News from the NEF

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.

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.”