MFEE seminars aim to help close Montclair learning gaps
by Andrew Garda
The Montclair Fund for Educational Excellence hosted a Zoom seminar to help parents navigate the township’s all-remote start to the school year.
The Remote Learning Community Think, held by Montclair Fund for Educational Excellence (MFEE) on Aug. 25 and 27, connected parents with discussions ranging from equity in remote instruction, especially for socioeconomically disadvantaged students who might not have access to computers or the internet on a consistent basis, to information on remote learning pods, to how parents might help their children deal with isolation, depression and lack of socialization.
The group’s goals are to find ways to help with child care, academic support, enrichment programs and physical activities.
More specifically, the 30-year-old independent, nonprofit group is looking to create and sustain Community Learning Partnerships, which would include full-time in-person supervision and remote learning support, to ensure the district’s most under-resourced elementary and middle school students are served.
MFEE said that over 200 people took part across both nights.
Parents of students from all grades took part, representing children from schools across the district. The largest groups were from Montclair High School, Hillside, and Glenfield, with fourth grade parents representing the largest grade group. Only 41 percent of participants provided information about their race when signing up, but the largest groups were white and African-American parents. The 4th and 2nd Wards were the most well-represented, though many listed themselves as unsure what Ward they lived in.
MFEE Executive Director Masiel Rodriquez-Vars said the group wanted to hear from parents on their needs.
“The things MFEE has going are already evolving, they are a work in progress. They are already getting shaped by some of the conversations and feedback we got on Tuesday night, and we anticipate they’ll be strengthened by the conversations we have tonight,” Rodriquez-Vars said during the Thursday session, which was added after Tuesday’s session filled up.
Parent feedback post-session listed concerns providing their children with social connections, mental health and extra support for families who need it.
The group also wants to build an online hub to facilitate connecting families who want to participate in small in-person groups for learning, socialization, enrichment or child care.
It also wants to provide parent and caregiver support sessions using local and national experts throughout the school year to help address needs for parents on how to support kids learning at home, and to help kids manage stress.
Rodriquez-Vars discussed concerns in the development of pods that could create more inequity for students who could not join due to economic concerns or medical considerations.
“In Montclair, we are a very diverse town,” she said. “We are still a very segregated town. Our neighborhoods are not fully integrated. So, when you think about ‘podding’ a lot of us are connecting to folks on our street or in our social network that may not be as integrated as possible.”
Another suggestion was that MFEE reach out to middle and high school students to see what support they need.
“We at MFEE have been very lucky to have developed a network of students who have worked with us on several initiatives,” Rodriquez-Vars said.
“We ran a program in the spring called Peeps, where we matched high school students to middle school students who were struggling with remote learning. So all of our ‘Peeps,’ both our middle school students and our high school students, are in our network of folks we check in with.”