Becky Ausenda is a “mom-preneur,” a term she defines as someone who creates a job she can do at home, calling upon previous professional experience while playing a significant role in her children’s lives.
It was this combination of interests and skills that eventually led her to create the Bermuda Education Network (BEN).
Ausenda describes BEN as a foundation that raises funds in order to invest in projects in public schools. “We identify the areas of need by consulting with the school principals and then go out to donors to talk about these projects, to get them interested,” she says. “Then we take charge of the project management…. We try to be ‘doers’ in public education. We’re activists, and we’re involved because we want to see change in public education. We also want to be a friend to the Department of Education and provide them and the teaching staff with support.”
Ausenda, who is English and has Bermudian status, is a former attorney. She worked for seven years in reinsurance. During the time she worked in Bermuda, she got involved in business-outreach projects within the community. At the same time, she developed a strong interest in public education since her two children attend St. George’s Prep. “I found myself becoming an advocate, linking up with other parents in international business. This all started as a sort of parent network. We hoped more and more parents would connect with each other and start to get involved in the reform effort.”
She says BEN, a registered charity since April of this year, has become a management-consultancy agency. Working closely with the schools, BEN members look at areas to improve and then provide free support, thanks to help from external donors. “It’s very difficult trying to be a public-education activist, because in order to reform public education, you have to be ready to challenge the status quo,” she says.
She stresses the importance of being on the children’s side, of protecting the rights of the students. “Ultimately, whenever we have a tough call to make, that’s what we try to have in the forefront of our minds,” she says.
So far, BEN has implemented programmes and partnerships between schools and a range of organisations, such as the Bermuda National Gallery, Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute and the Bermuda Aquarium Museum & Zoo. A summer programme called Math Springboard links CedarBridge students with businesses in the financial area. Collaboration with Masterworks, the Bermuda National Gallery and Kaleidoscope Arts Foundation resulted in the Art & Me programme for Gilbert Institute.
East-ender Ausenda says that when she’s not thinking about public education she’s trying to come up with ways to revive her beloved town of St. George’s. “I’m thinking about how to turn St. George’s into the next Padstow,” she says, referring to the sleepy village in Cornwall that has reinvented itself as a tourist hotspot virtually overnight. Ausenda also hopes to put together what she calls a “virtual children’s museum,” which will be an online portal that highlights all the programmes BEN fosters, like after-school and summer camps, to make it easier for parents and teachers to find educational opportunities.
“I wanted to do something that was more creative and could make a difference in serious problems,” she says. “The harsh reality is that so many children’s futures are on a knife’s edge, and people feel hopeless about it. I want to encourage people. I’ve made enough connections in a year and a half to make a difference…. I didn’t have a single door slammed in my face. People welcome it when you genuinely want to help.”