Life at Burke's

Burke's Traditions

As a school with a 109-year history, it's no surprise that there are a number of long-standing traditions on the Burke's campus. Click below to learn more about them.

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  • Pansy Day

    This ceremony is held every year on the day before Commencement. Pansy Day was created for the purpose of presenting school awards to graduating eighth graders, and welcoming rising fifth graders into Upper School. At the end of the emotional ceremony, the graduating class is sprinkled with pansy petals (a symbol of remembrance and thought) as its members exit into the Library. 

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  • Eighth-Grade Musical

    To cap off their Burke's experience, the members of each eighth-grade class stage an hour-long musical each June. The students are responsible for working together to produce, act, sing, provide technical support, create sets and costumes, and supply anything that's needed to pull off the show. Recent productions have included The Lion King, Mary Poppins, and Beauty and the Beast.

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  • School Families

    Each Burke's employee co-parents one of 38 School Families with a colleague or two, gathering with a dozen or so students from all grades at several events over the course of the school year. They include a variety of Thanksgiving-related games and the traditional “Simple Gifts” circle dance and song, watching the Maypole and Eighth-Grade Musical together in May, and making valentines for their “sisters” who have moved on to high school. At the core of School Families are the relationships between Big Sisters (fourth graders) and Little Sisters (kindergarteners), who are paired off each fall.

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  • Opening Assembly

    Burke's formally rings in the school year at this all-school assembly, where the oldest eighth grader and youngest first grader team up to hit chimes in succession. The entire student body welcomes the new kindergarten class with song, and the new leaders of the school exit the Gym through a tunnel created by faculty and staff as a show of support as they take on their last year at Burke's.

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  • Stepping Up Ceremony

    At the end of every school year, there’s one ritual that tends to fly under the radar of our big Upper School milestones: the Stepping Up Ceremony. Lower School students participate in one of the most popular Burke’s traditions — the secret song — and serenade their teachers before literally stepping up (or backward across the floor of the Lunchroom) to the next grade level. It’s always a fun and touching event to witness.

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  • International Women's Day

    Burke's celebrates International Women's Day every March with a special assembly that brings together the entire school along with special guests. After students deliver presentations, they hear from an accomplished woman — and in 2021, that woman was renowned ballet soloist and author Michaela DePrince. Click here to read more.

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  • Lion Dance

    Burke’s commemorates each Lunar New Year with a traditional Chinese Lion Dance performed by the third grade. For a number of years, the Loong Mah Lion Dance Troupe — directed by Wilson Mah, the uncle of Burke’s alumna and lion dancer Marissa Chin ’02 — performed at all-school assemblies to commemorate the occasion. But after Marissa graduated, third graders stepped in to perform the dance, which is entirely appropriate given that grade's study of the history of San Francisco.

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  • Color Day

    It’s a yearly tradition that the outgoing eighth-grade class celebrates the end of the high-school admissions process (usually in April or May) with a Color Day in which all students wear an item from their institution of choice. 

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  • Maypole

    The eighth graders perform this ceremony on or right after May 1, where they have to weave the ribbons from the Maypole into intricate patterns. It can also be an emotional moment for eighth graders as they realize that their time as Burke’s girls is coming to an end, and so it is filled with many hugs, smiles, and a few tears. 

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  • Lower School Picnic

    Early in the school year, kindergarten through fourth grades join with a parent or special guest on the front field for a picnic. But this is no ordinary picnic — after the blankets and baskets have been cleared, students and visitors team up for a variety of games and dances. Every year, the activities are capped by the Snake Dance, which links the entire Lower School together in one long line, led by the Head of School, that "snakes" around the grass.

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  • Halloween

    Every October 31 (or thereabouts), Burke's students can come to school in costume. And oh, what costumes they pick! We are impressed every year with the imagination that our girls display in their outfits — including famous women throughout history like Jane Goodall, or fun interpretations of phrases like "party animals." At the start of the day, students and teachers parade around the Lower School and marvel at their peers' creativity.

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  • Holiday Sing

    On the day before Winter Break, every Lower School student participates in a big concert that includes favorites from a variety of faith and cultural traditions. As the leaders of the Lower School, the fourth grade helps determine the program, and many years include the popular "Call to Kwanzaa," the Hanukkah song "Candles, Candles Burning Bright," and the gospel number "Children, Go Where I Send Thee."
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.


An independent K–8 school for girls
7070 California Street, San Francisco, CA 94121
Phone: 415.751.0177 Fax: 415.666.0535
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