Over the course of 12 weeks in 2001, Burns and the other pupils at north Belfast's Holy Cross Girls' primary were subjected to a barrage of abuse from a group of loyalist Protestants blocking their path to the school gate.
The unrest, reported on globally at the time, began during the last week of the summer term, before violence exploded on the children's return to school in the fall. An angry mob threw urine-filled balloons and, eventually, a pipe bomb as children -- some as young as five -- ran the gauntlet each day to get to class.
It had been three years since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, the landmark peace accord also called the Belfast Agreement that marked an end to the decades-long conflict known as the Troubles, but sectarian tensions were still rife in Belfast's Ardoyne neighborhood.
Two decades later, violence is still never far from the surface in Northern Ireland, with the pain of the past still driving discontent.
As July 12 nears, and loyalist Protestants prepare the annual celebration of King William of Orange's victory over Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 with marches and bonfires, there are fears that unrest could spill onto the streets, as they did briefly earlier this year
The catalyst for the chaos at Holy Cross in 2001 is still disputed: Protestant loyalists, who identify as British, say Catholic nationalists, who identify as Irish, had knocked a loyalist off a ladder as he was hanging a flag ahead of the traditional loyalist marching season. Catholic nationalists say it was an attack on their presence in a majority-Protestant area.
But underscoring all of this was a bigger issue: While the Catholic Ardoyne was thriving, a Protestant exodus from the neighboring enclave of Glenbryn was intensifying, with claims of intimidation leveled at nationalist republicans.
The Holy Cross dispute showed just how fragile the new peace was. Its continuing impact has added to a collective trauma that serves as a unifying thread across Northern Ireland.
While others have struggled to reconcile the past, years of therapy and cross-community engagement have helped some of the Holy Cross schoolgirls to move forward.
"You don't ever really overcome it, you just learn how to live with it," explains Burns, who was five when the protests erupted outside her school.
She and her older sister, a fellow pupil, experienced night terrors as a result of the violence, but despite everything, Burns says the school "was a safe place" -- life went on as normal once they were inside.
Burns, a cross-community worker, says her experiences at Holy Cross have shaped her life since -- in a largely positive way: "I've carried my experience with me the whole time, which has allowed me to do the work that I am doing now."
For Gemma McCabe, another former Holy Cross student, memories of the dispute are painful, but she says the incident hasn't defined her outlook.
"I was brought up not to let that get at you or ... bring you down," she tells CNN. "I know it was a traumatic time, but to me it was only a short time of my life."
Saying this, McCabe looks to her father Gerry, who lived through the worst of the Troubles
, when sectarian violence between the late 1960s and 1998 left more than 3,500 people dead.
Gerry McCabe says he and his wife tried to shield their daughter, who was eight at the time, from what was going on. "Truth be told we probably would have simplified it. Beyond simplifying, we would have ... put frills on it."