News from the NEF

2022 Trivia Bee

Congratulations to the Banking on Easy Questions team from Direct Federal Credit Union for taking first place in the NEF’s 2022 Trivia Bee!

On Thursday, March 10th, the NEF held its 31st annual Bee, the second year featuring trivia, with 50 teams and nearly 300 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.

After 5 lively rounds of trivia, including categories like science, pop culture, and Needham history, and 4 rounds of tiebreaker questions, the Banking on Easy Questions team from Direct Federal Credit Union took first place! They were followed by The Nerds Your Kids Hang Out With All Day team made up of teachers from Needham High School in second place, and the Brandybuck team represented by the Casale family in 3rd place.

Creativity abounded with the naming of their teams, including the Best Team Name category winner, Let’s Get Quizzical.

Finally, the Broadmeadow Bees elementary team tied with The Eagles Have Landed from Eliot as the top-scoring elementary teams. They will each get a chance to display the top-scoring elementary team trophy in their schools leading up to 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.

Stay tuned for a broadcast of the Trivia Bee on the Needham Channel in April!

Team and Event Pictures

Student Ambassador Program

Needham High School Assistant Principal, Mary Kay Alessi, received funding in the Winter 2021 grant cycle to create and implement a  student Ambassador program designed to support students who are transitioning into Needham High School. Upperclass students were trained as Student Ambassadors to facilitate community building while providing support for some of the social emotional needs of students transitioning into NHS, including both 9th graders and new-to-Needham upperclass students. The program builds on the traditional elements of the 8th-9th grade transition while extending the outreach to new students, incorporating more robust activities in the transition process and deepening the connections between current and incoming students.

During the multiple orientation days in August, Student Ambassadors provided building tours. On the first day of school, they fanned out into 9th grade and new-to-Needham homerooms and provided additional tours and held informative question and answer sessions for students. This opening day of school also was the start of the ‘No one eats alone’ initiative where Ambassadors invited students to join them in the cafeteria during each of the lunch blocks if they didn’t have friends to sit with. The Ambassadors provided this lunch support for about 2 weeks as students began to find a rhythm and become more comfortable with NHS expectations.

The Ambassadors were quick to offer support and work one-on-one with students who joined NHS after the school year started, as they were learning their way around such a big building. Student Ambassadors stayed assigned to homerooms for the first 4 X-blocks, where it allowed the Ambassadors to share relevant information with students to help with the transition to high school or to NHS specifically. The work was broken into 4 modules: SEL, Getting Help and Getting Involved, Getting Organized I, and Getting Organized II. This was also helpful for teachers as it removed a responsibility for them and gave them a nice place to start building their student relationships.

Additionally, the team created a ‘booth’ for NHS Oracle which is an opportunity for all club and activity groups to show who they are and recruit new members. The Ambassador advisors and leaders have created a website that includes their initiatives and resources to support students joining NHS. Parents were also directed to the website adding another potential support for students transitioning to NHS. Finally, Ambassadors created posters that were distributed throughout the building to advertise their mission and let students know where to find information.

NEF is proud to have funded the Student Ambassador program because it provides opportunities for students to make connections and improve the school culture. In addition, it provided the Student Ambassadors opportunities to practice leadership and organization skills, planning and creativity, and collaboration.

NEF Funds Six Winter Grants Totaling $32,541

At the Needham School Committee meeting last night, the Needham Education Foundation (NEF) announced the recipients of six grants totaling $32,541 in the winter grant cycle.

Awarded grants include:

● Eighth grade students at Pollard Middle School will soon have the opportunity to take an elective course in American Sign Language. As they learn to sign, students will meet and learn about the life experiences of members of the Deaf Community and provide a much-needed service in the community.
— Awarded to Elizabeth Zajac, K-12 Director of World Languages

● A professional theater artist, who is a cast member of a Broadway show, will put on an after-school Broadway Masterclass for students at High Rock School and Pollard Middle School. The 2-hour masterclass will include group-based acting exercises and games, Q&A, and a brief performance.
— Awarded to Katherine Jones, Teacher

● Advanced ceramics students at Needham High School will learn an ancient traditional Japanese form of pottery from world-renowned local Raku artist, Steven Branfmann. Students participating in workshops at Potter’s Shop and School at Gorse Mills Studios will make pottery, glaze it with raku glazes, and use special Raku kilns as they practice the art form.
— Awarded to Sofia Koza-Topp, Visual Arts, Ceramics Specialist at NHS

● A series of technical theater workshops, run by local industry professionals, will teach Needham High School and Pollard Middle School students about sound, lighting, costumes, sets, stage management, and new technologies in the theater industry. Students will learn skills required to be technical crew/designers for the district’s theater productions.
— Awarded to Kristen Mazzocchi, Theater Teacher and Director at NHS

● Award-winning children’s book author, youth motivational speaker, and literacy advocate, Ty Allan Jackson, will visit Newman Elementary School students to talk about how and why he became an author. Ty is engaging and funny. Students will be inspired by his stories of black superheroes, lessons about money, and beliefs about the importance of reading and literacy.
— Awarded to Beth Seidman, Parent, for the Newman Elementary PTC DEI Committee

● Thirty-four ukuleles will bring a fresh, new, and exciting dimension to students’ musical experience at Sunita Williams Elementary School. They will also provide an alternative and inclusive way to make music for students in the Early Learning Center (ELC) program.
— Awarded to Abigail Grote, Sunita Williams K-5 Music and 4/5 Band Teacher

Navigation Games for Interdisciplinary Learning

A winter 2021 grant was awarded to Physical Education and Wellness Teacher Rob Tatro to bring orienteering to the K-5 curriculum at Sunita Williams Elementary School. Orienteering has many benefits in physical education: developing locomotor skills, physical fitness, responsible behavior, social interactions, and an understanding of the value of life-long outdoor recreation. 

This large grant funded the purchase of equipment and training materials, the development of lesson plans, and the support of an on-site trainer from Navigation Games, a non-profit organization based in Cambridge who develops, shares and delivers navigation education for children.

In orienteering, students use a map and a compass to find a series of checkpoints. There is no marked path, so they must choose their own routes from one checkpoint to the next. These navigation skills offer students a stimulating outdoor learning experience while empowering learners to discover and integrate content from multiple disciplines, engage in self-directed learning, and use technology to support learning to navigate in a digital world. 

According to Mr. Tatro, “Students absolutely loved orienteering and learned so much.” The PE staff at Sunita Williams had a great time too. While they were having fun, they were thinking about ways to integrate many of the activities that they did into their existing physical education curriculum. 

Going forward, Rob will find opportunities to collaborate with teachers in other subjects (math, social studies, STEAM, etc) to develop lesson plans around things like map-making, scale, distance estimation, time/distance relationships, spatial reasoning, problem solving, and teamwork.

This program is a pilot for a long-lasting curriculum that can be shared with the other elementary schools with a minimal investment in equipment and training. NEF is proud and excited to have supported this innovation in education for Needham Public School students.

“Playful Learning” in Mitchell’s Math Centers

Mitchell Elementary School Math Coach, Anjali Petersen, received funding for her grant entitled “Playful Learning: Enhancing Computational Thinking & Spatial Reasoning for All Learners through Mathematical Games.” The winter 2020 grant funded the purchase of visually-based math puzzles and games that can be used independently and within small groups across a wide range of learners in Grades 1-5.

Game-based visual learning “activates the brain’s spatial-temporal reasoning skills and leads to a deeper understanding of concepts for all students,” explained Petersen. Importantly, this includes English Language Learners and other high-needs learners.

The games covered a variety of content including patterns, geometry, place value, and logical problem-solving. They also provided students with opportunities to work on the math practice standards.

Teacher Lynn Gotwals reported that “The math games gave the students an opportunity to use their skills in a different way. The blocks tested their ability to use spatial reasoning to solve a puzzle and were a favorite game.”

Both students and teachers enjoyed including these games into their math routines.

The roll out of the games was delayed due to Covid, but once in-person learning resumed full-time, the second grade teachers, in particular, quickly embraced the games. Each class had one or two games in their classroom for at least two weeks each.

“They had a lot of success in using the materials during their math workshops,” said Petersen.

“The math games were a great addition to math centers this year. It took 1-5 minutes to explain each game and then the students were able to play on their own. The games were all very different and kept students engaged.”
—Math Teacher, Gabriella Gonzelez

NEF Funds Eight Fall Grants Totaling $30,317

At the Needham School Committee meeting last night, the Needham Education Foundation (NEF) announced the recipients of eight grants totaling $30,317 in the fall grant cycle.

Awarded grants include:

  • Renowned master trumpet player, composer, and educator on the cutting edge of Black American Music, Marquis Hill, will work with the Pollard Middle School and Needham High School Jazz ensembles as a guest artist, as well as conducting a master class open to all students.
    — Awarded to: Alex Lee-Clark, Jazz Ensemble Director, and Steven Heldt, Pollard Music Teacher
  • Four pedal desks will allow Broadmeadow Elementary School students to incorporate movement into their library learning environment. Movement has been shown to greatly improve learning in elementary students.
    — Awarded to: Jennifer Potter, Teacher Librarian
  • Needham Steps Up staff and mentors at Needham High School will receive professional training from Mass Mentoring Partnership to formalize their mentoring of 20 income-eligible high school students.
    — Awarded to Martha Cohen Barrett, Community Member, and Elizabeth C. Zajac, K-12 Director of World Languages
  • Twenty-five ukuleles will complement the existing selection of percussion instruments at Newman Elementary School to bring a fresh, new, and exciting dimension to students’ musical experience.
    — Awarded to Sarah Casados, Elementary General Music and 2nd Year Strings Teacher for the NPS District
  • Books written in the languages most spoken by Needham English Language Learner (ELL) students will be added to all elementary school libraries for ELL teachers to access for their students, as well as for general circulation. The books will support ELL students’ academic growth and independent reading.
    — Awarded to Elizabeth Hitron, Sunita Williams Librarian; Kelly Haas, Sunita Williams ELL teacher; and Jenn Potter, Broadmeadow Librarian
  • The garden space at Newman Elementary School will be transformed into an inclusive community and outdoor living classroom with the purchase of a white board, picnic table, rocking chairs, and some garden supplies. Students will benefit from the time spent learning outdoors.
    — Awarded to Deborah Toffler, Parent, and Cathy Herndon, Newman 3rd Grade Teacher
  • Staff of the sixth grade Social Studies department at High Rock Middle School and the Needham High School Latin classes will work with respected scholar and expert, Professor Kelly Dugan of Trinity College, to create a nuanced and grade-appropriate approach to addressing human enslavement in the ancient Mediterranean world.
    — Awarded to Stephen Guerriero, High Rock Social Studies Teacher (on behalf of the Social Studies Department)
  • A new group reading component of High Rock Middle School’s independent reading program will use 150 new, diverse books to give students the chance to read books collaboratively, engage in culturally relevant topics, and connect with peers and adults.
    — Awarded to Elizabeth Vaccaro, High Rock Library Teacher

Needham Young STARs

This past summer, the NEF funded the Needham Young STARs (Science Technology and Arts Researchers) program organized by Needham High School students Kate Paik and Derek Yang.

The free, open-to-all, four-day STEM workshop for 4th through 6th graders was designed to cultivate more interest in STEM in the Needham community. The program drew 30 participants and over 15 volunteers. Needham Park and Recreation hosted the event at Memorial Park.

Students worked on various team-based engineering challenges and explored chemical reactions through rockets and volcanoes. Throughout the week, groups of students worked on a final project that focused on The Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

At the end of the program, parents were invited to a mock science symposium to view the students’ projects. Town Select Board member Marcus Nelson also stopped by to see the projects and acknowledge the hard work everyone put into the program.

Grant writers, Kate Paik and Derek Yang explained the motivation to create this program: “Growing up we have both attended many similar STEM-focused summer camps which have inspired us to pursue careers in the sciences.” They wanted to “give back to our community and share our love for STEM with the next generation of engineers, mathematicians, and scientists.” It was important to them that the program be free to participants “to promote a more open and equitable introduction to STEM for young scientists.” The NEF was proud to support this enriching program for Needham Public School students with a special interest in STEM.

NEF to Collaborate with Needham Public Schools on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiative

At the Needham School Committee meeting last night, Superintendent Daniel E. Gutekanst recognized the Needham Education Foundation (NEF) for its newest Collaborative Initiative with the Needham Public Schools (NPS). The collaboration will produce a coordinated and thoughtful plan for the district to address issues on diversity, equity, and inclusion for all students and will align with the Portrait of A Needham Graduate. This exciting collaboration between NPS and NEF promises to build momentum in ongoing equity efforts across the district.

The Collaborative Initiative (CI) program was created in 2006 by the NEF and exists outside of NEF’s traditional grant programs. Through CI, NEF works closely with the NPS administration to fund larger, potentially multi-year initiatives that will have a major strategic impact on education and would not be possible within the confines of the current school operating budget. CI programs are expected to produce measurable results, may span multiple years, must impact a large number of students, and must be sustainable after NEF funding comes to a close.

There have been two previous CIs. The first, the Global Competence Program, launched in 2007 allows high school students to earn a Certificate of Global Competence by completing a series of requirements designed to foster a greater sense of global awareness, including a foreign travel experience, proficiency in a foreign language, 30 hours of community service working with people from another world culture, and an extracurricular component involving multicultural communities in the greater Boston area. More recently, the Interdisciplinary Learning Project was established in 2012 as a collaboration between NEF and NPS to launch an interdisciplinary academic model of teaching and learning at Needham High School. This 5-year project resulted in the creation of the interdisciplinary Greater Boston Project course for seniors, the Da Vinci Lab, and multiple interdisciplinary curriculum units throughout the Needham schools.

This newest CI will be a multi-year partnership with multiple phases. This vital first phase, announced at last night’s School Committee meeting, involves the hiring of a consultant tasked with assessing the district’s progress towards achieving equity goals since the Equity Audit report was published in 2018. The consultant will be asked to report on that progress with an eye towards policies, practices, and programs that will accelerate antiracist, anti-bias work. In addition, the consultant will provide the foundation upon which to consider potential next steps, including the expansion of the REAL Coalition, building staff capacity, and further integrating work with the Portrait of a Needham Graduate Five-year Strategic Plan. 

“This is an exciting opportunity to partner with the NEF to fulfill the district’s commitment to racial equity and equity for all members of the Needham Public Schools,” said Mary Lammi, Assistant Superintendent for Student Support Services and REAL Coalition Steering Committee member. “What is exciting about this collaboration with NEF is that it represents the model of shared leadership of staff, students, and community members that we are striving for in order for real and lasting change to happen,” continued Joanne Allen-Willoughby, METCO Director for K-12 and REAL Coalition Steering Committee member.

Echoing the sentiments of members of the NPS leadership team, NEF Co-President Seema Meloni shared, “our Board is thrilled to enter into this next collaboration with the district to support the critical work of driving our community towards more equitable practices for all.” Added NEF Co-President Maggie Shapiro, “the NEF is truly excited to support the next step in this process and help ensure the work leads to profound and impactful changes.”

NEF Funds Three Spring Grants Totaling $30,782

At the Needham School Committee meeting last night, the Needham Education Foundation (NEF) announced the recipients of three grants totaling $30,782 in the spring grant cycle. One of the grants represents the second year of a two-year grant in which educators from High Rock, Pollard, and Needham High School participate in a three-day professional development workshop on Project Based Learning (PBL). PBL is at the forefront of educational methods that harnesses the teaching, development, and practice of the Portrait of a Needham Graduate competencies. This summer, like last summer, 35 teachers will design, manage, and assess a project for use in their own classrooms. One staff member will also attend coaching training, allowing them to coach and support the 70 NPS teachers trained in PBL methods.

Awarded grants also include:

  • Cardio-fitness equipment, including two treadmills, two recumbent bikes, two elliptical machines, and two suspension trainers, will transform the existing Pollard weight room into a fully functional fitness center. The fitness center would allow the school to create new, engaging fitness units for 7th and 8th graders that address all five components of fitness: body composition, cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength, muscular endurance, and flexibility.

  • Sixteen new Finch 2.0 robots will allow Needham High School students to program and interact with a physical device giving them the ability to see their coding come to life. The robots can be programmed in Java (Mac/PC), Python (Mac/PC/Chromebook), and block-based languages (Mac/PC/Chromebook) and will be used by computer programming and robotics students.

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.