Lower School

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The goal of Burke’s Lower School — kindergarten through fourth grade — is to instill a love of learning and the confidence that comes from developing the core competencies and learning strategies that our students will need to be successful at Burke’s and beyond.
We have three homeroom sections in kindergarten and two sections in the first through four grades. Each homeroom section has a lead teacher and an associate teacher to ensure personalized attention. 

Burke’s Lower School program provides academic challenges and encourages students to learn through the natural joy and exploration of childhood. Our curriculum builds on a foundation of understanding how girls learn at each stage of their development. We draw on the best education practices of the past enhanced by recent advances in brain research and pedagogy.

We are committed to supporting a robust Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) program in all grades to complement and enhance our robust and rigorous academic program. We know that students learn best when they can show up to class ready to learn, receive feedback, and push through academic and personal challenges. 

We have two learning specialists who work with our Lower School students as part of our Learning Center. In addition, our Tree House and After School Enrichment Programs (ASEP) provide a range of activities and classes every full day of the school year.


List of 1 members.

  • Photo of Margot Zahner

    Margot Zahner 

    Director of Lower School

Lower School Subject Overviews

List of 10 items.

  • Language Arts

    The Language Arts curriculum at Burke’s includes all the essential components of a dynamic literacy program. Through phonics, morphology, reading and understanding a variety of texts, writing, listening, and speaking, students will become joyfully engaged in the literacy process. Language Arts instruction is differentiated to meet the needs and challenges of each individual student.

    Students are given explicit instruction in foundational skills for reading and writing and encouraged to be curious learners and thinkers. They are also given opportunities to creatively explore ideas and topics of interest at their “just right” level through a variety of activities. Language Arts activities occur in a variety of contexts throughout the day and often happen in collaboration with classroom studies and content explorations.
  • Mathematics

    At Burke’s, we believe every child is a mathematical thinker and a natural problem-solver. In our Lower School classrooms, teachers create an atmosphere of learning that encourages students to ask questions, explore, and collaborate. Based on current brain research and our own expertise as educators we know that classrooms structured on these values serve as the ideal environment for children to develop a strong foundation in mathematics and to become confident problem-solvers and risk-takers. 

    Our goal is for each student to become a courageous problem-solver who approaches challenges with a growth mindset and the Lower School mathematics program allows each learner to build an understanding of mathematical concepts through thoughtful and intentional learning experiences. Burke’s teachers create space for each child to practice concepts in order to develop mastery. Engaged in their learning and finding joy in math, our young mathematicians gain resiliency and develop a growth mindset as they begin to see the important role math plays in our world. 

    The Lower School mathematics curriculum is organized by units of study that focus in-depth on a particular strand of mathematics, providing time for students to develop and practice ideas across a variety of activities and contexts that build on each other. Math strands include numbers and operations, geometry, measurement, data, and probability. 
  • Science

    Children are natural scientists, observing the world and asking, "Why?" The Lower School Science curriculum is designed to encourage children in these questions and to allow them to find joy in scientific explorations. The program is also designed to introduce students to the processes of science and give them opportunities to practice these skills.
    Our program’s goals include:
    • Students come to view themselves as scientists, empowered to satisfy their curiosity through inquiry and experimentation. They learn to ask good questions and learn tools and processes to find out the answers.
    • Students engage in hands-on activities that are relevant to their own experiences and interests.
    • Students learn to compare ideas, experiment, recognize patterns, and share their observations with their peers.

    The particular topics studied in science class are vehicles for teaching these broader skills and concepts. Each year is a mix of life sciences, physical sciences, earth sciences, and engineering. Often, topics tie in with other subjects in the main classroom. Units usually last four to six weeks to allow time for in-depth study. In the older grades, science class also incorporates longer-term projects that students share with the community.
    Each class comes to the science lab weekly, accompanied by one of their classroom teachers. This allows for greater collaboration and coordination between the classroom and science curricula. 

    Students also learn about a wide variety of scientists, both historical and contemporary. The “Scientist of the Day” highlights a wide range of scientific disciplines and the diversity of the people who have contributed, and still are contributing, to our understanding of the world.
  • Social Studies

    In the context of Social Studies, Lower School students learn more about themselves and their identities, appreciate similarities and differences between and among people, and learn how to contribute to their communities, whether that be in the classroom, the neighborhood, or the city of San Francisco and beyond. They study changemakers and learn about the attributes and characteristics that help people make lasting change in their communities. Students are encouraged to consider multiple perspectives and to use their growing critical thinking skills to reflect on the past and carry lessons forward into the future. 
  • Library

    The goal of the Burke’s Lower School Library curriculum is to prepare students to thrive as learners, now and in the years ahead. The program helps students to grow into competent, curious, creative, and confident researchers; open-minded and critical thinkers; productive, empathetic, and ethical members of the learning community; and enthusiastic readers.

    Lower School Library experiences are often integrated with classroom and specialist studies. Those experiences are designed to be developmentally appropriate, supportive of the program, inquiry-based, as choice-driven as possible, and meaningful to students.

    ​​The light-filled space is warm and inviting. Our K-8 collection includes over 40,000 items, including print and electronic books and audiobooks. Each Lower School student is encouraged to check out books during class time. Students can also come to Open Library every day at snack recess, where they can get book recommendations, free read, and check out books! 
  • Physical Education

    The physical education program is designed to teach students the value of movement from a variety of disciplines. Lessons are structured with a goal of preparing a solid diverse movement foundation for student transition to Upper School Physical Education. Our movement and skill development focus includes cooperative games, conflict resolution games, and social-emotional learning (SEL) games as well.

    Creative exploration and expression are encouraged in daily physical and mental challenges. Lower School Physical Education curriculum follows national and California Physical Education Standards.

    The three main goals of our program are:
    • Fundamental movement skills and movement knowledge.
    • Identifying movement and skill application pattern similarities to increase confidence.
    • Knowledge through experience doing different activities can be both beneficial and fun.
  • Art

    The Lower School visual arts program at Burke’s fosters a resilient mindset through engagement with the creative process. The goal is to enable students to see themselves as artists and to gain confidence in their unique creative vision. The art curriculum combines hands-on studio practice with exposure to art history and aesthetic appreciation. Students learn to use visual language to express themselves with an emphasis on self-direction, problem-solving, risk-taking, resiliency, and individual creativity. Students are exposed to art from diverse cultures, artists, and genres in order to enhance their artistic vocabulary and help them develop an individual art practice. Curricular integration occurs at every grade level. 
    In early May, students showcase their artwork in the annual Arts Festival, a community celebration open to the public.
  • Makery

    Lower School classes meet in the Makery Up led by the Lower School Makery Specialist. Students have access to tools that range from high-tech to low: CNC (Computer numerical control) tools like the 3D printer and the laser cutter to low-tech tools like hole punches, hammers, hand saws, and hand drills. 
    The Makery is also a place where students can drop in both before school and during recess to work informally on individual projects or use educational applications or apps. 
  • Music

    Burke’s Lower School music program encourages the development of every student’s inherent musicianship and love of music. Through active "hands-on" music-making, each student is given a wide variety of experiences to prepare for lifelong involvement in the performing arts, as both performer and an appreciative, knowledgeable audience. 
    Music is part of the fabric of everyday life at Burke's, often integrated with classroom themes and subject areas. Spontaneous singing is often heard as you walk the school grounds. At whole school gatherings and assemblies, singing and dancing draw the community closer. At Burke’s, music welcomes the year, celebrates events, and honors passages in time. 
    Our cozy Lower School Music Room is filled with instruments from around the world.. Materials from many cultures, time periods, and styles are used used to develop musical skills as well as strengthen other core movement, auditory/visual and social-emotional learning. Each student contributes according to their own ability in a supportive and nurturing environment where the rewards include a growing confidence in one’s individual skills and the pleasure of making music with others.
  • Theater

    Lower School Theatre Arts present a basis to see the world, explore it, and express yourself in it. The students develop presence, power, energy, observation, imagination, working collaboratively, as well as emotional and artistic expression through the performing arts.  Among the disciplines they explore are mime, masks, movement, acting, clowning, improvisation, directing, writing, and storytelling.

    Second through fourth-grade classes have public performing experiences either based on techniques and skills or full play productions created from a book, theme, or historical person.

Lower School Specialist Program

In addition to their homeroom teachers who lead Language Arts, Mathematics and Social Studies, our Lower School students work with specialist teachers in the following curriculum areas: Science, Music, Art, Makery/Technology, Drama, Library, and Physical Education.

List of 8 members.

  • Photo of David Hay

    David Hay 

    Lower School P.E. Teacher
    415-751-0187, ext. 363
  • Photo of Jonathan Portero-Brown

    Jonathan Portero-Brown 

    Lower School P.E. Teacher
    415.751.0187, ext. 310
  • Photo of Yara Herman

    Yara Herman 

    Lower School Art Specialist
    415.751.0187, ext. 362
  • Photo of Elizabeth McDonald

    Elizabeth McDonald 

    Lower School Science Specialist
    415.751.0187, ext. 273
  • Photo of Lisa Mandelstein

    Lisa Mandelstein 

    Lower School Music Specialist, National Board Certified Teacher
    415.751.0187, ext. 322
  • Photo of James Santosa

    James Santosa 

    LS Maker Facilitator & Technology Integration Specialist
    415.751.0187, ext. 326
  • Photo of Diana Rivers

    Diana Rivers 

    Lower School Library & Digital Media Specialist
    415.751.0187, ext. 390
  • Photo of Claire Larsen

    Claire Larsen 

    Theater Teacher
    415-751-0187, ext. 356
Burke's mission is to educate, encourage and empower girls. Our school combines academic excellence with an appreciation for childhood so that students thrive as learners, develop a strong sense of self, contribute to community, and fulfill their potential, now and throughout life.
Burke's admits students of any race, color, national and ethnic origin to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the school. It does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national and ethnic origin in administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, scholarship and loan programs, and athletic and other school-administered programs.