News from the NEF

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

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.”