Get to know Masiel Rodriquez-Vars, Executive Director of the Montclair Fund for Excellence!
The Montclair Fund for Excellence is gearing up for their Amazing Fundracer this weekend, which wouldn’t be possible without the help of Executive Director Masiel Rodriquez-Vars. Rodriquez-Vars was a board member for MFEE for several years and was working with a nonprofit working with agencies serving the foster care system.
Rodriquez-Vars was a program officer for national foundation before joining MFEE. “My work at MFEE was a compliment to things I had done before,” said Rodriquez-Vars. “I was a former public school teacher and always had a passion and interest in education. MFEE was a great way to merge these passions.”
Aside from her passion for education, Rodriquez-Vars also dabbled in other interests such as filmmaking. She worked on a piece for Montclair High School titled Inside Montclair High, where she aimed to highlight what was happening in the school. Rodriquez-Vars followed a mix of students in their day-to-day lives, showing them doing many different things such as clubs, activities and even lunchtime. This even led to Rodriquez-Vars co-facilitating the film club at the school.
Today, Masiel Rodriquez-Vars helps MFEE leverage resources and support for Montclair Public Schools. MFEE provides fundraising by events and seeking funds from outside entities. “We investigate all possible avenues to get additional funding for schools,” said Rodriquez-Vars. “A big hat we wear is meeting with other nonprofits and partnering on initiatives. Something we could do even better is to strengthen those networks between the families and school districts. We award grants to students and teachers, then funnel it back to the schools through the different programs.”
There are three major types of grants MFEE offers to the school system. The first is the Educational Excellence Grant, which is geared towards teachers trying something innovative. According to Rodriquez-Vars, this grant nurtures bottom up innovation, since they are coming from the teachers themselves who are on the frontlines.
Another type of grant is the professional development grant, where teachers find a professional development opportunity and can apply for funds to attend workshop. A third type of grant offered by MFEE is a social and emotional learning grant, which is geared towards teaching the “whole” child. This program aims to help with the social and emotional learning needs of the students by teaching about things such as bullying and conflict resolution.
According to Masiel Rodriquez-Vars, MFEE recently gave a $15,000 grant to the district to provide district-wide professional development on technology and bringing technology into the classroom. “We provide the resources to help teach how to use the technology,” said Rodriquez-Vars. “Montclair is willing to support education, and families are still willing to support MFEE to help [us] support the complementary pieces. We give the boost to make it even better.”
MFEE also recently gave funding to support alternative seating options for kids as well as fidget tools for kids who are a little distracted or lose focus easily. There are a whole range of tools to help kids focus, which allow students to disperse little bits of energy so the brain is able to be more attentive. MFEE helped provide these tools in the majority of elementary schools, and then will follow up to see how intervention made an impact.
Aside from the Amazing Fundracer coming up this weekend, MFEE and Rodriquez-Vars are preparing for the annual Toast for the Teachers. This program has been happening for 20 years, and runs from the end of May to the end of June. “Families in the schools throw a party to honor their teachers,” said Rodriquez-Vars. “They come up with a theme – like backyard BBQ or cupcakes – and throw a party to celebrate the teacher. They and the group of co-hosts plan the party, moderate admission fees and all money goes back to the school and into the grants.”
With the fundracer approaching soon, MFEE has seen an immense amount of support from the community. “The number of people who have shown excitement to be part of the process is amazing,” said Rodriquez-Vars. “They want to show their support for the schools. The process of recruiting people from Montclair has been enormously helpful. We’re making new relationships and showing that our schools are amazing. A group of people is willing to stick their necks out, and it’s inspiring. The response from everyone from parents to students to the community has been overwhelming.”
For those involved in the Amazing Fundracer this weekend, don’t forget to pick up your race packets on either May 19 or May 20 on the front lawn of Montclair High School from 5 to 7 p.m. For any questions, please reach out to info@MFEE.org or call MFEE at: 973-699-3599.