News from the NEF

Where You Can Compose Your Own Story

By Kathleen Grady and Christine Mittaz

In a year pitted against band, Needham High School’s Band program has been able to create something special nonetheless. In the summer, Margaret McLallen (Ms. McLallen to us), entertained the possibility of having a special band piece that was composed just for Needham High’s band ensembles. Through the Needham Education Foundation (NEF) Small Grant, Parent Teacher Council (PTC) Enrichment Grant, and Needham Friends of Music, Ms. McLallen was able to get three pieces commissioned and completed by March. This, of course, would not be possible without the incredible composer, musician, teacher, and overall person, Spencer Parrish.

We met Mr. Parrish last January when he began student teaching at Needham High School. He worked with the bands through our concert in March, and during this time we got to see his passion for music first hand. He even continued virtually student teaching at Needham Elementary School, Broadmeadow, through the start of the pandemic and finishing the school year. But his start with Needham certainly wasn’t his start with music.

His parents noticed his ear for music when he was only five years old living in Rome, New York. He got their attention by walking over to a piano and perfectly playing the song just sung by the chorus at his Baptist church. By eight years old, he was playing the B3 organ for the church. Then at nine, he was promoted to the official music director and Hammond Organist. He began playing the piano at a young age but then picked up the trumpet as well in fourth grade, which he fondly recalls, “commenced [his] life-long love for the concert band idiom” (Parrish). At age 14, Spencer wrote, composed, and produced an entire 13 song R&B album by the name of Relate (available on Spotify, just search Spencer Parrish). Then by his senior year of high school (where he was notably salutatorian), Mr. Parrish set his life goals to be a musician and teacher.

To further pursue his music education, Mr. Parrish attended Berklee as a class of 2020 graduate. Here, he learned from top musicians and worked toward the opportunity to student-teach. He impressively graduated mid-pandemic and is now working as a music teacher in Newton Public Schools. 

As a student teacher in Needham, Mr. Parrish observed throughout the fall of 2019 and began taking a more active role in teaching as the new year arrived. He led classes and provided his own insight and feedback as he grew closer with the band, and we became acquainted with his style. Connor Daly, a jazz and symphonic trumpet player summarized this by saying, “He was a great teacher. He had a different approach- but still worked well with Ms. McLallen to teach,” (Parrish).

While we and the rest of the band program were sad to bid Mr. Parrish farewell, our excitement for his future ultimately put us at ease. Little did we know, Mr. Parrish’s career would lead him right back to Needham just months later through the inspiration and planning of Ms. McLallen. When looking back on his experience, Mr. Parrish shared: “My student-teaching experience at Needham High is a moment in time I will cherish forever. I am very grateful for the opportunity to work with the band program again this year, wearing a different hat this time,” (Parrish).

Ms. McLallen first reached out to Mr. Parrish in the summer of 2020 about her idea. She proposed the possibility of commissioning three pieces all composed by Mr. Parrish. With support from largely the Needham Education Foundation, this dream was able to become a reality. The NEF raises funds to provide grants and scholarships for the Needham Public Schools. These grants and scholarships hope to enhance the curriculum, inspiring the next generation of innovative learners. A huge thanks also goes out to the PTC and Needham Friends of Music, who also made the project possible. With the funding in place, Ms. McLallen and Mr. Parrish were now able to focus solely on the musical and educational aspects of the composition.

At first, the task seemed daunting, and Mr. Parrish recalls, “I was initially skeptical of my capacity to deliver three original works for such a large instrumentation in this timeframe. Through the power of careful planning, I did manage to deliver the third piece by the middle of March,” (Parrish). Simultaneously, we students followed Mr. Parrish’s process, and began learning and composing pieces (although much less complex) of our own. Through the guidance of Ms. McLallen and the advice from Mr. Parrish, we saw that the composition process was in fact quite familiar and similar to one we had been doing for years, writing essays.

Mr. Parrish explained the process as coming up with a thesis, or melody. Then developing central arguments that act as supplemental melodies to “connect musically with that main theme,” (Parrish). From there, musicians construct an outline with the general form of the piece. Following the framework, transitions are used to fill in the space between melodies, paralleling the part of an essay in which “it is time to commit words, sentences, and paragraphs to the page” (Parrish). Keep in mind, this process had to be repeated for roughly 25 parts for each of the three pieces, and original ideas do not always make the final piece. In fact, Mr. Parrish, “encountered several false starts and creative roadblocks” (Parrish). When we students started our comparatively easy and basic compositions (yet still quite daunting), it was inspiring to see the same process being done on a much bigger scale. 

At the beginning of this school year, the logistics of mid-pandemic band class were certainly unknown. We began the year outside, enduring 40℉ classes, fly-away music, and the constant interruption by gym classes. In essence, the music world of NHS had little to be excited for. However, the introduction of the commissioned pieces provided a unique opportunity that motivated and inspired us to continue working hard despite these challenges. Our personal involvement in the process of the compositions changed the energy of the Needham High School Band. In such a bleak year, it was rewarding to see that the pieces were influenced by conversations we had had with Mr. Parrish. After all, music tells a story; Ms. McLallen and Mr. Parrish worked incredibly hard to create pieces that tell ours. The composition alone is truly fascinating (and challenging to play), and the story is not over yet. The last chapter of this process is a virtual recording that will be completed by the end of the 20-21 school year. With more updates to come, music to be made, and learning to be done, we look forward to sharing our hard work with the community.

2021 Virtual Trivia Bee

Congratulations to The Chocolate Laser Eye Kittens team for taking first place in the NEF’s Virtual Trivia Bee!

On Thursday, March 11th, the NEF held its first ever virtual Trivia Bee with 50 teams and nearly 300 participants. Teams included teacher, administrator, and student representatives from each of the Needham schools, many community organizations, and over two dozen family and neighbor teams. After 5 lively rounds of trivia, including categories from science, to teen culture, to Needham history, The Chocolate Laser Eye Kittens team took first place! They were closely followed by the Bird Brains of Birds Hill in second place, and Rockets for 100, Alex in 3rd place.

Creativity abounded with the naming of their teams, including the Best Team Name category winner, Eliot PTC’s Nerd Immunity. Best costume went to the To Bee or not to Bees team in full Shakespearean garb, and the Best Zoom Background went to The Council of Sarahs and Js who were joined by a beach-going Superintendent Dan Gutekanst!

The NEF is grateful to all of the participants, advertisers, raffle donors, and event sponsors who made this event a success, raising over $22,000 to support innovation in the Needham schools.

Thank you to the Needham Channel for editing and airing the event throughout April! If you missed the episodes, click the video link below to view the broadcast!

1st Place – The Chocolate Laser Eye Kittens
2nd Place – Bird Brains of Birds Hill
3rd Place – Rockets for 100, Alex
Best Costume – To Bee or not to Bees
Best Zoom Background – The Council of Sarahs and Js
Best Team Name – Nerd Immunity
More Team Pictures!

NEF Awards Nearly $300,000 to Needham Public Schools

At the Needham School Committee meeting on February 23, 2021, Superintendent Daniel E. Gutekanst recognized the Needham Education Foundation (NEF) for its $296,624 grant to Needham Public Schools (NPS). The funding will support the district’s new initiative to expand in-person learning for kindergarten, first, and second grade students for the remainder of the 2020-2021 school year.

The NEF grant will be used to cover the costs of bringing students in grades K, 1, and 2 back into the school buildings full-time, four days each week. Specifically, the grant will support the hiring of nine new teachers so that additional sections for grades K-2 can be added to accommodate small class sizes and physical distancing safety protocols. All five of Needham’s elementary schools will benefit from the NEF funding, which provides the youngest students the in-person attention required to help them grow and achieve.

According to Dr. Gutekanst, “This unprecedented and exceptional grant from the NEF will allow us to bring back to school our most vulnerable and youngest learners who will benefit from the consistent care and attention they deserve and need from their teachers. As always, the NEF’s commitment to this community’s young people is unique and underscores the value that all of us place in education.” He added, “We are deeply indebted to the NEF Board for having the resources and the vision to think creatively and in partnership with the schools during these challenging times to prioritize the needs of our youngest learners.”

This extraordinary grant, the largest in NEF’s 30-year history, is being awarded outside of NEF’s typical three yearly competitive grant cycles. Under the current circumstances, expanded in-person learning for K-2 students advances the NEF’s mission to promote innovation and excellence in education. The NEF is happy to support the district and the community in making an impact on Needham’s youngest learners.

NEF Co-President Seema Meloni shared, “The NEF is honored and extremely proud to fund this important grant request. After being approached as a potential funding source and ensuring all appropriate negotiations regarding the new plans to support young learners were completed, our Board moved forward with a decision to provide financial support for this critical initiative on behalf of our donors and supporters.” Co-President Maggie Shapiro added that the NEF is “excited to see the effect this grant will have on Needham’s youngest learners. We hope that this donation provides flexibility for the district to use budgeted funds for other important school-based needs.”

Thanks to the generosity of NEF donors, Needham’s K-2 students will have the opportunity to establish deeper relationships with their teachers and classmates, further develop their skills, and increase confidence in their learning.

See below for an interview with Co-Presidents Seema Meloni and Maggie Shapiro on the Needham Channel.

NEF Funds Eight Winter Grants Totaling $45,524

The Needham Education Foundation (NEF) announced the recipients of eight grants totaling $45,524 in the winter grants cycle at the Needham School Committee meeting tonight. The grants included two large grants, one express grant, three small grants, and two multi-school grants benefitting all five elementary schools.

  • Orienteering will be added to the K-5 curriculum at the Sunita Williams Elementary School. Orienteering offers students a stimulating outdoor learning experience. The aim is to pilot a long-lasting curriculum that can be shared with the other elementary schools with a minimal investment in equipment and training.
  • Students with autism and related developmental disabilities who attend the Early Learning Center at Sunita Williams School will take part in eight weeks of creative dance and music sessions with their classmates. Instructional, theme-based creative movement sessions will utilize a creative and kinesthetic approach that encourages and increases social and emotional growth.
  • Two sensory pathways at Pollard Middle School will offer a way for students to regulate when they have a sensory build-up, allowing them to better focus in the classroom. The pathways will be for the primary benefit of students in the Therapeutic Classroom, Intensive Learning Center, and/or receiving adaptive PE and occupational therapy sessions.
  • As part of the Needham Diversity and Discussion Book Club, Needham High School students can access print and digital copies of the book Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From to participate in a community-wide, moderated discussion with author Jennifer De Leon. The Book Club will be hosted by the Needham Diversity Initiative, Needham Human Rights Committee, and the Trustees of the Needham Public Library.
  • Under the guidance of a clinical psychologist, Needham High School students will create two age-appropriate interactive workshop videos on race, equity, and emotional wellness for the students at Sunita Williams Elementary School. The videos will be interactive in nature, promoting equity and positive change in our communities. The goal will be to pilot the program at Sunita Williams this year and roll out the videos to the rest of the elementary schools in the fall.
  • The Contemporary Literary Criticism digital collection will be a crucial resource for the success of literary research at Needham High School, particularly for 11th grade students completing the Junior Research Project and 10th grade students completing the Sophomore Oral Project. The digital access will provide hundreds of additional volumes and allow more students to engage with the content at the same time, either in school or remotely.
  • A Student Ambassador program will build community and provide support for students who are transitioning into Needham High School. Upper-level students will be trained as Student Ambassadors to facilitate community-building activities and support some of the social-emotional needs of students transitioning into NHS, including both 9th graders and new-to-Needham upper-level students.
  • Fifth graders from all elementary schools will spend time with authors Tracey Baptiste (The Jumbies series) and Anna Meriano (Love Sugar Magic series), learning about their cultural influences and inspirations, the writing process, and what it takes to publish a novel. Each author will include a question and answer section at the end of their program.

NEF Funds Four Fall Grants Totaling $15,980

At the Needham School Committee meeting last night, the Needham Education Foundation (NEF) announced the recipients of four grants totaling $15,980 in the fall grant cycle.

Awarded grants include:

  • A field camcorder will be used in the Television Communications courses at Needham High School. With it, students can capture high quality video footage when recording outside of the school building, allowing for more real-world experiences in television production. The Needham Channel will match this grant with the funding of a second field camcorder.
  • A wide range of books will be acquired to establish a new Book Club unit in 7 th grade English classes at Pollard. A robust list of engaging, contemporary fiction titles were selected to span reading preferences and abilities and represent diverse and resilient protagonists.
  • The Learning Ally iPad app will help eligible Pollard students who struggle with reading to build strong vocabulary, strengthen comprehension skills, increase reading fluency and accuracy rates, strengthen reading stamina, and increase reading motivation. A launch workshop for over 30 educators will be complemented by a teacher platform for advising and communicating with students about their independent reading.
  • Musician and composer Spencer Parrish will compose three pieces for Needham High School’s Concert Band, Symphonic Band, and Jazz Ensemble. Due to COVID restrictions on music practice and performances, this project will provide ensemble members the opportunity to learn about other aspects of music study, specifically, how a composition evolves from its inception to its completion. The commission will include two master classes for each ensemble, along with materials and final composition. The project will culminate in a virtual recording of each piece.

“Your Voice Matters. What’s Your Story?”

Funded by a large grant from the NEF, ‘Your Voice Matters. What’s Your Story?’ is a multifaceted project that creates a platform for the Needham High School community to share their stories and connect with one another, while also creating spaces for students to think critically and empathically. The authors of the grant, Kate Bergeron, Robyn Briggs, and Nicole Burnor, worked closely with Maria Sartori and other members of the FPA department to make this project come alive.

The project involves the creation of a professional gallery space at the high school which will have rotating exhibitions of student artwork based around various themes. The first exhibition is to be a Fine & Performing Arts (FPA) Department curated art show, ‘Your Voice Matters, What’s Your Story?’ centered around the theme of empathy as it relates to equity.

While this inaugural exhibition was unable to take place in April as planned, many other components of the project have been accomplished and the work continues. According to the grant writers, before the abrupt COVID interruption last spring, they collaborated with a Boston-based community project duo, The Cauldron, who hosted a workshop on the high school’s One Day and taught a Master Class with the Senior Studios students. They also organized a FPA Department field trip to the Museum of Fine Arts to see the exhibition, Women Take the Floor. In addition, Senior Studios students collaborated to design and work on a permanent mural installation at Needham High School.

The grant writers also began, before the schools shut down, to order supplies for the new gallery space for visual and digital arts, Gallery 450’s, to be created in the new wing of the high school. These include items such as hanging supplies and display cases as well as a TV to exhibit digital art. They now continue to work on ordering supplies for the new gallery space. 

And there are more benefits to come from this innovative program. As Nicole Burnor put it, “We are also looking forward to collaborating with Own Your Peace and to continue creating spaces for our students to build community and foster the value of diversity.” 

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 in the flyer below.

Get to Know the NEF flyer

Sensory Pathways at Eliot and Mitchell

This past year, the NEF funded Sensory Pathways to be installed at Eliot and Mitchell over the summer. The Sensory Pathways are for students to use when they need a movement or therapeutic break. The Eliot and Mitchell grants were funded through NEF’s “Express Grants” option, which facilitates the replication of successfully implemented small grant programs from one school to another school. The first Sensory Pathways were funded and installed at Broadmeadow last year. They immediately made a huge impact on the students and teachers by giving students opportunities to release their energy and sensory build-ups that impact their ability to succeed in the classroom. (See them in action here!)

Children can jump, bounce, and bend their way through the colorful, playful pathway decals in the hallways as they transition from one class to another or when they require a movement or therapeutic break. Importantly, all children can benefit academically, physically, and emotionally from the release of energy and sensory build-up, regardless of whether they are a general education student or have specific attentional, sensory, or mental health needs.

At Eliot, one pathway is located in a high traffic area and the second pathway is located in a quieter wing upstairs. At Mitchell, one pathway was installed in the kindergarten modular building and the second pathway in the grades 1-2 wing.

The photos below show what greeted Eliot students when they returned to school in-person this week, ready to move their bodies and put the pathways to good use.

Cornell’s Diversity and Inclusion Certificate Program

Seema Meloni, one of the NEF’s co-presidents, recently spoke with Christopher Dancy, 6th grade science teacher at High Rock School, about his experience completing Cornell’s Diversity and Inclusion Certificate Program – professional development funded through an NEF grant. Here are some of the highlights from their conversation:

Q: For those unfamiliar with Cornell’s Diversity and Inclusion Certificate Program, could you please briefly explain the goals of the program and why you felt so compelled to enroll in the courses?

A: This certificate program represents a proactive response in addressing some of the inequities and tensions around xenophobia, homophobia, and racism that have been identified within NPS. While there has been a strong administrative response to these problems, NPS needs staff who have DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) expertise grounded in best practices and not solely personal experience. While Cornell’s D&I program in itself is not a solution to these problems, the completion of this certificate program represents a great first step in gaining expertise in a field that is so necessary to the health of Needham Public Schools. I’m thrilled to have completed it and am proud to identify myself as a professional who is skilled in the pedagogy of the DEI space.

Q: How does DEI work best?

A: I am proud to have partnered with the NEF in order to further conversations regarding equity within the district. In the public schools, DEI work is implemented with the youngest of minds in moments of the day which are not publicized, visible, or recorded. DEI work happens in private and small group conversations, teachable moments, and as direct responses to student questions. DEI work is most successful when there is mutual trust, mutual respect, and engagement in the process. The true value of this grant is not based on quantitative outcomes, but instead its value is a lasting investment in the culture of the classroom and the larger school community. For that, I am deeply grateful.

Q: How can we address current events through a DEI lens?

A: What’s particularly interesting about the completion and implementation of this grant, is the timing. The first six months of 2020 have proven to be historically unprecedented. During this time the world has been gripped by pandemic, remote teaching and learning over Zoom has become a reality, while our fellow Americans protest as a response to racism and the murder of George Floyd.  

Still, as teachers, we’ve continued to teach daily in this new remote paradigm.  

Through a DEI lens, the themes of equity, access, healthcare, employment, family dynamics, as well as school-based support structures for our most fragile students (ELL, Needham students of color, LGBTIAQ+) have all been highlighted during this time in the most personal and profound of ways.

While I have always engaged headfirst into conversations associated with the DEI space, I left Cornell’s Diversity and Inclusion program with a more honed set of skills, especially in the areas of engagement and inclusion. For some of my students, there was rage and fear as they grasped for understanding about the reasons why George Floyd was murdered. For others, there were questions about why neighbors, classmates, and the public were supporting BLM in the streets. For a few, we engaged in developmentally appropriate conversations regarding how their own opinions and beliefs were contrary to an inclusive culture.

Q: Now that you have completed this Certificate Program, what’s next?

A: As we look ahead towards the last half of 2020, our tasks ahead do not look any easier. A few of our considerations are: DESE’s recommendations for schools reopening in the fall, surging cases of COVID-19 across the country, continued BLM protests in response to police brutality, and what will prove to be a very divisive Presidential election. This year, more than ever, we will need DEI-trained teachers in order to develop culturally responsive classrooms. I am up to the challenge and am grateful for the opportunity to be a more effective partner in service of our students.

Cooking with Kids

Cooking With Kids was approved during the Fall 2019 Grant Cycle to fund the purchase of ingredients for a weekly cooking activity. The goal was for students to learn life skills in early learning classrooms. The cooking activity provided opportunities for various service providers to collaborate, and serves as a chance for reverse inclusion in which ELC general education peers can help with the activity and provide appropriate peer modeling.

While the current school year didn’t unfold as expected, we are thrilled to see that the weekly cooking activity for Sunita Williams ELC students has continued virtually! Each week, a cooking project provides an opportunity for students to work on a range of skills while continuing to stay connected.