The Needham Education Foundation (NEF) announced today that it has issued $73,409.68 in grants for 22 projects throughout the Needham Public Schools.

Needham’s upcoming tercentennial celebration is featured in the grants as are student achievement gaps, disability awareness and service learning. All Needham Public Schools from kindergarten to high school are beneficiaries of NEF spring grants. “In almost every grant cycle, what’s at the forefront of education is often apparent in the various grant applications submitted to the NEF,” said Frank Fortin, co-president of the NEF.

As Needham prepares to celebrate the 300th anniversary of its founding, all of the town’s public schools will enjoy tercentennial programs as a result of NEF grants. One such grant is a play portraying Needham’s history, acted by Needham High School students and performed at all of the Needham public schools. The Tercentennial Committee also submitted a grant for all Needham third graders to learn how to make historical maps of Needham that will be displayed around town as part of the celebration.

Another grant offers fifth graders the opportunity to experience Town Meeting as it would have been in 1775 using actual town records from that period.

Disability awareness is another current area of focus in Needham schools. Broadmeadow Elementary is implementing two grants to help kick off the school’s disability awareness program; one to develop curriculum and the other to bring the professional integrated wheel chair dance troupe, Dancing Wheels, to the school. Eliot Elementary is also enhancing its already established disability awareness program by incorporating a wheel chair accessible garden as part of a spring grant to build and grow a 19th century kitchen garden.

Three more grants in this last cycle address the achievement gaps in student population. At Needham High, students of color as well as their parents and teachers will be offered additional academic support. Another group of NHS students will receive a grant empowering them to use art to creatively engage in their education. A third grant submitted by the Needham Housing Authority will provide tutoring and mentoring for residents of Captain Cook Drive with help from teacher volunteers.

“Another theme in this year’s cycles has been the growing interest in grants with an emphasis on service learning either in their entirety or as a component,” said Pamela Rosin, co-president of the NEF.

One spring grant will support Eliot Elementary’s efforts to conduct a summer read-a-thon with proceeds going to UNICEF’s Haitian Earthquake Relief program. Eliot is also donating the harvests of the aforementioned 19th century kitchen garden to the Needham Food Pantry.

A grant written by Needham High School students from Rockets Against Destructive Decisions (RADD), the local chapter of the national Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD), will enable the students to mentor fourth through sixth graders concerning smart decisions about substance abuse.

“And, remember those Needham High School students who are receiving a grant to use art in their education,” said Rosin, “they will be donating their work to a local women’s shelter. This is the NEF coming full circle. It is so rewarding to see these grants give to the students and then give to the community after the community has given to the NEF.”

The remaining grants in the 2010 NEF spring small grant cycle cover a myriad of subjects from science to social studies, from a cappella to archaeology. The following is a complete list of all 22 grants:

Grant #1 Dancing Wheels – Broadmeadow – $1,050 — “Dancing Wheels” is a professional modern dance company integrating dancers in wheelchairs with traditional dancers. This presentation of dance and lecture ties into the Broadmeadow disability awareness program.

Grant #2 Reading and Drumming for Haiti at Eliot – $1,095 — Students will participate in a summer read-a-thon to benefit UNICEF (Haitian Earthquake Relief). The fundraising effort will culminate in a November dance group performance by Bamidele Dancers & Drummers, a group which is dedicated to the preservation of African and Caribbean culture.

Grant #3 TEC Online Opportunities at Needham High School – $5,000 — This online program developed with TEC (The Education Cooperative) enables students to take advantage of online learning while providing expanded curriculum. If successful, subsequent online courses would be offered to students at $300 per course.

Grant #4 19th Century Kitchen Garden at Eliot – $4,692 — Developed in conjunction with The Needham Community Farm, this garden project consists of seven raised beds, one of which is handicap accessible. Harvested items will be donated to the Needham Food Pantry.

Grant #5 Art Quest at Hillside – $3,800 — Second graders will pilot the use of Art Quest to enhance the social studies curriculum by using art as a vehicle for learning about other cultures.

Grant #6 Bubblemania at Hillside and Mitchell – $2,413 — Integrating art and science, this “edutainment” program offers separate presentations for grades K-2 and 3-5.

Grant #7 Town Meeting circa 1775 at All elementary schools – $5,000 — Based on the successful third grade Little Schoolhouse experience, all fifth graders will experience Town Meeting as it would have been in 1775 using actual town records from that period.

Grant #8 Circus Smirkus at Mitchell – $4,943 — The current physical education program will be supplemented with less traditional activities.

Grant #9 Between the Lines at Newman – $2,410 — Approximately 15 to 20 parents from both Needham and Boston will create a multicultural parent book group. The goal is to build relationships within the group which can trickle down to the students and the Newman community as a whole.

Grant #10 Patterns, Poems and Puzzlers – Broadmeadow – $2,300 — Using games and literature, fifth graders will enhance math competency while developing team-building skills.

Grant #11 Rockets Against Destructive Decisions at Needham High School – $4,550 — Written by Needham High School students, this grant consists of three components; substance free activities (coffee houses), mentoring of younger students (grades 4-6) and two assemblies with Improbable Players and subsequent follow up discussions.

Grant #12 Backpacking Through the Continents at Eliot – $1,360 — Third graders will take part in on-line virtual fieldtrips allowing them to experience countries on each continent. Funds will purchase backpacks and items/artifacts representing each of the continents. These materials can also be used by other third graders throughout the town.

Grant #13 Connecting with the Past through Theater at All Schools – $2,550 — A play about life in Needham 300 years ago, comparing challenges for youth now and then, will be commissioned in honor of Needham’s tercentennial. The play would be performed by the Needham High School Theater Arts Society for students in each school.

Grant #14 Disability Awareness Program Literature Resources and Lessons – Broadmeadow – $3,800 — This grant will develop a comprehensive disability curriculum for grades K-3, including books and lesson plans to be integrated into the existing curriculum.

Grant #15 Uncovering Archaeology at High Rock – $5,000 — Based on a project that has been done at Pollard but reconfigured due to the move to High Rock; this will be a month-long project archaeology unit in social studies which will incorporate science concepts. This is a pilot for one cluster which can be expanded to all of the sixth grade clusters.

Grant #16 Making Our Mark at Needham High School – $2,321.88 — Students in the Connections program, a therapeutic environment for students who are struggling to stay in high school, will create art for a women’s shelter.

Grant #17 Striving for Success at Needham High School – $4,950 — With the hope of reducing the achievement gap, this grant was designed for Needham High School students of color (both Needham and Boston residents). There are three components: for students there will be summer classes in Math and English, after school support throughout the year and College support programs; for parents there will be academic and college application support; and for teachers there will be training and follow-up throughout the year.

Grant #18 After School at Cook’s at All Schools/residents of Captain Cook Dr. – $5,000 — Written by the Needham Housing Authority, this grant is for tutoring and mentoring activities for the residents of Captain Cook Drive. The goal is to improve student performance and provide enriching programs. Many teachers have committed their time to the project on a volunteer basis. The requested funding is to pay for a tutor/director.

Grant # 19 Flashmasters at Work at Mitchell – $1,259.80 — This grant will supply electronic flash cards for third graders.

Grant #20 Celebrating Needham through the Magic of Maps at All Elementary – $3,275 — All third graders, town-wide, will learn how to make maps and then draw historical maps of Needham. These maps will be displayed around town as part of the tercentennial celebration.

Grant #21 Writing as Play at Pollard/High Rock – $2,000 — Two writing teachers from the Walnut Hill School will train the middle school teachers (6-8) in their writing techniques.

Grant # 22 The Original Instrument – the Human Voice at All schools – $5,000 — Ball in the House, a male a cappella group, will perform at all elementary schools and middle schools, provide workshops for high school students, and perform at an evening event open to the Needham community. They have obtained additional funding from the Needham Creative Arts Council and have also applied for funding from the Ernie Boch Jr. Music Fund.

For the 2009-2010 academic year, the NEF has awarded 40 grants for a total of $125,304.98.