In the News

Kindergarten Math Backpacks

A student and her sibling using materials found within the math backpacks


In Spring 2016, NEF funded a $12,000 multi-school grant for math backpacks in every kindergarten classroom across all five elementary schools. With three backpacks per classroom, students take home math-related activities they can do with their families. 

Elaine McKenna, grant writer and Hillside/Eliot math coach explains the program, “The kindergarten math backpacks are a great home school connection where the students are completing math activities, playing math games, and are introduced to math literature. The math concepts are aligned with Massachusetts State Frameworks but are introduced and practiced in a fun and engaging way.”

Backpacks contain a journal for students to record their experience with the backpack, which includes books, interactive games and manipulatives. Teachersreport that their students are enthusiastic about the program, “The kids really enjoy using the math backpacks. They come to school excited to tell me that they played the games with their families.” And in the words of several students, 

  • “I love all the games!” 
  • “I learned how to count by tens.”
  • “The books are my favorite!”

NEF Continues to Support Interdisciplinary Learning at NHS with Help from Staples Foundation

NEF Continues to Support Interdisciplinary Learning at NHS
with Help from Staples Foundation
March 29, 2017

In its fifth and final year of funding from NEF, the Interdisciplinary Learning Initiative (ILI) is a
collaboration between NEF and Needham High School (NHS) intended to launch an
interdisciplinary model of teaching and learning at NHS. The cornerstone of this collaboration
was the development and implementation of the Greater Boston Project (GBP), a two-block
interdisciplinary class that combines instruction in English, History, and Statistics. The
collaboration has also seeded many smaller units of interdisciplinary learning (IL) programming,
such as Kinetic Sculpture and Art in the Dark.
An important piece of the collaboration has been funding a part-time IL Specialist position at
NHS dedicated to overseeing and supporting current IL projects, seeding new IL opportunities,
and promoting IL at NHS, throughout the district, and in the community. On February 28, the
School Committee voted to accept $36,000 in funding from NEF to support the IL Specialist
position for a second year.
The NEF gift is made up in part by a grant of $500 awarded to the NEF by Staples Foundation,
the private charitable arm of Staples, Inc., through a program called 2 Million & Change. With a
recommendation from Staples associate Jodi Fletcher, NEF was awarded funding in support of
its Interdisciplinary Learning Initiative (ILI).
“We were very pleased to be recognized by Ms. Fletcher,” said Jennifer Quinn, NEF
Co-president, “and we are grateful for the support of all the Needham area businesses and
families, including Staples Foundation, that helped to make this very large, multi-year
collaboration with NHS possible. Funding the innovative IL Specialist position will ensure that the
impact of the ILI remains broad and lasting.”

A Study of Courage for Mitchell 5th Grade Students

Two Mitchell 5th graders proudly show their work to William Muorwel, a former Lost Boy of Sudan.


Eighty students in Mitchell School’s fifth grade classrooms are undertaking a year-long “study in courage” thanks to a $3,500 grant from the NEF.  The goal of the grant, written by Mitchell Assistant Vice Principal Barbara Hayden and the 5th grade teachers, is to introduce 5th graders to inspirational people who have demonstrated courage and resiliency in overcoming obstacles–with a special focus on individuals from diverse cultures and races.  “Thanks to the NEF Grant, our students are learning to face the inevitable difficulties of life. Our hope is that our students will work hard — giving up less often because they will realize what is making them want to give up and address it.” said Hayden.
This fall, students participated in a read aloud of the book Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate and then completed a partner project based on the book.  This piece of historical fiction tells the story of a young Sudanese civil war survivor adapting to life in Minnesota. In October, fifth graders were visited by two inspirational speakers, William Muorel and Moses Ajou, both Lost Boys of the Sudan and survivors of the Sudanese civil war. The men shared their struggles, strategies for coping, and their ways of finding joy in life after losing their homes and families.  Said Colleen Soldato, a fifth grade teacher, “The grant has provided a cross-curricular opportunity for students to explore topics such as immigration and what it means to be an American.  This learning was brought to life by the visit from the former Lost Boys, William and Moses.”
In the spring, students will read about other courageous people who have faced adversity and overcome obstacles as they conduct partner research and prepare a presentation for their classmates.  The NEF grant funded a library of biographies and autobiographies for this project. Finally, fifth graders will participate in service-learning projects to support the South Sudanese Enrichment Center for Families in Medford and a school for children in South Sudan later this year.
So far, the grant has seemed to make a lasting impression, particularly the visit from the two former Lost Boys of Sudan.  As one fifth grader said, “You sent across a message to never give up and be optimistic and follow what you want to do, and work hard for what you want to do!  I will never forget that and never forget this presentation.”


Blues Guitar Player Visits Needham High

Toby Walker, Master Blues Artist, teaching NHS students how to play blues style music


NEF was proud to award the “Blues in the Schools”  grant to Needham High School to fund a visit from Toby Walker (pictured), a Master Blues Artist and member of the NY Blues Hall of Fame.  He provided an engaging presentation to the African American Studies classes that follows the history of blues from slavery, emancipation, and beyond.  He also shared his personal narrative of how he came to acquire his knowledge journeying through the south.  He also worked with guitar classes to teach them how to play blues style music, including rhythms and picking techniques.

See the article that appeared in the Hometown Weekly.

Large Grant Awarded

Virtual Reality Coming to High Rock

On January 17, 2017, the School Committee voted to accept $9,999 in funding for Google
Virtual Reality Expeditions Kits at High Rock School. The large grant follows a successful
pilot last year and will fund the purchase of virtual reality equipment, including 30 student
devices, 30 Mattel View-Masters, a teacher device and other supporting equipment. High
Rock will use them for a wide variety of purposes, including virtual reality tours of historic
sites, virtual trips to foreign countries for language immersion, and virtual tours of the
galaxy in science classes.

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