David VonEhr and Kristy Butler create the Ranger Science Fund to sustain the science department


Eleven dollars.

This year, eleven dollars is allotted per student to FHC’s science department. With eleven dollars, you could buy two Big Mac meals or perhaps a bouquet of flowers from Meijer. With eleven dollars, science teachers are expected to provide a complete, year-long experience of educational, interesting, and enhancing science classes.

If evenly distributed throughout the year, this budget would give kids in the science department roughly six cents per day. Each day, close to one thousand FHC students walk into a science classroom, the teachers of the science department are given a mere six cents per student to provide this.

For chemistry teacher David VonEhr and biology teacher Kristy Butler, it’s all about their students. Any past student of VonEhr’s, for example, would be able to attest to the unbelievable amount of care and effort he provides to each and every student. He, along with the rest of the science department, strive to inspire a scientific mind in every student.

In the last couple of years, however, monetary restrictions have made accomplishing their goal increasingly difficult. As a result, with their pioneering spirit and the help of Forest Hills parents and district employees, VonEhr and Butler have created the Ranger Science Fund. The fund is aimed at helping teachers to continue enriching students’ science careers. 

“As department chair, I’ve seen what has happened to our budget every year,” Butler said. “Every year, it’s just a little less and a little bit less. We were in a situation where we could no longer sustain [ourselves] when we needed new equipment. We were in a situation where we had to write grants, or we had to get donations. Really, it was just the fact that we were seeing the need because our current budget couldn’t support us.”

While this need was realized four or five years ago, the fund did not truly take form until this year. VonEhr came up with the original idea and, with the support of principal Steve Passinault, presented it to superintendent Dan Behm. Behm pointed VonEhr and Butler towards Jana Siminski, Director of Philanthropy at the Forest Hills Foundation. Siminski has been a vital player in creating and sustaining the fund, guiding the teachers on the path they needed to solidify the program.

As the fund continued to take form and progress through its checkpoints, FHC parents Patti Baldwin and Jeannine Leslie were brought in to help. As two key parents who have both been incredibly involved in the Forest Hills community and its programs, they were able to generate community-wide interest. A key aspect to getting the word out is the Ranger Science Fund Facebook page, which is the easiest way for the community to get involved.

“From the parent perspective, [we provide] outreach and contacts,” Leslie said, “like who we can bring into the program and making connections. It’s not [as if the teachers] want something super flashy or the newest, latest, greatest [innovation]. They want pretty much just the basics. Those items need to be replaced every so often, even just like microscopes.”

There’s a notion that all tax dollars collected in Forest Hills stay in Forest Hills, but this is untrue. Because Forest Hills is a donor district, a percentage of community tax dollars are sent back to Lansing and never returned. Therefore, district-wide, budgets are being cut, and in a true chain-effect, the classrooms feel the true effect of the cuts.

“It’s critical in any fundraising effort to have community support or, in this case, parent support because the teachers identified the need, but they don’t have the network of families,” Siminski said. “It’s critical to the success of this to have community support — parents, past parents, and future parents — to really help drive the mission, the need, and outreach. That’s where you’re going to find the success of this.”

For the teachers of the science department, raising this money is vital to keeping up the standard of education expected from FHC. However, this will not be possible without community support. 

“We, as a foundation, are trying to communicate to parents the need to support our schools,” Simpski said, “but if we can somehow convince the students to get involved and to do something like this, it would just be amazing. It would be a good call to action, and I think that could be incredibly powerful. How could we get students excited about championing their own learning?”

For now, the goal of the fund is $50,000 by the end of the year, and $100,000 by the end of next year. The staff is hoping to achieve this through donations via the Facebook page and reaching out to the Forest Hills community.

Once the money has been generated, Siminski, VonEhr, Butler, and their team are hoping to place the money in an interest-earning bank account. So while 4-6% of the account will be taken out each year for science department maintenance, the aim is for the account to generally be growing through generating interest. In this way, the science department will be able to compensate for the deficit caused by budget reduction.

“This isn’t the science department wanting to raise $100,000 so they can buy some new, flashy thing that no one else has,” Siminski said. “It’s unbelievable that they are trying to raise this money just to sustain the program. I think if more families were aware of that, they’d be more inclined to support the cause.”

For the teachers of the science department, raising this money is vital to keeping up the standard of education expected from FHC. 

“Science is life,” VonEhr said. “It’s everything around you. We want students to be science-literate. I think it’s important that students have science-literacy skills so they can understand the process of science, be able to utilize important information and make important decisions for their own life choices.”

“Not to cross over the edge of politics,” he continued, “but right now, science is under attack in the United States. If you understand the process of science and what it’s going through, you can stand up against that.”

If one thing is clear, it is that the budget of eleven dollars per student from the district is simply not cutting it anymore. Even with the passion that VonEhr, Butler, and the rest of the science department hold, the future success and improvement of the science program at FHC is relying on the results of the fund. Above all, community support is incredibly important for the success of their program; the science department could reach incredible new levels with the accomplishment of the Ranger Science Fund.

“One thing important about science is that it allows individuals to take a logical approach to decision making,” Butler said. “My goal is for them to understand the nature of science. Science opens your world because you know how things work, or if not, you can figure out how they work. Science is more than just googling things.”