As a Byram Hills parent, I have often marveled throughout the years over the state-of-the-art technology and innovative programming available to our students in our local public school. Byram Hills families have been fortunate to have the Byram Hills Education Foundation (“BHEF”) brainstorming and funding visionary grants complementing an already stellar school district. The BHEF is a non-profit group that has awarded over 430 grants totaling over $5 million since 1994.
The mission of the BHEF is to enhance the education of all students in the Byram Hills school district by funding grants that encourage learning and personal development. The BHEF is governed by a board of directors representing a broad spectrum of the community. The board is comprised of 27 voting directors, consisting of parent and community volunteers. In addition, a group of non-voting board members include Byram Hills Superintendent Dr. Jen Lamia, a teacher representative from each school, and representatives from the board of education.
The BHEF funds two main types of grants: insta-grants and signature grants. Insta-grants can be submitted by teachers at any point in the year, are capped at $2500, and must be implemented that same school year. Signature grants are typically bigger in dollar, can be implemented over two years, and typically follow a lengthier review process. The BHEF relies entirely on donations from parents and the community to fund grants.
Facilitating Getting Kids Back to School
Last summer, in response to the schools being shut down and the challenges posed by the Covid pandemic, the BHEF fast-tracked their grant review process and supplied cutting edge ViewSonic Virtual Classroom technology, an idea spearheaded by Dr. Andrew Taylor, Director of Technology at Byram Hills, that allowed our teachers to implement effective hybrid learning for students in different locations through a touch screen monitor and accompanying software that served as a hub in each classroom. They also outfitted every school with new shaded outdoor spaces for socially distanced learning and fresh air mask breaks.
“This was very quick from idea to inception,” recalls Jessica Bond, BHEF president, “but we were able to get it done because of the great collaboration and communication we have with the administration.”
The BHEF Is An Innovation Engine
“The BHEF is capable of doing what school budgets cannot do alone. The BHEF has been behind major initiatives of the District for decades, from 1:1 technology initiatives to library renovations and program development. EVERY child in Byram Hills benefits from the support of the BHEF–at every turn in their school years–and that is a big part of what distinguishes a Byram Hills education,” says Dr. Lamia.
Grant ideas can come from a variety of sources. Teachers are encouraged to submit grant proposals. “It is their classroom,” says Bond, “and if they want to try something innovative or have a need, that’s why we’re here and we try to get that message out to them.”
To generate ideas and foster community involvement, the BHEF has also organized roundtable discussions with the donor leadership members, the Benefactor and Bobcat levels, to brainstorm grant ideas. “We discuss what we hope our kids will have learned upon graduating here and how we want them to feel; things like independence, being an innovative thinker, and happy. Then we talk about what grants might achieve that and where parents currently see successes and opportunities in our schools,” explains Bond. The BHEF holds multiple community and donor events throughout the year and welcomes the community’s input.
Once a year, the BHEF participates in a forum with other school foundations, such as Bronxville, Chappaqua and Edgemont, where they also share and discuss grant initiatives. Throughout its process, the BHEF maintains an open dialogue with the administration. “We work hand in hand with Dr. Lamia and the principals throughout the year to understand where our schools and students need our support and to translate that into successful grants that our community will rally behind,” explains Bond.
Game-changers for the Students
Every year, the grants have been impressive game-changers for the students. This year introduced the ViewSonic technology, enabling virtual learning, and the Written Out Loud program, where kids learned the power of storytelling by writing and publishing their own books. Last year, the Creative Arts Community Center grant created an indoor and outdoor community space at Wampus connecting two contemporary art studios to an outdoor space that will support student learning.
In 2019, the Wellness for Life grant funded a partnership with the nationally recognized Stanford University’s Challenge Success program to assess and support student wellness. The Wellness Initiative in 2018 built an indoor educational playspace at Coman Hill to be used year-round and an outdoor obstacle course at Wampus, all to nurture students’ physical and mental wellness.
The Library 2.0 renovations in 2017 at Coman Hill, Wampus, and H.C. Crittenden integrated STEAM and Makers Spaces, updated presentation technology, modernized learning spaces, and connected the library and computer labs. The Full STEAM Ahead grant and STEAM Labs initiative in 2016 renovated technology labs and gave students at all academic levels exposure to coding, robotics, engineering, electronics, and 3D modeling. Much what Byram Hills families have come to take for granted in the classrooms now was initially funded by the BHEF, from the smart boards to the chromebooks to the cloud computer.
The BHEF also funds smaller but very impactful grants throughout the year. A few examples include new podcasting equipment, alternative classroom seating to support all types of learners, Kindle e-readers, specialized “pupil core eye tracking” glasses for research and athletic projects, a solar telescope, Byram Hills’ first greenhouse to study plants, and much more.
The global scholars program at the high school, which began as a pilot, started with the idea of providing students an alternative to the acclaimed science research program and creating a global competency in students to teach them how to be citizens of the world. The BHEF took a chance and funded a professional development trip to Nicaragua for teachers to learn how to bring this program to Byram Hills, which has since developed into a well-loved robust program.
One of the newest projects funded by the BHEF is the construction of Crittenden Commons, a multi-sport court for basketball, volleyball, street hockey and other sports with an amphitheater style seating area. The seating area will extend outdoor learning opportunities at the middle school. “The English teachers are already picturing doing Shakespeare outside,” says Bond.
How to Donate
Donations of any amount are welcome online at SupportByramHills.org. The Benefactor Circle for those who give $1500 or more and the Bobcat Circle for those who give $750 up to $1499 are leadership circles which include exciting benefits. Additionally, for anyone interested in honoring a teacher, a “teacher tribute” can be ordered online at SupportByramHills.org and the BHEF will send your teacher a special certificate notifying them of your gift in their honor. The BHEF sponsors many fun events throughout the year including an Outdoor Family Movie Night (10/2/21) and a Spring Bash (2022 date TBD). Corporate sponsorships are available with benefits and volunteer opportunities are available for anyone that wants to get involved. Contact the BHEF at firstname.lastname@example.org.