association, I’ve had the pleasure of spending time with many students from Minuteman Career and Technical High School. Our gorgeous Garden Classroom would not have been possible without the hard work of students in the Minuteman Horticulture program under the guidance of their excellent teachers Sarah Ard and Peter Kelleher. They collaborated with the PTA to help us turn a sunken pit of weeds into an educationally valuable and beautiful part of the student experience at Burbank. This year, they are helping us turn a neglected patch on one of the school paths into a vibrant garden. Our school community owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to Minuteman.

The Board of Selectmen decided that it needed to send a message that the proposed new Minuteman High School would be “too big” for the students who attend. They felt that financial impact on the average Belmont tax bill was too much to spend on this “too big” school (estimates of the impact range from $33-$75 per household). This decision ignored the fact that Minuteman was following the MSBA’s guidelines regarding the size of the school (the MSBA will not contribute to a new school building designed for fewer than 600 students). It ignored the fact that this is the last chance for Minuteman to take advantage of a level of funding no longer available through MSBA. And it ignored the fact that the existing school is in need of $100 million of repairs. Guess who would shoulder that cost if a new school is not built? Taxpayers in member towns, and without the assistance of the MSBA.

The Board’s decision also ignored the impact a new school – one that serves the needs of vocational education in the 21st century – would have on enrollment at Minuteman. The Board of Selectmen does not seem to understand the role that vocational education can and should play in serving our community and in serving the towns that share Minuteman with Belmont. A state of the art facility that provides educational opportunities for fields in high demand in today’s economy – biotech, robotics, health care, fiber optics – along with the vocational stalwarts of plumbing, electricity, and automotive, will better attract the students that could most benefit from a hands-on, experience-based education. And a new facility is much more likely to attract new member towns. Staying with the status quo is more likely to lose students and member towns, further increasing the burden on the municipalities that stay.

I am sorry to say that the Warrant Committee also voted against the new Minuteman, but by a close margin. The other member towns have or are likely to support the plan because they know it is the best option. Town Meeting in Belmont overwhelmingly approved remaining in the Minuteman District, and our town has been part of the planning process every step of the way, do we want to be the town that votes against its future? I am well aware of our other capital obligations in town: Belmont High School, the Library, the Police Station, DPW. But we cannot sacrifice Minuteman High because we have these other concerns. They have been working a long time towards this desperately needed solution, and the students that benefit from it deserve much better than being snubbed by our town.

My sister attended a regional technical high school in Connecticut. It enabled her to begin working right away after high school, and she later went on to run her own business. While this model of technical education – one where graduates are employable from day one – is still a part of the vocational experience, many students at Minuteman continue their education in related fields: medicine, biochemistry, landscape architecture, programming, and much more. It’s a model that works, now more than ever, and our town should support it.

Jessie Bennett

Precinct 1

From Alley to Classroom, An Educational Garden Grows at the Burbank

Photo: Opening of the Burbank’s Garden Classroom with a ribbon cutting led by Principal Tricia Clifford.

On Friday afternoon, June 5, students, teachers, parents and residents joined Principal Dr. Tricia Clifford cutting the ribbon to open the newest classroom at the Mary Lee Burbank Elementary School.

But this classroom at the School Street school does not have a white board, book shelves, chairs, desks or even a ceiling.

Instead, it has a butterfly garden, a playful fairy ring, a Colonial herb garden, a Wetu wigwam and a weather station. Welcome to Burbank’s Garden Classroom, a once abandoned strip of land transferred into a landscaped area that Clifford believes “the core values at Burbank will come alive … where students can participate in activities that promote a love of learning, respect, and well-being.”

Designed by Belmont landscape architect Elizabeth Gourley with input from Burbank teachers and students, the outdoor classroom allows hands-on learning aligned with specific curriculum requirements at each grade level. In fact, Burbank teachers and students are already using the Garden Classroom as an opportunity for an enrichment experience. Kindergarten students buried “magic” beans for their study of fairy tales, and third graders planted a selection of herbs used in colonial Massachusetts.

“We are going to encourage classes to come out during the day and take their learning outside into a different context and have the after-school program to use it as much as they can,” said Harriet Wong, co-chair of the Burbank PTA which co-sponsored the creation of the garden.

The garden classroom join’s the school’s organic vegetable garden, also established this year with co-sponsorship from Massachusetts Agriculture in the Classroom.

The project’s genesis came after Clifford told the PTA last year how she wished something creative could be done in the “bowling alley” – an unloved, forgotten rectangular strip of land adjacent to the right side of the school – and “it grew from there,” said PTA co-president Laurie Bufano.

The PTA approached landscape designers for the best way to use the land, as well as talking to Massachusetts Audubon’s Habitat Intergenerational Program’s Phyl Solomon and teacher Ben Ligon of the Chenery Middle School’s Courtyard which a decade ago turned the school’s central interior from a concrete afterthought into a lush garden and patio.

With funds from co-sponsor the Foundation for Belmont Education and the PTA along with donations from the community and hundreds of hours of pro-bono work, the challenge changed from planning the space to actually building it on a small budget.

“At that point, we said to make this a success, we needed an Eagle Scout,” Bufano said.

Enter Walker Thomas. Last summer, the Belmont High School sophomore – a Burbank alum whose brothers attend the school – thought he would set aside “a few weeks” to plan and build a community project as part of his Eagle Scout submission.

“I didn’t know at the time how big and involved it would become,” said Thomas, who already was a basketball player, marching band participant and member of the high school’s Model UN.

“But working with Mr. [Michael] White [of Continuum Landscape Architects who became the garden’s project manager], I began to coordinate all the different working parts that would be needed,” said Thomas.

Working in close collaboration with the Burbank PTA since the fall and playing a leading role throughout, Thomas oversaw the clearing and preparation of the site last fall (much done with this scout troop) to prepare for installation of the garden.

After the long winter, main construction finally began April 25 with site excavation by local landscapers – and former Burbank students – Brendan and Steve Kelly who prepared the patch of land for the largest group of workers, two dozen students from Minuteman High School in Lexington.

Enrolled at the school’s Horticulture and Landscape Program, the students spent two weeks working from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. gaining practical experience with the Garden Classroom. The project is the largest the students have taken on to date, involving a full installation from the ground up following design specifications and on-site adjustments. Minuteman instructors Sarah Ard and Peter Kelleher directed the students’ work along with White.

On May 13, the students completed – on schedule – installation of the garden’s hardscape and main features. Burbank families, alumni, and student volunteers gathered on Saturday, May 16, to “Plant Something!” in the classroom.

This past Friday, as students sang, ate popsicles and danced around a May Pole, adults and volunteers toured the site that just months earlier was all but forgotten.

“We’re thrilled,” said PTA’s Bufano. “We never thought we would get exactly this.”

“This will make learning so much more memorable. When kids do something physical it sticks with them,” said Wong.

It’s been a really humbling experience,” said Thomas, who will be entering his junior year at Belmont High in the fall.

“It’s pretty surreal not to have any more deadlines to be working towards. It looks awesome. I’m very happy how it turned out,” he said.

Editor’s note: The Burbank PTA wants to acknowledge the generous contributions of many to the Garden Classroom project, including:

  • The Foundation for Belmont Education,
  • Minuteman High School,
  • Michael White, Continuum Landscape Architects,
  • Liz Gourley, Elizabeth Gourley Design,
  • Kelly Brothers Landscaping Co.,
  • Walker Thomas, Eagle Scout candidate and Burbank alumnus,
  • Boy Scouts of America, Troop 66,
  • Mahoney’s Garden Centers,
  • Martignetti Enterprises,
  • Wagon Wheel Nursery,
  • ML Fence Company
  • Belmont Department Public Works, and
  • Belmont Public Schools Facilities Department.

IMG_8190 IMG_8192 IMG_8194 IMG_8195 IMG_8198 IMG_8199 IMG_8203 IMG_8211 IMG_8224 IMG_8228 IMG_8240 IMG_8251 IMG_8262 IMG_8263 IMG_8269 IMG_8273 IMG_8278 IMG_8284

Around the World on a Friday Evening at Burbank’s Multicultural Fair

Photo: Three Burbank 2nd-grade students sing a Chinese song at the recent Burbank Multicultural Fair. (All photos by Glenn Wong.)

With passports in their hands, students from the Mary Lee Burbank Elementary School took a whirlwind journey around the world … all on a Friday evening without having the leave their School Street building.

On Friday, Nov. 21, the school hosted the Burbank Multicultural Fair, organized by the Burbank PTA and supported by a grant from the Belmont Cultural Council to allow the community to learn about the several cultures and countries that makes up the population who attend the school. 

Children and parents visited more than 16 countries and many cultures on display in the cafeteria. A series of colorful exhibits included pictures, maps, crafts, language, literature, and foods presented by participating Burbank families.

Then came the parade of students dressed in the traditional clothing of their ancestral culture. There were performances of Chinese song by second grade students, a Nepali folk dance, a classical Indian dance by the Aakriti School of Indian Dance as well as songs from Finland and Switzerland curtesy of a Burbank family.

Wellesley College’s Yanvalou Drum and Dance Ensemble gave an energetic performance of native music from Haiti and Ghana, complete with a variety of authentic drums and other instruments.  Yanvalou’s Director Kera Washington led the audience in singing and clapping, while children played instruments to the dance beat.

Burbank Principal Tricia Clifford thanked all the participants and applauded the learning and community building inspired by celebrating the school’s different cultures.