April 16, 2019-- This past winter Edele Hovnanian, president of the Hirair and Anna Hovnanian Foundation, visited the Toms River Regional School District for a tour of two newly renovated spaces and programs the foundation funded in the 2018-2019 school year. The Real Estate and Business Incubator at High School South, Anatomy & Physiology Lab at High School East, and the staff and students working in them left such a positive impression that the philanthropist has committed to two new grants totaling $345,000 over the next three years.
The grants will support a Youth Counseling Program to be hosted at all 18 district schools and Coding and Robotics (CAR) makerspaces at Intermediate North and Intermediate South.
“These grant awards are the result of Edele Hovnanian’s vision for the future of Toms River Regional Schools and her history and pride in this region,” said Superintendent David Healy. “They are also a testament to the capacity of our teaching and facilities staff, administrators, and students, who made these state-of-the art resources come to life."
The grant comes at an especially important time for the district. “As the state imposes short-sighted, arbitrary, and draconian aid cuts to efficiently-operating school districts like ours,” said Healy, “the generosity of organizations such as the Hovnanian Foundation has been especially critical in creating and sustaining high-quality student programs.”
The grant for the Youth Counseling Program, which is currently being piloted at four schools, amounts to $65,000 a year over three years. The proposal was developed by Assistant Superintendents Debra McKenna and Marc Natanagara.
“From a health and wellness standpoint, everything we’ve been doing over the past few years has been leading up to this,” said McKenna, “including development of a K-12 committee dedicated to a summer health and leadership camp, participation in the Toms River Family Health and Support Coalition, a focus in training on social-emotional learning, and the successful pilot of this counseling model.”
The expanded program will offer individual sessions and parent/guardian support. It addresses local, state and national research that shows increased exposure to addiction, poverty, family issues (including death, incarceration, divorce, and abuse), and violent media are causes of increased anxiety and depression in children of all ages. Trained and licensed therapists will schedule office hours in each school, depending on need, counseling referred students on mental health issues like school difficulties, parent/child conflicts, trauma, anger management, bereavement, and adjustment to life changes.
The Coding and Robotics grant totals $150,000 over two years, applied first at Intermediate North in 2019-2020 and then Intermediate South in 2020-2021. The designs are based on a successful grant-funded model created at Intermediate East in 2016, dubbed the Innovation Station, and aligns with high school initiatives in STEAM, careers, and future readiness. The proposal was written by Natanagara with the goal of transforming technology classrooms to better foster hands on learning models that use coding, robotics, and IoT (Internet of Things) in real world applications.
“Ideally, every classroom across the curriculum would be fully equipped to support problem-based learning models where students can brainstorm personal solutions to local and global problems,” says Natanagara, “but most school budgets can’t support that. So the next best thing is a shared space for students and staff to learn maker approaches with diverse tools and materials.”
Since its inception in 1986, the Hirair and Anna Hovnanian Foundation has given more than $45 million to hundreds of charitable organizations, nonprofit institutions, and as scholarships to individuals. The foundation’s namesake and family matriarch, Anna, passed away this past October. Edele Hovnanian has extended the mission of her family and foundation through significant contributions to not only Toms River Regional Schools, but institutions throughout Ocean and Monmouth counties such as Ocean County College, Monmouth Medical Center, and Oceans of Love.
“Ms. Hovnanian’s reinvestment in our schools comes as we face extreme fiscal challenges and seek to continue providing our students the education they deserve,” said Board President Joseph Nardini. “The programs her foundation chose to support are as diverse as our students, and both will make them better-prepared for the world ahead. We’re a better school district because of Edele Hovnanian’s support and we’re fortunate to call her a partner.”
Implementation steps have already begun for the grant initiatives, engaging partners like Monmouth and Ocean County YMCAs, RWJBarnabas Health Institute for Prevention and Recovery’s Communities That Care program, NAVAIR, OCTVS, and the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA).