Last year the Joan and John Hillenbrand Vision Fund for Innovation Board of Directors awarded $25,050 to fund 14 outstanding school projects, reports director Jolene Rockwood.

Teachers in all six Batesville area public and private schools are eligible to apply for funds to use for school and classroom projects that are not routinely funded. Teachers may request funds for projects that directly and positively affect the teaching skills of the applicant, the environment of the classroom, the increase of student learning, or the overall improvement in the quality of education.

“We were very pleased that the grant requests we received were innovative, creative and served a wide base of local students. The grants were well written, and most of the grants had matching funds from other organizations,” notes Rockwood. “We are fortunate to have benefactors Joan and John Hillenbrand in our community. These grants do a tremendous amount of good in the schools.”

Grant recipients, funding amounts and projects: Batesville Intermediate School teacher Anne Amrhein, $6,000, Trio of Talent residency for authors/illustrators Susan Crummel, Janet Stevens and Dorothy Donohue at three schools, BIS, Batesville Primary School and St. Louis School; Batesville High School engineering and technology teacher Craig Hughes, $2,000, laser engraving and cutting technology tools; BIS teacher Cindy Weisenbach, $1,000, Fluttering Around Town interdisciplinary project, and $2,000, mosaic artist Vicky Murphy’s residency; BIS music teacher Kari Kinsey, $2,000, program materials.

Also, Batesville Middle and BHS music teacher Alec Branstetter, $850, Steel Drum Ensemble update, and $1,000 for world music training; BPS Chinese immersion teacher Sherry Mursch, $1,200 and $1,600 to purchase classroom STEM materials; BPS music teacher Lori Spears, $1,700, First Steps in Music Education curriculum materials; BPS teacher Angie Weigel, $2,000, Lindamood-Bell Reading Intervention Program updates; BIS counselor Tricia Stephens, $1,900, A Sacred Pause instruction in all classrooms; BHS art teacher Kyle Hunteman, $1,600, materials; Oldenburg Academy English teacher Mary Gehring, $200, mosaic artist Vicky Murphy visit.

Batesville Community School Corp. superintendent Paul Ketcham said at the Nov. 18 board meeting, “We’re very grateful for that grant money and the opportunity that provides us.”

Joan and John Hillenbrand Vision Fund for Innovation Board of Directors members are Chairman John A. Hillenbrand II, Co-Chairman Peter Hillenbrand, director Jolene Rockwood, Treasurer Bonnie Boyce, Connie Nobbe and Anne Raver.

From its inception in May 1998 until now, fund leaders have distributed over $377,243 in the form of 214 grants to all six schools.

The director explains the board allots $25,000 annually, meeting in person at least once a year and also communicating by email. Grants are awarded in April and November.

The board is willing to give extra credit: “Requests that are visionary, innovative, creative, have the possibility to affect many students and/or teachers, act as seeds for future growth and expansion, are interdisciplinary in nature, incorporate hands-on learning experiences, have low budgets or have matching funds and support from other sources and are well managed will be given greater consideration.”

If there are too many applications, “obviously we can’t fund them all. We end up weeding them out and being tougher.”

Of the fund, Rockwood admits, “We’ve had a lot more interest in it. We usually grant about two-thirds of the ones we get. Some grants are split over two years.”

Sometimes the board gives partial funding, perhaps working with the Batesville Community Education Foundation or Batesville Area Arts Council to provide the rest of the requested amounts. “Probably a third of the grants we do are arts related,” so it makes sense to partner with BAAC.

Funds requested may not exceed $2,000 except for exceptional projects that receive prior approval from the director. “I had one of those this time,” she recalls. “Usually they’re projects that involve more than one school,” such as the Trio of Talent residency. “These are all published, renowned authors and illustrators.”

The board earmarked $10,000 in 2013 so that Ruby Bridges could speak at BIS, BMS, BHS, St. Louis School and Oldenburg Academy. Rockwood observes, “The kids were able to see the first black girl who went to integrate white schools and hear her story firsthand” after reading her book “and realize how important it is to care about and love each other, accept each other, regardless of the color of our skin ...”

“It was absolutely profound. She told about segregation, what it was like, what she went through. It was incredibly unifying and diverse.” In fact, Bridges is one of three kids profiled in the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis The Power of Children exhibit.

A third example of a project needing more than $2,000 was the BHS greenhouse.

Some educators, such as retired BMS music teacher Leon Enneking, have a knack for submitting appealing grant applications.

Rockwood raves, “Craig Hughes is a one-man grant writing machine and they’re really good” projects. “He gets really significant things for the high school, ... (equipment) even colleges don’t have,” such as industrial robots, robotic arms and 3D printers. BHS students “are coming out of the program extremely well trained and ready for college and technology jobs.”

Looking back through documents, the director discusses other projects funded between 2014-17.

Amrhein brought blind artist John Bramblitt here in 2014. He overcame a major handicap, losing his sight while in college due to complications with epilepsy “and has still managed to succeed big time in the world,” painting portraits of professional skateboarder Tony Hawk and country musician Lyle Lovett and even consulting with New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art about programs for persons with disabilities.

She believes, “Any time we can bring in diversity so kids can see the world beyond and experience things firsthand that they would not ordinarily experience, that’s good.”

In 2015 Mac Barnett visited three schools. He’s the New York Times bestselling author of over 18 books who presented a TED talk (“Why a Good Book is a Secret Door”) that’s gotten 1.8 million online views.

In 2016 another famous children’s book author, Peter Brown, mentored students at several schools and St. Louis School kids studied all kinds of artifacts and decorated pots made in ancient styles during a Jerusalem and the Dead Sea Scrolls unit. Also that year, a world map mural was created at BPS and an Oldenburg mural on the side of a building by OA students.

In 2017 gardens with compost machines, bird feeders and earthworm farms were funded at five schools and BHS science teacher Taira Lynch hosted interactive anatomy video sessions. Well-known native American Bill Miller enthralled BMS students, too. “He tells them the most incredible stories about his life.”

In 2018 BHS German teacher and AV Club adviser Andrew Cambron “made a first class (video) department” after purchasing student film equipment. A BMS story quilt was a great interdisciplinary project, Rockwood remembers. Husband and wife artists discussed Appalachian story quilts, then brought the school’s family and consumer sciences, English, social studies and art departments together to make a quilt for BMS. “They talked about preserving history and writing. It was a wonderful residency.” Also that year, the Chinese New Year was celebrated at BPS and an OA art room printing press was purchased.

The next Vision Fund grant deadline is April 1. For information about the fund, educators may contact Rockwood at or 812-934-5355.

Debbie Blank can be contacted at or 812-717-3113.