Grants In Action

NEF Awards $35,664 in Fall Grants

The Needham Education Foundation (NEF) announced the recipients of 16 grants totaling $35,664 in the fall small grants cycle at the Needham School Committee meeting last night.  Awarded grants include: playaways and digital magazines for the high school library, a giant floor map for Pollard, ukuleles for the Eliot School, an author panel at the high school, and a visit from two Lost Boys of Sudan at Newman.  Other grants awarded:

  • Lighting equipment for the performing arts departments at Needham High School, Pollard and High Rock, so that students will learn to operate lights and sound for all NPS performances.
  • A collaboration between Pollard and the Needham Community Farm to fund a new STRETCH class and club where students will learn about food justice and gardening.
  • Dialectical behavior stress management skill training for teachers at Pollard so that students will learn lasting skills for stress management. A parent information session will also be offered.
  • Breakout EDU Kits for the elementary schools and High Rock, which offer a fun, creative way to develop team-building skills, critical thinking skills and can span all subjects and topics.  Students work collaboratively to solve a series of problems to open locked boxes.
  • A visit to each elementary school from Eine Kleine Konsort, a professional recorder quartet comprised of veteran music educators.

Author Jerry Pallotta Visits Hillside

Hillside kindergarten and first grade students could not contain their giggles in response to Jerry Pallotta’s audiovisual antics on a recent Thursday morning. Pallotta is a former Needham native and the author of the Who Would Win? series along with multiple alphabet and math themed books. He was invited to Hillside to make three presentations explaining the steps that go into writing non-fiction books and showing how much fun writing and reading non-fiction can be.

Pallotta’s day-long visit was funded by a grant from the NEF’s Spring 2017 Small Grants Cycle. Hillside parent Seema Meloni authored the grant with the support of school-based partners Liz Hitron, Hillside librarian, and Sena Hsu, 4th grade teacher. Their application pointed to recent research and changing Common Core standards that require elementary teachers to increase the amount of reading time that is focused on non-fiction texts to 50%. “It’s often challenging to find ways to excite students to focus on non-fiction texts,” Meloni wrote. This visit was envisioned to be a creative and innovative way to spark children’s interests and encourage them to spend more of their independent reading time on non-fiction materials.

“I loved that he showed students his writing drafts and work-in-progress to show that writing truly is a process,” Sena Hsu pointed out, “He also shared some titles and ideas of books that never got published. It’s so important for kids to realize that even adults try and don’t always succeed and that’s ok. That’s how we learn and grow. What great Growth Mindset moments!”

Jacob Peters, 4th grader, summed up the visit: “Jerry Palotta is a very bright and kind person. He is an awesome author, too.”

Race to Nowhere: Film and Panel Discussion

Nearly 200 parents, teachers, administrators and community members filled the Pollard auditorium on October 19th to watch a screening of Race to Nowhere. The film, which was funded by a NEF grant, examines the culture of over-scheduling, over-testing and over-pressuring children. It “reveals an education system in which cheating has become commonplace; students have become disengaged; stress-related illness, depression and burnout are rampant; and young people arrive at college and the workplace unprepared and uninspired.”

The film was introduced by Tamatha Bibbo, Principal at Pollard Middle School, who said that the new STRETCH Block is one way Pollard is trying to take some pressure off of kids during the school day. STRETCH classes meet for 6 weeks, twice a week, for 30 minutes each, and offer students the opportunity to “stretch their skills and competencies through enriching activities, and explore interests without the pressure of homework or assessments.” 

After the film concluded, a panel of four educators took questions. Parents were curious what the Needham Public Schools are doing to address the issues presented in the film—especially considering it was released in 2010. Michael Goodin, Founder of the Rivers and Revolutions Program at Concord-Carlisle High School, reminded the audience that “seven years is just a blip in the education system. It’s going to take years and years to change things.” Lisa Fiore, Professor of Developmental and Educational Psychology at Lesley University, recommended that parents attend school committee meetings to let their concerns be known. 

All agreed that professional development is one key to exploring the topics that were addressed in the film. Aaron Sicotte, Principal of Needham High School, said that the longer school day is enabling teachers at the high school to meet once a week.

The amount of homework was also a topic of conversation. Sicotte commented that homework is something “we’re continuing to talk about.” Parents and teachers need to consider, however, “If a child is taking six hours on homework, have we chosen the right class for him or her?” 

Jimmy Odierna, Interdisciplinary Learning Specialist and Co-Founder of the Greater Boston Project at Needham High School, commented that the district is starting to focus more on growth mindset. Teachers of the Greater Boston Project have changed the rubric to include assessments on how much a student has grown and how a student has rebounded after dealing with a setback.

The pressure to achieve and attend the top colleges was a recurring theme throughout the movie. Odierna said “We, as a community, still push the top schools … Do kids need to go to an Ivy League school to be successful? Of course not.” He also stressed that NPS are focusing more on social-emotional learning and project-based learning. Sicotte added, “It’s a hard balance because we have a state and nation that has high expectations, and the town of Needham pays a lot of attention to MCAS and SAT scores.” “How do we make sure we have healthy kids?” he asked. “As parents, it’s important to know your kids and find a path that makes sense for them, and that path won’t necessarily be the one your neighbors are following.”

High Rock Creation Lab

Last spring, the NEF approved a small grant written by Erin Mack, High Rock’s Technology Integration Specialist, to transform the technology lab into a Creation Lab.  We had a chance to sit in on a class in the Creation Lab in March, where everything that Ms. Mack envisioned in her grant application has come to life in her classroom.

Where there were once rows of computers facing a whiteboard, there are now lively work spaces defined with colorful rugs, furniture and dividers. During our visit, some students were recording in front of a green screen with plans of dropping in backgrounds suitable to their project.  At one grouping of computers, two students were creating a poster together, while another group lay on the floor filming a stop motion film using their iPads, an iPad stand, and a whiteboard. Erin never sat down while we were there – she moved from group to group and answered questions, gave instructions and ideas, and challenged students to think of new ways to accomplish their tasks. In her grant application, Erin wrote, “Imagine a room where teachers can be the facilitator and students have the autonomy to create, collaborate, and learn at different paces, showcasing their learning in various ways. The possibilities for differentiation and creativity are extensive.”   Kudos to Erin on a well-conceived grant and accomplishing her vision with the High Rock Creation Lab.  

Reaction from staff and students has been very positive, too!

“(I liked) the options available for students to have a choice in their final project for my course. There were designated spaces for kids to work in small groups or individually. All materials were available to help them be successful.” – HR Teacher

“I liked that you could be super creative with the stop motion.”- HR Student

Innovation Night at Needham High Celebrates NEF Partnership

On Wednesday, May 10, Needham High School (NHS) hosted Interdisciplinary Innovation Night, showcasing the work of over 700 high school students enrolled in 32 interdisciplinary classes and units of study. The evening also celebrated the conclusion of a successful 5-year partnership and collaboration between NHS and Needham Education Foundation (NEF), in which NEF invested more than $550,000 to launch interdisciplinary units of study at the high school.

Established in 2012, the partnership between NHS and NEF began with the creation of the Greater Boston Project (GBP), a class that integrates social studies, English and mathematics, and in which students use technology to build 21st century learning skills. The partnership grew to fund the Da Vinci Workshop, a lab space for hands-on learning and technological creativity; a two-year dedicated part-time Interdisciplinary Learning (IL) Specialist position at NHS; and four years of a “mini-grant” fund, which seeded many of the interdisciplinary units of study on display at Innovation Night.

While the high school’s formal collaboration with NEF is ending, the partnership established a model for interdisciplinary teaching and learning that will continue to grow both at Needham High School and throughout the district. The NEF will continue to support innovative interdisciplinary programs through its annual small and large grant programs.

“The funding by the NEF has allowed us to grow these programs at a much faster rate than the school would have made on its own,” said Jimmy Odierna, IL Specialist at NHS and one of three founding teachers of the GBP. “It is amazing to see the vast quantity, quality, and diverse types of work happening in the school. There is a lot of pride from both the faculty and students around the success we see tonight. These students are gaining skills and experiences that will better prepare them for the world ahead.”

Odierna organized the Interdisciplinary Innovation Night, which showcased the growing body of student work integrating history, engineering, art, and robotics, among other disciplines. These projects included:

  • Memory and Memorials Project – 10th grade history students utilize the Da Vinci Workshop and art studio to design and build memorials to key moments in history.
  • Kinetic Sculpture – Students in robotics and sculpture classes collaborate to build kinetic sculpture pieces.
  • Integrated Environmental Science – Through field study, students research local ecosystems and build functioning wind turbines out of
    everyday materials.

“The success of our collaboration cannot be reduced to numbers, but the numbers do give you an idea of how this big idea has grown ever larger,” said Jennifer Quinn, co-President of NEF in her opening remarks. “One two-block interdisciplinary class, 11 interdisciplinary units of study, 36 teachers now teaching interdisciplinary classes or units, over 100 teachers participating in professional development, more than 1,000 students impacted. And we are very excited that those numbers will continue to grow.”

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