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The energy level is up at Brick Memorial High School as Maria DeBruin earns a 2017-18 Milken Educator Award

Chemistry teacher receives $25,000 and national recognition for educator excellence

November 02, 2017

SANTA MONICA, Calif., — Every high school chemistry lab should have a spectrophotometer. That's the philosophy of Maria DeBruin, an honors and Advanced Placement Chemistry teacher at Brick Memorial High School. Her students are so proficient with conducting experiments in the classroom that they even desire to do them in their spare time— and invite the whole community to watch and learn. Usually deflecting attention to her students for them to succeed, the bright lights shone on DeBruin this morning during an all-school assembly when Milken Educator Awards Senior Vice President Dr. Jane Foley surprised her with the $25,000 prestigious award.

DeBruin is among up to 45 honorees who will receive this national recognition and unrestricted $25,000 cash prize for 2017-18. 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.

The Milken Educator Awards, hailed by Teacher magazine as the "Oscars of Teaching" has been opening minds and shaping futures for 30 years. Research shows teacher quality is the driving in-school factor behind student growth and achievement. The initiative not only aims to reward great teachers, but to celebrate, elevate and activate those innovators in the classroom who are guiding America's next generation of leaders. Milken Educators believe, "The future belongs to the educated."

Introducing creative activities, such as the Battleship Game to help students understand electron configurations, DeBruin often modifies her teaching strategies to match students' various learning styles. This data-centric approach to improving her instruction aids the whole science department as she shares her findings, materials and resources with colleagues.

"Maria DeBruin sets high standards of responsibility for herself and her students. Coming to the teaching profession from industry demonstrates the real-world applications and benefits of learning science and chemistry," said Jane Foley. "With her passion and energy, and laser-focus attention to instructional planning that attracts all learners, Maria's students grasp the materials instead of only chasing the grade. We're proud of this new Milken Educator whose educational practice is constantly moving forward."

"I am honored to be part of the recognition and celebration of Maria's dedication to her students," said New Jersey Education Commissioner Kimberley 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 Acting Superintendent Dennis 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."

About Milken Educator Maria DeBruin
Every year, for one night in June, it's standing room only in the auditorium at Brick Township Memorial High School. During Science Night Out, Maria DeBruin's Honors Chemistry and AP Chemistry students put on a show of exciting science demonstrations, then lead hands-on science activities at stations around the cafeteria. DeBruin, who conceived the event as a way to engage AP Chemistry students in the month between the AP exam in early May and the end of school, designed, markets and raises funds for the free community event, now an annual favorite with the small Jersey Shore town.

DeBruin pushes all her students to develop independent research skills and a strong work ethic. She uses a variety of effective instructional strategies to keep students engaged and on their toes, including direct instruction, cooperative grouping, and discovery- and inquiry- based instruction. DeBruin recognizes student achievement with "Chemist of the Week" awards; AP students work to be on her "A Team." National Honor Society members recognize her at their induction ceremony every year as their most influential teacher, and many students credit experiences in her class for their decisions to pursue careers in science. Since DeBruin took over the school's AP Chemistry program in 2013, 87% of her students have passed the exam with a score of 3 or higher; the program has also grown substantially, with extra sections added to accommodate all the students who want to study under Mrs. DeBruin.

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. 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.

Always striving to improve her own and the school's methodologies and outcomes, DeBruin presents research at schoolwide 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.

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.

More information about DeBruin, plus links to photos and a video from today's assembly, can be found on the Milken Educator Awards website at

Milken Educators are selected in early to mid-career for what they have achieved and for the promise of what they will accomplish. In addition to the $25,000 prize and public recognition, DeBruin's honor includes membership in the National Milken Educator Network, a group of more than 2,700 top teachers, principals and specialists dedicated to strengthening education.

In addition to participation in the Milken Educator Network, 2017-18 recipients will attend a Milken Educator Forum in Washington, D.C., March 20-23, 2018. Educators will have the opportunity to network with their new colleagues and hear from state and federal officials about the importance of maximizing their leadership roles to advance educator effectiveness.

More than $138 million in funding, including $68 million in individual $25,000 awards, has been devoted to the overall Awards initiative, which includes powerful professional development opportunities throughout recipients' careers. Many have gone on to earn advanced degrees and be placed in prominent posts and on state and national education committees.

The Awards alternate yearly between elementary and secondary educators. Unlike most teacher recognition programs, the Milken Educator Award is completely unique: educators cannot apply for this recognition and do not even know they are under consideration. Candidates are sourced through a confidential selection process and then reviewed by blue ribbon panels appointed by state departments of education. Those most exceptional are recommended for the Award, with final approval by the Milken Family Foundation.

Past recipients have used their Awards to fund their children's education or their own continuing education. Others have financed dream field trips, established scholarships and even funded the adoption of children.

To get regular updates on the surprise Milken Educator Award events, follow and use the #MilkenAward hashtag on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The Milken Educator Awards tour is on social media at,,, and

For more information about the Milken Educator Awards, visit or call MFF at (310) 570-4772.

About the Milken Educator Awards
The very first Milken Educator Awards were presented by the Milken Family Foundation 30 years ago in 1987. The Awards provide public recognition and individual financial rewards of $25,000 to elementary and secondary school teachers, principals and specialists from around the country who are furthering excellence in education. Recipients are heralded in early to mid-career for what they have achieved and for the promise of what they will accomplish.

Jana Rausch
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