Brownsburg Education Foundation Supports Creativity, Innovation and Excellence
With a passion for education, Rene Behrend set out to become an elementary school teacher. After earning her degree from Miami University in Ohio, she taught for three years as a fourth-grade teacher at Eagle Elementary in Brownsburg. Once she and her husband Bill started their family, she stepped out of teaching.
The two have known each other since they were in the third grade. They “dated” briefly in the fifth grade, but split up when another 10-year-old caught Bill’s eye. The pair reunited years later in college and went on to have two children, Julia (25) and Ben (23). They also have a lovable bulldog named Ruby.
In her free time, Behrend likes to put together jigsaw puzzles, bake, sew, and write letters by hand. She jokes that perhaps she should have been born decades ago, as she would have made a fine pioneer woman. In fact, when she taught fourth grade, the class even made butter.
“I never thought I’d return to work,” she says. “That was not part of our life plan once I had kids.”
In September of 2012, when both of her children were in high school, she had the chance to work with the Brownsburg Education Foundation (BEF).
“I had been super involved with all of my kids’ activities – volunteering to be trip coordinator for my son’s scout troop and making a spreadsheet of finances, and organizing the fall festival at White Lick and transitioning it into the Step-a-thon to raise money and finding sponsors for that,” she says. “When this job became available and I read through the job description, I thought, ‘Wow! They’ll pay me for everything I’ve been volunteering to do for the past 15 years.’ It’s just a good life lesson to always do your best no matter what task you are given.”
The BEF supports all students in the school corporation to enhance their education, with creative and innovative classroom materials, programs and projects. The foundation raises money through fundraisers, corporate partnerships and individual donors.
“That money goes back into the classroom in the form of corporation-wide initiatives that impact every student at every grade level and in every department,” Behrend says.
These include individual grants awarded to teachers, as well as scholarships awarded to graduating seniors. The foundation also funds permanent projects like the “Real Men Read” program for kindergartners, the “Log Cabin Homestead Project” for third-graders, and the “Purdue Science Express” high school program.
“Most of these permanent projects started out as grants that we funded year after year, but the Board of Directors decided that instead of the teachers applying for annual grants, we would incorporate them into our annual funding as part of our budget because we saw the value in them,” says Behrend, who cites the “Purdue Science Express” program as one of her favorites.
Through “Purdue Science Express,” the BEF funds the training for any high school science teacher who wants to be trained through Purdue to participate in the program. Once a teacher is trained, they then have access to an online catalog of more than $4,000,000 worth of research-grade lab equipment. The teacher can reserve a piece of equipment to use in their classroom and Purdue representatives will drive it to BHS on a Monday morning, set it up in their classroom, leave it there for the week, and return on Friday to retrieve it.
That program has enabled a lot of sophisticated lab equipment like this sartorius scale to be used by the high school students that they would otherwise not have access to until they got to college. “That program gives them a sneak preview of it so they get experience with it before heading off to college,” Behrend says.
When Behrend first joined the BEF, she worked as the assistant to the Board of Directors. As the foundation continued to grow and flourish, her role transitioned. Now, as executive director, she wears many hats.
“My job is varied,” she says. “Every day is different. Sometimes I’m updating the website. Sometimes I’m creating marketing materials, stuffing envelopes, or talking to donors and sponsors. I also talk to teachers about things that need to be funded.”
Behrend is thrilled to be involved in education, because she loves it when a student has an experience that inspires or motivates them to investigate a topic in greater detail.
“As a teacher, I tried to do that in my classroom so that they were always curious about the world around them,” she says. “The BEF tries to provide unique experiences for the students that also have that same impact on them, to make students lifelong learners.”
Though the past year has been tricky in terms of finding safe and effective ways to fundraise in the absence of large, in-person events, the BEF leaders found creative ways to do so. For instance, the annual “Designer Purse Bingo” event, rescheduled from August to November, was also moved to a much larger venue that can accommodate 1,000 people, even though only 180 would be in attendance. This allowed for ample social distancing.
“It ended up being a wonderfully successful event, but we are certainly looking forward to getting back to doing things in a more normal fashion,” says Behrend, noting that BEF leaders still plan on holding their annual golf outing in June as well as the “Designer Purse Bingo” event again in August.
Under normal circumstances, Behrend visits classrooms almost every week to talk to kids and get their input. She then shares their quotes and pictures with corporate partners and individual donors, so that they can see and hear about how their gifts are directly impacting students’ lives. During the current school year she has not been able to go into classrooms.
“I look forward to going back to the routine of our lives, though the pandemic probably showed us all that we’re more resilient and flexible than we have given ourselves credit for,” Behrend says. “You can do nothing or you can figure out how to pivot. I think we all learned how to make the best of a difficult situation.”
The Brownsburg Education Foundation is located at 310 South Stadium Drive in Brownsburg. For more information, call 317-852-1056 or visit brownsburgeducationfoundation.org.