VFEE Grants Enrich Learning

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Dr. Edith Ries, consultant to VFEE, works with HBW students

That funny phrase “Vee Fee” keeps popping up around town. Last weekend, there was a “Vee Fee” table at Platinum Fitness; recently, Shakespeare came to H.B. Whitehorne Middle School courtesy of “Vee Fee.”  Star Lab, smart boards, Cezanne at the Montclair Art Museum, the New Jersey Youth Symphony, sketching the cherry blossoms…if you’ve heard about any of these mind-expanding activities from a Verona public school student, you are hearing about “Vee Fee.”

So what, exactly, is Vee Fee? Vee Fee is actually written VFEE, shorthand for the  Verona Foundation for Educational Excellence. Simply put, VFEE is a group of  Verona parents and educators who raise money through private donations to bring academic enrichment programs to Verona’s public school students. Formed in 2006, this dedicated bunch is determined not to let  financial cutbacks eviscerate all the educational “extras” that can be so  inspirational to students.

The ideas come from the teachers. Twice a year, in September and June, educators are invited to apply for VFEE grants of $500 to $2,500. So far, nearly $200,000 has been raised and more than 57 grants awarded to Verona teachers, according to Edith Ries, Ed.D, VFEE’s grants chairperson, and a Verona teacher herself for 27 years. But the undisputed champ of successful grant applications is HBW science teacher Amy Heckel. “She has gotten 5 or 6 grants,” says Dr. Ries. “She’s gotten one every time we’ve offered them.”

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One of Heckel’s grants was used to convert her eighth grade science class into a hands-on forensics lab last spring (pictured). Students analyzed a letter written by Jack the Ripper for clues, learned how to analyze finger prints and used gel electrophoresis to compare DNA samples.

The genesis of an idea can be an interesting story in itself. HBW teacher Carol Clifford applied for a grant to bring the New Jersey Youth Symphony to HBW after she mentioned the name of renowned violinist Itzhak Perlman and drew a blank from her students . With VFEE grant money, Clifford was able to invite the 40-member student ensemble to give a live concert at HBW in which they demonstrated classical pieces and answered student questions.

Interdisciplinary activities are an efficient, and increasingly popular, use of grant money. Last fall, HBW teachers Barbara Kistner and Carol Ogden collaborated with art teacher Anthony Saltalamacchia to guide 7th graders in the creation of an Egyptian museum. After researching and creating artifacts and items that mirrored Egyptian history, the students spent a day as docents, guiding children from other grades through their creation.

Last year, a record number of grant applications, 35, were submitted to VFEE and 16 teachers were awarded money for innovative projects.  “There is a ripple effect,” says Ries. “We’re seeing more and more teachers apply for these grants.”

Of course, in uncertain economic times, the group has to work even harder to get contributions. Yet its members are convinced that VFEE’s work is even more important when budget cuts to schools are looming. “Giving our children the tools to become great thinkers is now more crucial than ever,” says Ries. You can make a secure PayPal donation to VFEE here.

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Julia Martin Langan
Julia Martin Langanhttps://myveronanj.com
Julia Martin Langan moved to Verona in 1989. A long-time journalist, she has been on the staff of Money, Sports Illustrated, Bride’s and Redbook magazines. Her articles on health and parenting appear in a variety of national publications, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Newsday, Parents, Good Housekeeping, Harper’s Bazaar, Self and Family Circle. She and her husband Greg have three school-aged children, and are members of Our Lady of the Lake Church. You can reach Julia at [email protected]

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