In the News

NEF Launches Interdisciplinary Learning at NHS with Largest Grant to Date

Innovative Pilot Program Connects Traditional Disciplines – A Key for 21st Century Learning and Problem-Solving

The Needham Education Foundation is awarding a start-up grant of $111,500 to fund a pilot program in interdisciplinary learning at Needham High School, including an innovative course planned for fall 2013. The grant was announced at this evening’s meeting of the Needham School Committee.

“This is a very exciting advance that will have a profound impact not only on our students, but also on Needham’s standing as one of the state’s premier school districts,” said Needham Public School Superintendent Daniel Gutekanst.

The grant is the largest in the 22-year history of the NEF.  It provides resources for the pilot year of a new interdisciplinary course, which has been developed by Needham High educators in collaboration with the NEF.  The course will help students learn to make crucial connections between academic disciplines and develop problem-solving skills that are essential for success in higher education and beyond.

“Students who take the course will gain valuable skills in the cross-disciplinary thinking that is expected in top colleges — and that is crucial for success in so many academic and professional endeavors,” said Needham High School Principal Jonathan Pizzi, who was joined by teachers and NEF leaders to describe the course to School Committee members on Wednesday.

Addressing the Need for Cross-Discipline Learning

Interdisciplinary studies are a departure from traditional teaching models that present academic subjects (English, math, science, etc) in isolated silos. Educators nationwide are embracing interdisciplinary learning. In Needham, teachers have been exploring cross discipline instruction informally for many years. But creating these complex courses requires staff time for program and curriculum development.  A 2009 accreditation report of Needham High School by The New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) identified the need for formalized opportunities for interdisciplinary learning.  The district set a goal to implement an interdisciplinary course at Needham High in its 2013-2016 school improvement plan.

The NEF grant enables Needham Public Schools (NPS) to take a vital first step in breaking down academic silos at the secondary school level. This program emerged from the NEF’s Collaborative Initiative, created in 2006, in which the NEF works closely with the NPS administration to fund large, multi-year initiatives that will have major, strategic impact on education — yet would not be possible within the current school operating budget.

“Community support of the NEF over the years is making it possible for us to seed innovation on a large scale in Needham schools,” said NEF co-president Brooke Baker. “Funding and helping to develop this course has been a real partnership with district educators to provide maximum impact in Needham public schools.”

The Greater Boston Project

In early 2012, five teams of teachers responded to NEF’s request for proposal to develop a high school course that combined local resources, community service, project-based learning, and an interdisciplinary focus.  “The Greater Boston Project” was chosen for full course development and received a $31,000 NEF grant for research and development, which proceeded over the summer with consulting help from Olin College professors.

The resulting course, called Integrated Senior Studies: The Greater Boston Project, will launch in fall 2013 and focus on specific periods in Boston’s history.  Students will investigate how individuals and groups perceived themselves and the world around them and how they worked to effect change. Students will read primary historical sources, analyze demographic trends, build mathematical models, and hone presentation skills. The course will culminate with community action projects created by the students.  The program, for up to 75 seniors, will meet for two consecutive class periods daily and will be taught collaboratively by three experienced teachers.  Students will earn 8 academic credits (four English, two math, and two social studies).   

The grant for the course’s pilot year was approved by the NEF last month. If the program is deemed successful, school officials will request operational funding in the district-funded budget for future years. The NEF will continue to work with the district to expand interdisciplinary learning in other courses and other grades.

“Already the creativity and energy around developing this course has spread throughout the district and has become a springboard for more interdisciplinary learning throughout the Needham school culture,” Gutekanst said.

See coverage of the initiative on the Needham Channel.

NEF Announces 2012 Spring Grant Recipients

The Needham Education Foundation (NEF) announced the recipients of its 2012 Spring small grants cycle at a recent meeting of the Needham School Committee. Thirteen grants totaling almost
$50,000 were awarded to Needham public schools — supporting academics, the arts, innovative classroom environments, disability awareness and social wellness. At the elementary school level, these include author visits, re-enactments of pivotal historical events, an artist-in-residence and expansion of disabilities awareness programs launched last fall.

Middle schoolers will benefit from a farm-based special education program and two unique events for Community Week, an initiative to promote tolerance of differences within our community. High school students will benefit from the creation of a Fine and Performing Arts presentation space and continue to experience The 5th Quarter, a safe, substance-free place for teens to socialize
with friends after evening sporting events.

The full list of grants include:

  1. Grace Lin: Multicultural Author and Illustrator – Broadmeadow
    Geisel Honor and Newbery Honor recipient Grace Lin visits K-5 students to enhance the reading and writing curricula. Known for her authentic voice as a first generation Chinese-American, this multicultural author makes the immigration unit come alive.
  2. Bringing History to Hillside: Revolutionary War Encampment – Hillside
    The Rehoboth Minute Company: 13th Continental Regiment sets up a Revolutionary War camp on the school field. Grades 3, 4 and 5 tour the encampment, joining costumed revolutionary re-enactors as they live and teach history.
  3. Building a Strong Foundation for Literacy – Hillside
    Author Leo Landry serves as author-in-residence for kindergarten students in this pilot program to provide an early foundation for literacy. The interactive relationship between a “real” author and the children enhances the literacy curriculum.
  4. One Meeting, Full of Friendship: Japanese Tea Ceremony – Hillside
    Kate Finnegan, a teacher at the Kaji Aso Studios and Tea Ceremony practitioner, demonstrates the tea ceremony for 2nd graders. This cross-cultural experience supports the social studies curriculum and encourages connections with the coming season and friendship values.
  5. Read to Succeed Ignite What You Write – Mitchell
    This initiative aims to shape positive reading and writing behaviors, bringing in authors that inspire students to develop a love of reading. Through interactive workshops, authors Suzy Becker, Suzanne Bloom and Mark Peter Hughes share their experiences as writers and give tips for approaching a blank page.
  6. Mosaic Mural Mania – Mitchell
    An artist-in-residence works with K-5 students to design and create a mosaic mural to become a public art piece for the school community. The mural will be mounted on moveable boards that can be transferred to a new location when Mitchell is renovated in the next five years.
  7. Stand Up For Learning – Newman
    Stand Up for Learning encourages an innovative classroom environment that allows students to work while standing. The grant funds 15 Stand Up Desks, ergonomic workstations where students have more freedom of movement and find it easier to stay focused on learning.
  8. Bill Harley Program and Concert – Newman and Broadmeadow
    Grammy-award winning storyteller/songwriter Bill Harley comes to Newman and Broadmeadow for student assemblies and evening family concerts. Mr. Harley tells stories about the experience of childhood and emphasizes the importance of community and traditional values.
  9. Disability Awareness: Travis Roy – Newman, Mitchell and Broadmeadow
    Motivational speaker Travis Roy kicks off the 2012-2013 Disability Awareness Programs at Newman, Mitchell and Broadmeadow. Mr. Roy’s message of setting positive goals and believing in oneself regardless of challenges, mirrors Disability Awareness themes. Mr. Roy’s speaking engagements at Hillside and Eliot Disability Awareness programs have been very successful.
  10. Needham Community Farm – Pollard Bridges Program – Pollard
    The Needham Community Farm (NCF) collaborates with the Pollard Middle School to create a farm-based special education program for 7th and 8th graders participating in the Bridges Program. The students visit the farm for hands-on, social and emotional learning opportunities. This grant funds curriculum development.
  11. Community Week: Inclusion and (dis)Ability Awareness Nights – High Rock and Pollard
    This grant funds the opening and closing events of the first ever Community Week, 5 nights of events to promote tolerance of differences within our community. The opening event is a screening a the Emmy-nominated film Including Samuel. Motivational speaker, Travis Roy, closes Community Week.
  12. The 5th Quarter – High School
    5th Quarter provides a safe, substance-free place for Needham High School teens to socialize with friends after evening sporting events. The funding helps provide food and beverages at these social events.
  13. Fine and Performing Arts Critique Theater – High School
    This grant provides self-healing tack boards to transform a hallway at the High School into a critique theater and presentation space. This art class resource helps students learn about methods of critique and problem solving using visual language. The public space also aids in educating the student body and faculty about the process of art making.

NEF Announces Recipients of Fall 2011 Small Grant Awards

The Needham Education Foundation (NEF) announced the recipients of its 2011 fall small grants cycle at a recent meeting of the Needham School Committee. Nineteen grants totaling almost $60,000 were awarded to all Needham public schools supporting physical and social wellness, academics, the arts, service learning, bullying prevention and the environment.

The NEF funds programs that promote innovation and excellence in students from pre-kindergarten through high school and fall outside normal funding. Since 1990, the NEF has supported more than 400 grants totaling more than $1.4 million.

  1. Super POWER (Overcoming Bullying) – All Elementary Schools
    Super POWER is a motivational performance program that helps children overcome bullying. More engaging than traditional role-playing programs, it impacts 1,000 third through fifth grade students across the district.
  2. Halau o Keikiali’i: Dancing With the Past – All Elementary Schools
    This creative arts performance introduces elementary school students to ancient and modern forms of Hawaiian dance and the culture from which it originates.
  3. Reading and Drumming for Africa – Eliot
    Artist in residence, Tom Foote, conducts a teacher workshop and classroom lessons on African rhythms. A unique service-learning opportunity, the grant engages students in fundraising for the Room to Read Africa program by participating in a Read-A-Thon, while learning about the African countries they support.
  4. Island Moving Company Dance Movement Residency – Eliot
    Students in grades K-2 learn dance from professional dance educators who incorporate physical education (PE) standards into lessons. The Eliot PE teacher is an active participant, learning how to apply materials and ideas from the program into the school’s ongoing dance education program.
  5. Eliot Mandala: A Community Art Project – Eliot
    Developed by artist Sarah Haskell, Mandala Community Weaving creates an artistic and symbolic expression of community. She shares her ideas and skill with Eliot students and faculty by directing the creation of community artwork for permanent display at the school.
  6. Great Blue Hill Weather Day – Hillside
    This grant funds a trip to the Blue Hill observatory for 1st and 5th grade classes including an observatory presentation, kite building and hiking. The students review weather concepts, observe forecasting equipment at work and experiment with designing, building and flying their own kites.
  7. Indian Classical Dance Residency – Broadmeadow
    A fine arts and cultural awareness program, the grant funds teaching each 2nd grade class a different Indian dance, which the students perform at an assembly for grades K-3. The dance residency is the second part of an anticipated four part series that began with China last year and continues over the next two years with Africa and South America.
  8. Raised Beds for Vegetable Garden – Mitchell
    The grant pays for 12 raised bed kits to simplify planting and increase garden output. It extends a 2008 NEF grant, funding the initial planting of the garden.
  9. I Was Here! – Mitchell
    Artist in residence Caleb Neelon teaches students about graffiti art and its evolution as an art form at art classes and workshops on simple graffiti style lettering. The project culminates in a work of art to be displayed as a collage.
  10. The Geography Game Show – Mitchell
    Neal Nicholas brings his Interactive Geography Learning Experience to all Mitchell students by engaging them in a geography game show. Mr. Nicholas tailors his the program to tie in with grade-level curriculum.
  11. Mitchell Poetry Slam – Mitchell
    This poetry residency funds four poets to lead workshops for students spanning 2nd grade through 5th. Open mike opportunities during lunch period encourage students to practice reading their own poetry. The program culminates in a poetry-reading classroom event to which students’ parents are invited.
  12. Math in Motion – Newman
    Third grade students learn math in a physical way through a program that integrates movement and the reinforcement of math facts. The program offers a variety of academic and physical benefits and is sustainable year after year.
  13. Robotics, Anyone? – Pollard
    Robotics, Anyone extends the successful High School Robotics program to middle school students.
  14. Game Day – Pollard
    This grant funds word games for middle school teachers to use in the classroom.
  15. The Dangers of Intoxication Learning Center- Pollard
    Middle school students experience the altering effects of alcohol use with special goggles funded by the NEF. The goggles are one component of a detailed lesson plan that uses hands-on methods to engage students in alcohol education.
  16. Refurbishing Computers for Education and Community Building – NHS
    A student-sponsored grant for the NHS Linux Club, the program funds materials that enable the club to refurbish old computers and donate them to families in Needham Public Housing.
  17. Independent Student Theater Project – NHS
    This grant funds seed money for an annual, student-run production. Students use proceeds from ticket sales to fund the next year’s production. The program is an expansion of a successful student production funded last year by the NEF.
  18. Steps to Success Program Development – NHS
    For the growing HS mentoring program, this grant funds a project developer to conduct research and provide recommendations for materials, activities, assessment, training and expansion. Other responsibilities include developing a best practices handbook and coordinating trainer sessions. The program enjoys significant community support and is sustained through an annual fundraiser.
  19. Social Skills Curriculum Enhancement – All Schools
    This grant helps fund the enhancement of existing social skills programming for students with autism and other social skills deficits. It includes district-wide, in-service training on video modeling research and techniques; as well as the purchase of DVDs and iPods for recording and viewing.

NEF Announces 2011 Spring Grant Recipients

The Needham Education (NEF) has awarded $26,550 in grant funding for eight enrichment programs that will be implemented across the Needham Public School district starting in fall 2011. Collectively, the grants benefit Needham public school students from kindergarten through high school and enrich learning, social/emotional growth and cultural awareness in a variety of innovative ways.

“Innovation is at the core of the NEF mission,” says NEF co-president, Pamela Rosin. “It’s what makes our programs so effective, because they support educators in their efforts to achieve district learning objectives in ways that make a lasting impact on students.”

Grants Support School District Values
Two of the grants awarded this spring address the district’s focus on science and technology. The first provides funding for an experiential outdoor science and discovery center that Newman Elementary School KASE and Early Childhood Center students will use while at their temporary space at Pollard Middle School. Approximately 225 students will benefit from the program, which includes a plan to transfer the materials to Newman after it’s renovated.

Another science-focused grant funds the building of greenhouses by Eliot Elementary School fifth graders, who will draw on their knowledge of simple machines. The greenhouses will be used by Eliot first graders to plant seedlings, reinforcing their education in plant growth and scientific observation. To support district-wide objectives in social responsibility, the students will donate the crops they harvest to the Needham Food Pantry and offer them for use in the Eliot cafeteria.

Other grants tie into the schools’ efforts to promote disability awareness including a grant funding performances at four elementary schools of a band of musicians with intellectual, developmental and physical disabilities. A second provides funding to help students with disabilities in the undergraduate STRIVE program and post-graduate Transition program use technology to aid their transition from high school to the broader community. Piloted during the 2010-2011 academic year with 5 students, the program will be extended to 15 students during the 2011-2012 school year.

In addition, art as a form of self-expression will all be explored at Mitchell Elementary School with funds to support art instructors from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Another grant funds a digital document camera at Hillside School, giving teachers the flexibility to simultaneously display work from different students in real time such as multiple approaches to a math program or varying writing techniques.

Making Community Connections
As Needham continues its 300th anniversary celebrations, a grant targeting all Needham third graders takes students through the history of Needham with a book written from the perspective of a 10-year-old. Funds for professional development and teacher guides are included, in addition to an author event at the Needham Public Library for all third grade students. Following the huge success of a fall 2010 pilot to help youth behave safely and more responsibly, the “Fifth Quarter” grant will fund social opportunities that enable Needham High School students to have fun in a safe, positive environment. A community-wide partnership driven by concerned adults, the program will provide free food, music and games at post-athletic-event gatherings.

Hundreds of Grants Awarded Since 1990
During the 2010-2011 academic year, the NEF has awarded 28 grants totaling $115,253. The NEF funds programs that fall outside expected public funding and promote innovation and excellence for Needham public school students from pre-kindergarten through high school. Since 1990, the NEF has funded more than 385 grants worth more than $1.34 million.

Wellesley Bank Donates $2,000

Wellesley Bank and NEF

In honor of its 100th birthday, Wellesley Bank gave the Needham Education Foundation (NEF) a gift of $2,000 to support its mission of encouraging innovation in public schools. Pictured from left to right: John W. Wescott, Vice President of Information Technology, Wellesley Bank, Steve Mock, NEF Co-President; Pamela Rosin, NEF Co-President; Alice C. Lee, Assistant Vice President & Branch Manager, Wellesley Bank.

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