Grants in Action

Overcoming Barriers in Jazz: Musician Residency with Tia Fuller

This grant, along with funding from Needham High School Friends of Music, funded a two-week musician residency in which Tia Fuller— Grammy-nominated Black female jazz saxophonist, composer, Berklee professor, and featured musician in Pixar’s Soul—shared her musical expertise and experiences with overcoming the glass ceiling often faced by Black and female-identifying musicians with Needham student musicians from High Rock, Pollard, and Needham High Schools. This residency coincided with the inception of a newly-established lab jazz program at Pollard that provides beginner jazz instruction to High Rock and Pollard students. Needham jazz students had the opportunity to prepare and rehearse Fuller’s original Grammy-nominated charts alongside her, which culminated in a combined performance in January encompassing all jazz programs in the district.

Grant writer Spencer Parrish, Needham High School Band Director and Music teacher, noted “Our time with Tia Fuller proved to be transformative for all involved. It is rare for professional musicians of Fuller’s caliber to be effective music clinicians in public school settings. Given this, Steve Heldt [Pollard Band Director] and I were pleasantly surprised to witness the efficacy of Fuller’s interactions with our students. Her feedback was differentiated for each respective age group, and the depth of her knowledge and experience as a professional jazz musician led to immediate (and lasting) improvements in the performance quality of our ensembles. Students walked away from the experience feeling pride for the tremendous musical accomplishment of performing and rehearsing alongside a Grammy-nominated musician. This residency seems to have provided them with inspiration to continue performing and learning about this special musical genre. These outcomes were everything I had hoped for when submitting the initial grant proposal.”

World Language Books

Last year, Elizabeth Hitron, librarian at Sunita Williams Elementary School, working with Kelly Haas, Sunita Williams’ ELL teacher, and Jenn Potter, Broadmeadow’s librarian, received a grant to fund the purchase of books written in languages other than English for all of the elementary school libraries. The program was developed in a partnership between the libraries and the elementary ELL teachers who are seeing a sharp increase in their caseload of students, many of whom have little to no English when arriving in Needham, and who have noticed a lack of appropriate reading material. The books, written in students’ home languages, support their academic growth and independent reading, as well as offer an opportunity to see themselves reflected in the books around them. These collections are housed in the five elementary libraries for ELL teachers to access for their students, as well as for general circulation.

Books were chosen in three ways: 1) translated copies of popular titles so that students new to the U.S. can access materials their peers are reading, 2) books originally written in world languages and reflecting other cultures, and 3) books in a variety of reading levels to accommodate different ages and reading skills. 

According to Ms. Hitron, “The new world language books have been a very welcomed addition to all five elementary school libraries. As an elementary team, we have had many successes with these new books – students and staff alike have been delighted with them. It has been a lot of fun presenting books to students in their home languages. A second grade student at Newman was thrilled to find a book in Chinese. His classmates were so impressed he could read it! Another student at Newman who recently moved from Israel (and had little to no English) was so happy to borrow many books in Hebrew, her first language. A Mitchell student was very excited to find books in Russian because his dad speaks Russian at home. He checks them out and has his dad read them to him before bed.”

Molly Mullin, Eliot Elementary School librarian, added, “The new world language books arrived in the Eliot Library perfectly timed with the arrival of a new family to the school. The family had recently fled Ukraine and the children could read in Russian. Our new Russian language books were the first books that these students checked out of the library. It was wonderful to welcome them, provide them something they could read, and to show them that we embrace and respect other languages. While we have electronic resources to provide ebooks in other languages, having a diverse collection of print books is also very important to our school culture.”

Technical Theater Workshops

This fall, Kristen Mazzocchi, Needham High School Theater teacher, coordinated workshops to provide the necessary training for Pollard and Needham High School students to participate as technical crew and designers in the school district’s theater productions.

Given the lack of live performances during the pandemic, Kristen realized that veteran crew members were unable to pass down their knowledge to incoming students. This left students without the necessary skills and training to take leadership roles in managing the technical aspects of theater production. To make up for this learning loss, Kristen applied for an NEF grant to run workshops in stage management, as well as sound, lighting, costume, and set design, with local industry professionals. In addition to learning the basics, students were introduced to new technologies that are being used in the theater industry so that they can elevate the production level of Needham’s school performances in the future. The after-school workshops were open to all Pollard and Needham High students and no prior experience was required.

According to Kristen, “The students were able to put much of their new skills right to work since many of these workshops were held … at the same time as the set building for the Students Acting To Make A Difference production [of The Addams Family]. Students went right from the workshops to actually building the set, focusing the lights, and using a new digital sound board that they had just been trained on. It was amazing to see what the students just learned being put into practice!”


Needham Steps Up Mentorship Training

Last year, the NEF funded professional training with Mass Mentoring Partnership (MMP) for Needham Steps Up (NSU) mentors at Needham High School. NSU pairs up to 20 income-eligible students with a Needham High School teacher to mentor them throughout their years in the high school. The training included:

  • providing mentors with a more cohesive and clear understanding of mentorship, particularly within a high school setting
  • helping mentors increase their responsiveness to students’ needs
  • helping mentors understand boundaries
  • helping mentors establish clear guidelines about the types of issues they can tackle on their own and when it is important to seek outside help

The grant also funded professional training of NSU staff members in a “train-the-trainer” model so that future mentors will receive the same instruction. Since all mentors are NHS teachers, this grant will not only benefit the students in the program, but also the students in the mentors’ classrooms.

According to grant writer and NSU board member, Martha Cohen Barrett, “the training … provided a foundation and a sense of the mentors as essential to their mentees’ high school success. NSU will build on that sense of skill and intentionality going forward, linking what they do to the mission of both NHS and NPS. This year’s mentor training served as a springboard that we will build on. For example, we … did one exercise at the end of training that had mentors move toward different sides of the room depending upon what they would do in a particular situation. Not only did the exercise provide examples of how mentors see mentoring through different lenses, but it shed light on the different ways in which the mentors are living their experiences with their mentees. However, there wasn’t time for the mentors to debrief and problem-solve together. In the future, we will do more of these kinds of activities, aiming to create training that runs like a thoughtfully conceived lesson plan.”

Educator Workshop at Heart Mountain in Wyoming

This summer, Needham High School Social Studies teacher, Laura Magno, attended the National Endowment for the Humanities’ (NEH): Heart Mountain Educator Workshop in Wyoming. More than 14,000 Japanese Americans were confined at Heart Mountain during World War II. The week-long workshop included visits to the nationally recognized interpretive center at Heart Mountain, as well as the Smithsonian-affiliate museum, the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, and the Homesteader Museum. The experience will enhance teachers’ understanding and provide resources and lessons for the Needham High Social Studies Department.


Student Ambassador Program

Needham High School Assistant Principal, Mary Kay Alessi, received funding in the Winter 2021 grant cycle to create and implement a  student Ambassador program designed to support students who are transitioning into Needham High School. Upperclass students were trained as Student Ambassadors to facilitate community building while providing support for some of the social emotional needs of students transitioning into NHS, including both 9th graders and new-to-Needham upperclass students. The program builds on the traditional elements of the 8th-9th grade transition while extending the outreach to new students, incorporating more robust activities in the transition process and deepening the connections between current and incoming students.

During the multiple orientation days in August, Student Ambassadors provided building tours. On the first day of school, they fanned out into 9th grade and new-to-Needham homerooms and provided additional tours and held informative question and answer sessions for students. This opening day of school also was the start of the ‘No one eats alone’ initiative where Ambassadors invited students to join them in the cafeteria during each of the lunch blocks if they didn’t have friends to sit with. The Ambassadors provided this lunch support for about 2 weeks as students began to find a rhythm and become more comfortable with NHS expectations.

The Ambassadors were quick to offer support and work one-on-one with students who joined NHS after the school year started, as they were learning their way around such a big building. Student Ambassadors stayed assigned to homerooms for the first 4 X-blocks, where it allowed the Ambassadors to share relevant information with students to help with the transition to high school or to NHS specifically. The work was broken into 4 modules: SEL, Getting Help and Getting Involved, Getting Organized I, and Getting Organized II. This was also helpful for teachers as it removed a responsibility for them and gave them a nice place to start building their student relationships.

Additionally, the team created a ‘booth’ for NHS Oracle which is an opportunity for all club and activity groups to show who they are and recruit new members. The Ambassador advisors and leaders have created a website that includes their initiatives and resources to support students joining NHS. Parents were also directed to the website adding another potential support for students transitioning to NHS. Finally, Ambassadors created posters that were distributed throughout the building to advertise their mission and let students know where to find information.

NEF is proud to have funded the Student Ambassador program because it provides opportunities for students to make connections and improve the school culture. In addition, it provided the Student Ambassadors opportunities to practice leadership and organization skills, planning and creativity, and collaboration.

Navigation Games for Interdisciplinary Learning

A winter 2021 grant was awarded to Physical Education and Wellness Teacher Rob Tatro to bring orienteering to the K-5 curriculum at Sunita Williams Elementary School. Orienteering has many benefits in physical education: developing locomotor skills, physical fitness, responsible behavior, social interactions, and an understanding of the value of life-long outdoor recreation. 

This large grant funded the purchase of equipment and training materials, the development of lesson plans, and the support of an on-site trainer from Navigation Games, a non-profit organization based in Cambridge who develops, shares and delivers navigation education for children.

In orienteering, students use a map and a compass to find a series of checkpoints. There is no marked path, so they must choose their own routes from one checkpoint to the next. These navigation skills offer students a stimulating outdoor learning experience while empowering learners to discover and integrate content from multiple disciplines, engage in self-directed learning, and use technology to support learning to navigate in a digital world. 

According to Mr. Tatro, “Students absolutely loved orienteering and learned so much.” The PE staff at Sunita Williams had a great time too. While they were having fun, they were thinking about ways to integrate many of the activities that they did into their existing physical education curriculum. 

Going forward, Rob will find opportunities to collaborate with teachers in other subjects (math, social studies, STEAM, etc) to develop lesson plans around things like map-making, scale, distance estimation, time/distance relationships, spatial reasoning, problem solving, and teamwork.

This program is a pilot for a long-lasting curriculum that can be shared with the other elementary schools with a minimal investment in equipment and training. NEF is proud and excited to have supported this innovation in education for Needham Public School students.

“Playful Learning” in Mitchell’s Math Centers

Mitchell Elementary School Math Coach, Anjali Petersen, received funding for her grant entitled “Playful Learning: Enhancing Computational Thinking & Spatial Reasoning for All Learners through Mathematical Games.” The winter 2020 grant funded the purchase of visually-based math puzzles and games that can be used independently and within small groups across a wide range of learners in Grades 1-5.

Game-based visual learning “activates the brain’s spatial-temporal reasoning skills and leads to a deeper understanding of concepts for all students,” explained Petersen. Importantly, this includes English Language Learners and other high-needs learners.

The games covered a variety of content including patterns, geometry, place value, and logical problem-solving. They also provided students with opportunities to work on the math practice standards.

Teacher Lynn Gotwals reported that “The math games gave the students an opportunity to use their skills in a different way. The blocks tested their ability to use spatial reasoning to solve a puzzle and were a favorite game.”

Both students and teachers enjoyed including these games into their math routines.

The roll out of the games was delayed due to Covid, but once in-person learning resumed full-time, the second grade teachers, in particular, quickly embraced the games. Each class had one or two games in their classroom for at least two weeks each.

“They had a lot of success in using the materials during their math workshops,” said Petersen.

“The math games were a great addition to math centers this year. It took 1-5 minutes to explain each game and then the students were able to play on their own. The games were all very different and kept students engaged.”
—Math Teacher, Gabriella Gonzelez

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.

Where You Can Compose Your Own Story

By Kathleen Grady and Christine Mittaz

In a year pitted against band, Needham High School’s Band program has been able to create something special nonetheless. In the summer, Margaret McLallen (Ms. McLallen to us), entertained the possibility of having a special band piece that was composed just for Needham High’s band ensembles. Through the Needham Education Foundation (NEF) Small Grant, Parent Teacher Council (PTC) Enrichment Grant, and Needham Friends of Music, Ms. McLallen was able to get three pieces commissioned and completed by March. This, of course, would not be possible without the incredible composer, musician, teacher, and overall person, Spencer Parrish.

We met Mr. Parrish last January when he began student teaching at Needham High School. He worked with the bands through our concert in March, and during this time we got to see his passion for music first hand. He even continued virtually student teaching at Needham Elementary School, Broadmeadow, through the start of the pandemic and finishing the school year. But his start with Needham certainly wasn’t his start with music.

His parents noticed his ear for music when he was only five years old living in Rome, New York. He got their attention by walking over to a piano and perfectly playing the song just sung by the chorus at his Baptist church. By eight years old, he was playing the B3 organ for the church. Then at nine, he was promoted to the official music director and Hammond Organist. He began playing the piano at a young age but then picked up the trumpet as well in fourth grade, which he fondly recalls, “commenced [his] life-long love for the concert band idiom” (Parrish). At age 14, Spencer wrote, composed, and produced an entire 13 song R&B album by the name of Relate (available on Spotify, just search Spencer Parrish). Then by his senior year of high school (where he was notably salutatorian), Mr. Parrish set his life goals to be a musician and teacher.

To further pursue his music education, Mr. Parrish attended Berklee as a class of 2020 graduate. Here, he learned from top musicians and worked toward the opportunity to student-teach. He impressively graduated mid-pandemic and is now working as a music teacher in Newton Public Schools. 

As a student teacher in Needham, Mr. Parrish observed throughout the fall of 2019 and began taking a more active role in teaching as the new year arrived. He led classes and provided his own insight and feedback as he grew closer with the band, and we became acquainted with his style. Connor Daly, a jazz and symphonic trumpet player summarized this by saying, “He was a great teacher. He had a different approach- but still worked well with Ms. McLallen to teach,” (Parrish).

While we and the rest of the band program were sad to bid Mr. Parrish farewell, our excitement for his future ultimately put us at ease. Little did we know, Mr. Parrish’s career would lead him right back to Needham just months later through the inspiration and planning of Ms. McLallen. When looking back on his experience, Mr. Parrish shared: “My student-teaching experience at Needham High is a moment in time I will cherish forever. I am very grateful for the opportunity to work with the band program again this year, wearing a different hat this time,” (Parrish).

Ms. McLallen first reached out to Mr. Parrish in the summer of 2020 about her idea. She proposed the possibility of commissioning three pieces all composed by Mr. Parrish. With support from largely the Needham Education Foundation, this dream was able to become a reality. The NEF raises funds to provide grants and scholarships for the Needham Public Schools. These grants and scholarships hope to enhance the curriculum, inspiring the next generation of innovative learners. A huge thanks also goes out to the PTC and Needham Friends of Music, who also made the project possible. With the funding in place, Ms. McLallen and Mr. Parrish were now able to focus solely on the musical and educational aspects of the composition.

At first, the task seemed daunting, and Mr. Parrish recalls, “I was initially skeptical of my capacity to deliver three original works for such a large instrumentation in this timeframe. Through the power of careful planning, I did manage to deliver the third piece by the middle of March,” (Parrish). Simultaneously, we students followed Mr. Parrish’s process, and began learning and composing pieces (although much less complex) of our own. Through the guidance of Ms. McLallen and the advice from Mr. Parrish, we saw that the composition process was in fact quite familiar and similar to one we had been doing for years, writing essays.

Mr. Parrish explained the process as coming up with a thesis, or melody. Then developing central arguments that act as supplemental melodies to “connect musically with that main theme,” (Parrish). From there, musicians construct an outline with the general form of the piece. Following the framework, transitions are used to fill in the space between melodies, paralleling the part of an essay in which “it is time to commit words, sentences, and paragraphs to the page” (Parrish). Keep in mind, this process had to be repeated for roughly 25 parts for each of the three pieces, and original ideas do not always make the final piece. In fact, Mr. Parrish, “encountered several false starts and creative roadblocks” (Parrish). When we students started our comparatively easy and basic compositions (yet still quite daunting), it was inspiring to see the same process being done on a much bigger scale. 

At the beginning of this school year, the logistics of mid-pandemic band class were certainly unknown. We began the year outside, enduring 40℉ classes, fly-away music, and the constant interruption by gym classes. In essence, the music world of NHS had little to be excited for. However, the introduction of the commissioned pieces provided a unique opportunity that motivated and inspired us to continue working hard despite these challenges. Our personal involvement in the process of the compositions changed the energy of the Needham High School Band. In such a bleak year, it was rewarding to see that the pieces were influenced by conversations we had had with Mr. Parrish. After all, music tells a story; Ms. McLallen and Mr. Parrish worked incredibly hard to create pieces that tell ours. The composition alone is truly fascinating (and challenging to play), and the story is not over yet. The last chapter of this process is a virtual recording that will be completed by the end of the 20-21 school year. With more updates to come, music to be made, and learning to be done, we look forward to sharing our hard work with the community.