News from the NEF

NEF Funds Nine Fall Grants Totaling $29,479

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

Awarded grants include:

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

Needham Steps Up Mentorship Training

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

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

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

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

Educator Workshop at Heart Mountain in Wyoming

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


NEF Funds Three Spring Grants Totaling $18,434

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

Awarded grants include:

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

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

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

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