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Susan's Top 10

Susan H., Dean of the Middle School
After more than 25 years at Burke, both as an English teacher and a parent of two alumni, Susan has taken the helm of Grades 6-8 this year. At this January's Open House, Susan shared her "top 10" with prospective families, illuminating just what makes Burke's Middle School program special and joyful.
10. The encouragement for and ways students embrace trying new things. I am a huge fan of our inclusive sports and arts programs, and every year there are Burke middle and high school students who try a new sport, such as cross country, or who have never done anything in the theater, and they choose to participate in the middle school play as actors or set designers or learn how to do the lighting. I will also say, having been in the building with students this strange year, I’m reminded of how resourceful and resilient young people are, and have enjoyed the socially distant games they’ve invented to play during breaks and at lunchtime. That day that it snowed in December a group of 6th graders who were having lunch in the Commons area, which has a huge wall of windows, used their iPads to set up fireplaces.

9. The culture of academic challenge with support.
Our assignments ask students to think deeply and creatively, and to learn many new skills. But teachers break assignments into small chunks, and give a lot of individual feedback, so that the work is manageable and fun, not overwhelming.


8. How well we all know one another.
We enjoy one another’s company. Students know who to go to to ask for help studying for a quiz, or for a laugh, or where there’s a dog to say hi to. 


7. That students are at the center of their school experience
. We help them build the skills to ask good questions, to seek support, and to create what they need, academic or otherwise. For example, a new 6th grader decided he would like for there to be a Lego club, and we made sure he knew how to get that started. He asked me to be the faculty advisor, and we ordered materials. And then, because this is Burke, a number of seniors joined the club, because they thought it would be a nice way to relax during a stressful year.


6. The role of music at Burke. Every student is involved in this program at some point. They sing, they play instruments, they work together, and they entertain us in assembly. There’s nothing quite like the boost a fun bit of live music can give in the middle of the day.


5. Our flexibility. Because we’re small, we can respond to students’ interests. For example, if there’s a new exhibit at the Museum of Native American History, we can quickly arrange a field trip. Or if there’s a current event that students want to learn more about, we can shift what we’re doing in class to make sure we address their curiosity.

4. Our visual art program. I love that the halls are full of extraordinary work done by 6-12th graders. Burke is full of photographs, drawings, sculpture, paintings, ceramics, and art made from books and other found materials.


3. How comfortable the kids are being themselves here. I think about a student who wore Harry Potter glasses for the first three years she was at Burke (they were clear- she didn’t need glasses), and students who’ve shared their skills and outside-of-school interests with the community- such as the yo-yo master, and the Irish dancer, who both performed in assembly.


2. The creativity of the lessons. One example is the interdisciplinary tiny house project, for which students designed and furnished a tiny house within a certain budget. It included a field trip to Ikea to measure and price furniture, and students used various materials, including the 3-D printer, to build the houses. The current 7th grade science activity is space farming. 


1. The students who are Burke. They’re an interesting, diverse, curious, funny, lively bunch, who I enjoy every day. I particularly love seeing the students - and it’s a lot who do this- who come back to visit after they’ve graduated and share what they’re up to in their college and adult lives. They’re scientists, soccer players, fashion designers, foreign service officers, and educators.
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Co-ed, progressive, college prep school in Washington, DC featuring a challenging curriculum in an inclusive environment for grades 6-12.