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 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.
Congratulations to all of the 2019 – 2020 NEF Grant recipients! We appreciate your time and effort in making learning come alive for Needham Public School students! This year, NEF awarded 26 grants, totaling $106,700, benefiting students at every Needham school.
We wish that we could have held our annual Grants Reception to celebrate with all of this year’s grant recipients, however this year, our celebration will need to be virtual. The NEF truly appreciates the time and effort grant recipients have put into applying for their grants. Needham Public School students benefit so much from their thoughtfulness and creativity.
Superintendent Daniel Gutekanst would like to thank the grant recipients for their dedication to innovation and creativity in education. The NEF Co-Presidents Seema Meloni and Joanna Herrera would also like to share their appreciation. Please click the links below to view their video messages.
2019 – 2020 NEF Grant Recipients
“Language-based Student Stability Chairs” (Pollard)
Co-Grant Writers: Kate Bergeron, Nicole Burnor
“Your Voice Matters. What’s Your Story?” (Needham High)
Co-Grant Writer: Christine McAllister
“Arts Education Professional Development Opportunity” (All Elementary)
“Cornell’s Diversity and Inclusion Certificate Program” (High Rock)
“Charles Coe, Poet in Residence” (Pollard)
“History At Play – “A Revolution of Her Own!” (Pollard)
Co-Grant Writers: Maggie Charron, Jessica Downey, Jeannine Schroder
“Mindfulness at High Rock” (High Rock)
“Cooking For Kids” (Sunita Williams)
“Professional Development at NSTA National Conference” (All Elementary)
Co-Grant Writers: Luke Darling, Elizabeth Kuzmeski, Matthew Sylvestre
“Accessible Trike for 3rd Grade Rodeo” (All Elementary)
Co-Grant Writers: Jennifer Murray, Jennifer Potter
“Vox Books- Books that Talk! Express Grant Multi-school” (Broadmeadow, Eliot, Newman)
Co-Grant Writer: Alejandra Acevedo
“Broadmeadow Lego Mobile Makerspace Grant” (Broadmeadow)
“PBLWorks Project Based Learning Workshop” (High Rock, Pollard, Needham High)
Co-Grant Writer: Jane Shilalie
“Playful Learning: Enhancing Computational Thinking & Spatial Reasoning for All Learners through Mathematical Games” (Mitchell)
Co-Grant Writer: Lynn Gotwals
“Sensory Pathways for Mitchell” (Mitchell)
“Author Jen Deaderick @TheNHSLibrary” (Needham High)
Co-Grant Writer: Rosemary Rose
“Sensory Pathways for Eliot” (Eliot)
Co-Grant Writers: Lisa Garsh, Angela Mullin, Lissa Williams
“Pedometers for Movement, Math, and More!” (Broadmeadow)
Co-Grant Writer: Dayna DiCicco
“Google Virtual Reality Expeditions Kit” (All Elementary)
Co-Grant Writers: Tammy Ghizzoni, Judith Wojtczak
“Math Recess: An experience in play and learning” (District-wide)
“Pollard Middle School African Drum Program” (Pollard)
Co-Grant Writer: Patricia Mullen
“Grow Racks for NHS” (Needham High)
“Imagination Playground Medium Blocks Set” (Sunita Williams)
Co-Grant Writers: Mary Beth Arigo, Laurie Blakely, Stephanie Hamel
“Brain Builder Breaks: Achieving Emotional Regulation through Constructive and Creative Projects” (Broadmeadow)
“Improv and the 4 C’s: Communication, Collaboration, Creativity and Critical Thinking” (Pollard)
At the Needham School Committee meeting on Tuesday, the Needham Education Foundation (NEF) announced the recipients of four grants totaling $22,301 in the spring grant cycle. A multi-school grant will fund a 30-unit Virtual Reality Expeditions kit to be shared across all five elementary schools which will allow teachers to take their classes on virtual field trips.
Awarded grants also include:
- 32 African drums will be used for strings students at Pollard to work on rhythm, timing, listening skills, and group dynamics. They will also be utilized in 7th and 8th grade classes for a unit on drumming technique and the history of West African drumming.
- A set of medium blocks at Sunita Williams will be used for indoor recess, STEAM projects, buddy activities, and more by K-5 students.
- With the help from student groups and teachers, a four-tiered indoor Terraponic grow rack will allow everyone at the High School to watch the process of plants growing from seed to plate. The grow rack will reside in the cafeteria where the produce will be served to students.
The Needham Education Foundation (NEF) announced the recipients of its 2012 Spring small grants cycle at a recent meeting of the Needham School Committee. Thirteen grants totaling almost $50,000 were awarded to Needham public schools — supporting academics, the arts, innovative classroom environments, disability awareness and social wellness. At the elementary school level, these include author visits, re-enactments of pivotal historical events, an artist-in-residence and expansion of disabilities awareness programs launched last fall.
Middle schoolers will benefit from a farm-based special education program and two unique events for Community Week, an initiative to promote tolerance of differences within our community. High school students will benefit from the creation of a Fine and Performing Arts presentation space and continue to experience The 5th Quarter, a safe, substance-free place for teens to socialize
with friends after evening sporting events.
The full list of grants include:
- Grace Lin: Multicultural Author and Illustrator – Broadmeadow
Geisel Honor and Newbery Honor recipient Grace Lin visits K-5 students to enhance the reading and writing curricula. Known for her authentic voice as a first generation Chinese-American, this multicultural author makes the immigration unit come alive.
- Bringing History to Hillside: Revolutionary War Encampment – Hillside
The Rehoboth Minute Company: 13th Continental Regiment sets up a Revolutionary War camp on the school field. Grades 3, 4 and 5 tour the encampment, joining costumed revolutionary re-enactors as they live and teach history.
- Building a Strong Foundation for Literacy – Hillside
Author Leo Landry serves as author-in-residence for kindergarten students in this pilot program to provide an early foundation for literacy. The interactive relationship between a “real” author and the children enhances the literacy curriculum.
- One Meeting, Full of Friendship: Japanese Tea Ceremony – Hillside
Kate Finnegan, a teacher at the Kaji Aso Studios and Tea Ceremony practitioner, demonstrates the tea ceremony for 2nd graders. This cross-cultural experience supports the social studies curriculum and encourages connections with the coming season and friendship values.
- Read to Succeed Ignite What You Write – Mitchell
This initiative aims to shape positive reading and writing behaviors, bringing in authors that inspire students to develop a love of reading. Through interactive workshops, authors Suzy Becker, Suzanne Bloom and Mark Peter Hughes share their experiences as writers and give tips for approaching a blank page.
- Mosaic Mural Mania – Mitchell
An artist-in-residence works with K-5 students to design and create a mosaic mural to become a public art piece for the school community. The mural will be mounted on moveable boards that can be transferred to a new location when Mitchell is renovated in the next five years.
- Stand Up For Learning – Newman
Stand Up for Learning encourages an innovative classroom environment that allows students to work while standing. The grant funds 15 Stand Up Desks, ergonomic workstations where students have more freedom of movement and find it easier to stay focused on learning.
- Bill Harley Program and Concert – Newman and Broadmeadow
Grammy-award winning storyteller/songwriter Bill Harley comes to Newman and Broadmeadow for student assemblies and evening family concerts. Mr. Harley tells stories about the experience of childhood and emphasizes the importance of community and traditional values.
- Disability Awareness: Travis Roy – Newman, Mitchell and Broadmeadow
Motivational speaker Travis Roy kicks off the 2012-2013 Disability Awareness Programs at Newman, Mitchell and Broadmeadow. Mr. Roy’s message of setting positive goals and believing in oneself regardless of challenges, mirrors Disability Awareness themes. Mr. Roy’s speaking engagements at Hillside and Eliot Disability Awareness programs have been very successful.
- Needham Community Farm – Pollard Bridges Program – Pollard
The Needham Community Farm (NCF) collaborates with the Pollard Middle School to create a farm-based special education program for 7th and 8th graders participating in the Bridges Program. The students visit the farm for hands-on, social and emotional learning opportunities. This grant funds curriculum development.
- Community Week: Inclusion and (dis)Ability Awareness Nights – High Rock and Pollard
This grant funds the opening and closing events of the first ever Community Week, 5 nights of events to promote tolerance of differences within our community. The opening event is a screening a the Emmy-nominated film Including Samuel. Motivational speaker, Travis Roy, closes Community Week.
- The 5th Quarter – High School
5th Quarter provides a safe, substance-free place for Needham High School teens to socialize with friends after evening sporting events. The funding helps provide food and beverages at these social events.
- Fine and Performing Arts Critique Theater – High School
This grant provides self-healing tack boards to transform a hallway at the High School into a critique theater and presentation space. This art class resource helps students learn about methods of critique and problem solving using visual language. The public space also aids in educating the student body and faculty about the process of art making.
This Fall 2018 grant funded a collaborative, school-wide art installation that visibly and functionally represents the mission to promote equity within Needham High School. The creation and installation of this structure will allow students and staff to explore important topics and have challenging conversations about race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, language, socioeconomic strata, immigration status, etc.
The NEF is very proud to have funded this grant at Needham High School to help students and staff continue their work on equity and inclusion.
This February, all eighth grade students at Pollard Middle School experienced the immersive living history performance of “A Revolution of Her Own! The Life of Deborah Sampson.” Judith Kalaora, founder of History at Play, wrote, directed, and performed the piece. This particular performance was selected in collaboration with the League of Women Voters in Needham to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of the 19th amendment, which officially granted women the right to vote.
The intimate setting allowed students to be involved not only in watching, but also in interacting with the performer as Deborah Sampson. After the performance, students engaged in discussions about the messaging of gender roles in Revolutionary times and connected to the complexity of identity and gender in the current day. Many students found the performance powerful in its representation of a strong female character and appreciated being exposed to a different medium of history (i.e., a living history/oral history mode).
Teachers noted that the performance highlighted and breathed life into the voice of women from the Revolutionary War period, a voice that has been challenging to include. They also noted that students paid close attention and were engaged in the entire performance and subsequent discussions.
Jen Deaderick, author and Equal Rights Amendment activist, came and spoke to high school students in February during the ‘NHS One Day’ workshops – focusing on the theme of community. Jen discussed the history of the women’s rights movement and its impact, as well as the community of women forged in the process. In addition, she read excerpts from her book, She the People, and answered questions from the students. Her appearance was made possible through a grant from the NEF.
Students at High Rock have benefited from the expansion of Spanish-language and Latino-experience literature at the High Rock library. With funds from a Spring 2019 NEF grant, Spanish language learners can read authentic language materials targeted to their language level. In addition, the grant has provided grade level literature for native Spanish speakers.
Assistant Principal Maggie Charron commented, “Our goal for the Spanish program is to foster biliteracy,” and the literature collection afforded by this grant contributes to this goal. She continues to say, “Being biliterate can increase multicultural understanding, ….. and can increase a student’s ability to communicate with others.”
Given the Town of Needham Public Health and Superintendent’s announcements that all public events be cancelled, the NEF Spelling Bee this Sunday March 15th will not take place. While we are disappointed that we can’t all come together as a community for this fun and friendly competition, we are grateful for the tremendous amount of support from our sponsors and participants. The generosity of our community allows us to continue funding innovative programs in our Needham Public Schools.