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  • Erin Madigan White

MFEE Awards $10,000 Equity Grant to Nishuane

From left: Nishuane teachers Tara Wentzell and Troy Mullins, Vice Principal Brenda Coe, Principal Dr. Frank Sedita, and MFEE Board Co-Chair and Nishuane parent Bridget Placek.

Teachers to Write Social Justice Lessons, Receive Training from MSU Professors


Creating a strong social justice foundation is the focus of a $10,000 Excellence in Equity Grant awarded to Nishuane Elementary School from the Montclair Fund for Educational Excellence (MFEE). 


The applicant team at Nishuane included parents, teachers and administrators, who collaborated on the design and plan for more than two years. The team thoughtfully refined the project’s vision to meet the evolving needs of the school, and is committed to making the work sustainable and sharing learnings with others in the district.


A group of Nishuane teachers were selected to attend professional development and begin writing the lessons this spring. Their work will be guided by “Using Their Words: The Six Elements of Social Justice Curriculum Design,” a framework for elementary students to learn about social justice created by Dr. Bree Picower, a professor at Montclair State University. Picower, along with MSU Assistant Professor Tanya Maloney, an expert on anti-racist teacher preparation and social justice education, will work with the Nishuane team to design developmentally appropriate lessons to teach the six elements to all Nishuane students in Kindergarten through 2nd grade with the help of mentor texts.


The work aims to grow all students' understanding of social justice in a developmentally appropriate way. As second graders prepare to move on from Nishuane their learning will culminate with a social justice action project. Classroom lessons will begin in September 2024.


“When we take the time to teach our youngest learners about who they are, help them understand injustices that they may face, and give them the tools to inspire actions that impact the local school community, we develop students who begin to think critically about the world around them,” said Tara Wentzell, a special education teacher at Nishuane who was instrumental in shaping the project, along with Vice Principal Brenda Coe and Principal Dr. Frank Sedita.


“This grant will focus on engaging students to elevate their voices and give them tools to take action and make change in their communities,” Sedita added. 


In addition, Nishuane parent and MFEE Board Co-President Bridget Placek will facilitate a series of parent workshops to familiarize them with the concepts that will be addressed at each grade level to address social justice.


“This is ongoing work, and MFEE is proud to provide meaningful learning experiences that nurture empathetic citizens and critical thinkers who will become our next generation of change leaders,” said Masiel Rodriquez-Vars, MFEE’s executive director.


This is the third Excellence in Equity grant MFEE has awarded.


Northeast Elementary School received a $10,000 grant to build stronger racial literacy, provide school-wide professional development to address racial bias and host a series of facilitated critical analysis groups. The inaugural $10,000 grant was given to Charles H. Bullock Elementary School in 2022 for a social justice-focused arts program.

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