Community Education

Needham Young STARs

This past summer, the NEF funded the Needham Young STARs (Science Technology and Arts Researchers) program organized by Needham High School students Kate Paik and Derek Yang.

The free, open-to-all, four-day STEM workshop for 4th through 6th graders was designed to cultivate more interest in STEM in the Needham community. The program drew 30 participants and over 15 volunteers. Needham Park and Recreation hosted the event at Memorial Park.

Students worked on various team-based engineering challenges and explored chemical reactions through rockets and volcanoes. Throughout the week, groups of students worked on a final project that focused on The Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

At the end of the program, parents were invited to a mock science symposium to view the students’ projects. Town Select Board member Marcus Nelson also stopped by to see the projects and acknowledge the hard work everyone put into the program.

Grant writers, Kate Paik and Derek Yang explained the motivation to create this program: “Growing up we have both attended many similar STEM-focused summer camps which have inspired us to pursue careers in the sciences.” They wanted to “give back to our community and share our love for STEM with the next generation of engineers, mathematicians, and scientists.” It was important to them that the program be free to participants “to promote a more open and equitable introduction to STEM for young scientists.” The NEF was proud to support this enriching program for Needham Public School students with a special interest in STEM.

Far From The Tree – Film Screening and Panel Discussion

Funded by a small grant from the NEF last spring, the Far From a Tree screening was held on November 6th at Mitchell Elementary School. There was a great turn out for the event and attendees found the panel discussion thoughtful and informative.

The panelists included Tracy McKay, Liza d’Hemecourt, Laurie Davis and Sarah Burton.

Dr. Jill Walsh Presents to Parents at Pollard on Topic of Social Media

On Tuesday, September 11, Dr. Jill Walsh, BU Sociologist and expert on adolescent social media use, gave a talk to over 200 Needham parents, entitled “The Good, the Bad and the Confusing: Today’s Teen Technology Landscape. The talk, sponsored by both the NEF and the High Rock-Pollard PTC, was the first of a two-part series that Dr. Walsh is presenting to Needham parents. The Needham Times wrote an article summarizing some of Dr. Walsh’s takeaways regarding social media’s effects on academics and a few strategies for parents. Do you want even more great tips? Dr. Walsh will share more strategies parents can use at the next lecture Practical Strategies to Help Your Teen Thrive in the Digital World on October 29 from 7-8:15pm at Pollard.

Dr. Walsh has also been working with Pollard teachers and students as part of a grant written by Needham parents Carolyn Guttilla and Martha Cohen Barrett and funded by the NEF, entitled “Improving Digital Communication: Helping Pollard Students Better Understand How Social Media Communication Can Be Misinterpreted.” In the parent lecture, Dr. Walsh shared a lot of important information about teen technology use and discussed how parents can be more aware of and involved in what their teens are doing online. The talk was very well received; many parents shared that Dr. Walsh gave them a new way of looking at the technology landscape and a “reframe” for talking to their children about it. Dr. Walsh’s second parent lecture will be held on October 29 and will address technology and mental health. For more information about Dr. Walsh, check out her website at Dr. Jill Walsh, a Boston University professor, is working with the Pollard Middle School to help students better navigate the world of social media.

Here is a copy of the slides used during Dr. Walsh’s presentation.

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.”

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.

Film Screening of “Most Likely to Succeed”

“Most Likely to Succeed” has been heralded as the “best film ever done on the topic of school.” This film talks about a project-based approach to teaching and learning.

For most of the last century, entry-level jobs were plentiful, and college was an affordable path to a fulfilling career. That world no longer exists. The feature-length documentary Most Likely to Succeed examines the history of education, revealing the growing shortcomings of our school model in todayʼs innovative world. The film has been named “among the best edu-documentaries ever produced” by Education Week, and called a “smart and engaging look at education in the 21st century” by The Hollywood Reporter. Most Likely To Succeed, a film by award-winning documentarian Greg Whiteley, was an official selection of the 2015 Sundance and Tribeca Film Festivals.

In collaboration with all seven Needham PTCs, the NEF offered a free screening and panel discussion of the award-winning documentary on Thursday, March 24th at Newman Elementary School.

The panel included:

  • Daniel E. Gutekanst, Superintendent of Needham Public Schools
  • Robert Martello, Professor of the History of Science and Technology, Olin College, Needham, MA
  • Mark Somerville, Special Advisor to the Provost, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Physics, Olin College, Needham, MA
  • Daniel Warren, Sample & Recruitment Manager at the Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development, Tufts University; Former Grade 5 Teacher at Newman Elementary School in Needham, MA

Excerpt from The Needham Times:

“Faced with a college admissions-obsessed, achievement-driven student body, Needham educators and parents began a discussion last week about whether they should – or even can – reinvent education in Needham.

Some 500 concerned parents gathered with educators for a screening of “Most Likely to Succeed,” followed by a panel discussion. According to the provocative, recent documentary, a college degree no longer guarantees a good entry-level job, because those jobs do not exist anymore. But most parents want their children to go to college – the best possible college – anyway. Subsequently, the high school curriculum is focused on AP classes and standardized test preparation to get kids into these colleges. This is a big, vexing problem, which calls on educators, administrators and parents to re-imagine U.S. education practices so that they might better prepare students for life in the 21st century.” Continue reading coverage of the event in The Needham Times.

Learn more about the film at

NEF Sponsors Another Series of Needham Talks Lectures

Needham Talks is proud to present another exciting free series of talks focused on the promotion of supportive and healthy parenting practices.  New York Times bestselling authors and internationally acclaimed speakers will be visiting our community to share their knowledge of…

  • How to effectively manage hectic lifestyles and enhance family relationships.
  • Strategies for raising authentic and emotionally intelligent girls.
  • The impact of fathers/male role models on children’s development.
  • Understanding adolescence and how to build a new relationship with your tween/teen.
  • How to discuss hard or sensitive topics with your child.

All lectures will be held at the Newman Elementary School Auditorium from 7:00 – 8:30pm.

Speakers and Dates:

  • October 29, 2015: Edward (Ned) Hallowell, M.D. – Crazybusy: Overbooked, Overworked and About to Snap! How Parents Can Cope in a World Gone ADD
  • December 2, 2015: Rachel Simmons, M.A. – Be You: An Interactive Workshop for Girls and Adults (Girls 8-14 Years of Age)
  • February 4, 2016: Michael Thompson, Ph.D. – The Importance of Fathers/Male Role Models in Children’s Lives (Male-Only Event)
  • April 6, 2016: Joani Geltman, M.S.W. – The Tween/Teen Years: Understanding Adolescence and How to Build A New Relationship With Your Child
  • June 2, 2016: Jeanine Fitzgerald, M.A. – The Truth About the Hard or Sensitive Topics

This free speaker series is funded by a Spring 2015 NEF grant.

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

Needham Education Proud Sponsor of 2014-2015 Needham Talks Series

Please plan to attend this exciting free series of talks focused on children’s resilience and social-emotional wellness. Nationally acclaimed speakers will be visiting our community to share their knowledge of social and brain behavior, the emotional lives of girls and boys, how to nurture children’s confidence and resilience, and the hidden consequences of the internet. ALL lectures will be held at the Newman Elementary School Auditorium from 7:00 – 8:30pm. Speaker books will be available for purchase at each event.

Speakers & Dates:

October 9, 2014: Joseph Shrand, M.D. – Theory of Mind and Interpersonal Relationships for Children

December 4, 2014:  Rachel Simmons, M.A. – Odd Girl Out: Coping with Best Friends, Worst Enemies and Everything in Between

March 4, 2015:  Michael Thompson, Ph.D. – Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Lives of Boys

April 9, 2015:  Robert Brooks, Ph.D. – Strategies for Nurturing Confidence and Resilience in Our Children

June 4, 2015:  Jon Mattleman, M.S. – The Emotional and Hidden Consequences of the Internet

See coverage of Dr. Shrand’s lecture by The Needham Times.

See coverage of Ms. Simmons lecture by The Needham Times.

Summer Learning Loss Presentation a Hit with Parents

“Summer learning loss” was explored before a standing-room-only crowd at a free NEF-sponsored panel on May 13th. Local experts provided data about summertime loss and offered practical suggestions for keeping skills sharp in math (bring playing cards to the beach or track baseball statistics) and literacy (let kids stay up late to read). They also reminded parents to balance academic achievement with relaxation, exploration, and fun.

Speakers included:

  • David Farbman, Senior Researcher at the National Center for Time and Learning
  • Joan Kelley, Research Associate and Educational Consultant, Harvard University
  • Judith Wojtczak, Math Curriculum/Instructional Leader, Needham Public Schools
  • Katy Colthart, Clinician, Needham Youth Services