Grants In Action

Film Screening of “Beyond Measure”

On October 20, over 200 parents and community members gathered for a screening and panel discussion of Beyond Measure, an award-winning documentary, which outlines problems with our current education system and paints a picture of what’s possible in our schools. The film follows five public schools across the country “breaking away from an outmoded test-drive education [and] shaping a new vision for our classrooms.” 
While many other education-themed films focus on shortcomings, including disparities in student achievement, low graduation rates and poor attendance, Beyond Measure looks at the innovations at work in school districts across the nation. Rather than asking why students are failing when tested and compared with peers, the film asks us to reconsider the greater purpose of education: What if our education system valued personal growth over test scores? What if it focused on project-based learning versus memorization or encouraged passion over rankings? What if we decided that the higher aim of school was not the transmission of facts, but the transformation of students?
The panelists for the evening included Dr. Elizabeth Coleman, former President of Bennington College, who led the university through an educational reformation; Dr. Beth Hennessey, Professor of Psychology at Wellesley College, who focuses her research on creativity and intrinsic motivation; and Dr. Jay Moody, Entrepreneur and Innovation Coach at Wayland High School.
The panelists concurred with the film’s theories and ideas, and they shared their thoughts on what our society needs to consider in order to improve the status of our educational infrastructure. Dr. Coleman stressed the importance of great teachers in education, noting that any approach to educational reform is only as good as the teachers who teach it. Dr. Hennessey added that it’s important that educators engage students in their own education, so that it will be individually relevant. Dr. Moody noted that while it is possible to have courses like the ones shown in Beyond Measure in our public schools, it would be very difficult to change completely to project-based coursework. The rest of the evening continued with lively discussion, with topics ranging from homework in elementary school to gap years for high school graduates.
With this grant, the five elementary school PTC’s have organized screenings of three additional films for the remainder of this school year. This will include a re-screening of Most Likely to Succeed and a screening and panel discussion of Race to Nowhere.

You’ve Got Mail! Helps Prevent Summer Slide at Broadmeadow

Last spring NEF awarded a small grant entitled “You’ve Got Mail!” to Broadmeadow reading specialists Martha Heller-Winokur and Julia Reichheld, which enabled them to offer a targeted summer reading program to 47 rising 4th and 5th grade readers reading at or below grade level. The program, which had been piloted previously with rising 4th graders, aims to help struggling or “fragile” readers maintain progress they have made throughout the school year and grow in their understanding of and love for books. 
During the summer, each student received 6 self-selected books in the mail, completed a reader response postcard for each book, and met in peer groups with the reading specialists to share their thinking about their reading. About the expanded program, Heller-Winokur writes, 
“The students shared how much they enjoyed getting together with their friends to talk about what they had been reading rather than just reading a book and moving onto the next one. In addition, the postcards that we received revealed a high level of investment, thoughtfulness, and engagement!”
At the conclusion of the program, parents surveyed the program, students completed a self-assessment and teachers performed benchmark reading assessments to determine the impact of the program. One parent summarized her daughter’s experience,
“It provided the right mix of excitement and incentive – she loved receiving the books in the mail and meeting her friends in the library over the summer!”
The NEF funding allowed the reading specialists to expand their library of “just right” books and serve both rising 4th and 5th graders for the first time. Going forward Heller-Winokur and Reichheld hope to replicate the program in all 5 elementary schools.

NEF Awards $40,718 in Fall Grants

The Needham Education Foundation (NEF) announced the recipients of 12 grants totaling $40,718 in the fall small grants cycle at the Needham School Committee meeting last night. Three of the awards are for multi-school grants that will provide funding for a musician residency for middle and high school string students, reader’s theatre props chests for High Rock and Pollard, and professional development for K-12 math teachers and school administrators with Dr. Adrian Mims. Dr. Mims is the national director of the Calculus Project, and his focus will be on narrowing the
achievement gap for students of color.

Awarded grants also include:

  • A series of workshops with young adult author, Tara Sullivan. These workshops at NHS will encourage students to be global citizens.
  • E-Reader Tools for English Language Literacy to provide powerful comprehension tools for English language learners at Pollard.
  • Mindfulness equipment at NHS to formalize the mindfulness meditation practice that is part of the health curriculum.
  • A Project VOICE performance, using spoken word poetry, for 8th graders at Pollard.
  • Virtual Reality equipment that will provide high school students with the opportunity to experience and create their own virtual reality environments and videos in the classroom. As a viewer, students can manipulate an object or experience an environment, like visiting Machu Picchu.
  • Pollard Challenge Course, an adventure education-based challenge course to create dynamic opportunities for developing resilience in students.
  • Differentiating Math at Broadmeadow, which will provide kits for fourth-grade teachers to use to differentiate learning during small group and independent instruction.
  • Two Express Grants benefiting Broadmeadow and Newman which replicate a successful grant at Eliot for Kore wobble stools.

NEF Awards $44,351 in Spring Grants

 The Needham Education Foundation announced the recipients of 10 grants totaling $44,351 in the spring small grants cycle at the Needham School Committee meeting last night.  These include four (4) multi-school grants benefiting all five elementary schools, the largest of which provides math backpacks for all Needham kindergarten classrooms to build early math literacy around Common Core standards and facilitate math-related activities at home.

Awarded grants also include:

  • An interdisciplinary workshop for African American and Guitar classes at Needham High School (NHS) about the history of Blues with visiting Master Blues artist Toby Walker.
  • The transformation of the current technology lab at High Rock into a Creation Lab that will allow for stop motion and animation creation, green screen videos, audio recording and book creation.
  • A three-film series and panel discussions focused on the future of education and designed to promote family and community dialogue around educational innovation.
  • Number sense challenge kits for all elementary schools which enable individualized math enrichment at all grade levels.
  • Twenty-five (25) Lightbox interactive multimedia learning modules for K-5 students in all elementary schools, including modules on Four Seasons, Continents, Earth’s Water, Forces of Nature and Rock Science.
  • A summer book mailer program, which builds on a successful pilot, intended to prevent “summer slide” among struggling 3rd and 4th grade readers at Broadmeadow.
  • “A Study of Courage” ELA/Social Studies unit for Mitchell 5th graders, in which students study inspirational people who have demonstrated resiliency and which includes a visit from two lost boys of the Sudan as well as service-learning projects.
  • A school-wide book reading program for Newman teachers, administrators, parents and students focused on developing strategies and classroom activities for cultivating grit, supporting resiliency and learning from failure.
  • An “express” grant, which replicates successful grants at Mitchell, Hillside and Eliot, to build more culturally diverse classroom libraries at Newman Elementary and Needham Preschool.

Piven World Comes to Mitchell Elementary

Through a small grant funded in the Fall 2015 cycle, Mitchell Elementary School students experienced the unique artistic talent of Israeli illustrator Hanoch Piven during self-portrait workshops with the artist. Piven’s illustrations, known for their playfulness, use everyday “found” objects to create unique works of art. 

This collage technique encourages creativity and communication through play. Mitchell art teacher John Walek summarized the visit: “Having a world-renowned artist like Hanoch Piven teaching at Mitchell is not only a wonderful experience for the children, but also enhances our elementary art curriculum beyond measure.” To read more about Piven’s visit, check out this article in the Needham Times.

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