Freehold Borough school children play with ducklings in improvised "pond."
Freehold Borough Educational Foundation Ensuring Every Child Gets the Education they Deserve

Freehold Borough Educational Foundation (FBEF) gives area students and their teachers much of what they lack to get a well-rounded, and most of all, educational equity. Thanks to FBEF, the children of Freehold Borough have books to read, cultural activities to attend, and they’ve learned all about how to ride their bikes safely. The teachers of Freehold Borough meanwhile, have a way to add enriching activities to their students, by way of the FBEF grant program.

It is always a wonderful thing to see a community strive to give its children the best possible education. Where there is community involvement, there is hope for the future for kids who might otherwise not have the opportunities they need to succeed in the classroom, and later in the workplace, as adults. When we give a small grant to a community effort such as this, we just know it’s going to a worthwhile project.

We put some questions to Freehold Borough Educational Foundation Chairperson Jean Holtz, to learn more about this work.

Kars4Kids: Can you tell us something about your community and the demographic you serve?

Jean Holtz: Freehold Borough is a small town in Monmouth County, NJ. It is the site of one of the most historic battles during the Revolutionary War: The Battle of Monmouth. It is also the hometown of Bruce Springsteen. Freehold has always been a “working class town.” At under two square miles, with a population of 12,000, Freehold now has nearly a 50% Latinx population. Our school district, a Pre-K to 8th grade, has approximately 1,600 students, 80% of whom are Latinx, and 78% qualifying for free/reduced lunch – a marker of their families’ lower economic status.

Students enjoy a book nook, thanks to the Freehold Borough Educational Foundation.

Kars4Kids: When and why did you launch your foundation?

Jean Holtz: The foundation launched in 1999, as a result of a recommendation from the school district’s strategic planning efforts that year. The intention, as with all education foundations, is to bring additional financial and other resources to the school district, things that property taxes (from which school funding in NJ derives) cannot finance being insufficient for this purpose. Initially, the foundation raised money to underwrite innovative educational grants proposed by teachers and staffs. Now we also offer several programs like Book Bucks, 4th Grade Bicycle Safety Program, Grant Writing, and cultural performances.

Freehold Borough Educational Foundation students receive books
The FBEF held a community drive for book donations–which yielded enough to provide every 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders with books!

Kars4Kids: How many schools benefit from what the foundation has to offer and how many educators and students does your work impact?

Jean Holtz: We have three elementary schools in the district and serve all the students in one way or another!

This PE teacher received an FBEF grant for a special app to help students monitor wellness!

Kars4Kids: Can you give us an overview of your teacher grants? How many grants do you offer in a typical year and what are some of the more interesting proposals you’ve funded?

Jean Holtz: We typically fund 12 to 18 grants per year. We recently funded a request from the special ed pre-K teachers for a live baby duckling hatching project. The duck eggs were delivered to Ms. Flannery’s classroom in early February, where her students were able to care for the eggs by keeping them warm in a brooder box; turn them three times per day for four days; predict what would happen to the eggs; observe a live hatching; and eventually care for the baby ducklings by providing food, water and heat as well as delicate handling. Last Monday, soon after a few of the ducklings hatched, we received a message from Ms. Flannery. Here it is unedited: “OMG!!! One of our non-verbal autistic students just SPONTANEOUSLY waved and said ‘Hi Ducky!’ for the VERY FIRST TIME EVER!!!!!!!! I’m literally crying!!!!!!”

Yes, the little girl had never spoken before. This wonderful science activity literally helped her out of her shell too!

Some other interesting grants included specialized robotic and scientific projects, lunchtime book clubs, and math programming.

The Freehold Borough Educational Foundation underwrote a grant to bring (virtually) a children’s book author into the classroom to help them write their own book.

Kars4Kids: Tell us about Book Bucks. How does it work?

Jean Holtz: Around 80% of our students are eligible for free/reduced lunch, an indication of their families’ limited income status. Each year, FBEF provides every 2nd and 3rd grade student in the district a $15 voucher (Book Buck) to purchase up to two books per student at the annual PTO/Scholastic Book Fair held in the elementary schools. As Scholastic’s tag line notes, “Something special happens when a child finds the right book.” For too long, many of the children in the Freehold Borough school district were not able to access any books of their own at all, let alone “the right book.” In 2013, FBEF established the Books Buck program to counter this inequity. We learned that most of our young students did not participate in the book fair because their parents did not have the financial resources to allow them to. Thus, children whose parents were able to send in money for book purchases attended the book fair, while the children without could not and stayed back in their classroom. FBEF underwrites this program to encourage reading, improve literacy, and to level the playing field. Additionally, more than 70% of our students are Latinx with immigrant parents – making it even more important for them to have books to develop competency in English language skills.

The FBEF sponsored this 8th grade marine science trip to Sandy Hook National Park

Kars4Kids: Can you give us an overview of the 4th Grade Bicycle Education Program?

Jean Holtz:  The bicycle education program is one of our signature projects.  Few children are made aware of cycling safety, road rules and what is needed to effectively share the road with motor vehicles after they learn to ride. Fewer still are taught effective bike handling techniques, or how to identify when basic bicycle maintenance is needed. And, they often are unaware of proper helmet adjustment and use. As the school district is a walking district, many children in Freehold use bicycles to commute to school. It is therefore critical that they understand basic bicycle safety and how they can ride safely in traffic. Through this program, students are instructed on becoming competent, confident cyclists. In partnership with the NJ Bike Walk Coalition, we provide a half-day (outdoor) instruction program and activities for all 4th grade students (approx. 165) at Park Avenue Elementary School in the basics of effective and safe bicycle riding. The program teaches:

  • Basic riding skills to students who currently do not know how to ride
  • Minimum awareness of bicycle maintenance
  • Effective starting/stopping/scanning for traffic
  • Basic “rules of the road” for safe travel on Borough roads
The 4th Grade Bicycle Education program is a signature project of the FBEF

Kars4Kids: FBEF is run by volunteers, correct? How many volunteers are currently active in FBEF? Do you have any permanent staff members?

Jean Holtz: We are a completely volunteer organization and have no staff. We have a board of 12 very dedicated and hardworking trustees and other volunteers from some of our donor companies who assist with some of our programming, especially the bike program.

Students enjoy this cool multiplication game, thanks to the FBEF

Kars4Kids: Why do schools need grant money and extra help? Are our public schools not providing for our children’s education?

Jean Holtz: Depends on the school, and the district as to whether schools are providing enough. We found that the basics, and then some, were being provided in Freehold Borough, but teachers and staff were still utilizing their own funds for extra educational opportunities for their students. Our grants to teachers and staff afford them the chance to be truly creative and innovative in developing new ways to bring resources into their classrooms to inspire their students.

Inchy The Book Vending Machine (students receive gold coins to receive a book for doing nice deeds!)

Kars4Kids: Is there a pattern to educator grant requests? What do our educators appear to need most in order to properly educate our children?

Jean Holtz: Yes! There does seem to be a pattern as the years go by. Ten, 15 years ago it was technology-based grants. Now the requests are for educational items to enliven the learning experience. And, of course, books are always a big request – of course backed by themes, curriculum needs, etc.

The FBEF provided enough violins for all pre-K learners!

Kars4Kids: Where do you go from here? What’s next for the Freehold Borough Educational Foundation?

Jean Holtz: I think we’ll just keep jogging along. We do a lot, with a little, for our students – who appreciate everything we do for them – as attested to by the mounds of wonderful thank you letters we receive from them – and their teachers!

A thank you note from a student after purchasing books with Book Bucks at their school book fair.
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