By Rachael Rifkin
The Long Beach Unified School District Board of Education approved budget cuts in February that have forced Burroughs Elementary School to close at the end of this academic year. Burroughs, with just under 300 students, has been selected for its low enrollment numbers. It is for that very reason that it is such a special place, according to former and current staff members, who shared their memories of the school with the Signal Tribune.
“I have worked with the district for 29 years and at Burroughs for 23 years. When I first came here, the Teacher Resource Center wasn’t here. The bungalows weren’t here. It was just the school. For years they had school carnivals. That was fun. I enjoyed those. During the summer, we sometimes had student workers help out. That was nice. I like working here. I’m used to the classrooms. The teachers are always satisfied with my work. And it’s not only the teachers, but the parents. They like to see the school clean. I do my best to keep it up. Nobody was expecting that this was going to happen– I wasn’t anyway. We all feel sad. What shouldn’t have happened, happened. I’m not sure where I’m going from here. Right now I’m just preparing.”
Custodian William R. Faulk, Jr.
“I’ve been here since 1987. As far as I know, William [Faulk, Jr.], and I have been at Burroughs the longest. I love it here. It’s a wonderful school. The kids are great, and the people I work with are beautiful people. We get a lot of compliments from parents and visitors from other schools. They tell us that everyone here is so welcoming and very warm-hearted.
“I remember when I started here, we had the whole, entire playground. The bungalows and the Teachers Resource Center were not there. We had a lot of good fun. We played kickball, baseball. I had a lot of good kids over the years, but I remember this one girl in particular. She was the fastest runner. She used to race against the boys who thought they were at the top and she’d beat them all. I kept telling her she had to go into track. When she was in middle school her mom came by and said, ‘Thank you. She is in track.’ I just said, ‘Tell her to remember me when she goes to the Olympics. Get me a ticket.’ I hope she stuck with it when she went to high school. I remember when there were eight other coaches that worked with me. Now there’s just me and two other girls. We used to have three kindergarten classes, teachers’ aides and special ed. Then they started cutting classroom sizes and closing classrooms.
“We don’t get to watch our students grow up. It’s sad. That was one of my favorite things. I’ve had people come by that are in college now. I was our current PTA president’s PE teacher and now she has four kids.”
Coach Lorraine Cukras
“I started at Burroughs in 1985. Back then it only went up to the third grade. It had been that way for a few years. In the late ‘80s, they added a fourth grade. The next year they offered a fifth grade, and I taught that class. The following year they added a sixth grade, but the year after that, sixth grade became a part of middle schools, so we stopped at fifth grade.
“It was very much a smaller school. It was the kind of small group where you get to know your co-workers and administrators much better than at a larger school.
“When I first started there, we didn’t plan together. For instance, if you were a third-grade teacher, you did your own planning. The other third-grade teacher would do his or her own planning too. But in the last 15 years, we went to grade-level planning, which to me made a lot of sense. We could collaborate on ideas and share resources. We would share everything.
“Our first DARE [Drugs Abuse Resistance Education] officer was Officer Larry Morris. He hadn’t taught anything like that before. In fact, my class was the very first class he did the DARE program with. He was a really nice man.
“We had a big DARE carnival every year. Usually it coincided with the Kentucky Derby, so Officer Morris called it the DARE Derby. At the Signal Hill Park we would have booths, games and activities. They got tickets throughout the year from actively participating in the DARE program with Officer Morris, and they’d use them at the carnival. They could purchase all kinds of really cool DARE trinkets with those tickets. They’d get little battery-operated personal fans, visors, hats, and T-shirts.
“Kids would wear their costumes on Halloween, and we’d have big Halloween parades. Schools just don’t do that anymore. I think they look at it like we’re taking away from academics. Each school used to also have its own Founders Day too. Principals from previous years and PTA presidents from back in the ‘50s and ‘60s would come. They’d come back and share their memories.
“We didn’t have bungalows until they went to class-size reduction, which was a wonderful thing. We got some new teachers too. We also used to have a fairly large education group. They would do mainstreaming with the regular education classes. They would have buddies for buddy reading. I think it’s a real plus for all kids to be able to see different abilities than their own. The special-education group left about two years ago. They had to consolidate.
“Over the 19 years I was there, I had every grade. I retired in 2004, but I still substitute there a lot. I still can’t believe it’s closing. I’ll miss the teachers and students. I’ll miss substituting there.”
Retired Burroughs teacher Marge Jones
“I had been working for Autism Services as an art therapist when the school district asked me to do a mural on this huge 220-foot wall, broken up with water fountains, windows and doors, at Burroughs. It’s the largest mural that I’ve ever done.
“I thought, they’re the Burroughs Bees, so let’s make a giant pollen path. My grandmother taught me about the pollen path. She owned a house right up the street from Burroughs. She gave me my first job, and she was a big part of my life. She was raised on a Navajo reservation where they gave her a really exceptional education, and she passed a lot of that down to me. Part of that education included the great mythology of the pollen path, which is about the interconnectedness of life.
“I saw how the students that worked on that mural, and the students who participated in making their own pollen paths, were influenced by art. In addition to creating the mural, I went into the classroom to give a talk on the Navajo mythology of the pollen path. I would explain that each person has a path in their own life, and then I would have them make their path. They would draw things from their past, present and future on their path.
“I started to see how art helped them connect to their environment. This was especially true for Tim Bray, a student with autism who helped me work on the mural. He really developed a sense of self and a rapport with the outside world that so many kids with autism need. That project served as the inspiration for a school I want to create in Long Beach called the Powerhouse. It’s a school that uses music, art and dance to teach kids with autism.
“It was an amazing time because it transformed the whole campus. It’s sad that a campus with so much room and such a strong sense of community has to close. Kids need schools like that. I wish there was another way.”
Artist Doug Kurtz, who designed and painted (along with student help) the large mural that can be seen on the Orange Street side of the school
You can share your memories of Burroughs too. Send your email to newspaper@signal tribune.com with your stories and pictures, or bring them by the offices of the Signal Tribune at 939 E. 27th St. in Signal Hill.