Grey Matters

Grey Matters, November 20, 2017; Volume 6, Number 12

posted Nov 19, 2017, 9:27 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,


I will freely admit that when it comes to coping with an illness, my wife Melisa is much more capable than I am at soldiering on with life, the needs of our kids, and the fact that groceries won’t buy themselves (though perhaps Amazon is working on that as their next service).  She can have a persistent headache and she’ll still find a way to do what needs to be done - for her teaching job, for herself, and the rest of our family.  Melisa’s ability to power through sickness reminds me of the scene in the comedy Monty Python and the Holy Grail when the Black Knight, upon having his arm chopped off by King Arthur, looks down dismissively and says, “just a flesh wound.”  Yours truly, on the other hand, devolves into a useless mess when the sick bug invades my body.   I was felled this weekend by what I am hoping is just a 48-hour case of something, and my recovery was once again aided by a patient partner who picked up the slack.  While I lucked out with what is hopefully just a brief illness, there have been several RJ Grey teachers who have had to battle more persistent and fiercer bouts of sickness, including a number of cases of pneumonia.  Many of you have kids whose teachers have been absent for a week or more these past two months, and the students have been patient and adjusted to a slight change in plans, which is much appreciated.  We’re also fortunate that we have a few substitute teachers who have worked at RJ Grey for many years, including some retirees, and their ongoing availability has allowed us to maintain some consistency and continuity in a number of these cases.  Over these past several weeks, many students have also been victims of a sick bug and I am hoping that some time apart later this week will help with clearing out some of the germs that have been traveling back and forth within our community.   If your child does become ill, please keep in mind the District’s guidelines about returning to school:  students should stay home if they have a temperature of 100 Fahrenheit or above, and should not return to school until their temperature has been normal for at least 24 hours (without assistance of Tylenol/Advil).  For stomachaches, vomiting, and diarrhea, students should stay home until symptoms have resolved for at least 12 hours.


Here’s some reminders for this shortened week:


  • Another reminder that the Fall Trimester closes on Tuesday, November 28th (right after Thanksgiving).  Report cards will likely be sent to families around December 8 -more on that when we get closer to that date.  

  • Ski and Board Club will start Tuesday, January 2nd, 2018. It will run for 6 weeks on Tuesdays (1/2, 1/9, 1/16, 1/23, 1/30, 2/6). If your child would like to sign up for the club,​ have them ask for a Ski/Board Club packet at the main office for necessary documents and instructions, or use the documents listed here. You can also download the contents of the packet from our school website, which you can get to by clicking here.  Please direct any questions to the club advisor, Lynne Kondracki (lkondracki@abschools.org).

  • 7 Green’s annual Coat Drive continues, so if you have any coats (for adults or children), they can be dropped off in our Lobby.  


The tryout schedule for Winter Sports (basketball and cheerleading) has been finalized and is available for viewing (and printing) by clicking here. Students who plan to try out for our winter sports need to make sure their "Green Form" is completed and reviewed by our school nurse.  Tryouts for many start the Monday we return from Thanksgiving Break so please be sure to have all of your documentation (and pick up arrangements) set in advance.  


The annual RJ Grey musical is just around the corner! The students are working hard on this year’s production of Singin’ in the Rain and we’re looking forward to another performance that showcases our students’ talents.  Five performances are scheduled for the week after we return from Thanksgiving Break, on Thursday, November 30 (7pm), Friday, December 1 (7pm), Saturday, December 2 (2pm and 7pm), and Sunday, December 3 (2pm).  Tickets are $15 and are now available i

n the Junior High Main Office.  ABSAF holders are entitled to two free tickets and must pick up their tickets from the Main Office.  Tickets are also currently available for purchase at Donelan’s in Acton, and Red, White and Brew in West Acton, and also directly from cast members.  This is always a great family-friendly event and we hope to see many A-B families there.


With the Thanksgiving Break starting later this week, I wanted to remind families that there will be no homework over the vacation period.  This has been a practice at the Junior High for the past three years, and is now a district wide expectation that is part of the recently approved Homework Policy.  At the heart of this policy is a belief that school vacations can and should provide students and families an opportunity to rest and focus on time with each other, free from any school-related obligations. The commitment we (parents and the school) have to academics will be ever-present, and yet I think we would be remiss if we ignored what psychologist and author Madeline Levine identified as the need for "honoring the importance of downtime, playtime, and family time." This is not to suggest that addressing those needs can only take place during vacations (that would be problematic as well).  Instead, we hope students and families will see these vacation periods as an additional opportunity to cultivate other parts of their family's life, be it in the form of leisure and social activities, or simply quality time with each other.  For me, some of that quality time next week will be spent helping my parents pick out a new washer and dryer.  My father recently came to the conclusion that after only twenty-eight years, their current washer and dryer deserve to also be retired and replaced.


With Thanksgiving on Thursday, we have a shortened week with an early release on Wednesday (dismissal is at 10:40am).  On that day, we will have our annual Thanksgiving Assembly.  This assembly traditionally includes a few speeches by students, and performances by the school band and chorus.  When I prepared for this assembly in my first year as Principal (six years ago), it brought back all sorts of memories of my own Thanksgiving experiences as a middle school-aged student and I shared some of those memories in that year’s pre-Thanksgiving edition of Grey Matters.  I have since re-posted it every year because Thanksgiving is, after all, a time for creating and maintaining certain traditions.  Given the continuing and ever-growing diversity that has evolved in our two communities, I hope some of what I share resonates with many of you in one way or another.    


When I was younger, Thanksgiving had very little to do with extended family, as most of our relatives were a few thousand miles away.  For my sister and I, Thanksgiving dinner was an event celebrated with just our parents, so it often felt like a lot of work for just another Thursday night dinner.  Having grown up in Taiwan, my parents didn’t experience Thanksgiving until they moved here for graduate school, and along with preparing the “traditional” turkey and sides, my parents wanted to include items more familiar to them.  As a result, we had many a Thanksgiving where, next to the mashed potatoes, sat a plate full of pork dumplings; and next to the canned cranberry sauce, there was a bowl filled with a rice dish prepared by my dad.


When I was thirteen, having soy sauce and turkey gravy on the same table really bothered me, mostly because it was different from what I understood and assumed to be the proper and traditional way to celebrate this holiday.  For me, it meant we weren’t fitting in and continued to make us different at a time when I wanted to be anything but. This narrow obsession of mine also probably contributed to an inexplicable lifelong craving for Stouffer’s Stove Top stuffing and a preference for canned cranberry sauce.  Once that adolescent desire to fit in faded, I began to appreciate those dinners through a different lens - one that focused on the reality that the food my parents made was really good, that we had much for which to be thankful, and that every family has different twists on how celebrate Thanksgiving- and it’s those unique variations that are at the heart of any tradition. This lifelong obsession with stuffing and the idea that there isn’t a single way to properly celebrate Thanksgiving is why this recent article, Thanksgiving Stuffing (or dressing) is the dish that best reflects America’s diversity”, in the Washington Post caught my eye.  


As I got older, I also came to discover that our approach to Thanksgiving was definitely more manageable than some of the other family “traditions” I have now heard about from friends and colleagues, and have myself witnessed when spending time with my wife’s extended family (most of whom live near or around Rt. 128).  Little did I realize how fortunate the Shen family was to not have to wrestle with deciding which relative slept in what room during the holiday, who was in charge of making sure the loose cannon uncle didn’t upset guests with his boorish political commentary, and preparing for however much criticism advice one was to receive from his or her in-laws for the entire day.  


Whatever twist you and your family have planned for your Thanksgiving Break, and whatever you plan to eat, I hope you all find some opportunity for a little rest and some good company.  We look forward to seeing everyone back next Monday.  


Have a great week, everyone.


Cheers,

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Grey Matters, November 13, 2017; Volume 6, Number 11

posted Nov 12, 2017, 11:44 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,


In recent years, artificial intelligence-powered devices such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home have become entrenched in many private homes, serving as “personal assistants” and allowing families to control many different household functions through voice activated commands. A recent survey suggests that close to 20 million Echos have been sold in the United States, including one that sits on the kitchen counter in Casa de Shen.  Last Summer, these devices became the focus of intense debate when prosecutors attempted to submit data collected through a family’s Echo as evidence in a murder trial, raising all sorts of questions about privacy expectations along with larger questions related to the trail of information that we leave almost every moment of the day (at least when in contact with some form of technology).  This issue of privacy in a digital age is most certainly an important topic worth a bit of healthy discussion and reflection, especially as your and my children grow up in a world where constant data collection is so ubiquitous and often invisible.  Along with these deeper questions, Melisa and I have the more immediate, and fortunately less high stakes, challenge of our three children taking some mischievous delight in using our Echo to play pranks, offer commentary, and leave us with a few surprises when we least expect it.  Exhibit A was last week’s grocery list which we we generate throughout the week by saying, “Alexa, add [grocery item here] to the shopping list” and included a few unexpected shopping items such as “another dog” courtesy of our dog-loving children. The list-making function has served as a convenient tool for our family and clearly something that a combination of our jokester children enjoy using for their own adolescent amusement and a bit of editorializing directed at Mom and Dad.  With the holiday season only a few weeks away, I wonder what other items we’ll start seeing magically appear on our shopping list.  


Here’s some updates and reminders for the next few weeks:


  • The Fall Trimester closes on Tuesday, November 28th (right after Thanksgiving).  There will likely be end-of-trimester assignments and assessments this week and next, so you might want to check in with your child(ren) about what is on their plates between now and the Thanksgiving Break.  

  • Ski and Board Club will start Tuesday, January 2nd, 2018. It will run for 6 weeks on Tuesdays (1/2, 1/9, 1/16, 1/23, 1/30, 2/6). If your child would like to sign up for the club,​ have them ask for a Ski/Board Club packet at the main office for necessary documents and instructions, or use the documents listed here. You can also download the contents of the packet from our school website, which you can get to by clicking here.  Please direct any questions to the club advisor, Lynne Kondracki (lkondracki@abschools.org).

  • 7 Green’s annual Coat Drive continues, so if you have any coats (for adults or children), they can be dropped off in our Lobby.  

  • Students who plan to try out for our winter sports need to make sure their "Green Form" is completed and reviewed by our school nurse.  Tryouts for many start the Monday we return from Thanksgiving Break - details about the tryout schedule will be posted within the next week on our Athletics website.  


Last week all families should have received an email with instructions on how to sign up for the annual parent-teacher conferences.  You can also access the sign-up form through our website by clicking here.  As I mentioned last week, one of the three conferences will be scheduled in the evening (January 4 from 5-8pm) and those slots will be filled on a first come-first served basis.  We know that this means that not all families who prefer the evening conference can be scheduled for those options, and we hope that you’ll still be able to identify times that are possible for you.  A friendly reminder that parents/guardians are not required to participate in these conferences, and many families who have attended team meetings elect not to sign up.  We appreciate everyone’s patience as our Main Office staff begin processing the many requests that are being submitted over the next few weeks.  


The annual RJ Grey musical is just around the corner! The students are working hard on this year’s production of Singin’ in the Rain and we’re looking forward to another performance that showcases our students’ talents.  Five performances are scheduled for the week after we return from Thanksgiving Break, on Thursday, November 30 (7pm), Friday, December 1 (7pm), Saturday, December 2 (2pm and 7pm), and Sunday, December 3 (2pm).  Tickets are $15 and are now available in the Junior High Main Office.  ABSAF holders are entitled to two free tickets and must pick up their tickets from the Main Office.  Tickets will also be available for sale, starting this Tuesday, November 13th at Donelan’s in Acton, and Red, White and Brew in West Acton.  Tickets are also available for purchase this week from cast members.  This is always a great family-friendly event and we hope to see many A-B families there.  As we begin to prepare for our annual school musical, I want to again share a link to one of my favorite episodes of the radio show This American Life.  Entitled, “Fiasco!” this episode highlights a small-town production of Peter Pan that, like last year’s High School production of Mary Poppins, involved the use of flying apparatuses. Unlike our High School’s production, their efforts involving the flying apparatus didn’t exactly go as planned, along with a few other mishaps that turned the show into a full-fledged fiasco.  If you’ve got twenty minutes to spare, I encourage you to listen to this piece that apparently required Ira Glass to turn off his microphone during recording because of how hard he was laughing/snorting.


The Lost & Found bin at RJ Grey is now overflowing with a whole array of clothing.  We’ve lined it up on a few tables to make it easier to sift through and we encourage families and students to take a quick look and see if there are any items that can make its way back to your home (ideally with the washing machine as the first stop).  Forgotten articles of clothing seem to be a constant aspect of the adolescent experience, along with the insistence on continuing to wear shorts and short sleeves even as the temperatures dip below freezing.  Reminding myself that some of these choices are related to the fact that the pre-frontal cortexes of the adolescent brain are not fully developed, my own mind (which only fully developed about 6 months ago) wandered back to the work of Dr. Abigail Baird who visited Acton-Boxborough a few years ago.  Dr. Baird teaches at Vassar and conducts research on adolescent brain development. I’ve shared Dr. Baird’s work with parents every year because she has a way of presenting information on adolescent brain development (and explaining behaviors) in a way that is accessible and relatable. Those of you interested in this topic can watch this video of an interview that she did with Lisa Kudrow of “Friends” fame (and a Vassar alum). They spend time talking about the interplay between emotions and decision making and a whole host of other really interesting topics - including some important differences in how boys and girls develop during adolescence. The interview is a bit long (about an hour) but if you’ve got the time it’s one of those videos that I have personally viewed several times.  


Finally, I don’t want to finish this edition of Grey Matters without acknowledging Veteran’s Day which took place this past weekend.  So I end with a thank you and a note of gratitude to members of our community who have or are still serving in our military, as well as their families who support them.  


Have a great week, everyone.


Cheers,

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Grey Matters, November 6, 2017; Volume 6, Number 10

posted Nov 5, 2017, 9:39 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,


It was not too long ago when my feelings about Daylight Savings Time were heavily influenced by the fact that I had very young children, and where setting the clocks back by an hour on Sunday did not result in an extra hour of sleep. Instead, it involved wringing my hands and wailing wondering out loud to my less paranoid (and more resourceful) wife how we were possibly going to entertain our children for an additional hour when nothing was open.  While our kids are now older and no longer need as much immediate attention in the morning, our 6-month old black labrador retriever Bailey did not read the memo I sent her last night about pushing back her need to be let out and fed.  For similar and/or different reasons, perhaps many of you have also been reading with some interest the discussion and debate about whether Massachusetts should eliminate moving the clocks forwards and backwards twice a year, and stay on Atlantic Standard Time.  A commission just released their report on this topic and listed the

benefits of making a permanent switch to Atlantic Standard Time but noted that it would only make sense if a majority of Northeast states agreed to align their clocks with Massachusetts.  For a bit of history on this practice of turning clocks back (and forward in the Spring), you can read this article.  As for last week, I hope everyone had a fun and safe time on Tuesday with any Halloween-related festivities, both during and after school.  We had a great time welcoming students to school that morning and seeing the informal parade of costumes and outfits. Par for the course, we also had a number of staff members dress up as well.  Congratulations to 8th grade student Daniela Graffeo who won this year’s costume contest with her super creative Roller Coaster costume  (see photo to right).


Here’s some reminders that I’d like to bring to your attention this week:


  • There is no school for all students in the District this Tuesday, November 7.  Staff will be participating in professional learning during the day.

  • There is also no school for all students on Friday as it’s Veteran’s Day.  Many thanks to those in our community who have served, and continue to serve, in our military.  

  • Last Friday I sent an email to families of 8th grade students that provides some information for those whose children may be applying to private schools.  If you haven’t already, please take a moment to review that message.  

  • Thanksgiving Break is coming up and I know that many are looking forward to that annual holiday and the opportunity to spend it with family and friends.  The end of the Fall Trimester is the Tuesday after we return from Thanksgiving Break.  I want families to be aware of this timing so they can keep that in mind as they continue to support their students in having a strong finish to this first marking period.   


On Monday, I will be sending all families an email about the annual parent-teacher conference sessions that we offer during three dates in December and January.  That email will provide families with an overview of the conferences and some things to consider before signing up.  Please note that starting this year, one of the three conferences will be scheduled in the evening (January 4 from 5-8pm).   Our school recognizes that there are families within our community for whom mid-day conferences can present enough of a hardship and challenge that they would be unable to consider participation.  This may include parents/guardians who do not have as much flexibility with their respective work schedules, or have family responsibilities that are not easily adjusted. Our hope is that an evening conference will better accommodate and support the varied schedules that our families have to navigate.  While there will not be an early release from school on the day of the evening conferences, there will be an early release for students and staff on the following day (January 5). This Wednesday, families will also receive an email from us that includes the link to the form that you should complete if you wish to schedule conferences with some (or all) of your child’s teachers.  


Here’s an initial and exciting Save the Date! Announcement regarding our annual Junior High musical.  This year’s musical is Singin’ in the Rain, and performances will be from November 30  through December 4 (the week after we return from Thanksgiving). Performances will be at 7pm each evening, with an additional 2pm show on Saturday, December 2. The RJ Grey musical is not only a great annual event for members of our school community, but is always a wonderful event from other members of our larger Acton-Boxborough community.  Next week I’ll be sharing additional information about purchasing tickets.  


Now that Winter is soon approaching, it is time to think about dusting off those skis and snowboards. Ski and Board Club will start Tuesday, January 2nd, 2018. It will run for 6 weeks on Tuesdays (1/2, 1/9, 1/16, 1/23, 1/30, 2/6). If your child would like to sign up for the club,​ have them ask for a Ski/Board Club packet at the main office for necessary documents and instructions, or use the documents listed here. You can also download the contents of the packet from our school website, which you can get to by clicking here.  Please direct any questions to the club advisor, Lynne Kondracki (lkondracki@abschools.org).


On November 20, our next Family Learning Series event will be one where we welcome back Chris Herren to Acton-Boxborough.  Chris Herren is a former professional basketball player who grew up in the Boston-area, and whose personal and professional life was consumed by substance abuse for several years. During Rebound: The Chris Herren Story, Mr. Herren will tell of his descent into addiction, recover, and new mission of sharing his story with the goal of reaching young people and helping them make smart decisions when it comes to substance abuse and use.  His visit to Acton-Boxborough in 2013 was a powerful event for those who attended and we’re looking forward to his visit next month. This event will take place at 7pm in the High School Auditorium, and is open to parents, caregivers and students.   


Finally, the RJ Grey community's annual Coats For Families Drive will continue through the month of November. This is the 22nd year of the Coat Drive here and it is an annual fall RJ Grey tradition. Good condition, wearable, winter coats and jackets for children and adults are dropped off in the box in the lobby. They will be taken to Anton's Cleaners by 7 Green where they will be cleaned free of charge. They are then delivered to agencies like the Salvation Army and Mass Coalition For The Homeless who get them to those who are in need of a good, warm winter coat. Please be a part of this very worthy cause. The box will be in the lobby during the month of November only. This community wide event is sponsored by the 7 Green team.


Have a great week, everyone.  


Cheers,

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Grey Matters, October 30, 2017; Volume 6, Number 9

posted Oct 29, 2017, 11:07 AM by Andrew Shen


Hi Everyone,


This year’s 24 MacArthur Genius Grant award winners were announced earlier this month, and includes many talented individuals pursuing their craft in fields such as science, music, photography, and community organizing.  When I hadn’t been notified of my status as one of the recipients, I thought that perhaps the letter had gotten lost in the mail and would eventually make its way to my home.  Now that a few weeks have passed, I have come to accept that I was not included in this year’s cohort. Instead, it’s likely that once again, I was choice number 25 for a program that only has 24 slots.  I will admit that I thought this year might be different, that this would be the year, and I would be granted the no-strings $625,000 prize as a way to both recognize and fund my campaign to have Halloween always fall on the last Saturday of October, rather than on the last day of October.  It feels (to me) as though in recent years the hype about Halloween has grown quite a bit, for kids and adults, so having the holiday occur at the beginning of the week (like this Tuesday) is probably going to make for a long week. Two recent studies indicate that the average per person spending in the United States on Halloween is now in the neighborhood of $175.  The commercial aspect aside, it seems like this holiday has taken on a few additional cultural roles in terms of providing individuals a chance to shed one persona and express a different, and perhaps less inhibited, side of one’s self.  I recently read an interesting article in National Geographic that notes that this trend has gone somewhat global, with a more international interest in Halloween as a night to “escape the status quo.”  More locally, the city of Salem continues to embrace its status as “Witch City” and organized a monthlong celebration of the holiday.  As for the scariest costume that I might consider wearing on Tuesday, I was thinking of taping to my body an enlarged copy of the report the College Board released last week confirming the continued rise in college tuitions.  By the time my own three children reach the age where they might be considering college as an option, I’m going to need that MacArthur grant just to pay for a single year’s tuition.   


As I mentioned last week, we have Halloween Dress Up Day on Tuesday and we’re looking forward to the parade of costumes that will likely enter the building.  Please remember that participation is completely optional and the rate of student (and teacher) participation is typically around 50%, so no student should feel compelled to come in a costume.  During any costume planning, please continue to help your child keep in mind that we must avoid including props that mimic weapons (swords, firearms, knives, etc.), clothing that includes profanity and/or might be overly revealing or minimalist in nature, and no masks (we need to see your faces!).  It’s a great tradition, and we all look forward to a fun and spirited day.  


Here’s a few other reminders for the next week or so:

  • 8th grade students who are interested in Minuteman High School as a possible option for next year are invited to participate in a field trip on November 16 to visit Minuteman and be introduced to the programs that are offered.  In order to attend, students need to pick up a permission slip in the 8th Grade Office, and also instructions for how to register directly with Minuteman for this trip.  If you have any questions, please email your child’s counselor or Mr. Marcotte (jmarcotte@abschools.org).  

  • The District’s monthly newsletter, Expanding Our Notions of Success, is out and was sent directly to families earlier this month.  This month’s newsletter highlights the work of Dr. Steven Layne who will be the next presenter in our annual Family Learning Series.  His talk, What Parents and Caregivers Can Do to Nurture Lifetime Readers, will be on November 7 at 7pm in the High School Auditorium.  

  • Early next week I will be sending a message to all families about our annual Parent-Teacher conferences that are available in December and January and will include details about dates and times, and the process for signing up.  


We have just concluded the Fall season for our school sports programs.  Congratulations to our Field Hockey, Soccer, and Cross Country teams on a great season - both individually and collectively. We hope the students who participated in these programs found it to be a worthwhile experience.  As we prepare to enter the Winter season, I wanted to provide a few friendly reminders about extracurricular activities. First, our Winter sports program includes Boys and Girls Basketball teams (with separate teams for 7th and 8th grade), and Cheerleading. The tryout schedule will be posted within the next few weeks with start dates planned for shortly after the Thanksgiving Break.  If your child does not currently have an updated Green Form, please use this next month to complete that process and ensure that our nurses have sufficient time to review the forms.  You can view the tryout schedule (when it’s up) and review the Green Form process on the Athletics page of our website.  For students who participated in a Fall sport and might now have a bit more time after school, we encourage them to consider joining one of our extracurricular clubs and activities.  Students are welcome to join these programs throughout the year and can review the many options by visiting the Clubs and Activities page of our website.  


Finally, we have reached the point in the year where some of our RJ Grey students and families are exploring private schools as options for next year, and I’d like to re-send the following note that I share each year:  Our Counseling Office works with families on the application process, and they have created a number of documents and guides to assist families.  You can download information by going to the RJG Counseling site (click here).  One aspect of the application process that I’d like to highlight is the writing of teacher/counselor recommendations.  Our teachers and counselors are happy to support students in their applications, and take seriously the crafting of a recommendation.  With that in mind, we ask that families honor the request that teachers be approached about letters of recommendation at least 4 weeks in advance of when those letters are due.  In many situations, parents initially reach out to teachers on behalf of their child, which is perfectly fine.  It’s also important for the student to speak in person with their teachers about their interest in private schools.  This is valuable for a few reasons.  First, hearing a bit more about the student’s interest in the schools to which they are applying gives the teacher a better sense of what might be useful to include in the letter.  Secondly, having a teacher find recommendation forms on her desk without any prior explanation from a student or parent is never the ideal way to start the conversation about a recommendation. By no means are teachers and counselors expecting students to feel indebted to them for writing a letter, and forever genuflect whenever they enter the room. However, speaking directly to the teacher is, I think, central to showing an appropriate level of appreciation for this additional task the students are asking their teacher to complete on their behalf.  If you think your child may be a bit nervous with this task, you might encourage them to speak with the counselor, who can offer some tips and even help them practice.  Your child’s counselor is also, in general, a great resource for various aspects of the application process.  


Have a great week, everyone.  


Cheers,

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Grey Matters, October 23, 2017; Volume 6, Number 8

posted Oct 22, 2017, 1:42 PM by Andrew Shen


Hi Everyone,


I’m predicting that in a few short months I’ll begin my annual public lament about the bitterly cold weather that makes itself at home in New England, and how the more temperate climate in San Francisco might be a better fit for my lifestyle.  However, filing away in my memory the weather we’ve had these past few weeks (and the fact that we don’t have earthquakes) might be enough to get me through the upcoming Winter without too much complaining.  Given the warm(er) weather we’ve had this October the timing of the fall foliage has been stretched out a bit and there’s still time to enjoy the scenery, as well as carving out some time for apple picking.  I also want to offer a nod to this past weekend’s annual Head of the Charles Regatta (click here for photos in the Globe), which brings rowers from all over the world to compete in this event.  Having had a rower as a roommate in college, and now being married to a former competitive rower, I developed a healthy appreciation for this sport and the many rewards that rowing offers.  Because this sport has historically been associated with mostly private schools at the secondary level, I was pleasantly surprised to learn a few years ago that students in Grades 8 through 12 in Acton-Boxborough have access to a local rowing program that includes a team for students from both Bromfield and Acton-Boxborough (click here to learn more) The athletic programs that we have at RJ Grey are a great fit and opportunity for a lot of our students, and for others the activity that really grabs their attention and piques their interest might be ones like rowing, or the local fencing club that a student was telling me about last week.  


Whether it’s rowing or fencing, a dance or music program, or something completely unstructured with other people instead of a screen, there is a case to be made for encouraging more in-person engagement and perhaps exerting a bit of extra influence (and maybe some better modeling) on how and when smartphones and other digital devices are used by our children.  A few weeks ago I made reference to a study that noted a marked delay by current mid to late-teens for when they experience certain milestones. And while physically safer, this current generation has also seen an increased psychological vulnerability to anxiety and depression, and struggles with tasks that require some resilience and comfort with failure.  I recently came across two articles on this subject, one of which takes a deeper dive into exploring the potential link between this trend and the ever present smartphone, that I wanted to bring to your attention.  Fair warning, these articles are extremely long, heavy and dense reads - but still captivating and powerful.  Even if you don’t agree with some or all of the arguments within these pieces, they stretch your thinking about a range of important topics.  


My favorite of the two was written by the author of the aforementioned study about delays in adolescent milestones, and was in the September 2017 edition of The Atlantic.  “Has the Smartphone Destroyed a Generation” expands on that study and offers some interesting observations about trends within this current generation of adolescents with the reminder that, “the aim of a generational study, however, is

not to succumb to nostalgia for the way things used to be; it’s to understand how they are now.  Some generational changes are positive, some are negative, and many are both.” The author touches upon a number of subjects that I am pretty confident many parents will react to with a fair bit of familiarity and recognition. After reading the article, I also remembered that the Challenge Success website has a page that includes Media Rules that offers guidance to parents and guardians about navigating and managing the benefits and risks that come with smartphones and social media. Click here to read some of their suggestions that you might want to consider.  The other article I want to share was in a recent edition of the New York Times, entitled, “Why Are More American Teenagers Than Ever Suffering From Severe Anxiety?”  While I came upon this article during my own weekly review of the Times, it was also one that was forwarded to me by several friends and colleagues inside and outside of Acton-Boxborough.  It’s definitely been a topic of conversation amongst a number of staff, and I wanted to bring your attention to it as well. These two articles explore some pretty hard, emotional and messy topics that don’t end with clear cut conclusions or solutions. Nevertheless, they do present us with opportunities to enter and re-enter healthy conversations that I know many within our community have been having both formally as well as more casually amongst neighbors and friends.  If you do take some time to read one or both articles, I hope you find it to be time well spent.


Ok, now for some reminders about the next few weeks:


  • School pictures will be distributed to students at the start of this week. We have scheduled a picture re-take day for this Wednesday, October 25th.  If your child ordered a photo package and you would like for him/her/them to re-take the photo, please have your child bring in the original package on that day (and to come dressed for the re-take!).  If your student missed Picture Day earlier this year, this is also the time for him or her to have a photo taken.  Even if you don’t have plans to order a photo package, it is important to have everyone’s photo taken so they will be included in this year’s yearbook.  

  • Halloween is a week from Tuesday.  Please be sure to finalize with your children their plans for that day.  A friendly reminder that dressing in costume is optional and that not all students (nor staff) participate, so each individual should feel comfortable making the choice that’s right for that student.  If your student does choose to arrive in costume, please be sure to review the expectations that I shared with families in last week’s Grey Matters.

  • It’s a few weeks away, but a friendly reminder that there is NO SCHOOL on Tuesday, November 7 for our District’s Professional Learning Day.  There is also NO SCHOOL later that Friday, November 10 for Veteran’s Day.  

  • The District’s Late Bus program has been in operation for almost a month and we’re pleased that it’s been a helpful resource/option for a number of our families.  As we near the end of the Fall season and the Winter season is on the horizon, new activities, sports programs and other after-school opportunities might be on your child’s radar. If the Late Bus might be something you want to consider, you can click here for the original letter and list of stops that are part of the two Late Bus routes.  


Several years ago, we began a small recognition program called “Everyday Leaders” as one way for us to celebrate and put a brighter spotlight on students who, in a variety of ways, demonstrates leadership through daily acts of kindness, enthusiasm, and being respectful towards peers and teachers. Twice a trimester, our teams (and each grade’s exploratory, elective, and physical education teachers) identify a student who they have observed modeling some element of good citizenship within their classes and team. Every year, the cohort of students who are identified by the teachers is incredibly diverse in terms of the qualities that are being celebrated.  Sitting next to students who are more comfortable with the spotlight, there are always many students whose kindness and contributions present themselves in less obvious and nuanced ways.  This past Thursday, I met with our first group of Everyday Leaders for a small lunch in the main office.  I continue to confess every year that in many ways the lunch is more a reward for me, since it gives me a chance to engage with more students.  Congratulations to the following students who were part of this first group: Erin Albano, Madeleine Cardone, Matthew Deedy, Abby Dennison, Owen Layton, Donovan McCAmmon, Dhruv Nadkami, Tyler Robb, Krish Suraparaju, and Cole Traywick.  


Have a great week, everyone.


Cheers,

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Grey Matters, October 16, 2017; Volume 6, Number 7

posted Oct 15, 2017, 12:12 PM by Andrew Shen   [ updated Oct 15, 2017, 12:12 PM ]

Hi Everyone,


This past Friday I had the good fortune of attending the opening session of Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) which was being held this year at Northeastern University.  Each year CGI U brings together students and topic experts to discuss proposals and innovative solutions to various global problems, and provides funding to college students who create their own programs that try to address issues at both the local and international level.  As I was driving into Boston late Friday afternoon to attend this event, and observing the stop-and-go traffic on the Mass Pike going westbound, I reminded myself of the commitment I made several years ago to never have a job that involved a long commute and unavoidable traffic.  I worked in Boston prior to joining A-B and whether it was the Mass Pike or Rt. 9, I would get to work irritated, and arrive at home irritated.  A recent article in the Washington Post provided a summary of information from the most recent US Census which notes that the typical American worker spent more than 9 full days last year getting to and from work.  To be sure, the hourlong commute I had back in the day can’t really be categorized as a challenge when compared to the dilemmas that the CGI U students were tackling including the opioid crisis, human trafficking, and dental health in developing nations.  So the opening session offered an important reminder about maintaining perspective when thinking about certain problems and challenges, along with the reminder that work involving change at any level is inherently messy and requires a good deal of patience and resolve.  


At A-B, one challenge (and possible change) that our District has been wrestling with are the early start times of the Junior High and High School.  We’ve reached the point in our work where the benefits of shifting start times is clear and now we enter a critical phase where we have to closely examine the many operational and mechanical demands associated with a potential change.  Additionally we need to think carefully about the collision of various priorities that may emerge, as well as the unintended consequences of the changes we might decide to implement next year.  This community also needs to keep in mind that there is a financial cost for this change, and to weigh that along with other considerations. While I have been fairly transparent (at least through Grey Matters) about my own support for a later start time, I am also well-positioned (I think) to appreciate the complexities that are attached to a shift - there are many, and they aren’t cosmetic .  A number of those complexities contribute to our current focus on a possible start time shift to around 8:00am, rather than 8:30am.  You can read a general progress report of this work by clicking here.  The Superintendent’s Office provided this update to the School Committee at its most recent meeting, and you’ll note in the report that our plan is to submit a final recommendation about school start times to the School Committee on December 7, with a possible vote the following week.  


On Wednesday or Thursday of this week, we will be emailing to families mid-trimester interims.  For those new to RJ Grey, a brief explanation.  “Interims” is the term that we use for what others might call “progress reports”, or “warnings”.  Teachers submit interims for any students who might be struggling in their class - this could be based on performances on tests and quizzes, consistency of homework, or other assessments and observations.  In addition, there are a number of teachers who provide interims as a way to update families, and this could also include feedback about how well a student is performing in a particular class.  This is all to say that there are number of reasons why you might receive an interim from your child’s teachers (note: you may also not receive anything).  If and when you do receive one, please read the information and comments carefully and consider using it as a way to begin a dialogue with your child.  Please also keep in mind that a letter grade is attached to each interim from a teacher, but that letter grade may or may not represent a significant body of assessments and graded work.  I would encourage you to place greater focus on the narrative that the teacher provides and the areas of concern and suggestions for improvement that are offered.  If there is information that you would like clarified, please contact the teacher and begin a dialogue with him or her.  The Fall Trimester does not close until the week of Thanksgiving, so there is plenty of time for students to use this feedback to make adjustments.  


This round of interims is the first time that the Junior High will be moving to electronic grading reports.  Interim reports were previously mailed home vis US Mail and will now be sent by email to the parent/guardian contacts listed on your student’s Emergency Card on the parent portal.  Assuming things go relatively smoothly with our interim reports, it’s likely that we’d also send report cards to families electronically.  Given the sensitive nature of these transmissions, we strongly encourage you to review the email addresses you have provided in the parent portal and that the only email addresses listed are for parents/guardians with joint legal, physical, and/or shared custody and who should have access to these records.  For more detailed instructions on how to verify your email, please click here.  


Halloween is a little over two weeks away, and my guess is that many of your children are thinking about possible costumes not only for an evening of trick or treating, but also for our school’s annual Dress Up Day (which is always scheduled for the day of, or around, Halloween).  I’d like to provide my typical overview of our Dress Up Day to help families with any planning that is currently underway.  We have a tradition at RJ Grey where many students (and teachers) choose to attend school dressed up in costumes on the day of Halloween. Our Student Council officers also organize a fun and lighthearted contest where each homeroom nominates a student/costume and the staff will vote for a winner.  We want to emphasize our intention to keep this light-hearted and good-natured, and to showcase student creativity. We do not want anyone to invest money in this activity.  Please also note that not all students and staff --including yours truly--always dress up, which is perfectly fine.  There are always many students who do not come to school in costume.  


We do have general guidelines that we expect all students to follow when considering their outfit for the day.  Student costumes must avoid props that mimic weapons (swords, firearms, knives, etc.), and clothing that includes profanity and/or might be overly revealing or minimalist in nature. In addition, we must see our students’ faces throughout the day, so wearing a face mask can not be a part of a costume.  We see a restriction on face masks as a reasonable limitation to address physical safety and the fact that lessons are still being taught!  There’s nothing quite like watching a teacher, often dressed in costume as well, providing instruction to a room that includes Mario, Luigi, Harry Potter, a giant bunny rabbit, and Flo the Progressive Insurance spokesperson.  I am asking our parents and guardians to please have a conversation with their children about their costume plans, and to keep the above guidelines in mind.  Halloween Dress Up Day has always been a fun opportunity for our students (and staff) to be playful and maybe showcase another side of their personality.  Our students have always been thoughtful about the event and it makes for one of the more colorful days of the school year.  I’m looking forward to seeing the parade of costumes that enters RJ Grey that morning.  


Finally, we had another edition of Poetry Fridays at the end of last week.  Mr. Malloy read a piece by former US Poet Laureate Billy Collins entitled, “To My Favorite 17-Year Old High School Girl.”  This is a piece where Mr. Collins is poking fun at his daughter’s good natured way, but underneath the sarcasm is a father who truly loves his daughter for who she is, even though she may have difficulty cleaning her room.  


Have a great week, everyone.


Cheers,

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Grey Matters, October 9, 2017; Volume 6, Number 6

posted Oct 9, 2017, 7:22 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,


In an effort to model the practice of carving out opportunities for downtime, this week’s edition of Grey Matters will be on the short(er) side as a nod to the long weekend.  I’m going to hopefully be spending this afternoon with a friend at Fenway Park to cheer on the Red Sox, though likely wrapped in plastic to stay dry.  By the time I reach Fenway later today I will have mastered the art of watching live sporting events, having just spent most of this long weekend tag-teaming with Melisa to cover all of the kids’ games.  Nothing says “long weekend” like youth sports programs scheduling even more events, tournaments and other can’t-miss opportunities that start bright and early in the morning.  You can probably detect some of the snark in my writing about youth sports, and yet I’m also the one dutifully sitting in my fold-out camping chair on the sidelines every week. One

game I did not attend this weekend was when my youngest son had his first experience this past Sunday competing against an AB youth soccer team. Some of you already know how this collision of my loyalties always makes me a bit fidgety (when RJ Grey students show up as the refs it gets even more layered and stressful for me).  So Melisa attended that game and reported what I would find to be the best outcome in these circumstances, a 1-1 tie. This weekend reminded me of two articles I read this summer about the expansion and unintended challenges of youth sports. The first is a Time Magazine article called “How Kids Sports Became a $15 Billion Industry” and the other a Boston Globe article about how many high school athletes must forego participation on school teams in order to commit to other elite training programs.  Aside from any kid-activity commitments all of you might have also had, I hope many of you took advantage of the homework-free long weekend and set aside time to pursue different activities and interests with your kids.


As we make our way into and through October, I want to remind everyone of the Junior High’s Rise to the Challenge program, which is our way of recognizing student involvement in community service.  We know that many students are already participating in service activities outside of school, and we hope to celebrate those efforts along with encouraging more students to become active in service opportunities.  Students who complete 10 hours of service within the school year will be recognized for their efforts.  Please visit the community service page on our website that provides all the details for this program.  If you have any questions, please email Debbie Brookes at dbrookes@abschools.org.  


Here’s some reminders for the next few weeks:

  • Our first early release at the Junior High (and High School) is this Thursday, October 12.  Students will be dismissed at 10:40am, and the regular bus runs will be available at that time.  Please be sure to connect with your children about your and their plans for this day.  A friendly reminder that the building will not be available for students to remain after school, and the Library will be closed due to professional development activities for the staff.  The Late Bus will not be running on this day.  

  • Interim reports for the Fall Trimester are scheduled to be sent around October 19 or 20.  I will include in next week’s Grey Matters a summary of the intent of interims and what families might expect as part of those forms.  

  • Halloween is Tuesday, October 31 and so I’ll include a note in the next Grey Matters about our school’s Halloween Dress Up Day tradition.  This will include a reminder about how to help your students enjoy the event (should they choose to participate) while also being thoughtful in their choice of costume/outfit.


A few weeks ago I mentioned that the School Committee voted and approved a District Homework Policy last June that applies to all of our schools and offers specific guidance for different grade levels.  You can view the Policy by clicking here.  On Tuesday, October 24 at 7pm there will be a Homework Policy Implementation Information session (try saying that five times faster) in the Junior High library that will involve a panel that includes all eight school principals (and a few others). You can download the flyer by clicking here. If you’d like to hear updates of how each of our schools are working on implementation, you should consider attending. I am looking forward to sharing the work of the Junior High, and I hope it will complement what you might have already learned at Back to School Night from your child’s teachers, as well as what your children might have experienced so far at the Junior High.  Don’t forget to utilize the team homework calendars that are maintained by each team.  For 7th grade teams, you can go here.  For 8th grade teams, you can go here.


Finally, an important reminder about the District’s Family Learning Series which partners with several community organizations to schedule workshops and seminars throughout the year on child development and learning. The next event is this Wednesday, October 11 at 7pm (JH Auditorium) featuring Dr. Rob Evans whose presentation is entitled Raising Resilient Children in Challenging Times.  I’ve had the opportunity to listen to and work with Dr. Evans and I would strongly encourage you to attend this presentation if your schedule will allow it. He’s smart, funny, relatable, and can take complicated ideas and offer practical and applicable strategies. If you can’t make the Dr. Evans event, please take a look at the other events scheduled throughout the year.  


Have a great week, everyone.


Cheers,

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Grey Matters, October 2, 2017; Volume 6, Number 5

posted Oct 1, 2017, 9:50 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,


I was recently part of a group conversation that ended up including talk of various jobs that each of us held during our adolescent years and led me to think back on my time in 5th grade delivering papers for the Boston Globe (Sundays were brutal), as a fry cook at a snack shack (which, at the age of 13, am now pretty sure broke some labor law), and as part of a house painting crew during the summer before I headed off for college.  The name of the painting company that thought it wise to hire the 18-year old edition of me and three of my best friends to lay brushes on several houses in the Reading, MA area will not be revealed for everyone’s protection.  At some point in my lifetime it would probably be appropriate for me to return to those homes and extend to them heartfelt apologies and offer to scrape the paint off their window panes.  I also thought of these experiences after reading an article (click here) about a recent study that notes a marked delay by current mid to late-teens for when they experience certain “milestones of adulthood” (such as working) and activities that involve greater independence and risk.  Based on four decades of surveys, the report contends that today’s 18-year olds exhibit “similar milestone behaviors as did 15-year olds in the 1970s.”  These milestones include, but aren’t limited to, working, going out without parents, driving, dating, sexual activity, and alcohol consumption.  After reading that list I’m sure many join me in thinking that a delay in some (not all) of those milestones isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  The study attributes greater parental involvement in the everyday lives of their children (“parental investment”) and providing greater monitoring and guidance.  I found this study interesting because of how it intersects with the struggles many of us have weighing the benefits and challenges of exerting more parental influence into a situation, and when and how to do so appropriately.  On the one hand, the study notes that the adolescent experience is safer in many regards for more children and a greater percentage of them report positive opportunities at home and a comfort in confiding with parents about problems they might encounter.  A challenge, though, is that more adolescents reach older teen years more unprepared for independence and the responsibilities that typically accompany that independence. How do we appropriately insert ourselves into the lives of our kids while still allowing for healthy levels of struggle and difficult experiences that might serve them well when they do leave the nest? This article doesn’t answer that question, but offers some interesting food for thought.  


Some quick reminders for the next two weeks:   


  • A reminder to 8th grade families that Minuteman Technical High School will be visiting RJ Grey this Wednesday and Thursday to provide students with a brief overview of the school and the application process. Because the town of Boxborough is no longer a member of the Minuteman district, there is a different process for Boxborough students and families interested in a vocational route next year.  Attending the Minuteman presentation still makes sense for Boxborough students given that it could still be the right option for them, and please stay tuned for additional details about the process and options for exploring additional vocational programs.  For any families who want to know more about Minuteman Tech, I would encourage you to email your child's counselors.  

  • A quick heads up to 7th grade families -- starting October 10, every 7th grade team will be traveling to the Christa McAuliffe Center at Framingham State.  This is a trip that we take every year as part of the science curriculum, and very much emphasizes the importance of communication, teamwork, and problem-solving.  If you'd like to read a bit more about the McAuliffe Center, you can visit their site by clicking here.  Please email your child's science teacher if you have questions about the trip.  

  • One last reminder there is no school next Monday, October 9 in observance of Indigenous People’s Day.  The School Committee voted last year to replace what had previously been observed as Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day on the District’s calendar.  The Junior High and High School also have our first Early Release day on that Thursday, October 12, and staff will then participate in professional learning for the remainder of the day.  Dismissal for students is at 10:40am at the Junior High and all standard bus routes will be available at that time.  Please note that the Late Bus will not be available that day.  I would encourage families to discuss and confirm with their child plans for this early release and expectations regarding transportation and post-release activities.  


With the above mentioned holiday coming up, I wanted to share with families information about homework during long weekends and over school vacation periods. Specifically, that there will be none.  Two years ago, we implemented a school policy that homework would not be assigned for any of our extended vacations (Thanksgiving, Winter, February and April Breaks).  Last year we expanded this expectation to planned long weekends, including this coming weekend, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Memorial Day.  And now those practices are embedded in the District’s new Homework Policy.  Nothing will be due (nor any tests or quizzes scheduled) on the day students return from a long weekend or vacation, and long-term projects that are assigned prior to a vacation will not be due earlier than the Thursday after a vacation.  As I shared with families last year, what lies at the heart of this policy is a belief that these extended periods away from school can and should provide students and families an opportunity to rest and focus on time with each other, free from any school-related obligations. The commitment we (parents and the school) have to academics will be ever-present, and yet I think we would be remiss if we ignored what Challenge Success identified as the need for "honoring the importance of downtime, playtime, and family time."  We hope students and families will see these periods away from school as an additional opportunity to cultivate other parts of their family's life, be it in the form of leisure and social activities, or simply quality time with each other.  


I hope those of you who attended last Thursday’s Back to School Night found the evening to be informative and valuable.  I was able to visit a few classes and it was nice to sit alongside many of you during the presentations.  The level of parent and family support that we have in Acton-Boxborough is no secret, and it’s always exciting to see the wave of parents joining us for the evening to briefly connect and put some faces to names.  Along with following up and connecting with teachers by email or phone, please remember that we have a “team meeting” option that is also available to families.  Teams have, about once a week, a period where parents/guardians can schedule a 20-minute meeting to connect with their child’s team teachers.  This is an opportunity for some families to share information and concerns, and ask questions, and for teachers (and the team counselor) to do the same.  The availability of appointments usually ebbs and flows over the course of the year, so during busy periods the next available appointment is a few weeks out.  If you are interested in scheduling an appointment, you can email our Registrar Lena Jarostchuk (ljarostchuk@abschools.org) or call her at extension x3330.  Also, a  “thank you” and welcome to James Dillon and Jack Kline, our newest members of the RJ Grey School Council.  James and Jack are both parents of current 7th grade students, and received the most votes at Back to School Night.  We appreciate their willingness to serve on the Council, and they join 8th grade parents Tom Wolf and Michelle Hanlon, and teachers Maureen Lin and Rebecca Mazonson.  Also, a sincere “thank you” to the other 7th grade parents who put themselves out there and were candidates for the School Council.  


An important reminder that through Tuesday, October 10, all of the schools and programs within Acton-Boxborough will continue to participate in a fundraising effort to support current Red Cross disaster relief efforts.  At the Junior High, our Student Council has been managing a coin drive and collecting donations from students during Homeroom.  Donations from all of the schools and programs will be combined to provide one donation to the Red Cross on behalf of the District. Students and families may also drop off cash or check donations to the Main Office (checks can be made to ABRSD or directly to the Red Cross).  Many thanks to Debbie Ahl (Student Council advisor) and our Student Council officers and representatives for providing leadership for our school’s specific efforts.  Many thanks in advance to everyone for the contributions you may be able to make - be it through our District’s activities or through other channels.  



Finally, many of you may have been following the recent announcement by Amazon that they are interested in establishing a second headquarters for their company, and that Boston is competing with many cities in their efforts to woo the retail behemoth into selecting their community to set up shop.  As interesting as that might be, and potentially a significant development for the area, it’s also important to remind all Acton and Boxborough residents that our community has its own proposed building project to discuss and consider.  I hope by now most of you are at least somewhat aware that we have been studying our District’s long-term building needs, including the current proposal to fund a feasibility study for a new PreK-6 twin elementary school that would be built in partnership with the Massachusetts School Building Authority (partnership = significant reimbursement).  There is a special town meeting scheduled for December 4 where a vote would be taken to fund the feasibility study.  In advance of that, the District is hosting eight informational forums where residents can learn more about the proposal and offer feedback.  The first of these forums is on Tuesday, October 17 at 7pm at the Douglas School.  You can download a flyer with all of the forum dates by clicking here.  While this current plan does not include discussion of funding a heated canopy for my morning traffic duties I would still strongly encourage all of you to play an active role in this process and have your voices heard.  


Have a great week, everyone.


Cheers,

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Grey Matters, September 25, 2017; Volume 6, Number 4

posted Sep 24, 2017, 9:43 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,


I recently received a few messages from RJ Grey parents where I was addressed as “Dr. Shen” which means it’s time for my annual note to you all that while you’re more than welcome to continue bestowing that title upon me, it’s not one that I’ve earned from an accredited institution of learning!  As for what you might call me instead? I am happy to be addressed by my first name (Andrew), and also perfectly comfortable with Mr. Shen for those who prefer to maintain some formality.  There are four people on this Earth, all of whom I have known since my time in Andover’s West Middle School, who call me (and the only ones allowed to call me) Andy because they’ve never been able to shift from what I went by as a teenager - some habits die hard.  I would also like to use this moment to provide a gentle note of clarification about my last name -- Shen -- which has been one throughout my lifetime has often been confused for Chen (with a "Ch"), another Chinese-American surname that perhaps is a bit more common and familiar to many in this area.  I mention this not only as point of information about my name, but with the intention of bringing up our school’s commitment to pronouncing all of your names correctly. If and when we cross paths and introduce ourselves at this Thursday’s Back to School Night, I hope that you’ll provide me with some guidance if I don’t pronounce your name correctly and help me get it right.  My hope is that those interactions will be similar to the efforts that our teachers made at the start of this school year to learn the preferences, and the correct pronunciation, of your childrens’ names.  As a school we want to promote the idea that pronouncing names correctly can be an important part of helping each person feel welcome and seen, be it here at school or anywhere else.  To that end we are making it more of a habit to ask for a bit of guidance or confirmation about whether we pronounced a name correctly.  I will admit, however, that even if I succeed in correctly pronouncing the names of parents and guardians I meet on Thursday night, I may not remember all of your names after that evening and I ask in advance for a little forgiveness in that regard.  


As I noted above, Back to School Night is this Thursday evening at 7pm (6:40pm if your child takes the Band, Chorus or Drama electives and you want to meet their teachers).  Your children will bring home a schedule for you to follow.  Just in case your teenager is the first 13-year old to ever forget to share something with you, we’ll have a copy of each student’s schedule available in the Lobby, but I am sure none of you will have that issue.  If you did provide the PTSO an annual $40 donation this year, you can pick up your copy of the Student Directory at the PTSO table (in the Lobby).  For those who are still interested in contributing to the PTSO this year, you can still do so that evening.  Also, we have several 7th grade parents who have expressed an interest in serving on our School Council.  We will have paper ballots available in each of our homerooms (where families will begin the evening).  Please review the candidate profiles and vote for TWO of them.  Thank you in advance to all of the parents who are putting themselves out there and offering to serve.  


Here are some important reminders and notes for this week:


  • I hope all of you had an opportunity to read my email message regarding our plans to hold an ALICE drill this week.  You can review the content of that email message by clicking here.  Once the drill has been completed I will be sure to send a follow-up message to families.  

  • Our District Late Bus service is starting on Monday! If your child is planning on using the Late Bus, please remind him/her/them that they should have a clear understanding of their plan in terms of the drop off stop where they will disembark. As this is a new service there may be some hiccups during the first few days.  Thanks in advance for your patience as we work through any adjustments that might need to be made.  

  • Two calendar notes for the week of October 8:  There is no school on Monday, October 9 in observance of Indigenous People’s Day.  The School Committee voted last year to replace what had previously been observed as Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day on the District’s calendar.  The Junior High and High School also have our first Early Release day on that Thursday, October 12, and staff will then participate in professional learning for the remainder of the day.  Dismissal for students is at 10:40am at the Junior High and all standard bus routes will be available at that time.  Please note that the Late Bus will not be available that day.  I would encourage families to discuss and confirm with their child plans for this early release and expectations regarding transportation and post-release activities.  

  • Don’t forget to encourage your child to review the many after school clubs and activities that are offered at RJ Grey - we’ve got a new Book Club!  All of our active programs are listed here, and includes meeting times and locations, as well as the staff member who can answer additional questions.  


Starting this Monday and ending Tuesday, October 10, all of the schools and programs within Acton-Boxborough will be participating in a fundraising effort to support current Red Cross disaster relief efforts.  Initial planning for this fundraising effort was in direct response to Hurricane Harvey and the needs of those in southeast Texas.  We’ve now all witnessed several other communities in dire need of assistance due to Hurricanes Irma and Maria.  At the Junior High, our Student Council will be organizing a coin drive and collecting donations from students during Homeroom.  Donations from all of the schools and programs will be combined to provide one donation to the Red Cross on behalf of the District. Students and families may also drop off cash or check donations to the Main Office (checks can be made to ABRSD or directly to the Red Cross).  Many thanks to Debbie Ahl (Student Council advisor) and our Student Council officers and representatives for providing leadership for our school’s specific efforts.  Many thanks in advance to everyone for the contributions you may be able to make - be it through our District’s activities or through other channels.  


As a school community, we are continuing to place special emphasis on the conversations about the importance of sleep for adolescents.  Many of you are already aware that our District continues to look carefully at school start times and options for shifting start times within our District.  This is a topic that has gained traction both locally and across the country.  Last week the New York Times included a piece that tried to incorporate an economic argument into the school start time discussion, which you can read here.  You will all undoubtedly hear more about that initiative over the course of the year.  Along with our efforts around start times, we’ve also made a commitment to educating our students about this topic, and helping them develop a better understanding of how sleep affects their development and overall health.  To assist us in this process, we are fortunate that Dr. Kirsty Kerin, a Boxborough resident (and A-B parent) has continued to make herself available as a resource to our students and staff.  She returned to RJ Grey two weeks ago to deliver a presentation to our 7th grade students and covered a number of topics, two of which I wanted to pass on to you to give you a snapshot of her talk.   First, she highlighted the need to be mindful of the impact that caffeine has on having restful sleep (hint: it really disrupts an adolescent’s sleep when caffeine is in the body).  If caffeine is something you accept as part of your child’s diet, consider not consuming caffeine products after lunch so it has sufficient time to leave your system.  Second, being exposed to light and devices that project light have a significant impact on an individual’s ability to fall asleep.  Therefore, think about what it means to be starting into the screen of a digital device (phone, tablet, computer) late at night - and use apps that automatically eliminate “blue light” from screens after a certain time in the evening.  If I’ve piqued your interest on this topic, or if you’ve already been thinking about this issue, you can view the video recording of the presentation Dr. Kerin gave last year to our community as part of the Family Learning Series.  

Finally, a quick note about homework.  With a few weeks under our belt all of you are likely well aware that homework is assigned as part of your child’s different team classes.  Two years ago, our staff began an important and wide-ranging conversation about connections between homework and our curriculum, what makes for quality assignments, and the development of common expectations regarding workload.   We know that a balance must be struck between the benefits that quality homework assignments can provide and the necessity to manage a workload that is reasonable for students in these grades.  This is a multi-year effort, a work in progress, and something that we continue to pursue while keeping a purposeful eye on the many valuable curricular goals and aspirations that are important to preserve. Last June, the School Committee also voted and approved a District Homework Policy that applies to all of our schools and offers specific guidance for different grade levels.  You can view the Policy by clicking here.  The establishment of a District-wide policy that was voted on by the School Committee is a fairly significant stake in the ground regarding institutional expectations on this topic. As you’ll see within the language, the policy reflects and endorses a view that aligns with much of the Challenge Success work and aspirations that we’ve been exploring. On Tuesday, October 24 at 7pm there will be a Homework information session in the Junior High auditorium that will involve a panel that includes all eight school principals (and a few others).  I am looking forward to sharing the work of the Junior High at this October event.  This includes our efforts around communication to students and families, communication with each other (on teams), and individual educator practices that look at both quantity and type of assignment. Something that I would like to make sure all families are aware of are the team homework calendars. Starting this year, every team (in both grades) is maintaining a shared online homework calendar that can be viewed by students and their families.  For 7th grade teams, you can go here.  For 8th grade teams, you can go here. Our hope is that this additional resource can, first and foremost, support students as they develop the organizational and planning skills that will allow them to adjust to additional responsibilities.  Secondarily, this resource may also prove helpful to families who may still need to provide a bit of additional structure and guidance to their children as they work towards that level of independence that we all want them to develop.  A friendly reminder, though, that helping them get to that independence may require letting them stumble and fumble a bit on their own and to experience the natural consequences that accompanies some missed assignments or rushed work.  I am of course encouraging you to consider that approach while I am staring at my son’s unfinished Science homework and debating whether to comment on it to him.


Have a great week, everyone.  I hope to see you at this Thursday’s Back to School Night.  


Cheers,

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Grey Matters, September 18, 2017; Volume 6, Number 3

posted Sep 17, 2017, 10:08 AM by Andrew Shen   [ updated Sep 24, 2017, 9:37 AM ]

Hi Everyone,


My oldest son is a 7th grade student student this year.  Not at RJ Grey, at another school - for both his and my benefit and well-being.  We have a pretty good relationship (I think), but he’s 12-years old, I’m the Principal, so I see avoiding this collision of worlds as a wise decision.  This is the first year that one of my own children will be the same age as your children who attend RJ Grey, and I feel an elevated sense of kinship with all of you as we journey through this school year and all of the changes and growth that comes during this particular stage of adolescence.  I’ve recently thought about how it will be important for me to commit this year to embracing an even greater level of vulnerability and share some of those inevitable moments when my own parenting choices and instincts deviate a bit completely disregard from the best practices and strategies that get highlighted in Grey Matters. Maybe I’ll institute a color coding system where anything written in red font is something that I think is worth considering but where a hidden camera in my home would reveal a father (me) who might on occasion forsake what he knows might be best in order to achieve a short-term fix or cease fire (Exhibit A: moments where I allow more time on technology than I think is healthy because it affords me a bit of extra peace and quiet).  To kick things off, I am recycling an article in the Washington Post that I shared last Spring and offers suggestions for how parents (and guardians) can stay connected and engaged with their teenage sons.  This was probably my favorite one from last year, as it offered me practical suggestions that I’ve found to be effective (use car rides for conversations) and some important reminders about exercising a bit more patience in certain circumstances, and leaving room for silence.  That last strategy was, admittedly, hard for me to heed last night when my son told me the reason he was continuing to argue with me despite my declaration that our argument was over because “what I’m saying is right and what you said was wrong.”  


A couple of important scheduling reminders for the next week or two:


  • Picture Day is this Wednesday.  Students should have received a picture order form last Friday, some might get them on Monday.  Students who plan to order photos should bring the order form (and payment) on Wednesday.  Regardless of whether students order a package of photos, all students will have their photos taken so they can be included in the yearbook.  If you have any questions, please contact David Lawrence at dlawrence@abschools.org.  

  • There is no school this Thursday as it is Rosh Hashana.  A happy new year to those of you who observe that holiday.  There will be no homework or assessments scheduled for the following day (Friday).  

  • The vast majority of our after school clubs and activities are up and running.  A few more will have their first meetings in the next week or so.  You can view an updated list of this year’s clubs and activities on the RJ Grey website (or by clicking here).  Please encourage your students to listen carefully during morning announcements for reminders about meeting times and locations.  

  • Later this week RJ Grey families will be receiving two separate letters/email messages from me.  The first will be about our plans to offer a Late Bus option for Junior High and High School students, and details of this option will be outlined within the letter. The second message will be about our upcoming plans for students and staff to participate in a practice drill of our ALICE protocol.  Given the nature of the protocol I want to make sure families have an understanding of the scope and goal of the exercise.  That letter will likely be sent on Wednesday.  When you receive each of them I would ask you to take a few moments to read them.  


Another important reminder/Save the Date is for RJ Grey’s Back to School Night which will be on Thursday, September 28th, starting at 7:00pm.  For those of you with children who participate in the Band, Drama, String Ensemble or Chorus Grey Block electives, there is an optional meeting at 6:40pm where you can learn more about those programs. Rest assured that schedules for that evening will be coming home.  We will also have a copy of your child’s schedule available at the school in case the copy that your child is supposed to give you somehow gets lost in transit.  On that evening, we also ask parents to vote for two 7th grade parent/guardian representatives who will serve on this year's School Council. The role of the School Council is to review and discuss various aspects of the school's activities and goals, and offer advice and guidance about different topics that may emerge during the year. The Council will meet seven times this year, on Monday evenings at 6:30pm (the first will be October 16). We are looking for 7th grade parents who are interested in serving on the Council.  If you have any interest, please submit a short (5-7 sentence max) paragraph about yourself by noon on Monday, September 25th for the ballot. Write-ups can be sent to me at ashen@abschools.org.


For those who are new to RJ Grey I want provide you with an introduction to our RJ Grey community garden, which is currently comprised of eight raised beds in one of our enclosed courtyards.  Throughout the summer I may have singlehandedly eaten a few hundred cherry tomatoes that I plucked right off of the vine.  We continue to think about different ways the garden can be incorporated into the curricular and extracurricular programs at our school, and excited about involving a wider range of students in both the care of the garden and the consumption of the food that’s grown.  This past Friday, our Food Service staff made a kale salad with feta cheese and craisins from a recent harvest, serving this year’s first “farm to table” option for our students.  I hope some of your kids who included that salad as part of their meal last week found it to be a nice addition to their  lunch.  



It’s now time for the first reminder of the year about our District’s Challenge Success initiative, now entering it’s second full year and hopefully gaining some momentum.  Challenge Success is an organization based out of Stanford University, and we partner with them to coordinate many of our efforts already underway to champion strategies that encourage the healthy self-development of our students. As a District we share the concerns that many have expressed about the increasingly competitive, pressured, and hyper-focused environment in which we seem to find ourselves.  The emphasis on encouraging a student to do one’s best has often been overtaken by messages about needing to actually be the best.  As a result, there exists an intensity of expectations--on behalf of many parents/guardians and educators alike--that have emerged because of perceived risks if our kids do not pursue an increasingly narrow definition of success.  Our recent and ongoing work around homework practices at each of our schools, as well as discussions about sleep and start times, are just a few examples of our attention to this arena of our work.  In addition, I want to highlight two resources that are focused on outreach to the parent/guardian community on these topics.  First is the AB Wellness website which serves as a clearinghouse of information and resources on topics related to our Challenge Success work.  The second is our annual Family Learning Series which partners with several community organizations to schedule workshops and seminars throughout the year on child development and learning.  With a focus this year on developing resiliency in children, the next Family Learning Series event will be on October 11 at 7pm (in the JH Auditorium) and features Dr. Rob Evans those presentation is entitled Raising Resilient Children in Challenging Times.  I’ve had the opportunity to listen to and work with Dr. Evans and I would strongly encourage you to attend this presentation if your schedule will allow it. If you can’t make the Dr. Evans event, please take a look at the other events scheduled throughout the year.  


As many of you know, Massachusetts passed a comprehensive law in 2010 to address incidents of bullying and harassment in schools.  Among other aspects of the law, it called for every school to implement a research-based curriculum that addressed bullying prevention and prosocial behavior. This year, we are continuing our use of a curriculum created by the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center (MARC), an organization based at Bridgewater State that has been heavily involved in the state’s recent efforts to address bullying and harassment in school. This curriculum will be delivered through our RJ Grey Discussion Group meetings, the first of which is scheduled for next Monday the 25th.  These groups are used to introduce our ongoing goals of having conversations with students about healthy communication, problem solving, and conflict resolution.  


Similar to previous years, we will also continue to incorporate speakers and presentations that we feel can complement and expand our work in this area. For 7th grade students, we have again scheduled a great presentation by MARC specifically on cyberbullying and internet safety.  The presentation by MARC will take place for 7th grade students on Tuesday, October 24th and will again be led by Meghan McCoy (from MARC) who has worked with our school for several years, and is very familiar with our student audience.  


Our Fall sports programs are now in full swing. For families of students participating in our athletic programs: for away games and meets, students should expect to travel to and from those events using school transportation.  There are times that families will need to take their children immediately after the event.  For those situations, parents and guardians need to complete and submit an Athletic Transportation Use of Private Vehicles form. Your student should submit the form to the Main Office in the morning and pick it up later in the day, as it needs to be handed to the coach of the team.  Please note that we’re only allowed to release students to a parent or guardian, and can not allow another individual (friend, neighbor, etc.) to serve that role.  We know that there may be times when that option may be helpful, but we’re not permitted to accommodate those requests.  


Finally, I want to make sure families in Acton and Boxborough are aware of a service that focuses on mental health services, and through a partnership between the school district and several local organizations, is available to everyone in our two communities. William James Interface is a local initiative in Massachusetts intending to maintain an extensive, frequently updated website listing of available mental health resources by geography and type, and provides a free, confidential mental health and wellness referral line Monday through Friday, 9 am-5 pm, at 888-244-6843. Callers are matched with licensed mental health providers that meet the location, insurance, and specialty needs of the caller.  Each referral is provided with follow-up assistance. For more information, you can visit the Interface website here.


Have a great week, everyone.


Cheers,

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