Brick Teacher Surprised With Award For Excellence

From L to R: Edith Fulton from NJ State Board of Education, acting Superintendent Dennis Filippone, BMHS Principal Dr. Richard Caldes, science teacher Maria DeBruin, science supervisor Walter Hrycenko, Milken Educator Award Senior VP Dr. Jane Foley, State Commissioner of Education Kimberly Harrington. (Photo by Judy Smestad-Nunn)

BRICK – Films have the Oscar, science has the Nobel Prize, sports have the Olympics, and excellence in teaching has the Milken Educator Awards, where inspirational teachers are awarded $25,000 by the Milken Family Foundation.

Brick Memorial High School AP chemistry teacher Maria DeBruin said she was shocked when her name was called during a school assembly on Nov. 2 after Dr. Jane Foley, senior vice president of the Milken Educator Award, called her name as one of the 45 national winners this year.

Candidates for the Milken Educator Award are sourced through a confidential selection process and reviewed by a state DOE (Department of Education) panel, Foley explained, so DeBruin thought the assembly was to hear a presentation by State Commissioner of Education Kimberly Harrington, who also attended.

DeBruin received a standing ovation from school and state officials, and from many of the students who attended the ceremony that was held in the BMHS gym.

After performances by the Mustang Cheerleaders and Brick Memorial Dance Team, acting Superintendent Dennis Filippone made welcoming remarks and introduced Harrington, who said the school has “incredible school spirit.”

Maria DeBruin, center, is presented with a ceremonial check by past New Jersey winners of the award. (Photo by Judy Smestad-Nunn)

The State Commissioner of Education also recognized the award-winning marching band at the high school, the Key Club, which has won two international honors, and the newly-formed STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Academy.

Harrington then introduced Dr. Foley who she described as “a supporter of education since 1985.”

Foley told the audience she’d heard about Brick Memorial High School and the staff, and that it has some of the best students in New Jersey.

“I came here from Santa Monica, California, to give the message about the critical role teachers play in our society. The quality of educators you encounter is one of the most important elements in your life,” she said.

Thirty years ago, the Milken Educator Award was established to say in a very public way that greatness in education should be recognized, Foley said.

“One teacher during their career can influence thousands, so we ask you to think about becoming a teacher. We have many great educators in this country and one of the best is here in your school,” she said.

Teachers can’t apply for the award, and they don’t even know they are under consideration, Foley said. “We find you, we find the best of the best.”

DeBruin was seated with her students in the upper bleachers when Foley called out her name. After receiving her award, DeBruin said she would not be there without her students.

Maria DeBruin is rushed by people congratulating her on her win. (Photo by Judy Smestad-Nunn)

“I have been growing my AP program. Hard work is my ethic,” she said in her acceptance comments to the crowd.

“I don’t care if you become a chemist, I just want you to work hard,” she said. “This is amazing, thank you very, very much.”

Each year, DeBruin’s students present a hands-on science demonstration during a Science Night Out at stations in the cafeteria, which she conceived as a way to engage her AP chemistry students before the annual AP exam.

DeBruin won the award because she pushes her students to develop independent research skills and a strong work ethic, and she uses a variety of effective instructional strategies to keep students engaged and on their toes, according to a Milken Educator Award the a press release, which listed all of her teaching accomplishments.

Perhaps most remarkably, since DeBruin took over the school’s AP chemistry program in 2013, 87 percent have passed the AP exam with a score of 3 or higher.

The $25,000 unrestricted award means the recipient can use the money any way they choose. The Milken Educator Award targets early- to mid-career education professionals for their achievements and for the promise of what they will accomplish in the future, Foley said.