Brick teacher surprised with $25,000 Milken Educator Award

Veteran Milken Educators welcome Maria DeBruin to the family. DeBruin is one of more than two dozen New Jersey educators to have received the Milken Educator Award in the past three decades. (Courtesy: Milken Family Foundation)

Maria DeBruin was surprised Thursday morning at an all-school assembly at Brick Township Memorial with a giant $25,000 check.

DeBruin, a Chemistry teacher there, was among 45 honorees who will presented the Milken Educator Award, a national recognition for 2017-18. The Milken Educator Awards, described as “the Oscars of teaching” by Teacher magazine, created by the Milken Family Foundation in 1987, recognizes teaching excellence publicly not only to inspire educators, but students and entire communities about the importance of joining the teaching profession.

Chemistry teacher Maria DeBruin catches her breath during a quiet moment after her surprise Milken Educator Award notification. (Courtesy: Milken Family Foundation)

DeBruin spent five years as a chemist at a large pharmaceutical company before entering the classroom and brings real-world experience into her lessons; her extensive knowledge about lab equipment helped her convince the district to buy a spectrophotometer, which students now use regularly.

“It was not an easy decision to leave a prestigious career as a chemist at Merck, but today is another validation that I made the right decision,” said DeBruin.

Brick Township High School students congratulate DeBruin. (Courtesy: Milken Family Foundation)

Technology plays a large part in DeBruin’s classroom. She started video recording classes each day and posting them in Google Classroom for review and to keep students who miss class from falling behind; this has been so successful that others in the building are now following suit. Students have access to a laptop cart and use response clickers and TurningPoint for interactive polling.

Always striving to improve her own and the school’s methodologies and outcomes, DeBruin presents research at school wide meetings, mentors incoming teachers, serves on the School Improvement Committee, has attended the College Board’s AP Teacher Summer Institute, and shares her curriculum and materials freely with colleagues. She advises the school’s Science Club and created the Fit Club to give non-athlete students a judgment-free environment in which to exercise and learn about healthy living.

New Jersey State Commissioner of Education Kimberley Harrington joined Brick Public Schools Superintendent Dennis Filippone in praising DeBruin’s and the school’s efforts to ensure college and career readiness among its students.

New Jersey Department of Education Commissioner Kimberley Harrington (left) and Dr. Jane Foley (right), senior vice president of the Milken Educator Awards, congratulate DeBruin. (Courtesy: Milken Family Foundation)

“I am honored to be part of the recognition and celebration of Maria’s dedication to her students,” said Harrington. “Maria has found the right formula for supporting learning and achievement in the classroom and connecting classroom experiences to the broader science industry.”

“It’s a privilege for our district to join the Milken Foundation in honoring Maria Debruin, who is very deserving of this recognition,” said Filippone. “Mrs. Debruin is an innovative and effective educator that fosters success in her students, her level of dedication is endless. We are very grateful that she is an educator here in Brick Township and we congratulate her on receiving this honor.”

DeBruin holds a Bachelor of Science in biochemistry from Hofstra University (2003) and earned a Master of Science in chemistry from Lehigh University in 2006. She received her teaching certificate in 2008 through Stockton College’s Alternate Route Program.