Burns Park Elementary recognized as a hub for the arts

By Casey Hans
AAPSNews Service

The University Musical Society is singing the praises of Burns Park Elementary School, which was recently selected as the UMS School of the Year for its rich history in fine arts and music and its approach to incorporating them into its programs.

Burns Park Elementary was recently named the University Musical Society's School of the Year.

“Burns Park certainly demonstrates this commitment, through not only its participation in UMS programs but the entire school’s commitment to celebrating the arts and cultures of the world …” wrote Claire C. Rice, UMS interim director of education and audience development, in a recent letter to Principal Kathy Morhous.
The UMS also offered special thanks to Burns Park music teacher Cynthia Page Bogen for her long-standing participation and advocacy with UMS.

The announcement was made March 10 before the Ann Arbor Board of Education and will be celebrated at 5:30 p.m., Saturday, March 20 at the Ford Honors Program at U-M’s Michigan League, a major fund-raising event for the UMS. The DTE Energy Foundation sponsors this award through a two-year financial commitment to UMS’s Youth Education Programs.
“We’re proud to be part of the Burns Park community,” said Morhous. “We all value what the arts bring to life. It’s nice to know we’ve been recognized.”

Burns Park Elementary School music teacher Cynthia Page Bogen works with a group of fourth-graders, teaching them a new song in her music room.

Robin Bailey, fine arts coordinator for the district, said the Ann Arbor elementary has “gone above and beyond to try to make the arts special for kids.” She called the district’s partnership with UMS second to none. “They picked Burns Park because they’ve had a long-standing commitment to UMS and integrating the arts into the school,” Bailey said.

Ann Arbor Public Schools has “a constant commitment” to arts in the K-12 schools, she said. “This long-standing commitment of a district to the arts allows a school like Burns Park to get this award,” she added.

Page Bogen, lead teacher denoted on the UMS award, has led the school musically. “She is a music teacher that is incredible. The model she’s teaching for composition will be used around the district.” Bailey said. She will train other staff in this approach, which can include anything from composing rap songs and plays to writing songs.

“Composition can be taught in lots of different ways as long as they’re encouraged to be creative … and they working within the context of what they need to learn,” Bailey added.

Morhous said Page Bogen uses the UMS lineup each year, fitting programs into her classroom. “She just weaves it throughout her year,” Morhous said. “If UMS doesn’t have something (that fits with her theme at each grade level) she looks elsewhere.”

Page Bogen started with the district 17 years ago as a Spanish teacher but soon was able to move into music. She said there has been a “long tradition of the arts here” and that she loves collaborating with other teachers too. “Putting music in its context is so important and I like to do that,” she added.

Page Bogen accompanies a group of fourth-graders as she teaches them a song.

She said the approach has allowed her the freedom to expand her approach. “My teaching has opened up and is flourishing,” Page Bogen said. “It permits me to teach the way I want to teach. They’re (UMS) appreciating us when they’re the ones that should be appreciated.”

Morhous said the entire staff shares in the award. “The entire school embraces the approach,” she said. “The music teacher can’t do it without the support of the classroom teachers. It takes the whole school. It’s working around the schedules … to make sure they have this wonderful experience.”

Burns Park Elementary School is centrally located near the University of Michigan’s Central Campus, which allows many student field trips to U-M to be walking ones, Morhous said. It was built in 1921 on the west end of Burns Park, opening as Tappan Junior High School and then converted to an elementary school in 1951.

Morhous said the school’s location offers an opportunity. “I think what’s really unique to Burns Park is its close proximity to the University and how the families are connected. Our kids just get that wealth of experience and knowledge you wouldn’t get unless they were that close by.”

In addition to the UMS programs, Burns Park staff does outreach in other arts as well as multi-cultural programs, which was another aspect of the award.

Whether learning music or art, Burns Park students thrive in a culturally rich and diverse environment, says Principal Kathy Morhous.

Art teacher Kate Higgins does a lot of outreach in the community and the different cultures of the world, which has also helped to contribute to the UMS recognition, Morhous said. “Kate’s entire curriculum celebrates art from around the world. When the PTO heads up a multi-cultural celebration, Kate is right there weaving the art of that world culture into the classroom. Kate and Cynthia are the teachers that work with the PTO on these multi-cultural themes.”

Higgins is beginning her annual involvement with Festifools, Ann Arbor’s four-year-old annual street festival of huge puppets. Involved is parent Mark Tucker, who teaches art at U-M and heads up the Festifools event. He is helping Higgins and her students create papier-maché puppets that will be part of the Festifool display on April 11.

Morhous said that Higgins also is supportive of the school’s musicals and of UMS, often working with students to design T-shirts to wear while on stage or creating artwork that reflects the culture highlighted by the UMS concert.

The school’s PTO and parents also get involved, which Morhous says, helps keep the program solid. In recent years, for example, a group of dads came together to create a band to accompany students. And the PTO pays a stipend to a University of Michigan graduate student to help Page Bogen with her composition class.

The Burns Park Players, a community theater group, has its roots at the elementary school where it first began meeting as a fund-raising effort for the school’s arts programs. It has grown and the Players now rehearse and perform away from the school and involves many more people in the community, but Burns Park students remain involved, Morhous said.

Between 80-100 Burns Park students and their parents participate in The Burns Park Players production each year, which continues to raise money for arts programs throughout The Ann Arbor Public Schools.

For the last seven years, Morhous said, Burns Park has done “Community Circles” each Wednesday morning. Here, cross-grade groups of about 15 students meet to talk about acceptance life skills, making friends and other human attributes that help the school as a community.

“I really do think we work hard to make sure our children feel comfortable and at home,” Morhous added. “We work hard to help kids appreciate who they are.”

Casey Hans edits this newsletter for The Ann Arbor Public Schools. E-mail her or call 734-994-2090, ext. 51228.

From the UMS program:

“Facing an audience of proud parents, flashing cameras, and critical peers, third-grade students at Burns Park Elementary recently performed the classic Arab world song Til’it ya Mahla Noorha from memory and … in Arabic! That inspiring performance typifies Burns Park’s commitment to culturally diverse participation and education. Through sustained engagement with UMS, the school’s community of learners regularly seeks out opportunities to explore and discover, whether it be the cultural treasures of Detroit’s Mexicantown, the movements of Montreal’s Rubberbandance Group, or the pedagogical techniques of using drama to teach tolerance. With this season’s School of the Year Award, we celebrate Burns Park – its students, teachers, administrators, and parents – and the wonderful work it does to engage students with arts and cultures of the world, inside and outside of the classroom.”
– The University Musical Society

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