Belmont Public Schools
Mary Lee Burbank Elementary School
266 School Street | Belmont, MA 02478
phone: 617 - 993 - 5500
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Home subsection School Info subsection  School History
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The school, built in 1931, was given its name in tribute to a Belmont High School teacher who taught here for 42 years.  Born and raised in Kentucky and later in Ashburnham, Massachusetts, she came to Belmont and became a teacher in the two-room school in the old Town Hall.  The Belmont School Committee, in tribute to her long service as a teacher, voted 11 years after her retirement to name the school after her.

Burbank was completely renovated and enlarged from 1987-1989 and the school was reopened to students in October, 1989 as a school for children in grades K-5.

Miss Mary Lee Burbank by Zina Kayyall

Mary lee burbankMary Lee Burbank was born in Paducah Kentucky on November 2, 1850. She had three sisters and three brothers. Miss Burbank began teaching at the Belmont High School (which is now the Wellington Elementary School ) in 1879. She saw the high school develop from a small two-room school house with a handful of students to a large school built in 1917 on School Street with 933 students. Miss Burbank taught under 8 principals. She was very helpful with her students. For example, one of her students wrote this about her in one of his letters, "I shall always be grateful for the evenings after schoolwork was done that she devoted to helping me prepare for the M.I.T. examinations."

Miss Burbank retired in 1921 after 42 years of teaching. Some people even wanted to name a street in Mary Lee Burbank's honor.

The Committee named the school "for a woman whose character and long record of distinguished service as a teacher merits the esteem and gratitude of all Belmont." Therefore, when our school was built in 1931, it was named the Mary Lee Burbank School.

Mary Lee Burbank School Building history by Margaux Bolte & Anika Reynolds

The Mary Lee Burbank School was built because the other Belmont elementary schools were very crowded. The Kendall, Daniel Butler, Payson Park, Chenery, Winslow Homer and Roger Wellington were the other schools. Before there was a Burbank School, many Burbank students attended the Winslow Homer School.

The land to build the Burbank School was farm land and cost $35,000 in 1928. The school was built in 1931 and had 17 rooms. Mr. George E. Robinson was the architect and built the school in the Colonial Revised style.

When the school opened in 1931, there were many differences from what we have today. There were two classes at each grade, kindergarten to grade six. 

Picture by Meg Weeks,

1931-1945 Information about Mary Lee Burbank School by Kimberly Walker

What existed then that does not exist today? The school had grades K-6 and was heated by coal. Most of the floors were made of wood and there were no carpets. Seats were in rows and desks and chairs were bolted to the floor. Students lined up to go to the bathroom and the teacher took the class two times a day. Girls learned to sew and boys learned woodworking.

There was a field where Sharpe Road is today and the playing field was crushed stone. Some games they played included marbles and King of the Hill. Boys and girls played on different parts of the playground. Part of the playground near Gale Road was dirt. A music teacher came to the classroom and there were pianos in every classroom. There was no homework in the 1930's. There were sixth grade student crossing guards who were called patrol.

What did not exist then that exists now? There were no computers, no calculators, no gymnasium, no after school activities, and no guidance counselors. They were not allowed to play on the front lawn and could not go outdoors when it snowed.

During the depression in the 1930's there was very little paper or other supplies. The library was the size of a regular classroom. Students were not allowed to take books home from school. They did not have weekend events at the school and parents did not volunteer in the school.

1931-1945 More information about Mary Lee Burbank School by Zina Kayyall

Things were different in the Burbank School in 1931-1945. School started every morning by reading from the King James Bible and saying the Lord's Prayer. Each class had as many as 30 to 35 students. at recess, children played dodgeball, hopscotch and jump rope. These are some of the same games we play today.

All the children went home for lunch. Kindergartners brought rugs for taking naps. There were also special occasions like a Christmas play. Mothers were invited to this.

They didn't learn about fractions until the fifth grade. They also had a Student Council, like we do today, but only older grades were on it. They did go on field trips. One example was Hood's Dairy Farm in Charleston.

1950-1965 Compared to 1999 Mary Lee Burbank School by Grant Ellis & Tim Douglas

From 1950-1965 there were grades K-6 in Burbank, but now we have grades K-4.
Then, there were 6 elementary schools in Belmont, but now there only 4.
There were two classes per grade, but now there are three per grade.
There were no computers or videos in the school and no one recycled like we do now.
The classroom teacher taught all the subjects, except music. Today, we have special teachers who teach art, music and gym.
There were about 30 students per class. Today, in kindergarten, first, second and fourth grades there are about 21 students in each room. The biggest class has 25 this year in third grade.
Did you know that in 1950-1965 this school had no elevators? We have one elevator now.
Did you also know that some 6th graders took Russian? Today, there is no foreign language during the day.
They spent much more time doing work at their desks. Today, we have projects and sometimes work in groups.
Did you know that the playground was crushed stone and that they could play tackle football in a game called Razzle Dazzle? We aren't allowed to play football.

More about 1950-1965 at Burbank School by Saul Tobin

Things that were different between then and now:

Students wrote with ink pens in third and fourth grades. A classroom was used for the library and the cafeteria was also used for the gym. Students were taught French and Russian and there were sewing classes for fifth and sixth grade girls and wood working for boys. There was a basketball hoop where the parking lot is now, and all the students went home for lunch.

Some things that were the same then and now:

Burbank was a walking school. Instruments were given out for music and students played flute phone (recorder). In third grade, there were field trips to Plymouth Rock and every year there was a Field Day. There were Cub Scouts and Brownies. 

1975-1985 Information about Burbank School by Jenny Bagnyuk

In 1975-1985 there were grades K-5. Until 1989 the school had not been renovated. The cafeteria was also the gym. Grades K-5 took lots of fields trips. They also played kickball and football at recess. There were no computers in classrooms until closer to 1985, and then there was 1 Apple II in each class.

1981-1994 Information about Burbank School by Kanami Ishibashi

Mr. Arthur Bush was the principal. Newsletters were sent home to parents. The Burbank After School Program (BASP) was added. The PTA began enrichment classes after school. You could go to art, science, activities, crafts, computers, gymnastics and other choices. Parents had to sign you up and pay for the classes.

Field day was at the High School and then at Burbank. They had the Spring Fling to raise money. The computer lab was set up in 1993. There were many parents who volunteered in the school and raised money for extra programs.

Mr. Bush was the principal during the renovation of the school. Some of the teachers who were there for the renovation and are still at Burbank are Mrs. Hawksworth, Mrs. McClintock, Mrs. Winslow[Toronto], Mrs. Cox, Mrs. Lind, and Ms. Stoller. 

1987-1989 Burbank's renovation by Justin Cunningham & Eric Semple

Renovate means "to make new again". They had to add on to the school because it got too crowded. They also needed to fix parts of the school, like the roof.

The school closed June, 1987 and reopened October, 1989. It took 2 years to renovate the Burbank School.

Where did grades go? The Burbank classes were split up and went to other schools. Kindergarten and grade 1 went to Butler School. Grade 2&3 went to Wellington. Grade 4&5 went to Chenery Middle School. The principal, Mr. Bush, had a tiny room for his office at the old Chenery Middle School.

The building was supposed to be ready in September, but wasn't. So everyone stayed in other schools until October. Then parents helped teachers move in one weekend. They moved in October, 1989.

The building was clean and new and there were only 2 classes for each grade. They added the library and other rooms like the gym, music room, office, clinic and they paved the playground. The best new room was the library because it was much bigger than the one they had before.

They paved the back, which was crushed stone and is now the hardtop where we play basketball, four squares and wall ball. 

1994-1999 What was added and when? by Taylor Lane

!994: The Geography Detectives Program has questions by students every week in the Friday newsletter. Dr. Feinberg delivers certificates to students who answer all the questions.

1994: Flags from around the world hang on walls. Students can identify the flags for Geography Detective certificates.

1994: Birthday Bookmarks are given to every student by Dr. Feinberg. She gives out summer birthdays the last week of school.

1995: The Student Council had a contest for a Burbank School banner. Noah Kalos [grade 3] and Jake Kalos [grade 5], designed the banner and a parent [Kathy Parkinson] made the banner for the school.

1995: The Student Council voted to have a Burbank school song. They had a contest and the poem by two third grade students [Doug Fallon and Alyssa Levin-Scherz] was turned into a song. The music teacher, Ms. Pollack, helped them write the music.

1995: The Student Council expanded to include two representatives from each class in grades 1-5.

1995: The School Store is located across from the cafeteria. It opens on Tuesday mornings and students from the Student Council help.

1995: The world map was painted on the playground by students and parents.

1995 The World Geography Bees started with teams for two different days. K, 1, 2 teams one day and grade 3, 4, 5, the next day.

1996: Family Math Nights include the entire family in fun math activities.

1996: The Spring Flings changed to the International Fair because of our school geography theme.

1997: The Burbank Student Council voted to have a school mascot. Students in all classes voted and the Burbank beaver became the mascot.

1997: The Student Advisory Council on School Goals has fourth graders who work with Dr. Feinberg on a special goal. This year, we are working on the "Celebrating History" goal by writing a newsletter and this book.

1997: The Burbank School Web Page was added by a volunteer in the community, Mr. John Bowe.

1998: The Burbank Before School Program starts at 7:30 am.

1998: The Geography Mural on the cafeteria wall was supervised by Nina Vansuch, the Director of the After School program.

1999: World Geography Challenges became the name for team geography questions [instead of Geography Bees] for grades K-4.

Dr. Rose Feinberg has been the principal from 1994-2004. 

Burbank Today (1999) by Christina Borelli & Anika Reynolds

The subjects all grades have are reading, writing, spelling, math, science, geography, social studies, art, music and gym. Some students take Spanish or French before school. We have lots of books in our library and we go every week.

We have 11 computers in the computer lab and at least one Power Macintosh computer in every classroom. The computer programs are about math, science, reading, geography, thinking, graphing and more. Lots of writing gets published on the computer and then gets made into books by parents or teachers. We have one internet connection in the library.

We have extra programs like poets and artists [music and art] who come to the school, and a play about the environment. The PTA helps pay for special programs. Every class goes on one field trip.

There are people like Dr. Carrol who does science experiments with every class. Also, lots of parents come and volunteer in the school. They help in classroom, the computer lab, the library and sometimes come just to read to a class or show things from their travels to classes that are studying a country.

Parents come to the school to see what we are learning. Every grade has morning open house activities and students show parents their work or do a presentation. 

Mary Lee Burbank School Principals

Mr. Thomas E. Rush 1931-1938
Mr. Coburn W. Tripp 1939-1947
Mr. Georg Carey Jr. 1947-1976
Miss Norma Marsh[acting principal] 1977-1978
Mr. Stephen O'Donnell 1978-1981
Mr. Arthur Bush 1981-1994
Dr. Rose Feinberg 1994-2004
Christine Francis 2004-2011

Dr. Tricia Clifford 2011-Present 


The Burbank School Songs

In 1995, the Student council voted to have a school song. Students wrote poems about the school and one was voted to be the school song. Music was added by the two student writers with the help of the music teacher, Ms. Alix Pollack.

When we did our research, we learned there was a Burbank School song in a1942 Class book. The following two songs are the Burbank School songs.

Burbank School song writer unknown (In 1942 class book) Shared by Eva Sollmine.

O! Burbank to you now we sing,
And to you our praise we bring.
In work and in play and in all,
Our standards will never fall.
Three cheers for purple and gold,
And the Student council and Patrol,
And to you our rules will be so true.
O! Burbank School
O! Burbank School
Here's to you.

Poem by Douglas fallon & Alyssa Levin-Scherz. Music by Alissa and Doug, with assistance from Ms. Alix Pollack, music teacher.

Come see a school named Mary Lee Burbank
A great, great place. It's in the top rank.
Come see the staff that work hard everyday,
Come see the children at work and play.
Rights, Respect, Responsibility-
These are the rules at this elementary.
Come see the teachers help us every day.
This school will send, send us on our way,
from Mary Lee Burbank. 

Burbank School song (music) (1995)

How did we contribute to Burbank's History? by The Student Advisory Council

We have added to the history of the school by the research we did. Our newspaper about the school and about other schools and book about the history of the school will become part of Burbank history.

We hope other students in the future will use our book, The History of the Mary Lee Burbank School, to find out about the history of the Burbank School. We will donate our book to the Belmont Public Library, to the Burbank School Library and to the Belmont Public Schools main office.

We thank all the alumni we interviewed and teachers, parents, community people and people at the main office who helped us with information. We also thank the Belmont Public library for the information about the Mary Lee Burbank School. 

updated: 1/6/2009 by webmaster
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