News from the NEF

NEF Funds Six Spring Grants Totaling $41,407

At the Needham School Committee meeting on May 21st, the Needham Education Foundation (NEF) announced the recipients of six grants totaling $41,407 in its spring grant cycle.

Awarded grants include:

YA Literature: Diverse Voices
Class sets of contemporary young adult (YA) novels, teaching resource volumes, and an author visit by one of the selected YA authors to support a new full-year course offering for 12th graders at Needham High School entitled “YA Literature: Diverse Voices.” Texts will include complex human dilemmas, along with compelling, disconcerting characters, and challenge readers to re-examine their understanding of the world.
— Awarded to AnnMarie Kannon, High School English Teacher

Drama Center Props
Furniture and equipment, including kitchens, market stands, cash registers, kitchen equipment, and numerous food items, with many from different cultures, to support diverse and educational dramatic play centers in all five kindergarten classrooms at Newman Elementary School. Drama centers support a variety of skills, including creativity, social skills, language, and organization. While utilized throughout the year, the items will be especially helpful during the “Our Community” curriculum unit, in which students learn about what it means to be a community member and the different places in our community.
— Awarded to Lesley Stroud, Kindergarten Teacher

Bringing the Portrait Competencies to Life: PONG Picture Books
Five picture books for each of the K-5 classrooms in the Needham Public Schools that in a developmentally appropriate way, will introduce and reinforce one of the Portrait of a Needham Graduate competencies – Creative Thinkers & Problem Solvers, Responsible & Resilient Individuals, Socially & Culturally Responsive Contributors, Communicators & Collaborators, and Empowered Learners. During designated weeks of the school year, each competency will be highlighted, providing an opportunity for teachers and students to identify the competencies, discuss them, and consider how they show the competency in their own lives.
— Awarded to Caren Firger, Newman Assistant Principal, Chris Gosselin, Director of Instructional Technology and Innovation

Polar GoFit with Polar E-Unite Heart Rate Watch
Sixty Polar E-Unite wrist-based heart rate monitors, the Polar GoFit app license, and virtual training sessions to introduce this new technology in Wellness classes for all students at High Rock Middle School. By allowing students to visualize their heart rate in real-time, the heart rate monitors will allow students to monitor their exertion levels, perform data analysis, promote personalized learning and goal setting, and build a foundation for lifelong health.
— Awarded to Jonathan Grant, Wellness teacher, Dan Amato, Wellness teacher, Denise Domnarski, Wellness Director

High Rock Community Service Learning Garden
Construction costs and materials to build five raised garden beds at High Rock Middle School which will be used to grow herbs and vegetables to be donated to the residents of the Linden Street Needham Housing Authority located across the street from the school. Students will choose which crops and herbs to plant after researching the needs of the Linden Street residents and the best short-season crops that will maximize food production within the academic year. Students will also plant, maintain, and harvest the crops.
— Awarded to Stephen Miller, 6th grade science teacher & CSL Coordinator; Dr. Jessica Downey, Principal High Rock School

Powering Up Access: Playaways for the Newman Library Collection
Fifty Playaways (standalone audiobook players) and two bookcases to offer a portable, screen-free option for all students at the Newman Elementary School library. Each Playaway is for one fiction or nonfiction title. Audiobooks help students develop listening comprehension skills, explore texts beyond their reading level, and connect with different cultures or experiences in a meaningful way. 
— Awarded to Jennifer Murray, Library Teacher

Cuerd@s Workshop at NHS Connections

With funding from a Fall 2023 grant, a workshop was held in February for students in the Connections program at Needham High School with Cuerd@s, an organization that provides embroidered clothing to support mental health. For the creator, the act of embroidery is soothing and creates a healthy environment for processing emotions and building community. For the wearer, the embroidery serves as a built-in de-escalation technique and reminds them that they are safe, loved, and valued. The workshop provided students the chance to embroider clothing to donate to a local mental health organization and to embroider a sweatshirt for themselves.

Connections is a therapeutic program developed to meet the needs of students with emotional disabilities. The workshop also provided an opportunity for all Connections students to meet at the same time to build community with others on similar paths in overcoming personal challenges.

Katherine McMahon, grant recipient and Connections program teacher, said “The event was incredible and I feel so fortunate our students had this opportunity … Meg Burke, … the founder of Cuerd@s, could not have been better … It was great to see her sharing her story with my own students and doing it with so much passion and insight. Thanks to the NEF grant, we had the opportunity for our students to learn and practice creating a tactile fidget on sweatshirts they could use to cope. When the activity was over students wanted to keep embroidering. They found both the activity and the process helpful and satisfying.” 

She noted that many students were wearing their embroidered sweatshirts the next day and that students were continuing to embroider using the kits purchased through the grant.

2024 Trivia Bee

The Rotary Bees took first place in the NEF’s 2024 Trivia Bee

On Thursday, March 14th, the NEF held its 33nd annual Bee, the fourth year featuring trivia, with 49 teams and over 350 participants and attendees. Teams included students and teachers from each of Needham’s schools, local businesses and community organizations, and over a dozen family and neighbor teams. The evening started with an opportunity to meet Officer Rocket and Officer Ghost, the Needham Police Department’s Community Resource dogs, and to take team photos and purchase raffle tickets for a chance to win one of ten themed baskets with items donated by local businesses.

Mike “Sarge” Riley, the public address announcer for the New England Patriots and Revolution and a veteran Boston sports radio personality, kept the evening lively and fun as the event host, sharing fun facts about many of the teams or bantering with the student teams seated in front.

After 5 spirited rounds of trivia, including categories such as science, entertainment, geography, and Needham history, the Rotary Bees from the Rotary Club of Needham took first place. A tiebreaker, featuring a question in honor of Pi Day, determined the second place team — the Library Bookies from the Needham Free Public Library — and the third place team — the Broadmeadow Bees, with a teacher and students from Broadmeadow Elementary School. The Rotary Club and the Library have both been long-time participants in the NEF Bee.

Creativity abounded with the naming of the teams, including the Best Team Name category winner, Nobody Expects the Spanish InQUIZition. There were also a number of teams in fun outfits or hats, though none as committed as the Mitchell Teachers from the Mitchell Elementary School in their Taylor Swift regalia.

Having placed as one of the top three teams, the Broadmeadow Bees elementary team retained its title as the top-scoring elementary team this year. They will get to display the top-scoring elementary team trophy at Broadmeadow until next year’s Bee.

The event was recorded by the Needham Channel and will be available for viewing in late March.

Team and Event Pictures:

NEF Funds Eight Winter Grants Totaling $43,258

At the Needham School Committee meeting on March 5th, the Needham Education Foundation (NEF) announced the recipients of eight grants totaling $43,258 in its winter grant cycle.

Awarded grants include:

ISTE Conference Professional Development Opportunity
Technology Integration Specialists from Broadmeadow, Eliot, Mitchell, Newman, and Needham High School will attend the 2024 International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Live Conference to learn current pedagogical strategies, curricular innovations, and new techniques in using technology to create high-impact, sustainable, and scalable learning experiences for all students.
— Awarded to Barbara Tennyson, Eliot; Dana Cantor, Newman; Gershona Fein, Mitchell; Technology Integration Specialists

Rubik’s Cube Mosaics
A set of Rubik’s Cubes to create mosaics using specific patterns, as well as both beginner and advanced versions of the Rubik’s Cube for exploration will provide an opportunity for High Rock students to participate in creative, engaging, and collaborative problem solving activities. This is an Express grant from a 2018 grant awarded to Needham High School.
— Awarded to Erin Mack, Technology Integration Specialist

3D Printing Exploration
Two 3D printers will allow High Rock to explore how 3D printing can motivate students, connect to the curriculum, create engaging lessons, and empower students to become designers and creators using this innovative technology. The printers would allow students to print a 3D model of the artifacts they are studying in the archaeology unit of their Social Studies classes.
— Awarded to Erin Mack, Technology Integration Specialist, Maureen Trowbridge, Social Studies teacher

Year-Round Book Clubs
The addition of contemporary, high-interest, grade-appropriate texts will support year-round, informal book clubs that meet briefly every Friday in all Pollard 7th grade ELA classes. By adding a structured time and social component, the program has had success in increasing students’ independent reading.
— Awarded to Liz Welburn, ELA Department Chair, Grades 6-8

Spanish Storytelling Workshop
All elementary Spanish teachers will attend a professional development workshop with educator Carolina Gómez to learn how to incorporate storytelling into language learning for grades K-5 across the district. Stories provide an engaging way to access the target language, in addition to supporting student social and emotional learning by allowing them to participate and show what they know in a low-stakes manner while using different skill sets.
— Awarded to Delia Jodrie, Elementary Spanish teacher

Sensory Support Tools
All first grade classrooms at Broadmeadow will receive sensory-friendly seating options and therapeutic tools to support students’ efforts to regulate their own emotions and behaviors and to bolster their individual achievement as well as the time-on-task for the class as a whole.
— Awarded to Cara Karelitz, Parent, Lillian Chen, 1st Grade teacher

Civil Rights: Bringing History to Life
Performances of “The Right to Dream” by Living Voices, in addition to new high-quality, accessible, and diverse classroom reading materials about the Civil Rights Movement will support social studies and literacy integration for all grade 5 students across the district. Live theater and literature will enhance classroom ​instruction on the “Slavery, Civil War, and Civil Rights” unit of the new elementary social studies curriculum.
— Awarded to Brooke Kessel, Social Studies Department Chair, K-8, Jennifer Collings, Broadmeadow 5th grade teacher, Stephanie Hamel, Broadmeadow 5th grade teacher, Lisa Messina, Literacy Director K-8

Enrichment Programming
Educational enrichment activities will complement the tutoring program at the Needham Housing Authority facility on Captain Robert Cook Drive for their students who attend the Eliot, High Rock, and Pollard schools. These activities include a painter from Gorse Mill, musician David Polansky, a Jamaican storyteller, a historical reenactor, and field trips to the Larz Anderson Auto Museum and Worcester Science Center.
— Awarded to Penelope Kirk, Board Commissioner for the Needham Housing Authority

Fidelity Bank honors local non-profits with its “$20K Community Giveaway”

Needham Education Foundation, Winchendon Community Action Council, Second Chance Animal Services, take top honors

(Leominster, Mass.)—As part of a year-long celebration recognizing 20 years of Fidelity Bank’s LifeDesign banking approach of providing clarity, confidence and care, the bank recently awarded $20,000 in grants to help local non-profit organizations get where they want to be through its “$20K Community Giveaway” program.

As part of the program, local non-profits were nominated by the bank’s clients and the community for a chance at winning one of five awards from Fidelity Bank, totaling $20,000. The winners were determined by the highest number of votes received.

Of the 12 local non-profits nominated for the program, five received the most votes:

First Place ($10,000 grant): Needham Education Foundation
Second Place ($5,000 grant): Winchendon Community Action Council
Third Place ($3,000 grant): Second Chance Animal Services
Runners-Up ($1,000 grant each): Montachusett Veterans Outreach Center, The Virginia Thurston Healing Garden

“We are so excited and honored to take the top spot in Fidelity Bank’s $20K Community Giveaway,” said Sarah Winig, administrative director, Needham Education Foundation. “These funds will be immensely helpful, particularly this year as we are embarking on a collaboration with the Needham Public Schools to bring transformative change to the district through equity-centered professional learning for their educators and administrators, in addition to the grants we fund for innovative educational programs in the schools.”

The finalists included Abby’s House, Centro Celeste, Fab 5, Ginny’s Helping Hand, Listening Wellness Center, Montachusett Veteran’s Outreach Center, NEADS World Class Service Dogs, Needham Education Foundation, Second Chance Animal Services, the Virginia Thurston Healing Garden, Why Me & Sherry’s House, and Winchendon Community Action Council.

The LifeDesign banking promise is focused on a unique four-step C.A.R.E. methodology that includes connecting, analyzing, recommending, and executing a plan to help clients accomplish their goals and help make sound decisions about their lives, their businesses, and their families.

“As we continue to celebrate our 20th year of providing the LifeDesign promise to those we serve, we wanted to continue our mission of giving back to those in our community. Many thanks to our clients and community for sharing their thoughts and voting for their favorite non-profits, allowing us to learn more about the organizations they hold closest to their hearts,” said Ed Manzi, Jr., chairman and CEO, Fidelity Bank. “We have a very caring community and the show of support for all 12 finalists is heartwarming. We are honored to do our part to support their work.”

NEF Funds Nine Fall Grants Totaling $30,501

At the Needham School Committee meeting on November 21st, the Needham Education Foundation (NEF) announced the recipients of nine grants totaling $30,501 in the fall grant cycle.

Awarded grants include:

A songwriting residency with singer/songwriter Alistair Moock to work with all 5th grade students to create a unique school song at each of the five elementary schools. Students will learn foundational concepts for songwriting, and then collaborate with Alistair and their peers in classroom sessions to build a song based on the unique qualities and characteristics of their school.
— Awarded to Valerie Maio, Coordinator of Fine and Performing Arts and LeeAnn Sutton, K-12 Director of Fine and Performing Arts

Alternative activities for recess for students in grades 1-5 at Broadmeadow Elementary School. The activities include large yard games such as Jenga, chess, and Connect 4, Legos, and various card games, as well as storage containers and a picnic table to provide a surface where groups can play the games. These games will provide different opportunities for engaging with other students during unstructured time.
— Awarded to Chanit List, Assistant Principal, Riley Chan, 5th grade student, Henry Blackshaw, 5th grade student

A library of File Folder Games to be piloted for all students in grades K-5 at Eliot Elementary School. Each folder contains a complete game for students to work independently on developing and reinforcing various skills across all content areas, including ELA, math, coding, STEAM, and Spanish. The games help a wide variety of learners who need extra challenges or practice, repetition for mastery, or hands-on tasks.
— Awarded to Shauna Jean, Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA)

The purchase of 120 books to create a trivia-style reading competition for students in grades 3-5 at Mitchell Elementary School. Students will read ten books on various topics and genres and work as teams to answer a series of questions based on the books. The competition will also develop comprehension skills, enhance memory retention skills, improve information recall, and cultivate social skills through collaboration.
— Awarded to Jennifer Guardino, Librarian

A creative dance residency for Kindergarten students at Sunita Williams Elementary School to explore social emotional learning concepts through literacy, movement, and music. Students will have the opportunity to explore social emotional learning themes in the book Giraffes Can’t Dance, and express themselves through movement, leading to a better understanding of themselves and the world around them.
— Awarded to Geoffrey Watts, Kindergarten teacher and Valerie Maio, Dance4All Teaching Artist

The purchase of eclipse viewers and equipment for students and science teachers at High Rock Middle School to experience the solar eclipse on April 8, 2024. Students will learn about solar eclipses, create personalized pinhole projectors, and receive solar eclipse viewers to generate excitement and encourage participation in safely viewing the partial eclipse which will occur after school, with approximately 93% of the sun obscured by the moon in Needham.
— Awarded to Tamara Hosford Keough and Steve Miller, 6th grade science teachers

The purchase of 200 headphones with integrated microphones for the world language classrooms at Pollard Middle School. Students will use the headphones with their iPads to listen to tiered authentic recordings in the target language, cultivate their listening comprehension skills, practice speaking in the target language, receive personalized proficiency-based feedback, and set goals for continued growth.
— Awarded to Elizabeth Zajac, K-12 Director of World Languages and Chris Gosselin, K-12 Director of Media and Digital Learning

Monthly community outings for all grade 6-8 students in the Inclusive Learning Center Program at Pollard Middle School. The ILC Program is a specialized classroom that serves students with severe disabilities. The community outings will allow the students to practice their community safety skills, self-help skills, activities of daily living, and functional academics in a real-world environment.
— Awarded to Kate Martin, Special Education Liaison

A workshop with Cuerd@s, an organization that provides embroidered clothing to support mental health, for students in the Connections program at Needham High School. Connections is a therapeutic program developed to meet the needs of students with emotional disabilities. The tactile nature of the embroidery serves as a built-in de-escalation technique to help remind the wearer that they are safe, loved, and valued. The workshop will provide students the chance to embroider clothing to donate to a local mental health organization and to embroider a sweatshirt for themselves.
— Awarded to Katherine McMahon, Special Education teacher

NEF Funds $156,580 for Equity-Centered Professional Learning

At the Needham School Committee meeting on October 17th, the Needham Education Foundation (NEF) announced $156,580 in funding to support equity-centered professional learning during the 2023-2024 school year. This funding is part of a collaborative initiative between the NEF and the district to advance equity for all students in the Needham Public Schools.

Using the Portrait of A Needham Graduate strategic plan as a guide, the district aims to create a school environment in which all members experience a sense of belonging, respect, and connection to the community. Students who experience schools and classrooms with strong social emotional learning and equity practices in place are far more likely to attend school and engage in learning, have stronger self-management, social awareness, and relationship skills, report a stronger sense of self efficacy, and perform better academically compared to students who do not experience these conditions.

Using a three-prong approach, the funding will support professional learning focused on providing educators and leaders with the tools, strategies, and knowledge needed to create the conditions for learning for all students in every classroom.

  1. Leadership Academy for Educational Equity, Understanding, and Organizational Transformation from William James College

The goal of the leadership academy is to sharpen the personal and collective equity lens of the district’s leadership and to leverage leadership practices in educational equity that improve outcomes and experiences for all students. Sessions have been customized for the Needham schools based on the graduate leadership program at the Center for Behavioral Health, Equity, and Leadership in Schools at William James College which is aligned to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) administrator standards.

The entire district leadership team, which is comprised of sixty leaders, will attend the leadership academy, including administrators from each school, special education and support service leaders, curriculum leaders and department heads, Metco leaders, and central administration.

  1. Teacher-focused professional development with author/educator Cornelius Minor

Through prior funding from the NEF, author and educator Corneilus Minor gave two keynote addresses last year and met with several department teams after a district-wide read of his book We Got This. That work clarified the importance of building meaningful relationships with students as well as offering key classroom strategies for building an inclusive classroom.

This funding will continue the professional development with Mr. Minor by providing opportunities for professionals to identify and practice student-centered instructional strategies, collect data to measure effectiveness, and analyze the data and determine next steps. Sessions will be conducted in groups for elementary principals, Metco educators, as well as 70 secondary humanities teachers and their directors and 70 STEM teachers and their directors from High Rock School, Pollard Middle School, and Needham High School with the goal of increasing teacher’s use of data to improve learning and provide equitable classroom practices that lift all students.

  1. Consultation, training, and support for implementing Restorative Practices in schools 

Restorative Practices is an approach that focuses on developing safe and supportive communities through building, maintaining, and repairing relationships among community members. The funding will provide consultation and professional development to assist the Needham Public Schools in building awareness and understanding of restorative practices at the elementary level and to support the next stages of implementation at Pollard Middle School and Needham High School.

The goal is for educators to foster healthy dialogue and increase mutual understanding and empathy among students and staff, leading to an overall sense of connection and increasing the capacity to handle conflict in a way that promotes growth and repairs relationships. Restorative practices is also an umbrella framework that helps to pull together and integrate other initiatives like social emotional learning and culturally responsive teaching because of the shared purpose of creating the conditions for learning for all students.

Get to Know the NEF!

What does the NEF do? What kind of grants does the NEF fund? What is the best way to support the NEF? Find out the answers to these questions and more by clicking on the flyer below.

Let’s Read in Spanish! Creation of Pollard Spanish Classroom Libraries

This grant funded Spanish language books and supplies to create classroom libraries for each of the Spanish classrooms at Pollard Middle School, impacting over 500 students currently enrolled in Spanish classes. These libraries provide access to a variety of tiered, engaging, fiction and non-fiction texts in the target language. By providing students with choice and access to tiered and interesting texts, students will be motivated to read and gain confidence in reading in the target language. In addition, the texts will model grammar structures and vocabulary “in context,” increasing students’ language proficiency.

Once the books were received, one book was chosen for each course that would be an all-class read. The rest of the books were put on display in the classrooms and each class had time to browse through the collection. Once a week, class time was dedicated for students to read independently. In addition, students used reading logs to track their reading, including space for reflection, new high-frequency vocabulary, and chapter summaries. The goal for next year is to run literature circles.

According to Spanish teacher Jackie Edwards, “Students are impacted by having a choice on which books to read based on level of interest and abilities. Since the books are leveled, they can track their progress and see their language skills grow. We purposely chose books that focused on different aspects of cultures that represent people of all different races, ethnicities, ages, and experiences. The books are helping to broaden their global awareness – their ability to make comparisons between their lives and communities, and the lives of the communities of the characters in the different stories. For us as teachers, it is an opportunity to build connections between our content and the world beyond our classrooms. The books are told from different perspectives and contain a lot of topics that we may not touch upon in class but are of high interest for our students.”

NEF Funds Five Spring Grants Totaling $34,177

At the Needham School Committee meeting on May 16th, the Needham Education Foundation (NEF) announced the recipients of five grants totaling $34,177 in the spring grant cycle.

Awarded grants include:

  • Development of interdisciplinary learning experiences in social studies and the visual arts for seventh grade students at Pollard Middle School. Students will work on projects focused on Hindu, Buddhist, and Islamic art to strengthen their understanding of the social studies units on India and the Middle East.
    — Awarded to LeeAnn Sutton, Director of Fine and Performing Arts, K-12, Brooke Kessel, Director of K-8 Social Studies, and the 7th grade Social Studies team: Maria DelVecchio, Ben Etscovitz, Nick Nogueira, Jason Orlando, and Joshua Sanders

  • A four-part adventure program facilitated by Waypoint Adventure for students in the Independent Learning Center and Post-Grad programs at Needham High School. The students, paired with general education peers in the Special Education Intern course, will participate in fully-accessible and goal-focused programs in team building, rock climbing, hiking, and kayaking, challenging how others perceive them and how they perceive themselves.
    — Awarded to Mira Tamir Spiegel, Parent, Ilene Asarch, Transition Specialist & Special Educator, NHS Post-Grad Program, and Meg Hennessey Schofield, Special Educator, NHS Post-Grad Program

  • A Lego table and Lego sets, including diverse figurines, community members, animals, plants, and construction machines, for each Kindergarten classroom at Newman Elementary School. The materials will support creativity, fine motor skills, and social skills, in addition to enhancing the Kindergarten units of study on community, construction, our earth, and animals and their needs.
    — Awarded to Lesley Stroud, Kindergarten teacher

  • Two performances by local musician, author, and storyteller Bill Harley for all students at Sunita Williams Elementary School. Through live storytelling, singing original songs, and encouraging audience participation, Bill will enhance the K-5 literacy program and demonstrate how stories can be shared in different ways.
    — Awarded to Elizabeth Hitron, Librarian, Laura Miller, Grade 5 teacher

  • Attendance for seven of the eight Needham Public School Librarians and the new incoming Director of Media and Information Technology at the 2023 American Association of School Librarians conference. This district-wide professional development opportunity will support the team’s goals in strengthening research curriculum, teaching with tolerance, and strategies for inclusivity and representation in the libraries. Note: the Sunita Williams librarian was unable to attend.
    — Awarded to Jennifer Potter, Broadmeadow Librarian, Jennifer Murray, Newman Librarian