Grants In Action

NEF Continues Funding Interdisciplinary Learning at Needham High

The Needham Education Foundation (NEF) has awarded $106,742 to fund the third year of an innovative class for seniors at Needham High School (NHS). The class has been lauded by the Massachusetts Secretary of Education as “the future of what a senior year should look like…..preparing kids for college and the real world.” 

Funding of the class continues a 4-year collaborative initiative between the NEF and NHS to foster interdisciplinary learning.

With the NEF’s funding, up to 60 of next year’s high school seniors will be able to enroll in the class, called The Greater Boston Project (GBP). This course incorporates English, social studies, and math as students study specific turning points in the city’s history. Students are required to think across academic disciplines and use primary source research – perhaps creating a mathematical model of 18th century census data to better inform the literature and history they are reading. Students work in groups and independently. In the second semester, they create a community action project to address a current issue.

Last year’s students recently described the value of the GBP, speaking as college freshmen:

  • “GBP has been by far the most helpful class I’ve taken thus far to prepare for college,” one wrote back to his teachers.
  • “I strongly believe that GBP has helped me with my group skills and my public speaking skills thus far in college…. [After] completing the GBP class, I was more outspoken about my opinions (good thing) and/or knew how to communicate better with people on all sorts of levels.”
  • “I had a group presentation last week and we got a 100 because I made all the slides just like GBP taught me …. I also made my group practice, and we were the only ones in the class who got an A on presentation skills. I guess I have your class to thank for that.”

Asked recently by The Boston Globe for examples of innovation in public schools, Secretary of Education Matt Malone singled out the Greater Boston Project:  “[The students] work to solve a real-world social justice problem in Greater Boston. That’s the future of what a senior year should look like. That’s preparing kids for college and the real world.” 

Interdisciplinary studies depart from traditional teaching models that present academic subjects (English, math, science, etc) in isolated silos and emphasizes problem-solving, collaboration, creativity, and innovation. Thinking across disciplines is now frequently required for college-level academic work and in many professions. A 2009 accreditation report by The New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) noted the need for opportunities for interdisciplinary learning at NHS. The district subsequently set a goal to implement an interdisciplinary course at NHS.

The recent award of $132,742, announced at the meeting of the Needham School Committee on November 18, is the 3rd large installment of NEF funding for the Interdisciplinary Learning Initiative (ILI). It includes $106,742 for the 3rd year of the GBP course plus $26,000 to continue seeding additional interdisciplinary initiatives. Since 2012, NEF has granted a total of $390,617 for the ILI, including a competitive process to choose the project, development of the pilot course, and running and staffing the course for three years. In addition to the GBP course, the initiative has spread know-how and inspired interdisciplinary teaching throughout the district. Teachers currently are piloting units at NHS called Art in the Dark (combining world history and art) and Kinetic Robotics (combining art and robotics to create moving sculpture), and last year’s sixth graders at High Rock School participated in an interdisciplinary program for visual arts and social studies. The Da Vinci Lab, an evolving space for hands-on collaboration and creativity at NHS, also was funded earlier this year.

NEF makes such large-scale projects possible through its Collaborative Initiative, in which it works closely with the Needham Public Schools administration to fund multi-year initiatives that will have major, strategic impact on education, yet may not be possible within the district operating budget.

NEF Awards $66,813 in Fall Grants to Schools

The Needham Education Foundation has awarded 16 grants totaling $66,813 in the Fall small grants cycle. These include three multi-school grants – two for programs that will reach all elementary schools and one for the middle and high schools.

Needham students will learn from musical groups, historical reenactments, interactive anti-bullying assemblies, and even opera singers! These grants were announced at the Needham School Committee meeting on November 18.

Fall grants include funding for:

  • Cultural proficiency training for athletic coaches and student athletes at Needham High School (NHS), Pollard Middle School and High Rock School;
  • A musical presentation designed to bring energy, excitement and context to students beginning to learn Spanish;
  • Interactive assemblies that offer students the opportunity to explore their own solutions to real-life situations dealing with bullying, prejudice, and peer pressure;
  • Two “express” grants that repeat programs that have been successful at other schools: one that introduces drumming circles into classroom activities at Broadmeadow School, and another that increases cultural proficiency at Eliot School;
  • A school newspaper at Pollard;
  • Hokki stools, which will allow Eliot students to move while participating in class lessons; and
  • The purchase of a pug mill to give NHS a fully- functioning, high-production ceramic studio.

NEF Supports Let’s Build Engineering Extravaganza

Can you stand on Dixie cups without crushing them? How would you build a bridge with only paper and tape to support the weight of pennies or even a boot? Can you protect an egg dropped from many stories high? On November 8, more than 300 parents and children attended the second annual Let’s Build Engineering Extravaganza to try to solve these and many other design challenges.

The Extravaganza also highlighted local engineers and scientists. Representatives from Olin College, MIT, the Needham High School Robotics Team and the Needham Science Center were among those who showcased technologies including a 3D printer, homemade internet based on Morse code, and a robotic hand!

With help from two NEF grants, Let’s Build Engineering Fun for Kids organized the Extravaganza and kicked off in-classroom workshops for students at Hillside, Broadmeadow and Newman.

For more information or to volunteer to help with in-class workshops, go to

Outdoor Learning Center at NHS Now Open

Needham High School is bringing education into nature with a new outdoor classroom, featuring benches, newly planted trees and shrubs, and a walkway designed to create a garden setting. The project was funded by a grant from the Needham Education Foundation and the Needham High School PTC. It was designed by Michael Savrin, 16, a Life Scout and Needham High junior, and built by Savrin and fellow members of Boy Scout Troop 13. A dedication ceremony took place in October.

Luca “Lazylegz” Kicks Off Rousing Start to ‘Understanding Our Different Abilities’

2014 10 29_Luca Lazy Legs-1

Luca “Lazylegz” Patuelli entertained and educated students at all of Needham’s public elementary schools this week as part of a rousing and inspiring kick-off to the Understanding our Different Abilities program.

Luca was born with Arthrogryposis, a rare disorder that causes limited joint movement and poor muscle growth and later diagnosed with scoliosis. Despite many surgeries to address these issues, Luca has never let his disability prevent him from doing the activities he loves including swimming, diving, skiing, and horseback riding.  After a leg surgery prevented him from continuing skateboarding, he was introduced to breakdancing. Using his upper body strength to create a unique style of dancing, “Lazylegz” was born. Since then, Luca has become a world-renowned break-dancer. In 2007, Luca created ILL-Abilities™, an international dance crew of differently-abled dancers. Their goal is to show the world that as long as you are positive, creative, and willing to adapt to any situation, anything is possible. Together, they perform all over the world, spreading the message No Excuses, No Limits.” Luca has appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres Show, America’s Got Talent, and So You Think You Can Dance Canada as the world’s first and only dancer with a disability to make it into Finals Week.

According to grant writer, Suzanne Lissy, “Luca embodies the message we bring to our kids through the Understanding our Different Abilities program; that we are all unique and different and that is what makes us the same.”

Check out coverage of Luca’s visit in the Needham Times and on Luca’s YouTube channel.

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