“We’re a sanctuary school”
“Many people assume we don’t work hard”
“I have a dream that Burns won’t be known as the school with the lowest test scores”
“I dream that we can all walk down the street without being judged”
That was some of what the Leadership Students had to say during their presentations at the Burns Latino Studies Academy’s “Celebration of Transformation” last Thursday.
Besides sharing creative writing by Burns students, the school’s re-dedication ceremony featured speeches, storytelling, and a community Salsa lesson on October 17th, which was proclaimed by Mayor Segarra and City Council as “Burns Latino Studies Academy Day.”
Actor and producer Griffin Dunne — the Great Grandson of Dominick F. Burns, for whom the school is named — was invited to speak at the ceremony. With other family members in attendance, Dunne was surprised with the announcement that the school would be naming the auditorium the “Griffin Dunne Auditorium.”
“I’ve never had anything named after me,” Dunne said. “This just blows my mind.”
But he was careful to tell those in attendance — mostly students — that “you don’t need a building named after you” to have done something in life.
Earlier in the evening, three Burns alumni also encouraged students to set goals and work toward them.
Carlos Huertas, the Interim Hartford Fire Chief and Burns School alum, said that “when you do great things for your community it comes back to you in many forms.”
He emphasized the importance of “dedication to community,” a message well-received by those who recognize the value in community schools like Burns where students treat one another like family.
Case in point: during the ceremony when one student experienced stage fright, her classmates — without any coaxing by teachers or staff — cheered her on. No teasing, just genuine support.
The alumni testimonials moved beyond talk of community. Both Huertas and Noel Casiano told students that remaining in poverty was not inevitable.
The “key to breaking the cycle of poverty,” Huertas said, “is through education.”
Casiano, who said he grew up on a side street near Burns, expects to earn his PsyD at the end of this year.
Another Burns alum, Omaris Journet, is currently a Physical Education instructor at the Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy. She acknowledged how everyone makes mistakes in life, but said “as long as you keep pushing and moving forward you’ll be okay.”
In a time when it students are often told they must go to college or they will be doomed to failure, Journet said that the students’ goals can, but do not necessarily have to be, higher education. She urged them to think of what they love to do and take action in that direction. If, like one youth in the audience, they like to design and customize hats and sneakers, then they should stay focused on that, she said.
Students were reminded that a degree does not mean learning has ended. Dr. Monica Brase, Principal of Burns, has been working on learning Spanish. During the principal selection process, Brase spoke in English and Spanish. The Spanish was occasionally awkward, but she showed a willingness to learn and a respect for the neighborhood. At the ceremony, she admitted that she thought she had mangled the interview and wondered if she should have applied for a principalship at other schools; but, she said, this was the only school at which she wanted to be the principal.
Students called from the audience: “I love you, Dr. Brase.”
“I love you back,” she responded.