Giving Back: BD Alumn and Husband Provide New Scholarship Opportunity for Employees of Color

June 2024

A 1973 graduate of Ben Davis High School has found a meaningful way to give back to the school system that she attended as a child.

Debra Lopossa D’Luna and her husband Lionel have endowed a scholarship fund to be administered by the Wayne Township Education Foundation. It will assist MSD of Wayne Township employees of color who want to seek education degrees or teaching certifications. They were inspired to create this fund after attending Debra’s 50th high school reunion.

The first recipient of this scholarship is Monica Ingram, a paraprofessional at Chapel Hill 7th & 8th Grade Center who is working on a special education degree. We’ll tell you more about Monica in a future article; in this story, we’d like to introduce you to Debra and share her insights into her time here in Wayne Township. Our four simple questions for Debra led to a depth of reflection on how our school system shaped her life.

Can you talk about your time in Wayne Township? I know you’re a proud BD Giant.

I attended Garden City Elementary School in the old two-story building for six years, walking to and from school daily along the gravel shoulder of Rockville Road without adult supervision. I loved Garden City with its huge windows, wooden floors, and tall slate black boards.

Garden City Elementary had a marvelous kitchen and a wonderful head cook and staff that made fresh food for our lunches everyday. I marvel at the recurring rotation of the weekly menu and how the delicious and nutritious food we were served made efficient use of government commodities (peanut butter balls, apple crisp, macaroni and cheese, peanut butter sandwiches, navy bean soup with cornbread). If it was Wednesday, there was certain to be chili and saltines!

Corporal punishment (both in the classroom and at the principal’s discretion) and exclusion (standing outside the classroom in the hallway, for example) was still employed at Garden City then. Teachers did not have help from instructional aides. Nuanced discernment of individual behavioral and special needs was not addressed, and causation not considered at all. In that era, children with obvious special needs were shunted aside into institutions or special schools and the rest of us were blended together and I acknowledge that this was not universally beneficial to all students. In thinking back on these things, as painful and upsetting as they are, it’s clear that as a society and in the realm of education, we have made progress in understanding how children of varying needs can be supported.

We were the Baby Boomers – children of GIs returning from World War II; our parents were also part of the massive societal migration from rural areas to urban/suburban settings. These two large forces were shaping Wayne Township and the entire United States. In this way, internal migration and social change was our story. Our folks were blue collar and working class; income levels, though usual for the time, were low to modest.

For seventh, eighth, and ninth grades, I rode a bus all the way to Fulton Jr. High School. This was my first exposure to children with a bit more affluence than Garden City kids. The neighborhoods of Chapel Hill and Chapel Glen were new and still developing. Selecting and changing classes, differentiation of abilities and preferences were powerful in determining friendships and future paths. Our tiny group of Garden City kids was divided by these differences and diffused among a record large enrollment at Fulton Jr. High – 1,366 students, according to my 1968 Spyglass yearbook.

Physical education (not a strength of mine) was eye-opening at Fulton and I often think about how well-rounded it was in exposing me to the full array of gymnastic equipment and events, tennis, basketball, and wrestling. Girls and boys had separate PE classes – another new differentiation. Also, we had to wear PE clothes and take showers afterwards which was a HUGE source of drama for us all.

Today when some doubt the value and necessity of arts programs, I recall how robust and enriching the music education was in every stage of my education at Wayne Township. At Garden City, I specifically remember the year when we had the ‘Music Memory’ program; we listened to classical music pieces and learned to identify them, their characteristics and how the elements of those sections made us feel. On a special day, we were taken to downtown Indianapolis where we filled a huge auditorium (I think it was the Cadle Tabernacle) with children from all over the city to hear and identify the pieces we had listened to at school. It was very exciting and I felt it was serious and important, not only to learn to sing simple songs (and the hymns I sang at church), but to open my ears and heart to music’s grander possibilities.

At Fulton, with Mr. Gene Smith as band teacher and director, I learned to play an instrument, the alto saxophone, which taught me how to focus on my own progress and to compete – sometimes to be massively humbled by how much better others were doing when we challenged each other through the process of being seated in the band according to accomplishment and virtuosity – a kind of jousting competition that took place in front of everyone in band class. I learned courage, composure, how to gracefully accept my place in the world based on my actual, publicly demonstrated merit, and that humility in defeat wouldn’t actually kill me. In other words, I learned that hard work and practice leads to improved ability and an opportunity to move up.

At Ben Davis High School, I joined the Marching Giants. My time in the various concert and marching bands at Ben Davis is a haze of striving to reach for excellence in musical performance and marching and the extravaganza of travel in caravans of buses, of marching in the most celebrated parades in the United States and competing at the state fair with other excellent bands in Indiana. I have enduring pride at being a Marching Giant. Sometimes, living in California, the tales of my exploits of marching in all of the famous parades – including the Tournament of Roses Parade – gets me serious RESPECT and I was elated a few years ago to see the Marching Giants participate in the Rose Parade again.

I enjoyed being a member of Mask & Gavel, the drama club under the direction of Mr. Bob Hughes and performing in dramatic plays and musicals. I also loved participating in speech and debate forensics competitions through the encouragement, support, and educational coaching of Mr. Max McQueen. Another amazing (and rare) opportunity was in taking a radio broadcasting class through WBDG Giant Radio. This one class has enlightened my media consumption ever since!

My deepest passion and joy was in choral singing. Mrs. Geraldine Miller at Ben Davis was incredibly dynamic, energetic, motivating, and elegantly strong. She was unflinchingly frank and demanded the best from us. Later, during my undergraduate time at Purdue University, as a result of this wonderful musical education and the opportunities I was given at Wayne Township, I auditioned and was selected to travel, sing, and represent Purdue University with the all-women Purduettes through the Purdue Musical Organizations. I have since sung at weddings, funerals, in semi-professional community and church choirs, not only enjoying preparing and performing for each experience, but feeling myself competent and knowledgeable based solely on my educational experiences within Wayne Township.

These memories show me that the multi-layered enrichment that music education, forensics, drama, broadcasting, and PE gave me throughout my 12 years at Wayne Township not merely supplemented my core academic education classes but are integral to my enjoyment and understanding of music, art, literature, sports, media consumption, and rhetorical comprehension and to my broader intellectual development. Without doubt, I am a better citizen for these experiences.

The education I received throughout my years at Wayne Township was exceptional. It was everything a public education ought to be and I have found that Wayne Township provided a robustly, well-rounded foundation and emotional resiliency that enabled me to receive a B.A. from Purdue and to enjoy being a life-long learner.

What prompted you and Lionel to support a scholarship for Wayne Township employees of color seeking an education degree or certification to be a teacher?

In August 2023, we attended the reunion for the 50th anniversary of my graduation from Ben Davis High School. Since graduating in 1973, I had never attended a class reunion, but the experience caused me to reflect on the excellent education I received in Wayne Township, how this learning was the foundation for the success and personal confidence I’ve had throughout the years since, and that the high caliber of dedicated teachers that I experienced at Wayne Township was at the heart of it.

After we returned home to California, I continued to think about Ben Davis, Fulton Jr. High, and Garden City Elementary. As alumni, we have always donated to Purdue University and to the schools and universities where our daughters attended. Why shouldn’t I give back to Wayne Township too? It was the foundation of my own education.

When I contacted the Wayne Township Education Foundation to consider how to give, we learned that the demographics of Wayne Township have changed in the last 50 years. We also learned that the district truly needs more credentialed teachers who can step into the classroom aware of and ready for the challenges that face Wayne Township today. Forward thinkers at Wayne Township had already discovered and partnered with a university to provide current full-time district employees the opportunity to complete their bachelor’s degree (or complete their teaching credential). Additionally, they had queried district staff and had put together a list of current employees who are keen to complete their degree and fulfill the credential requirements. Best of all, these employees know what the students and classrooms are like because they already work as classified support staff.

My husband, Lionel, is an immigrant from India who came to this country to pursue graduate education. We believe in the positive benefits and strengths of racial and ethnic diversity and of the role and power of education in success and building intergenerational financial stability.

Put together, the combination of well-defined need, our interest in equitable opportunity and diversity, and my feelings of gratitude came together to form an endowed scholarship for an adult who is dedicated to becoming a teacher at Wayne Township.

Would you like to share why you and Lionel are particularly pleased that Monica Ingram is the 2024 recipient?
Lionel and I are parents of three daughters, one of whom was born with multiple severe disabilities including deaf-blindness. As a parent, I was a fierce advocate for my daughter and know that the wide array of special education services she received enabled her to achieve despite the physical limitations of her body. Our daughter required an Intervenor – a term used within the deaf-blind community to describe the person who does much more than sign-language interpretation. In education, an Intervenor is a paraprofessional – a self-starter who with direction from the teacher, brings the educational experience to the student as needed – enlarging printed materials, seating the student in favorable lighting conditions (perhaps near to the front in group settings), manages hearing and vision devices and aids, employs whatever communication modality the student uses, creates adapted materials, pre-views lessons and experiences with the student and then reviews the same after – compounding and increasing learning potential, follows through on individualized education program goals to increase success (sometimes providing critical insights about needs and strengths), assists with physical and personal needs, encourages independence and competency, and acts as a friend-maker and social guide. It’s a significant and intense professional role that can be difficult for the Intervenor to manage while meeting the expectations of the student, parents and school staff. It takes unflagging energy, gumption, and compassion to do all of these things each school day. Though we did not influence the selection of Ms. Ingram in any way, we were thrilled that an individual who already plays such a critical role for a student and who understands the importance of dedication, focus, and patience in achieving success is seeking to complete her post-secondary education and become a credentialed teacher. Ms. Ingram will undoubtedly be an asset to the profession and with her experience in the role of Intervenor be able to leverage her understanding to play an even more significant role in the education of her future students.

Why do you feel it’s important to provide support for employees of color to access college degrees/certifications for work in education?

In our own lives, education has been the key to financial security and it’s our hope to advance equitable outcomes for all students. In this instance, our initial intention was to donate to Wayne Township in appreciation for the wonderful education I was provided.

Research has shown people of color have been intentionally disadvantaged for generations. Historical imbalances in family earning potential, limited access to financial aid, and limited scholarship resources have often been a hindrance to completing a college degree or obtaining a teaching credential afterwards.

Deferred opportunity can have long-lived effects and can feel out of reach as the responsibilities of adult life pile up. We applaud adult students for striving to meet their potential and for their desire to fulfill the professional goal of becoming a credentialed educator. Since demands on adult students are great, particularly when working and parenting, financial aid is critical to help ease the path to success.

ABOUT THE WAYNE TOWNSHIP EDUCATION FOUNDATION
The Wayne Township Education Foundation (WTEF) provides community leadership to enrich, engage, and stimulate teaching and learning in the Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township. WTEF accomplishes this by supporting school programs and resources, while recognizing excellence among students and staff. To learn more about WTEF and/or establishing a named, designated fund, call 317-988-7966, visit wtef.wayne.k12.in.us, or follow us on Facebook or Twitter @WayneTwpEdFound.