News from the NEF

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

Overcoming Barriers in Jazz: Musician Residency with Tia Fuller

This grant, along with funding from Needham High School Friends of Music, funded a two-week musician residency in which Tia Fuller— Grammy-nominated Black female jazz saxophonist, composer, Berklee professor, and featured musician in Pixar’s Soul—shared her musical expertise and experiences with overcoming the glass ceiling often faced by Black and female-identifying musicians with Needham student musicians from High Rock, Pollard, and Needham High Schools. This residency coincided with the inception of a newly-established lab jazz program at Pollard that provides beginner jazz instruction to High Rock and Pollard students. Needham jazz students had the opportunity to prepare and rehearse Fuller’s original Grammy-nominated charts alongside her, which culminated in a combined performance in January encompassing all jazz programs in the district.

Grant writer Spencer Parrish, Needham High School Band Director and Music teacher, noted “Our time with Tia Fuller proved to be transformative for all involved. It is rare for professional musicians of Fuller’s caliber to be effective music clinicians in public school settings. Given this, Steve Heldt [Pollard Band Director] and I were pleasantly surprised to witness the efficacy of Fuller’s interactions with our students. Her feedback was differentiated for each respective age group, and the depth of her knowledge and experience as a professional jazz musician led to immediate (and lasting) improvements in the performance quality of our ensembles. Students walked away from the experience feeling pride for the tremendous musical accomplishment of performing and rehearsing alongside a Grammy-nominated musician. This residency seems to have provided them with inspiration to continue performing and learning about this special musical genre. These outcomes were everything I had hoped for when submitting the initial grant proposal.”

2023 Trivia Bee

Congratulations to the Silly Sunflowers team for taking first place in the NEF’s 2023 Trivia Bee!

On Thursday, March 9th, the NEF held its 32nd annual Bee, the third year featuring trivia, with 50 teams and over 350 participants and attendees. Teams included representatives from each of Needham’s school communities, over a dozen local businesses and community organizations, and nearly two dozen family and neighbor teams. The evening started with an opportunity to take a picture with Officer Rocket, Needham’s Community Resource dog, as well as a chance to purchase tickets to our popular raffle or to buy a “Bee” cupcake donated by Treat Cupcake Bar.

After 5 lively rounds of trivia, including categories like science, entertainment, geography, and Needham history, the Silly Sunflowers team featuring students from Needham High School took first place! A tiebreaker question determined the second place team — BeeReal, made up of teachers from Needham High School — and the third place team — Hive Mind, with students from Needham High School. It was a NHS sweep!

Creativity abounded with the naming of their teams, including the Best Team Name category winner, Risky Quizness, named by the same team as last year’s winner, Let’s Get Quizzical. An honorable mention goes to Error Code 404 – Team Name Not Found.

Finally, the Broadmeadow Bees elementary team beat It’s Pasture Bedtime from Mitchell and What’s the question again? from Sunita Williams in a tiebreaker to earn its spot 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 NEF is grateful to all of the participants, advertisers, raffle donors, and event and team sponsors who made this event a success, raising over $25,000 to support innovation in the Needham schools.

Watch the 2023 Trivia Bee on the Needham Channel!

Team and Event Pictures

NEF Funds Seven Winter Grants Totaling $45,049

At the Needham School Committee meeting on February 28th, the Needham Education Foundation (NEF) announced the recipients of seven grants totaling $45,049 in the winter grant cycle. 

Awarded grants include:

  • An American Sign Language elective for eighth grade students at Pollard Middle School. This is the second year of funding for this large grant.
    — Awarded to Elizabeth Zajac, K-12 Director of World Languages

  • Sensory Pathways at Newman Elementary School allowing all students to engage in a movement break when needed. This is an Express grant from Mitchell.
    — Awarded to Kerri Vonnegut, Kindergarten teacher
  • An all-school visit with author Ty Allan Jackson for Mitchell Elementary School students to learn why reading is important and how Mr. Jackson overcame obstacles to become an author.
    — Awarded to Lisa Bees, Parent, Maria Porcello, 5th grade teacher

  • New equipment for the Needham High School fitness center allowing the wellness program to evolve with advancements in fitness technology and to increase accessibility of the equipment.
    — Awarded to Diana Parkhurst, Wellness teacher, Denise Domnarski, Director of Wellness, Ricardo Andrade, Assistant Athletic Director

  • A new LGBTQIA+ English elective offering for students at Needham High School, including curriculum materials and professional development.
    — Awarded to Patrick Gallagher, English Department Chair

  • Equipment and materials for students at Needham High School to create resin projects in their science classes, increasing their understanding of scientific concepts, while bringing art and creativity into the science classroom.
    — Awarded to Andrew Verardo, Biology teacher, Teresa Marx, Chemistry teacher

  • A visit with author Sara Farizan, a Boston-native and daughter of Iranian immigrants, for students at Needham High School, including both traditional author talks, as well as smaller group writing workshops.
    — Awarded to Paige Rowse, Teacher Librarian

World Language Books

Last year, Elizabeth Hitron, librarian at Sunita Williams Elementary School, working with Kelly Haas, Sunita Williams’ ELL teacher, and Jenn Potter, Broadmeadow’s librarian, received a grant to fund the purchase of books written in languages other than English for all of the elementary school libraries. The program was developed in a partnership between the libraries and the elementary ELL teachers who are seeing a sharp increase in their caseload of students, many of whom have little to no English when arriving in Needham, and who have noticed a lack of appropriate reading material. The books, written in students’ home languages, support their academic growth and independent reading, as well as offer an opportunity to see themselves reflected in the books around them. These collections are housed in the five elementary libraries for ELL teachers to access for their students, as well as for general circulation.

Books were chosen in three ways: 1) translated copies of popular titles so that students new to the U.S. can access materials their peers are reading, 2) books originally written in world languages and reflecting other cultures, and 3) books in a variety of reading levels to accommodate different ages and reading skills. 

According to Ms. Hitron, “The new world language books have been a very welcomed addition to all five elementary school libraries. As an elementary team, we have had many successes with these new books – students and staff alike have been delighted with them. It has been a lot of fun presenting books to students in their home languages. A second grade student at Newman was thrilled to find a book in Chinese. His classmates were so impressed he could read it! Another student at Newman who recently moved from Israel (and had little to no English) was so happy to borrow many books in Hebrew, her first language. A Mitchell student was very excited to find books in Russian because his dad speaks Russian at home. He checks them out and has his dad read them to him before bed.”

Molly Mullin, Eliot Elementary School librarian, added, “The new world language books arrived in the Eliot Library perfectly timed with the arrival of a new family to the school. The family had recently fled Ukraine and the children could read in Russian. Our new Russian language books were the first books that these students checked out of the library. It was wonderful to welcome them, provide them something they could read, and to show them that we embrace and respect other languages. While we have electronic resources to provide ebooks in other languages, having a diverse collection of print books is also very important to our school culture.”

Technical Theater Workshops

This fall, Kristen Mazzocchi, Needham High School Theater teacher, coordinated workshops to provide the necessary training for Pollard and Needham High School students to participate as technical crew and designers in the school district’s theater productions.

Given the lack of live performances during the pandemic, Kristen realized that veteran crew members were unable to pass down their knowledge to incoming students. This left students without the necessary skills and training to take leadership roles in managing the technical aspects of theater production. To make up for this learning loss, Kristen applied for an NEF grant to run workshops in stage management, as well as sound, lighting, costume, and set design, with local industry professionals. In addition to learning the basics, students were introduced to new technologies that are being used in the theater industry so that they can elevate the production level of Needham’s school performances in the future. The after-school workshops were open to all Pollard and Needham High students and no prior experience was required.

According to Kristen, “The students were able to put much of their new skills right to work since many of these workshops were held … at the same time as the set building for the Students Acting To Make A Difference production [of The Addams Family]. Students went right from the workshops to actually building the set, focusing the lights, and using a new digital sound board that they had just been trained on. It was amazing to see what the students just learned being put into practice!”


NEF Funds Nine Fall Grants Totaling $29,479

At the Needham School Committee meeting on November 15th, the Needham Education Foundation (NEF) announced the recipients of nine grants totaling $29,479 in the fall grant cycle. 

Awarded grants include:

  • Adaptive music making tools, including various sizes of xylophones and hand drums, will ensure all Sunita Williams Elementary students can play an instrument and benefit from the music curriculum, regardless of physical or cognitive abilities.
    — Awarded to Abigail Grote, Sunita Williams Music Teacher, and Catherine Iatesta, Mitchell and High Rock Band Teacher
  • Grammy-nominated Black female jazz saxophonist, composer, and Berklee professor, Tia Fuller will work with jazz students from High Rock, Pollard, and Needham High School in a musician residency including how she overcame barriers in the field, along with rehearsals and a full performance open to the public.
    — Awarded to Spencer Parrish, NHS Band Director
  • Furniture to support the social-emotional needs of kindergarteners, including Quiet Space cubbies, egg chairs, bean bag chairs, and study carrels, will give Broadmeadow Elementary students a way to be “alone” in a safe space while still being part of whole-class learning time.
    — Awarded to Sarah McKnight, Rachel Lewis, Claudine Shaby, and Monica Staley, Broadmeadow Kindergarten Teachers
  • Needham High School students in the Digital Games History and Design course will be able to use Nintendo Switch game consoles, along with school-appropriate games, to work in groups and evaluate the mechanics, dynamics, and aesthetics of the games’ design and to develop their own game levels – something not possible without more extensive coding knowledge.
    — Awarded to Joshua Yankell, NHS Technology Integration Specialist
  • Two communication boards will be installed at the Sunita Williams Elementary playgrounds allowing all students to communicate more easily with each other, identify games to play together, and communicate their wants and needs effectively, regardless of their language abilities.
    — Awarded to Erica Spiegel, Sunita Williams Special Education Liaison
  • Needham High School students in the Castle Scholars program will build community by working through physical and mental challenges at Level 99 with the goal of deepening the connections between students and staff and impacting students’ sense of belonging and engagement at NHS. The Castle Scholars program aims to increase the representation of Black, Latinx, and Multi-racial students in rigorous educational programming at NHS.
    — Awarded to Alison Coubrough-Argentieri, NHS Assistant Principal, Natalie Guthrie and Missy Barry, Castle Scholars Coordinators
  • A creative dance residency with Dance4All will allow Needham Preschool students at the Early Childhood Center at Newman to explore social emotional learning concepts through literacy, movement, and music using the book Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees.
    — Awarded to Daniel Cohen, Interim Preschool Director, and Valerie Maio, Dance4All
  • Individual and class sets of curated games will help support curriculum learning for students at Needham High School. While also fun, games provide a means to practice collaboration, strategy, and problem solving, and they can also reinforce curriculum concepts.
    — Awarded to Joshua Yankell, NHS Technology Integration Specialist, and Paige Rowse, NHS Teacher Librarian
  • Tools, such as games, legos, and fidgets, will help Pollard Middle School students on behavior intervention plans learn functional, adaptive behaviors by acting as reinforcers for appropriate behavior. Other sensory items can be used to address behavioral dysregulation so that students can more quickly return to class.
    — Awarded to Mary Ricci, Pollard BCBA

Needham Steps Up Mentorship Training

Last year, the NEF funded professional training with Mass Mentoring Partnership (MMP) for Needham Steps Up (NSU) mentors at Needham High School. NSU pairs up to 20 income-eligible students with a Needham High School teacher to mentor them throughout their years in the high school. The training included:

  • providing mentors with a more cohesive and clear understanding of mentorship, particularly within a high school setting
  • helping mentors increase their responsiveness to students’ needs
  • helping mentors understand boundaries
  • helping mentors establish clear guidelines about the types of issues they can tackle on their own and when it is important to seek outside help

The grant also funded professional training of NSU staff members in a “train-the-trainer” model so that future mentors will receive the same instruction. Since all mentors are NHS teachers, this grant will not only benefit the students in the program, but also the students in the mentors’ classrooms.

According to grant writer and NSU board member, Martha Cohen Barrett, “the training … provided a foundation and a sense of the mentors as essential to their mentees’ high school success. NSU will build on that sense of skill and intentionality going forward, linking what they do to the mission of both NHS and NPS. This year’s mentor training served as a springboard that we will build on. For example, we … did one exercise at the end of training that had mentors move toward different sides of the room depending upon what they would do in a particular situation. Not only did the exercise provide examples of how mentors see mentoring through different lenses, but it shed light on the different ways in which the mentors are living their experiences with their mentees. However, there wasn’t time for the mentors to debrief and problem-solve together. In the future, we will do more of these kinds of activities, aiming to create training that runs like a thoughtfully conceived lesson plan.”

Educator Workshop at Heart Mountain in Wyoming

This summer, Needham High School Social Studies teacher, Laura Magno, attended the National Endowment for the Humanities’ (NEH): Heart Mountain Educator Workshop in Wyoming. More than 14,000 Japanese Americans were confined at Heart Mountain during World War II. The week-long workshop included visits to the nationally recognized interpretive center at Heart Mountain, as well as the Smithsonian-affiliate museum, the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, and the Homesteader Museum. The experience will enhance teachers’ understanding and provide resources and lessons for the Needham High Social Studies Department.


NEF Funds Three Spring Grants Totaling $18,434

At the Needham School Committee meeting last night, the Needham Education Foundation (NEF) announced the recipients of three grants totaling $18,434 in the spring grant cycle. 

Awarded grants include:

  • Students in grades 3-5 at all five elementary schools and grade 6 students at High Rock Middle School, as well as their families, will learn healthy and safe strategies for navigating an increasingly digital world from Dr. Elizabeth Englander, a nationally-recognized expert on the topic. Dr. Englander will present to the students during two assemblies at each elementary school and High Rock school. In conjunction with these assemblies, she will host a virtual evening family presentation focused on how to help children use digital technology in a healthier and safer way. In addition, copies of Dr. Englander’s forthcoming book “You Got a Phone (Now Read This Book)” will be purchased for each classroom/cluster and school library.
    — Awarded to: Abigail Hays (Broadmeadow PTC Co-President), Emma Navales (Newman PTC Co-President), and Frederica Lalonde (Mitchell PTC Co-President)

  • More than 500 students who are enrolled in Spanish classes at Pollard Middle School will soon have access to engaging fiction and non-fiction Spanish language books in their classrooms. The new classroom libraries, filled with a variety of tiered and interesting texts, will increase students’ language proficiency by modeling grammar structures and vocabulary in context. Easy access to these books will also help motivate students to read in Spanish and boost their confidence in their Spanish reading skills.
    — Awarded to: Amy McKenna, Maura Lia, Jackie Edwards, Megan Murphy, and Susan Connolly, Pollard Spanish Teachers

  • Needham High School Social Studies teacher Laura Magno will participate in the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Heart Mountain Educator Workshop in support of efforts to revamp the way Japanese American incarceration is addressed within the tenth grade Social Studies curriculum. More than 14,000 Japanese Americans were confined at Heart Mountain during World War II, and many Americans know very little, if anything, about the incarceration. The grant will support improved teacher understanding, resources, and lessons to be brought back and shared with the Needham High Social Studies Department.
    — Awarded to: Laura Magno, Needham High School Social Studies Teacher