Brownsburg Education Foundation Is Making a Positive Impact On District Schools
Writer: Gretchen Becker
Photography provided by Brownsburg Education Foundation
To witness the impact of the Brownsburg Education Foundation (BEF), Brownsburg residents just need to step foot in any district school. Volunteers in Real Men Read recite tales to kindergarten students. Middle school boys receive life-changing mentorship during Young Men of Purpose. High school photography students teach special needs elementary friends how to take photos.
Since it formed in 1987, the Foundation has supported the Brownsburg Community School Corporation following the motto, Enhancing Education Together. The nonprofit foundation operates separately from the school corporation, says executive director Rene Behrend. The money raised all goes back into the schools in the form of grants and scholarships to enhance the curriculum and fund projects or programs that wouldn’t exist without the foundation funds.
“We fund things that are cut or aren’t part of the budget,” Behrend says. “We fill in the gaps. We do special things that wouldn’t happen without our grants.”
The foundation works closely with the district’s administrative team so programs and tools they fund support the already existing curriculum. Recently, grants have funded work to refurbish a log cabin on district property that added a pioneer immersion experience for third-grade students. Others paid for classroom calculators, STEM club materials, musical instruments, elementary running club supplies and an author visit.
Each school also has a representative who attends BEF board meetings and reports back, Behrend says. Beth Oburn, Brownsburg High School Family & Consumer Sciences Department Head, serves in that role. She received a District Excellence Award in 2017-18 that provided new kitchen appliances and equipment for her students.
“Prior to their arrival, we were down to one food processor and a handful of blenders,” she says. “The others had parts that had become brittle and broken off over the 30-plus years they were used. My students take more pride in the care of it than they did with our older equipment. I have written several grants over the years, and I appreciate the continued support from Brownsburg Education Foundation in making teachers’ and students’ dreams possible through their annual grants.”
The foundation board and grant and scholarship committees determine where and how the money gets distributed, Behrend says. Backing comes from fundraisers, individual donors and corporate sponsorships. School staff can donate through payroll deduction and that money goes toward senior scholarships.
When Kevin Kerzee moved to Brownsburg in 2015, started giving to the foundation to positively impact the community. He views his sponsorship as marketing dollars for his insurance agency. He believes giving means much more than the dollar amounts on the checks he writes.
“This is an investment,” says Kerzee, who has two students in Brownsburg. “You can say it’s giving. I see where the money goes and see the pride in our schools. I walk in a school, and right away it’s a feeling of there’s no place I’d rather be than living in a town like Brownsburg. Education is the reason people come here.”
Kerzee sponsors three of the foundation’s fundraising events. At the annual gala, he also has fun dressing up as a crawfish to auction off a crawfish boil. As a board member, Kerzee has goals such as expanding the scholarship program and following up with seniors to see how the scholarships impact their education.
His favorite opportunities come when the foundation supports non-traditional clubs or teams.
“The reason I’m doing this today is because somebody gave us a chance at some point,” Kerzee says. “It perpetuates the cycle. If I lose this passion for education and community activities, then I’m just in insurance.”
The BHS Robotics team, known by the names Team 3176 and Purple Precision, experienced the impact of a grant. The 2018-19 team purchased a CNC milling machine to cut out parts they use to participate in the FIRST Robotics Competition.
Each year the team builds a robot to complete a specific task, says Harrison McCarty, BHS 2019 senior and team project manager. Previously the team, which operates like a small business on the $30,000 they raise, relied on area businesses to cut the parts from students’ calculations, McCarty says. This drove the team’s success, but they had to wait up to a week for parts. Plus, the BEF grant helps stretch their budget.
“The CNC mill has exponentially expanded the capability of the team,” says chief engineer and 2019 senior Jon Miller. “This year we have created parts out of various metals, plastics and acrylics that are such high quality they will be used on the final robot.”
Nathan Heidegger, volunteer co-sponsor and a Rolls Royce engineer says the machine gives students real-world experience and accurate prototypes to create a precision-manufactured part in a matter of minutes.
“The BEF grant was the catalyst that helped our team explore a brand-new design and manufacturing approach to creating parts for our robot,” Heidegger says. “Some of the team’s corporate sponsors are local manufacturing firms and racing teams that have similar, albeit more advanced in-house milling capability. With the BEF grant, now we can make a direct connection with what the students are exposed to on our team with professional STEM skills being used every day here in Brownsburg.”
Making real-world connections and celebrating success in education drew incoming board president Krista Tschaenn to volunteer with the foundation after attending the annual gala. Recently her middle school-aged son showed off a project he printed on a 3-D printer paid for with funding from a foundation grant.
“It’s exciting for me to see something he was excited about,” she says. “And I played a small part in that. A goal I would love to see happen is for every parent in the school system to be aware of the foundation, what BEF does and the impact the foundation has.”
The Brownsburg Education Foundation formed in 1987 when the College Avenue Gymnasium used in the movie “Hoosiers” sold for $100,000. The money was donated to start the education foundation, which gave away seven $500 scholarships in 1988 to graduating seniors.
The foundation has grown to give away more funds as the needs of the Brownsburg Schools grow. During the 2018-19 school year, the BEF gave away more than $150,000 in grants and scholarships.