Mary Montes, a first grade teacher at Tamaques Elementary School in Westfield, is the 2018 recipient of the Westfield Rotary Club’s Philhower Fellowship in recognition of outstanding teaching at the elementary school level.
Montes will receive the award on Tuesday, May 8 as the guest of honor at the Rotary Club luncheon. That evening, she will be presented with a resolution from the Board of Education at a reception at Tamaques School’s auditorium, 641 Willow Grove Road, at 7 p.m. as the board meeting begins.
From an early age, Montes says she knew she would be a teacher. While a student at Rutgers University, she says she volunteered at a soup kitchen where she would sit with youngsters on their way to afternoon kindergarten after a meal. Upon graduation from Rutgers in 1988, Montes decided to devote her considerable passion for education to students she “felt needed the most assistance,” teaching in an elementary school in Newark.
After taking time off to raise her four children (all of whom are Tamaques alumni and three of whom are now in college with plans to follow in their mother’s footsteps to work in education), Montes became a second grade teacher at Tamaques in 2009. Two years later, she “joined the first grade team and have been there joyfully ever since.”
In nominating Montes, one parent praises the first grade teacher for “instilling a love of school and learning” in her child. “Ms. Montes really understands and knows my son,” the parent writes in a nominating letter. “As a parent, I deeply appreciate this and trust that she always has his best interests at heart.”
Another parent, who is also an educator, notes Montes’s tradition of leaving a hand-painted seashell and a special note at the doorstep of each of her incoming first grade students. “Ms. Montes is one of the most passionate, hard-working, loving and child-centered teachers I have ever met,” says this parent in another nominating letter. “Her kind and loving demeanor and the energy she brings each and every day should not go unnoticed.”
“I am proud to be considered a positive presence in the lives of my students, their families and within our Tamaques family,” says Montes. “I do embrace each and every teachable moment and there is a true sense of celebration of our learning in my classroom.”
Paying a surprise visit to Montes’s classroom on Monday, April 30, Superintendent Dr. Margaret Dolan and Tamaques principal David Duelks personally congratulated Montes on becoming the 26th recipient of the Philhower Fellowship.
Dolan briefly explained the nomination process to the first graders. “Every year, we ask students, parents, and other people to write about the good things our elementary teachers do each day. Then a committee chooses one teacher to win this award. Guess who was selected this year?,” Dolan asked as the students broke into applause at the news.
“Ms. Montes has the unique ability of making every child she comes in contact with feel special, cared for and loved,” says Duelks. “All of Tamaques is excited and proud to honor Ms. Montes in receiving this well-deserved recognition.”
Montes says she feels “humbled and honored” by this recognition but she says “I am not at all unique in terms of my dedication and efforts as a teacher.”
“I absolutely share this incredible honor with every single colleague as we work with the same shared vision within ‘the best gig ever,’ as I like to say,” Montes adds with a smile.
The Philhower Fellowship was established in 1993 by the Rotary Club to honor former Westfield Rotarian Charles Philhower and to recognize the importance of teaching in the elementary grades. An educator for more than 50 years, Charles Philhower, who died in 1962, was supervising principal (superintendent) of Westfield schools for three decades as well as co-founder and past president of the Rotary Club of Westfield.