New school year kicks off for Burbank kids

More than 16,000 kids returned to Burbank schools on Monday, ushering in a new academic year that will see Burbank educators continue to shift to new curriculum standards and restore some academic programs.

At Walt Disney Elementary, where fewer than 400 students attend, Kai Beeler was looking forward to starting first grade.

“I think it’s great. I think it’s going to be exciting,” he said of the new school year. “And I’m learning new stuff that’s cooler than what I did at my old school.”

Meanwhile, parent Marine Ansryan said Monday morning was full of emotions for both her and her son, Saro Nadjarian, who was also entering the first grade.

“You feel anxious. You feel nervous... it’s happy, it’s exciting,” Ansryan said.

As school resumes in Burbank this year, both educators and parents are intent on expanding on what was lost financially during the past several years as Burbank Unified weathered more than $100 million in budget cuts, starting in 2007.

During this past academic year, principals made strong pleas to reinstate full-time curriculum specialists at each of the 11 elementary schools, and district officials granted their wish, starting with this school year.

But the ramifications of major education cuts over the years still loom, particularly when it comes to enrichment programs such as art and music, that are often funded by nonprofits, or community or parent donors.

At Disney Elementary, expanding those programs is a major focus, including for Kai’s mother — Marieke Beeler, who is serving as the school’s booster club president this year.

“We’ve had to step up our fundraisers in order to provide our children the same enrichment programs that we [had] kind of gotten used to over the years,” she said.

She and fellow parents in the booster club will invest in the school’s dance, arts and music programs this year, and the club will look beyond the typical chocolate-bar and wrapping-paper fundraisers, she said, by securing community organizations to sponsor students who will compete in read-a-thons and math-a-thons.

Those fundraisers, unlike some others, will help the school collect 100% of the proceeds instead of a lesser percentage.

“We’re hoping to get people involved and enthusiastic, and that’s the biggest challenge,” Beeler said. “We want to go beyond just our parents. We want to go outside [of our school], and get more of a sense of community going.”

Also a major focus for Burbank educators is the ongoing adoption of the new Common Core State Standards, a welcome move by many that will have students learning more complex and thorough critical-thinking skills when it comes to math, reading and writing.

This spring, Burbank students will take state exams aligned to the new curriculum, and their scores on the computerized tests will count for the first time, giving the majority of U.S. states an apples-to-apples comparison of students’ achievement levels.

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