Grey Matters

Grey Matters, May 22, 2017; Volume 5, Number 33

posted May 21, 2017, 11:24 AM by Andrew Shen


Hi Everyone,


On Friday morning we informed families of a serious motor vehicle accident that involved one of our 8th grade students, and I know it was difficult news for everyone to digest and that each of us has spent time between then and now thinking only the best of thoughts for and about the student and her family.  The student’s family was kind enough to check in with me this morning and is comfortable with my letting everyone know that their daughter is in stable condition and is making improvements each day.  It was the best news I’d heard in a long time, and I would imagine that this offers many of you a chance to exhale a sigh of relief.  Many friends throughout the community have already offered numerous expressions of support to the family, of which they are most appreciative.  While their attention is clearly focused on their daughter’s ongoing recovery and healing, they also wanted to make sure that other students who are worried know that their classmate is receiving excellent care and getting better.  Please feel free to share this update with your children, and we’ll do the same on Monday.  


We have much to share regarding the progress of our RJ Grey community garden, including our very first harvest last week.  The mustard greens, lettuce, arugula, and spinach were harvested by students in Ms. Rimpas’ health class and then members of 7 Green helped put together a number of salad options that were eagerly consumed by students and staff alike.  Those salads were also available as part of the lunch options in the cafeteria on Friday, serving as our very first “farm to table” endeavor at RJ Grey.  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 (I am looking forward to the carrots that aren’t quite ready yet).  Later this summer we will be entering Phase II of our garden plan that involves additional raised beds and an Eagle Scout project that will focus on developing other areas of the courtyard.  The elaborate pergola that Ms. Spalding and I have been fantasizing about will eventually find a place in our plans, but we both know that we might have to wait a bit for that.  


Here’s a couple of updates and reminders for families:


  • Thanks to those families who have submitted their field trip permission form and payment for the end-of-year field trips to Kimball’s (7th grade) and Canobie Lake (8th grade).  These are daylong trips scheduled for the second-to-last day of school.  If you still need to send it in, please make an effort to do so this week.  If any families would benefit from some financial assistance for this final field trip, please don’t hesitate to contact Jim Marcotte at jmarcotte@abschools.org.  

  • Next Monday is Memorial Day and there will be no school that day. Enjoy the long weekend!  

  • The Spring Chorus and String Ensemble concert is this Tuesday evening at 7pm.  

  • Another reminder about our fourth annual Empty Bowls event.  The Empty Bowls event will take place this year on Wednesday, May 31 from 5:30pm to 7:00pm.  This is an evening of art, singing and ice cream! Students will showcase their art and singing talents and invite families to a charity ice cream social.  There will be an art show, Select Choir performance, a silent auction, and of course the charity ice cream social.  This event is open to the whole community.  


The Student Council elections were held last week to determine next year’s President, Vice President, Treasurer and Secretary.  We first want to thank and applaud every 7th grader who ran in the elections.  It’s not easy at any age to put yourself out there, let alone plan and deliver a speech to over four hundred classmates. The 7th grade class listened to incredibly thoughtful speeches by each of our candidates, including speeches that offered snapshots of the candidates’ interests and backgrounds, speeches that used humor, and ones that folded in quotes on leadership by John F. Kennedy and Gerald Ford.  We’re lucky to have had thoughtful candidates as part of this year’s election.  Congratulations to next year’s Student Council officers: Treasurer Michael Cai, co-Secretaries Ashley Dawn and Balaji Ganapathi (there was a tie!), Vice President Michael Hu, and President Tycho Dickerson.


Finally, at the risk of creating unwanted competition for myself, I thought I’d share the news that Italy’s department of Infrastructure and Transport is “giving away 103 run-down castles and farmhouses in remote areas and historic sites” with the condition that the new owner invest in renovating the property into something that benefits tourism.  I’ve already got the sketches of a business plan scribbled out, and it might involve hosting small school groups of students and/or teachers. And gelato. It’ll involve gelato as well.  Click here to check out more on this fun opportunity.  


Have a great week, everyone.


Cheers,

201408111403_0001.tif






Grey Matters, May 15, 2017; Volume 5, Number 33

posted May 14, 2017, 9:02 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,



Happy Mother’s Day to any and all of you who plays that role to one (or more) of our students, or to anyone else. I hope the cold and rainy weather didn’t diminish any celebration that might have been planned for Sunday.  Earlier this year, and it seems every year, I share with families through Grey Matters various articles and stories that highlight the virtues, benefits and advantages of being the first-born child in a family (modesty is not one of them).  I figure Mother’s Day is a perfectly appropriate time to share yet another story about research that concludes that first-born children make better leaders (“conclusion” might be strong, but that’s what I am telling my younger sister).  For all my fellow older siblings, check out this recent story from The Atlantic and start forwarding it to your own younger siblings - you know they’ll appreciate it.  For everyone, I also wanted to celebrate Mother’s Day by re-sharing a link to a video that I came across three years ago that documented the time when the New York Times Magazine decided to invite a group of 2nd grade students to experience a 7-course tasting menu prepared by chef Daniel Boulud.  Normally a dining experience that comes with a $220 per person price tag, I am predicting many of you will appreciate the experiences and honest feedback that the 7-year olds offer in this 8-minute video.  




Here’s some reminders for this week and beyond:


  • A friendly reminder that this coming Wednesday we will be taking the annual 8th Grade class photo.  This is a panoramic photo that we take outside on the hill by the football field.  Order forms have been distributed to 8th grade students.   If you have any questions or need any sort of financial assistance, please contact Jim Marcotte at jmarcotte@abschools.org.  

  • Another friendly reminder for families whose children participate in our Band, Chorus or Strings programs.  The Spring concerts are coming upon us.  The Band’s Spring concert is scheduled for this Tuesday, May 16 at 7pm, and the Chorus and Strings Spring concert is scheduled for Tuesday, May 23 at 7pm.  

  • MCAS testing is now officially over, except for a few students who may still have some make up exams.  We hope and will try our best to remind each student that while the scores that come back in Fall tell us how they did on these recent days in April and May, it will not tell us everything about them, including their growth as thoughtful students and people.  

  • On Wednesday, June 21 (second to last day of school), both grades will be participating in their respective end-of-year field trips, and permission slips are being distributed to students this week.  As in previous years, the 7th grade will be going to Kimball Farm where they have full access to the bumper boats, miniature golf course, driving range, and other activities; the 8th grade will be going to Canobie Lake amusement park in New Hampshire. These field trips have historically been great and memorable parts of our year-end activities.  We also appreciate that the RJ Grey community includes families that may find the cost of these trips difficult to absorb.  Like all of our other trips and activities, we never want cost to prevent anyone from participating.  Please do not hesitate to let us know if some relief from these field trip costs would be helpful to your family (contact Assistant Principal Jim Marcotte at jmarcotte@abschools.org).  



I’m pleased and excited to be sharing with everyone information about our fourth annual Empty Bowls event.  The Empty Bowls event will take place this year on Wednesday, May 31 from 5:30pm to 7:00pm.  This is an evening of art, singing and ice cream! Students will showcase their art and singing talents and invite families to a charity ice cream social.  There will be an art show, Select Choir performance, a silent auction, and of course the charity ice cream social.   7th grade students made hand-crafted ceramic bowls in their art classes and families that participate will get to take home a handcrafted bowl as a reminder of the vast number of hungry families around the world and right here in our own community. The money raised from this event will be donated to the Acton Community Supper and Acton Food Pantry. This organization helps to feed many hungry families in the greater Acton area. This event helps raise $1000 for the charity each year.  Families from throughout the District are welcome, not just those with students at the Junior High.  The ice cream social is $5 per person with a $20 family maximum.  The rest of the event is free and we hope many of you are able to carve out some time to join us.  



I recently provided a “save the date” for our end-of-year 8th grade celebration, which is scheduled for Friday, June 16th.  I also provided 7th grade families with their own “save the date” for a 7th grade celebration that we are planning for Friday, June 9 and will be at 7pm.  Next week we will include some additional information for how families can offer their assistance for the 7th grade event.  This week,  I’d like to pass along some information about the 8th Grade Celebration from Carol Chytil and Deb Verner, the RJ Grey parents who (thankfully) are coordinating the planning of this event.  Usually at least 350 students attend this event, so we rely heavily on the many volunteers who help make this evening a special way to end the year.  Parents or guardians of 7th and 8th graders are needed for the following jobs: set up after school on June 16th; clean up after the dance; food and drink donations.  In past years, 7th grade Parent/Guardian Volunteers "pay it forward" so that parents of 8th graders can focus on their own children's participation in this important event. As a volunteer, you'll also get a preview of what your child will enjoy next year! Carol has set up a “Sign Up Genius” (click here) that invites parents and guardians to sign up to help in various capacities. This will also be sent out via the PTSO weekly newsletter.  They have a special request this year for someone to build a "large prop" prior to the event.  If you have questions, contact Carol at carol.chytil@gmail.com.


Even though the 8th grade Dance/Celebration is a little over a month away, I also want to re-share some information and messaging that I send out each year at this time about the event - and do my best not to oversell or undersell the atmosphere that exists at this great end-of-year activity.  Every year, I mention the below thoughts because sometimes, during some bouts of excitement about the event, a few expectations get generated within our student population that may be a bit on the unrealistic/ambitious/fantasy-ish side-- and then they occasionally get re-articulated to parents as school guidelines. So below is my annual “We’re really excited for this event, but this is not an episode of MTV’s My Super Sweet Sixteen” plea.  


We definitely make an effort (and with the help of parent volunteers, are always successful) to make this more than a “typical” or casual dance/celebration in terms of atmosphere -- we’ve got great decorations, props and backdrops for group photos, and an impressive spread of food (and it’s at night).  We want students to come excited and eager to spend an evening with their friends and classmates, and somewhat dressed up for the event.  As I mentioned prior to our most recent 8th grade social/dance, students don’t need to think that “coming with a date” is expected (the overwhelming majority do not), nor is it essential to schedule hair appointments or special transportation.  We ask students who attend this event to dress a bit more formally than most would for a regular school day -- whatever is your child’s individual version of “taking it up a notch”.  I’d try and get into more detail about clothing options, but then you’d discover how out of touch I am with current youth fashion trends.  Finally, if dancing is not your child’s “thing”, please assure them that it’s not a required activity for the evening, and many simply come and socialize with their peers.  This last point is why I’ve recently started to refer to this event using the term “celebration” along with “dance.”  


Finally, we had our most recent edition of Poetry Friday at the end of last week, and it featured three students from Ms. Bryan’s 7 Red English class.  Laura, Kerry and Amelia read an original poem that each of them wrote as part of their class’ most recent poetry unit.  Check out this great student yourself work by clicking here.  


Have a great week, everyone.


Cheers,

201408111403_0001.tif



Grey Matters, May 8, 2017; Volume 5, Number 32

posted May 7, 2017, 7:32 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,


I hope that by now all of you had an opportunity to read the letter that Dr. Brand sent to all members of the Acton-Boxborough community about our District’s work on the issue of school start times.  If that email got buried amongst a whole slew of other messages that arrived in your Inbox I’ve made a copy of the letter and you can easily access the message by clicking here.  Dr. Brand’s note provides a summary of our work around the question of changing school start times, and includes a link to a community survey about potential options for start times at the elementary, junior high, and high school levels.  If you have a little bit of time, please consider reviewing the start time information and completing the survey so we include community perspective on this incredibly important topic.  Most of you are probably aware that school start times is receiving a lot of attention at both the national and international level.  There isn’t a week that goes by where I don’t see multiple articles about research on sleep, proposed legislation, and debates about the challenges and benefits of later (and earlier) start times for students.  Just last week the Education Subcommittee of the California state legislature passed a bill that would require all schools within the state to start school no earlier than 8:30am, and now it travels on to the next stage of deliberation.  More locally, the school start time task force in Falmouth (in the Cape) recently recommended that no changes (for now) be made to their schools’ start times.   A few weeks ago a piece in The Atlantic attempted to tackle one of the most oft-cited and contentious elements of the school start time debate, which is the potential impact on athletic programs. Because questions and concerns about athletics is something that I am sure will emerge within our community’s analysis of school start time options, that article might be of interest to you.  Please complete the survey (click here to go directly to the survey)!  


We are about to enter the final week of MCAS testing (insert cheers, streamers, and noisemakers here).  On Monday and Tuesday, all 7th grade students will be completing the Math portion of the MCAS.  For the remainder of the week, students (both 7th and 8th grade) who were absent for one or more sections of MCAS will be scheduled into make up sessions.  


Interim reports for this current Spring Trimester will likely be sent via US Postal mail on Tuesday or Wednesday.  If your child receives one or more from his/her teachers, it’s likely that it arrived with Wednesday's or Thursday’s mail.  If you have any questions about those interims, please start a dialogue with your child’s teacher.  


Come see the Spring One-Act Plays put on by our Stageworks drama program. TWO hilarious comedies about life in the age of the INTERNET! The shows are Thursday, May 11 @ 3:30pm and 7:00pm and Friday, May 12 @ 7:00 pm. Admission is $5 at the door. Looking forward to seeing many of you there!  


On Wednesday, May 17, we will be taking the annual 8th Grade class photo.  This is a panoramic photo that we take outside on the hill by the football field.  Order forms will be distributed to 8th grade within the next week or so.   If you have any questions or need any sort of financial assistance, please contact Jim Marcotte at jmarcotte@abschools.org.  Please know that we are very committed to never letting finances interfere with any student’s ability to fully participate in these types of school events or “keepsakes”, and want everyone to enjoy these moments without having to think twice about potential financial impact.  


A friendly reminder for families whose children participate in our Band, Strings and Chorus programs.  The Spring concerts are coming upon us.  The Band’s Spring concert is scheduled for Tuesday, May 16 at 7pm, and the Chorus and Strings Spring concert is scheduled for Tuesday, May 23 at 7pm.  Please stay tuned for updates from your kids and/or Mr. Hickey (band), Ms. Green (Strings) or Mr. Charig (chorus) about details for those evening festivities.  


Finally, our District’s Challenge Success newsletter for the month of May is now out, with a focus on Social Emotional Learning.  Check out the resources and materials that are highlighted in this most recent edition.  


Have a great week, everyone.


Cheers,

201408111403_0001.tif







Grey Matters, May 1, 2017; Volume 5, Number 31

posted Apr 30, 2017, 7:22 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,


This (photo to right) is Bailey.  She’s an 8-week old black Labrador Retriever who will be joining the Shen household, including our 5-year old Golden Retriever, over the Memorial Day weekend.  What that means is that I have about four weeks to identify volunteers amongst the RJ Grey community to participate in the Shelter-a-Principal program which is intended to provide yours truly some alternate living arrangements for the next three to six months.  Yes, isn’t Bailey adorable and cuddle-worthy, and what cute eyes and paws she has.  Yes, won’t all of the kids love playing with her and making her part of our family.  But let’s all acknowledge that those endearing qualities are intended to distract us from all of the destruction and havoc that these little guys can create within a single day.  I weep in advance for my likely-to-be-pooped-on rugs and carpets, and my running sneakers that will probably get eaten when I forget to put them away.  For the moment I take solace in knowing that Bailey is a much preferred alternative to our youngest son’s original plan for our family to get a Bernese Mountain Dog, a breed of dog that typically grows to around 100 pounds.  


This week we return to MCAS testing for our 8th grade students.  Here is a link to the schedule.  We are moving to the Mathematics portion at the beginning of the week, with 8 Gold and 8 Red scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, and 8 Green and 8 Orange on Wednesday and Thursday.  On Friday, all 8th grade students will take the Science & Technology portion of the MCAS.  The Math MCAS is computer-based (like the English Language Arts assessment), and Science & Technology will be paper-based.  7th grade students will take the Math portion of the MCAS early next week.  Students who are absent on days where they are scheduled to participate in MCAS testing will be scheduled for make-ups during the following week.  A friendly reminder to please help your child get some nourishment in the morning before they leave for school.  


For 8th grade families, a very brief “save the date” for the annual End-of-Year Celebration for 8th grade students.  It will be held the evening of Friday, June 16th, so mark it on your calendars.  In next week’s Grey Matters, I’ll share a bit more about the event, and also the role that families play in making it a great event to finish off the year (and one’s time at RJ Grey).  I also want to provide 7th grade families with their own “save the date” for a 7th grade dance that we are planning for Friday, June 9th.  We resurrected the 7th grade Spring dance a few years ago, and it’s continued to be a great event and we’re looking forward to holding it again this year.  Stay tuned for more details later this month.   


One last reminder for our 7th grade families about  our plans to offer a school trip to Washington, DC during the April Break next April 2018.  Up to 150 students will be able to participate in this program, and we will first offer spots to our current 7th graders and then in September open remaining spaces to our newest class of students, as well as those who may not have signed up this Spring. If you are interested in learning more about this opportunity (financial cost, logistics, and programming) for your child, please considering attending an informational session at the junior high school this Wednesday at 6:30pm in our auditorium.  This meeting will be led by Marc Lewis (7 Green Social Studies) and a representative from the Close Up organization.  


A quick save the date for our families about the upcoming Spring One Act Plays being performed by students participating in our Stageworks program (after school drama club at RJ Grey), on Thursday, May 11 and Friday, May 12.  More details will be forthcoming early next week.  


I wanted to make sure all families had an opportunity to review the letter that was sent to the AB community from the Superintendent’s office regarding the recent Netflix series “13 Reasons Why.”  If you have not read the letter, I would ask you to consider taking a few moments to do so and you can access a copy of the letter by clicking here.  The letter outlines a number of concerns that educators and mental health professionals have about the show, and is consistent with the messaging that many schools and organizations are sharing across the country.  It also includes a number of resources that families can access not only about discussing the show and what is and isn’t included, but also resources that provide mental health assistance in general.  Here are two articles from the Washington Post and the Boston Globe that provide overviews of the conversations that are emerging, and recommendations that parents and guardians should consider.  


Finally, this past week I met with our fifth group of Everyday Leaders, who joined me for some pizza and conversation, as the students caught me up on how the school year has gone, and we exchanged ideas about our school schedule and ways it could look different.  Congratulations to the following students whose teachers included them in this cohort of Everyday Leaders: Ben Wang, Grete Busse, Abby Giffen, Parth Lagu, Margeaux Matz, Mia Buonomo, Sydney Collett-Callahan, Paul Charisse, and Jordan McAuliffe.  


Have a great week, everyone.  


Cheers,

201408111403_0001.tif


Grey Matters, April 24, 2017; Volume 5, Number 30

posted Apr 23, 2017, 5:09 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,


Welcome back from what was hopefully a restful and meaningful April Break for you and your family.  While I didn’t go anywhere exciting this past week, I did manage to stay away from work -- both physically and mentally (for the most part).  Similar to many of you, I certainly wouldn’t mind one more day before getting back into regularly scheduled programming.  Nevertheless, I am looking forward to seeing the staff and students at school tomorrow morning.  I’m also looking forward to checking on the growth of the plantings in our RJ Grey Garden.  On the Thursday prior to break, students on 7 Gold and 7 Green lent a helping hand with moving dirt, wood chips and peat moss into our new raised beds.  There was also plenty of time and (more than enough) hands to complete the first planting of “cold weather crops”, specifically spinach, arugula, carrots, kale, and lettuce, all of which will be harvested before the end of the school year.  It was nice to see many of our students getting some dirt between their fingers during the school day and we’re excited about finding different ways for the garden to play a role within our classrooms and extracurricular activities.  The RJG Garden would not be possible without the green thumb and enthusiasm of Anne Spalding.  For those who don’t already know Anne, she’s my administrative assistant and office manager (i.e. the one who makes me look more capable and on top of things than I really am).  Many thanks to Anne and the 7 Gold and 7 Green teachers who assisted in coordinating the activities that Thursday.  


Here’s some calendar-related reminders for you to keep in mind as we return from the Break:


  • We begin MCAS testing for 7th grade students this week, specifically this Tuesday and Wednesday.  Makeups for absent students will take place later in the week. Testing this week will focus on the English Language Arts (ELA) portion of the assessment, and all 7th grade students will be participating in testing on both days.  Here is the MCAS schedule if you’d like to review it.  As a reminder, the 7th grade MCAS continues to be paper-based (as in previous years).  This is different from the 8th grade testing this year which has used a computer-based platform.  Please encourage/help your 7th grade students have a healthy breakfast before coming to school and feel free to send them with a little something (i.e. breakfast bar, muffin) to start the day.  

  • For current 7th grade students:  students who are interested in running for one of next year’s Student Council officer positions (President, Vice President, Treasurer, Secretary) should begin the process for “pulling papers” and the election process.  Nomination forms will be available starting tomorrow --- Monday, April 24 and are due Friday, April 29. Anyone who plans to run will need to meet in Room 325 during Grey Block on Friday, April 29.  


Before the April Break, I quickly mentioned that we are currently in the beginning stages of planning a student trip to Washington D.C. for next April 2018.  Up to 150 students will be able to participate in this program. We will first offer spots to our current 7th graders and then in September open remaining spaces to our newest class of students, as well as those who may not have signed up this Spring. If you are interested in learning more about this opportunity (financial cost, logistics, and programming) for your child, please considering attending an informational session at the Junior High on the evening of Wednesday, May 3 at 6:30pm in our auditorium.  This trip will again be coordinated by Mr. Marc Lewis, Social Studies teacher on 7 Green, and will eventually serve as the point of contact for parents and students wishing to learn more about this opportunity.  


This week is a busy one in terms of our engagement with current 6th grade families whose children plan to join us at RJ Grey in September.  We have our Curriculum Night scheduled for this Wednesday evening, and then we have a day (Friday) where we offer tours to parents and guardians; and then on the following Monday, the PTSO is hosting an event where families can engage directly with current parents to discuss the transition process and the strategies, advice, and reassurances that our parents are most equipped to offer to incoming families.  If you have friends and/or neighbors who are joining the RJ Grey community for the first time this Fall, please encourage them to attend some of these programs, as we look forward to welcoming them (and their children) to our school.  


Last year, as part of our all-school assembly that we hold on the last day of school (for students and staff), the English Department sponsored a friendly contest for students who had an interest in reading an original poem during the assembly.  We’re pleased to be including that feature again this year as part of our annual send-off event.  Called, “The Final Verse”, current 8th grade students are invited to submit an original poem that speaks to one of a few possible themes (such as life lessons, memories, endings/beginnings).  One of the submitted poems will be selected and the student author will be invited to read it as part of the year-end celebration.  8th grade English teachers will share more information directly with students, and families can review the details of this contest by clicking here.  Students who submit a piece must make sure to give it to their English teacher by May 26.  English teachers will share additional details with students during their classes.  


During my time away from school last week I had an opportunity to read a number of articles that had a direct or tangential connection to some of the topics and projects we’ve been working on at Acton-Boxborough, along with some that touch upon themes related to parenting and kids.  Reading them from the perspective of a dad and educator, I wanted to pass along links to these pieces should you share some interest in the subject matter.  First, here is an article in the Washington Post that offers suggestions for how parents (and guardians) can stay connected and engaged with their teenage sons.  This one was probably my favorite one from last week, as it offered me some important reminders about exercising a bit more patience when my oldest son offers me one word answers to all of my brilliantly crafted and delivered questions about his day [Question: “What’d you have for lunch at school today?”  Answer: “Food”].  An article in the April 12 edition of the Boston Globe provided a summary of local efforts to explore adding time for school recess.  While the focus seems to be primarily at the elementary level, the idea of incorporating some downtime or “brain breaks” within the school schedule is something that has been a part of our recent review at the Junior High of our school schedule so that article definitely caught my eye. Finally, as a nod to our District’s ongoing work around the importance of sleep in the health and development of our students (and the rest of us), I wanted to share this article about how the Boston Red Sox now have a clubhouse sleep room as part of their efforts to encourage healthy sleeping habits in their players.  I know that the District’s Wellness Committee is working hard on identifying various options related to school start times and I’m looking forward to the next stages of that initiative.  


Finally, for those who ran the Boston Marathon last week, or who went to the event to cheer on friends and family, I hope it was a great day for all of you.


Have a great week, everyone.


Cheers,

201408111403_0001.tif


Grey Matters, April 10, 2017; Volume 5, Number 29

posted Apr 9, 2017, 7:23 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,


If I owned a Hawaiian shirt like the one to the right, I’d definitely plan on wearing it this coming Tuesday since the weather forecast predicts temperatures in the low 80s.  I don’t own any tropical shirts, so I might just wear sandals to celebrate what is hopefully a permanent shift into the Spring season.  Even though there are some days that have rain in the forecast, hopefully the warmer overall temperatures will allow our Spring sports programs to begin practicing and playing in earnest.  Par for the course, our Spring Track program has over 200 RJ Grey students on the battalion team, and our softball, baseball and volleyball teams have taken shape. I’m excited for our students participating in these programs to have a fun and enjoyable season. As we enter this Spring sports season, both at school and through community and club programs, I would encourage all of us (me included) to be continually mindful of how to be a supportive and thoughtful sports parent.  There is an intensity to youth sports today that can unfortunately dilute the many benefits that would typically be a part of the experience of being on a team and participating in lively competition.  Here is a recent Washington Post article where the managers of the New York Yankees (Joe Girardi) and St. Louis Cardinals (Mike Matheny) share their perspective about the secondary and less vocal role that they want to encourage parents to adopt in service of their kids who might be competing on the field or sitting on the bench.  Last May, I shared an excerpt of a letter written by the father-in-law of a good friend to the players assigned to the Little League baseball team that he was assigned to coach in the Spring of 1977.  As we enter this next season of Spring sports, I wanted to again share a portion of it in case it might resonate with you: “I do not care how many games you win or lose; I hope you win at least one game so that you and your teammates can experience the satisfaction of winning as a team, but I also hope you lose one so that you will experience the shared disappointment of a team loss...The purpose of the program is to give you and your teammates an opportunity to learn something about competition, sportsmanship and team play by actually playing on a baseball team, in the belief that, if well taught, the lessons learned on the baseball field will be valuable to you as you continue to grow up.”


Here are some reminders and acknowledgements for you to review this week:


  • Registration forms from current 7th grade students for their 8th grade year were due last Friday.  Thank you to the many families who submitted those forms.  If you’ve still got that form, please send it in with your child or bring it to the main office right away.  

  • For any 7th grade families considering a math override, please remember that the deadline for that request is this Thursday, April 13th, and the override form must be submitted by that date.  We will not be able to accept requests after that date.  

  • We had about 250 8th grade students join us last Friday night for a fun Spring Fling social event in the gym.  We hope everyone had a great time, and enjoyed the opportunity to spend some time together that evening.  Many thanks to our parent volunteers/coordinators who provided food and drink, and some much needed help during the evening.   

  • We have completed our initial round of MCAS testing for 8th grade students.  There are no MCAS tests scheduled for this week except for the students who were absent last week.  When we return from April Break we will begin the English Language Arts portion of MCAS for 7th grade students that Tuesday, April 25th.  I’ll be sure to provide a reminder to families that Sunday before we return.  


As we still have about nine weeks of school remaining, 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.  Students who complete 10 hours of service within the school year will be recognized for their efforts, and it’s definitely not too late to submit that information.  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.  


April Vacation is next week, and so a couple of things on that.  First, Thursday is a full day of school and then we have no school on Friday in recognition of the Good Friday religious holiday that falls on that day.  If your travel plans involve your child missing some school this week we would appreciate your letting us know ahead of time so we can manage the attendance process a bit more easily.  Secondly, I wanted to continue offering a reminder and encouragement to use the vacation period to prioritize “playtime” and/or downtime for your kids.  Remember, there’s no homework assigned over the vacation periods, and that’s so families can comfortably attend to other activities and interests.



During last year’s April Vacation we had our first ever RJ Grey school trip to Washington DC, where 100 7th and 8th grade students and ten staff members, including yours truly, spent four days exploring our nation’s capital.  We departed RJ Grey early Sunday morning for a flight to Washington, and participated in the Close Up Foundation’s Washington Middle School Program, and returned to Acton-Boxborough on Wednesday night. In DC, students visited famous monuments, memorials and museums that connect the ideas of our Founding Fathers to how our country works today, as the trip focus on the ideas of active citizenship that are a central focus of our 7th grade social studies curriculum. Some, but not all, of the highlights of the trip included a visit to the National Air and Space Museum, a walking workshop of Capitol Hill, a mock Congress debating timely political issues, a visit with Massachusetts Senator Edward Markey, and an afternoon at Arlington Cemetery and the National Archives. As the Principal, the most satisfying part of the trip was of course going with 100 students and returning home with the same number, and having avoided any engagement with hotel security or the Secret Service.  

It was an incredible experience for both the adults and the students on the trip and it certainly left us with an interest in returning with another group of students in the future.  Because of the significant amount of planning involved, and the need to ask teachers to give up a good portion of their vacation, our current plan is to offer this trip every other year during the April Vacation.  That means we are currently in the beginning stages of planning a student trip to Washington D.C. for next April 2018.  Up to 150 students will be able to participate in this program. We will first offer spots to our current 7th graders and then in September open remaining spaces to our newest class of students, as well as those who may not have signed up this Spring. If you are interested in learning more about this opportunity (financial cost, logistics, and programming) for your child, please considering attending an informational session at the Junior High on the evening of Wednesday, May 3 at 6:30pm in our auditorium.  This trip will again be coordinated by Mr. Marc Lewis, Social Studies teacher on 7 Green, and will eventually serve as the point of contact for parents and students wishing to learn more about this opportunity.  


Finally, an update on an exciting project that we dreamed up last year.  Last Spring we began discussions about creating a community garden at RJ Grey.  Many of you know that there is at the Junior High a pretty big enclosed courtyard that used to have some large trees that shaded the bulk of the space.  Two years ago, the largest of those trees fell down and because we discovered quite a bit of rot we needed to remove the remainder of those trees.  That untended land has for two years looked a bit like a nuclear wasteland, but has enormous potential and is screaming out for some attention.  There is quite a bit of flat land and we have finally reached the stage where we are installing our first raised beds where we can, among other things, grow a fair amount of vegetables and herbs that can support not only our cafeteria, but where both the growing and use of the food can be folded into classroom activities and other programs like our Cooking Club.  Earlier this Spring we met with Fresh Start Food Gardens, an organization based in Westford, to partner with us in developing a plan for our garden space and ideas for involving teachers and students in building the beds, planting, maintaining, and harvesting.  On Thursday, a few of our teams will be working alongside staff from Fresh Start to finish building the beds, filling them, and completing our first inaugural planting which will hopefully be ready to harvest before the end of the school year.  I’ll be sure to include photos of this work in the next edition of Grey Matters.  As our work on this garden evolves, we’ll hopefully develop additional ways for students and families who have an interest in this work to become involved.  


Have a great week, everyone.  


Cheers,

201408111403_0001.tif



Grey Matters, April 3, 2017; Volume 5, Number 28

posted Apr 2, 2017, 4:02 PM by Andrew Shen   [ updated Apr 2, 2017, 4:02 PM ]


Hi Everyone,


Not that looking out the window would tell you this, but the next season of Major League Baseball arrives this week.  Which means it’s time to check out stories that highlight the new food offerings at ballparks around the country.  Here’s a great summary from BravoTV that comes with high resolution photos of options such as the hot dog you can buy at a Cleveland game that is topped with bacon, macaroni and cheese and…..Fruit Loops (seriously, check out the picture in the article).  And then when you travel to Pittsburgh you can swap out the Fruit Loops for Cracker Jacks (also mixed with mac ‘n cheese on top of a giant hot dog).  As the BravoTV article accurately notes, “just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”  Closer to home, and with a healthier focus, the Junior High’s Iron Chef Cooking Club hosted its first ever Italian-themed family dinner event last Friday evening, serving 55 family members a full meal that they prepared.  Complete with music and table settings, those in attendance were treated to a full (and filling) dining experience courtesy of their kids.  Many thanks to Deb Rimpas (Health teacher) and Kirsten Nelson and Jean Tibbets (Food Services), and of course the students in the Cooking Club, for pulling off what will hopefully become an annual event.  My guess is that the American Heart Association would much prefer Cheez Whiz, peppers and onions-- being offered at Yankee Stadium this season.  



Here’s some reminders from our calendar and a few other items:


  • We have an early release for students this coming Thursday, April 6.  Dismissal is at 10:40am and normal bus routes will be available for transportation home.  Please note that students will not be able to stay in the school building after dismissal.  The Library is being used for professional learning and there will not be supervision available during that time.  

  • April Break starts on Friday, April 14th.  Good Friday falls on that date, so the last day of school before the break will be Thursday, April 13th (and it will be a full day)

  • This month’s Challenge Success newsletter from Acton-Boxborough focuses on the topic of growth mindset.  If you’ve got a few moments, click here and check out some of the resources that are highlighted in that newsletter.  


We have MCAS starting on Monday (tomorrow) with 8th grade students on 8 Gold and 8 Red taking the English Language Arts portion.  Here is the link to the MCAS schedule for our school this Spring.  We hope you will encourage your kids to get a good night’s sleep before they are scheduled for an MCAS test day.  Well, we hope you encourage a good night’s sleep every night, but maybe place additional emphasis on it knowing they’ll be taking some assessments that are longer than what they typically experience.  A good breakfast always helps, and we will have some snacks and water for everyone to have before the testing begins.  For students who are absent, we have make up periods scheduled and we will connect with those students at that time.  


One more note for current 7th grade families: the registration form for your child’s 8th grade year has been mailed home.  Please review this form, which indicates a math level recommendation and confirmation of current world language choice.  It also asks you (and your child) to indicate interest in any of the Grey Block electives for next year.  When doing so, please be sure to note that some of the electives do have class size limits and are not guaranteed, which is why we need you to potentially indicate more than one choice.  These forms are due to your child’s homeroom teacher by this Friday, April 7.  Those families who might be entertaining an override request for math levels must submit that form by not later than Thursday, April 13.  Please know that we can not accept override requests after that date.   


Finally, we’re looking forward to the 8th grade Spring dance scheduled for this Friday evening (April 7) from 7pm to 9pm.  Please note that this is not a formal dance, nor even a semi-formal dance.  That’s a more accurate description of the end-of-year event we host for 8th grade students in June.  I’ve heard that there’s some interest and excitement by students for this upcoming dance, which is great.  We want to celebrate that enthusiasm and we also want to make sure everyone has a clear understanding that this is not an event that requires “coming with a date.” Quite frankly, it doesn’t even require dancing.  It’s a social event where music and the option to dance are a central feature, but certainly not a requirement.  Please know that we are not trying to discourage students from attending the dance together, and happy for those who might be at that place. Our students are certainly at an age where for some of them dating, romantic feelings, and matters of the heart are an area of intense interest. For other kids, this particular aspect of puberty does not currently play as prominent a role, with some being completely oblivious or unphased by it.  With that in mind, we are trying to strike a bit of a balance of providing an appropriate space for students to navigate this arena of teenage romance, but not have other students unintentionally develop the impression that dances and social events must involve a romantic angle.  Some of our parents and guardians with older children may be familiar with the recent “promposal phenomenon” - where some (a lot of?) high school students have taken to planning elaborate and very public ways of asking someone to accompany them to the prom.  The Washington Post actually wrote a short history of the promposal given how entrenched its become in teen culture.  While we may have some RJ Grey students who are eager to deliver their own mini version of a promposal, the “asks” that are more public in nature are not something we would encourage in a middle school setting, or at least while at school. In terms of the dance itself, we’ll take care of the planning for what happens between 7pm and 9pm.  The logistics and plans for before and after the dance we leave in the capable hands of our parent community. We’re excited for our students to attend, and for a good time to be had by all.  


Have a great week, everyone.


Cheers,

201408111403_0001.tif






Grey Matters, March 27, 2017; Volume 5, Number 27

posted Mar 26, 2017, 8:52 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,


It’s an interesting but predictable phenomenon that the annual NCAA March Madness college basketball tournament leads to the sudden development of passionate but temporary loyalties and rabid school spirit by individuals who really have no prior connection to the colleges currently competing in the tournament.  This year, and for this week only, I am now the biggest fan of the University Oregon Ducks and their basketball program.  If Oregon wins, and Gonzaga loses, I have a very strong chance of claiming victory in the low-stakes basketball pool that I casually joined when invited by a friend.  Given how haphazardly I filled out my bracket (I barely follow college basketball), my current sense of enthusiasm and Oregon pride is a bit ridiculous.  Correction, it’s very ridiculous.  Nevertheless, Go Ducks.  



I’ve got some timely updates and reminders to put in front of you, and then I spend some time reviewing the upcoming arrival of MCAS testing, which begins next week.  


  • Last week I listed the wrong date for our now-scheduled last day of school.  With the most recent snow day, our last day of school is THURSDAY, JUNE 22.  Apologies for that.  

  • There is an 8th grade dance being planned by the Student Council, and scheduled for Friday, April 7 from 7pm to 9pm. Stay tuned for announcements throughout that week for purchasing tickets.  

  • Don’t forget that Thursday, April 6 is the Junior High’s last early release day, where students are dismissed at 10:40am and staff remain to participate in professional learning.  

  • I hope most families of current 8th grade students have begun to navigate the Parent Portal as you complete the registration process for 9th grade courses at the High School.  Please remember that the portal closes next Monday, April 3.  

  • Another plug for the work our School Committee is pursuing regarding our District’s long-term building needs, including the possibility of proposing the construction of a new school building and/or renovating existing school buildings.  Click here for a downloadable flyer that lists all of the forum dates that are being offered by the Committee.  Important questions such as how many schools should be used, the number of grade levels at each building, and whether an early childhood center should be included are part of this dialogue.  Please consider attending!

  • The tryout and sign-up schedule for our Spring Sports programs are all set.  Meetings and/or tryouts for Track and Softball start next week.  For those who are interested in baseball, softball, girls volleyball or track, you can review the tryout and sign-up schedule by clicking here.  You can always go to the RJ Grey Athletics Page to review that information and also download Green Forms and athletic fee waiver request forms.  Please remember that no student may participate in tryouts without a valid/updated Green Form.  This is an MIAA regulation and no exceptions can be made.  



A friendly and important reminder that we have students at RJ Grey who have organized a drive to support Cradles to Crayons  with donations of gently used or new clothing and shoes to support programs that assist families that are homeless.  Please consider donating sizes infant to adult medium for clothing, and shoe sizes 0-10. The drive will start tomorrow (Monday) March 27th and go until April 6th, and bins will be located near the library entrance.  Thanks in advance for your support.  


For current 7th grade families, you will be receiving in the mail later this week the scheduling/registration form regarding your child’s 8th grade year.  This form includes math level recommendations, confirmation of current world language choice, and a space to indicate preferences for Grey Block (when students take an elective or have a study hall).  Please sign and complete the form and return it to your child’s homeroom teacher by April 7.  For those who may consider an override request regarding math level placement, please make note of the process for doing so (which involves a separate form that can be picked up at the Junior High) and the hard no exceptions deadline of Thursday, April 13 for that request.  


MCAS! I am sharing with everyone some thoughts about MCAS, and a good portion of it is reused from the past few years, since my/our thoughts on it haven’t really changed, along with our suggestions for how families and students should view MCAS testing relative to other aspects of the educational process.  


If the weather continues to cooperate, we begin the 8th Grade English/Language Arts portion of the MCAS state assessments next Monday, April 3. Here again is a link to the RJ Grey-specific schedule for MCAS testing for April and May, and for both grades.  If your child is absent for one of his/her testing dates, there are a number of make-up dates that we have already scheduled, and we will coordinate those make-ups with students.  As I mentioned in an earlier Grey Matters, this is the first year where portions of the MCAS will be computer-based (for only 8th grade this year) and we will continue to help students be prepared for that testing platform.


At RJ Grey, we are interested in continuing to express and balance two messages to students about MCAS.  First, we hope that students take their participation in MCAS seriously, where they try their best and respond to the questions thoughtfully and to the best of their ability.  At the same time, we want students to know that how they perform on these tests does not define them as individuals, nor as students.  It’s one type of measure (given at one point in the year), and like any single assessment, can not truly capture all that there is to know (and needs to be known) about a student’s growth as a student, and all of their other talents and strengths.  


MCAS results are provided to individual families to be reviewed; and as a school, we are responsible for addressing areas of concern that the state may identify based on our results.  So we certainly pay attention to, and we work hard to prepare students for the MCAS, along with our other assessments. However, we never want students to experience anxiety or distress over the MCAS, and to know that there is much (so much) more to one’s development as a thoughtful individual than is reflected in this particular set of assessments.  Each year, I include a link to a 2014 New York Times article entitled,  “How to Get a Job at Google” (click here) that highlights Google’s approach and philosophy to recruitment and hiring, noting a de-emphasis on test scores and GPAs as a predictor for the qualities that they seek, and instead “cares about a lot of soft skills— leadership, humility, collaboration, adaptability and loving to learn and relearn. This will be true no matter where you go to work.” In a February 2105 article in the Boston Globe Magazine, a Williams College psychologist presented her ideas about how our schools’ efforts might benefit from a re-orientation of our standardized assessments around skills and qualities that, interestingly, have much overlap with the Google article.  While the author didn’t specifically make reference to Google, it was hard not to see the similarities found in her “7 Things Every Kid Should Master” (and should therefore be the focus of assessments) as she emphasized reading, collaboration, conversation, flexible thinking and use of evidence, inquiry, and well-being.  Just some food for thought as we enter this season of state assessments.  


In an effort to support students during these testing days, we hope to work with families on establishing some routines that will deliver that dual message that I describe above. We begin MCAS testing about 15 minutes after homeroom so we can provide some time to make sure that all students have a chance to settle down and, quite frankly, have the chance to eat something.  If you have time at home, please think about making sure your child has a good breakfast before leaving -- taking a 2 hour test on an empty stomach can be tough for some (count me as one of them).  If you don’t have time, please feel free to send your child in with some food that they can eat during that brief period before testing begins.  To repeat my plea from previous years: in the interest of avoiding a mess, please don’t send your kids in with a Grand Slam Breakfast from Denny’s, but some water or juice, a muffin, fruit or yogurt.  We will also be providing each room with some snack food for students who didn’t have the opportunity to eat at home, or able to bring something on their own.


Finally, we had our latest installment of Poetry Fridays at the end of last week.  Ms. Mazonson, Social Studies teacher on 8 Gold, brought two students who read Taoist-inspired poems that they crafted as part of a class exercise.  Many thanks to Ms. Mazonson, Cole Harris, and Sonia Mulgund for sharing their poetry with us. Click here to read their submissions.  


Have a great week, everyone.


Cheers,

201408111403_0001.tif


Grey Matters, March 20, 2017; Volume 5, Number 27

posted Mar 19, 2017, 12:31 PM by Andrew Shen   [ updated Mar 19, 2017, 12:31 PM ]


Hi Everyone,


For those of you who were pleased that we had a snow day last Tuesday, my guess is that you’re under 18 years of age and perhaps had a quiz or a test that was originally scheduled for that day.  My wife’s students had a long-term research paper due that day and they all received a much-appreciated extension because of the weather. I’m happy for everyone who benefited from the day off and I look forward to seeing them all on Thursday, June 23rd, which is now the scheduled last day of school for the year (how’s that for bursting everyone’s bubble).  I will acknowledge that I may be a bit cranky from the day, partially because of what happened to my mailbox that evening (see photo to the right).  I now join the fraternity of homeowners who have experienced the demise of a perfectly fine mailbox at the hands of a snowplow, and will have to wait until we truly enter Spring before I can actually replace the post.  And to add insult to injury, having a snow day on March 14 means that our school missed out on Pi Day (3/14) and all of the fanfare and hoopla that comes on that day.  To the credit of the 8th grade math teachers, they made up for it the next day as I saw Ms. Kelly coming in early that morning with boxes of mini blueberry and chocolate cream pies to assist in the celebration.  The Colorado Rockies (a major league baseball team), however, took home the prize for most clever Pi Day tribute with this photo posted on their team Twitter page.  I did discover later on that the numbers were photoshopped, but the gesture was nonetheless a clever one and, as the Washington Post stated, a “delightfully nerdy” photo to celebrate the day.  




Here are some useful reminders and updates for you to review for the upcoming weeks:


  • Report cards for the Winter Trimester went home with students last Thursday.  If your child’s report card is for some reason missing in action, you might want to ask him/her about it. If he/she reports that it got lost in transit or perhaps spontaneously combusted, let me know and we can generate another copy for you.  

  • The Signs of Suicide (SOS) lessons will be delivered this week, Monday through Thursday - one 7th grade team each day.  Thank you for sending in your consent forms indicating the level of participation for your child.  Two important reminders:  (1) any student whose family did not submit a consent form will participate in the lesson, but not the screening tool; and (2) any family whose son/daughter does have a follow up conversation with a counselor or staff member from Riverside Trauma Center will be contacted.  There will be some students who are asked to meet with a counselor simply to provide feedback about what they thought of the lesson, and we will let their parents know of that conversation as well.  

  • We have students at RJ Grey who have organized a drive to support Cradles to Crayons  with donations of gently used or new clothing and shoes to support programs that assist families that are homeless.  Please consider donating sizes infant to adult medium for clothing, and shoe sizes 0-10. The drive will start March 27th and go until April 6th, and bins will be located near the library entrance.  

  • There is an 8th grade dance being planned by the Student Council, and scheduled for Friday, April 7 from 7pm to 9pm. Stay tuned for announcements throughout that week for purchasing tickets.  Please note that this is separate from the annual end-of-year 8th grade celebration which is a more elaborate evening event in June.  

  • Don’t forget that Thursday, April 6 is the Junior High’s last early release day, where students are dismissed at 10:40am and staff remain to participate in professional learning.  

  • Poet Marie Howe, this year's Robert Creeley Award recipient, will read from her work at ABRHS on March 30. There will also be a community event the night before, March 29 at 7:30 p.m. in the ABRHS Auditorium. The evening event is free and open to all members of the community. For a brief introduction to Marie Howe and some of her work, visit robertcreeleyfoundation.org.


IMPORTANT REMINDER FOR 8TH GRADE FAMILIES: The parent portal for 8th grade families to begin registering for 9th grade courses at the High School opens tomorrow (Monday, March 20).  All students have had conversations with their current teachers about course and level recommendations.  If you’d like to review the presentation that was delivered to 8th grade students, you can view the powerpoint by clicking here.  As for the actual instructions for course registration, you can click here to view/download the directions for course selection.  You can also review the High School’s Program of Studies by clicking here.  I strongly recommend that all 8th grade families review the entirety of the directions - there is information about the process for override requests that must be followed (without exception) should you wish to pursue that route. Please note that families who might need assistance with accessing the portal should use the high school contact information that is listed at the top of the instruction sheet.  


For current 7th grade families, you will be receiving in the mail during the week of March 27 the scheduling/registration form regarding your child’s 8th grade year.  This form includes math level recommendations, confirmation of current world language choice, and a space to indicate preferences for Grey Block (when students take elective or have a study hall). I’ll send out some additional notes and reminders about this process at the start of that week.  


The tryout and sign-up schedule for our Spring Sports programs are all set.  Before I get into those details, a friendly reminder that our after school clubs and activities welcome new members throughout the year.  The Ping Pong Club is back in action, as is the Fit Club (email Katy Frey, kfrey@abschools.org to sign up for Fit Club), just to name a few.  For those who are interested in baseball, softball, girls volleyball or track, you can review the tryout and sign-up schedule by clicking here.  You can always go to the RJ Grey Athletics Page to review that information and also download Green Forms and athletic fee waiver request forms.  Please remember that no student may participate in tryouts without a valid/updated Green Form.  This is an MIAA regulation and no exceptions can be made.  


Finally, 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 possibility of proposing the construction of a new school building and/or renovating existing school buildings. To this end, our District has recently been conditionally accepted for state funding for a school building project.  We are at a critical juncture where the School Committee is seeking input from the community about what might eventually be proposed. There are a series of meetings that have been planned starting with one tomorrow night at 7pm at Sargent Memorial Library in Boxborough.  Click here for a downloadable flyer that lists all of the forum dates.  Important questions such as how many schools should be used, the number of grade levels at each building, and whether an early childhood center should be included are part of this dialogue.  Shockingly, my request for a retractable and heated dome for the morning drop-off area in the Junior High parking lot was not included as part of this work.  Rest assured an online petition about that glaring absence will be forthcoming.  All kidding aside, this is the time to reflect on our long-term educational vision for our school community because we want the form (the school buidling) to fit the function (educating your children).  Your voice matters and I hope you’ll find an opportunity to participate.  








Have a great week, everyone.  


Cheers,

201408111403_0001.tif




Grey Matters, March 13, 2017; Volume 5, Number 26

posted Mar 12, 2017, 10:40 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,


I mentioned earlier this year that, like Tom Brady, I will soon be turning 40.  Unlike Tom Brady, I am not launching my own $78 per box meal-kit delivery service.  As the date gets closer and closer the Universe continues to harass prepare me with subtle and not-so-subtle reminders of this pending milestone. The first reminder came in the form of a recent Boston Globe story written by a reporter who turned 40 last May and had a hit ‘em over the head title of, The Biggest Threat Facing Middle-Age Men Isn’t Smoking or Obesity. It’s Loneliness.” I started reading it with the idea that it might be good for a few laughs, and ended up finishing it because it did have some interesting food for thought.  The other two reminders came during a car drive up to my parents’ house this past weekend with my two oldest kids.  About six months ago I shifted to listening primarily to classical music while driving.  Growing up with a classical musician for a mother, that was the music of choice for all of our time in the car.  I’ve been feeling like I think better and am more at ease while driving now that I’ve been listening to music that I’ve largely ignored for about twenty years.  Addison has not had the same level of exposure to classical music and so about ten minutes into our drive she asked me if I could change the station to one that played music.  I calmly explained to her that we were already listening to music.  She calmly replied, “Yes, but I want to listen to real music. Songs that actually have words.”  Shortly after that conversation we got to talking about the offseason activity of the New England Patriots and the recent trades they had completed.  At the end of that conversation, my oldest son (who will remain nameless to protect him from the Patriot fan base) blurts out, “I’ve decided not to be a Patriots fan this year and will cheer for another team.  Winning all the time is getting real boring.”  Fortunately for me, unfortunately for him, we had about fifteen more miles on 93 North for me to explain to him what being a Boston sports fan was like during the 1980s and 1990s and, save for a few great years for the Celtics, things were quite different when it came to winning (see inserted photo of Mr. Buckner from Game 6 of the World Series).  It was an interesting reminder that all of our kids born after 2000 really have had quite a different reality when it comes to our Boston-based sports culture.  


Many of you are probably following the weather forecast for this week which still includes predictions of a possible snowstorm on Monday night through Tuesday and estimated snowfall hovering around 12 to 18 inches.  We will see what unfolds and families should stay tuned to any messages from Dr. Brand about plans for school on Tuesday.  In the meantime, I will continue to try and figure out why the left wheel of my snowblower refuses to engage, leaving me doubly nervous about what might arrive later this week.  


Here are a series of announcements and reminders for families to review.  After that, I spend a bit of time providing context about the current 9th grade course registration process and the level recommendations that students may be receiving from their teachers.  I also give a preview of the Spring athletics program and this year’s MCAS testing schedule.  


  • Thank you to all of the 7th grade families who have submitted their Signs of Suicide (SOS) consent form and indicating the preferred level of participation for your child. The lessons are still scheduled for the following week - March 20 through 23.  We are still collecting the consent forms so please do not hesitate to send it in to school.  A final reminder that (as stated on the consent form), students without a consent form will be scheduled for Option 2, which is participation in the SOS lesson but not the screening tool.  

  • On Monday, March 20, the portal for current 8th grade students to register for high school courses will be open.  By then, all students will have had conversations with their current teachers about course and level recommendations (see my comments below on that).  You can click here to view/download the directions for course selection.  You can also review the High School’s Program of Studies by clicking here.  I would strongly recommend that all 8th grade families review the entirety of the directions - there is information about the process for override requests that must be followed (without exception) should you wish to pursue that route. Please note that families who might need assistance with accessing the portal should use the high school contact information that is listed at the top of the instruction sheet.  

  • It’s likely that Winter Trimester report cards will be coming home with students this Thursday.  Grades are being processed right now, and Thursday is our target.  If anything changes, I’ll let everyone know.  

  • Thank you to Debbie Ahl and the Student Council for organizing last Friday’s student basketball tournament.  We are appreciative of the parent donations of food, and the additional on-site support.


Starting last week, 8th grade teachers began having individual conversations with students to discuss their recommendations for 9th grade course level placement.  The actual registration process takes place via the Parent Portal (see above info) when the portal opens on March 20.  


During the conversation that takes place with a student, the teacher will explain some of his/her observations about the student’s strengths and areas for growth, and what level placement may be most appropriate for next year.  In many of these conversations, students also share with teachers their thoughts on next year, their level of interest in the subject, and their own reflections on the progress they’ve made this year.  To be sure, a teacher’s recommendation is influenced by a student’s performance thus far (trimester grades being one measure), along with a variety of other observations about a student’s approach to the subject.  There are certainly variations that come with different areas of study.  For example, English and Social Studies teachers are asked by the high school to give particular weight to writing, reading comprehension, and critical thinking.  To that end, a teacher in one of those disciplines may place emphasis on a student’s growth on certain types of writing assignments, along with other factors.  


In all of the subjects, a teacher will often review with a student his/her observations about specific student skills, such as time management and self-discipline, and consistency of work.  In addition, teachers are asked to consider level placement with the hope that students will both enjoy the class and have the time to pursue other interests, including extracurricular activities. During this process, it’s important to remind ourselves that these recommendations aren’t meant to serve as a final verdict or prediction for how a student will perform for the rest of their academic lives. It’s feedback based on what a student has demonstrated this year, and using that as a guide to thinking about what a student would be prepared to take on next year.   Some students may have hit their stride this year, and for others it may be their sophomore year when all of a sudden they develop a passion for a certain subject or they figure out that whole time management puzzle.  As I have mentioned in previous years, my parents needed to wait until I was about 20 to witness me figuring those things out.  I won’t speak officially for the high school, but I am confident that the high school also recognizes that things can and do change over time for adolescents and that there’s always a path for students to take that suit their interests and strengths.  


For many of you, the recommendations made by the teachers may align with your own leanings, and even your child’s. If there are situations where you feel you would benefit from some feedback from the teacher, please ask.  In addition, it’s very useful to discuss with your child what all of you might view as a healthy and appropriate course load for next year.  For example, while a student may have the ability to be successful in a number of accelerated courses, it may not be in his/her best interest to be taking them all at the same time (on top of participating in sports, and/or the school musical, and community service).  Finally, in those instances where you and your student would like to enroll in a course level that is different from the teacher recommendation, there is an “override” application process that is managed by the high school.  Within the registration instructions, there is a description of the steps that the high school would like you to take to pursue those requests.  


Our Spring sports season is around the corner.  We need a little bit more time to finalize the schedule for tryouts and sign ups for our Spring sports programs - Baseball, Softball, Volleyball and Track. Those will be up on the website shortly and we’ll include mention of it in our daily announcements. In the meantime, please remember that all students must have a “Green Form” in order to participate, and can be downloaded on the Athletics page of our website.   There are still tryouts for baseball and softball, tryouts for the girls volleyball program, and track continues to be a “no-cut sport.”  In other words, any student interested in participating is welcome to join.  For the last few years, we have averaged somewhere between 200 and 250 students participating in the track program, which is always sight to see (especially during the track meets).  


In terms of participation in the track program, we plan to continue providing an option for students (and families) who are interested in the track program, but not prepared to commit to the full practice and meet schedule.  Not attending each practice or meet, as you can imagine, can create some challenges given the need to organize and schedule things like relays teams, practice plans, and logistics for away meets.  With this in mind, we offer students the choice to sign up for one of two options: (1) students who can commit to at least three practices per week, including all home meets, should sign up for the Blue Team.  Please note that the two non-practice days for students on the Blue Team needs to be the same from week to week.  (2) Students who wish to travel to away meets (in addition to home meets) and be eligible for relay teams and field events can sign up for the Gold Team.  Gold Team members are expected to attend all practices and all meets, without exception (unless the student is sick and absent from school).  It is entirely up to the student (and his/her family) to choose the best option that makes the most sense for him or her.  Please note that the participation fee is the same for either option. The above options will be explained to everyone at the first Track meeting (date forthcoming) so they can make an informed decision.  Remember that all important information about Spring sports can be found at our school’s Athletics page.  


Assuming that we don’t get any additional surprise snowstorms in April, we begin our MCAS testing this year on Monday, April 3.  One of the biggest differences this year in the MCAS testing process is that the 8th grade MCAS assessments are computer-based, which means that students review questions and submit responses via computer (in our case, on one of our many Chromebooks).  The 7th grade MCAS will still be a “paper-based” version and so the elements of administering that test are a bit more familiar.  Rest assured that we will be giving our 8th grade students some training on how to engage with the computer-based testing platform prior to April 3.  


As we get closer to the MCAS testing dates, I will be sharing more information about how we organize the testing days (and constant reminders to make sure your kids eat a good breakfast), along with some thoughts about the role MCAS should, and shouldn't, play in the academic lives of our students.  In the meantime, here is a link to the MCAS schedule for the Junior High.   If your child is absent for one of his/her testing dates, there are a number of make-up dates that we have already scheduled, and we will coordinate those make-ups with students.


I had lunch with our latest round of Everyday Leaders last Thursday and I had great conversations with both the 7th and 8th grade lunch groups including, but not limited to, a lively discussion about installing new lockers in the Junior High that are secured by a fingerprint scanner and have chargers for phones, and mini-fridges for lunches.  Hopefully they didn’t mind breaking bread (in this case, pizza) with me that day and spending a little time in my office.  Congratulations to the following students who were part of this round’s Everyday Leaders group: Jalal Elsallal, Benvinda Gueye, Zach Taylor, Sydney Smith, Lindsey Vaillancourt, Fayad Bashir, Enzo Lando, Nina Robbe, Tamara Salant, Balaji Ganapathi, and Bobby Sweet.  


Finally, we had a wonderful series of activities as part of Foreign Language Week.  Each morning a different student offered a greeting to the school in a different language.  Thank you to Aryan Ranade (Hindi), Nicole Wei (Mandarin Chinese), Yusef Khan (Portuguese), Alisa Khomiakova (Russian), and Amna Aboushhiwa (Arabic) for making each morning a little more special with their messages of welcome.  We also ended the week with a special Foreign Language Week version of Poetry Friday, starring student Nathan Ramondeau who read “Le Cancre” by French poet Jacques Prevert.  


Have a great week, everyone.


Cheers,

201408111403_0001.tif



1-10 of 35