Grey Matters

Grey Matters, January 15, 2018; Volume 6, Number 19

posted Jan 16, 2018, 4:39 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,

Greetings from 37,000 feet.  Melisa and I took advantage of the long weekend and a cousin willing to stay with our kids to take a short trip to a warmer climate, and we’re now headed back.  The rule follower in me feels compelled to assure everyone that this brief getaway was planned well before I made the decision to push the early release to last Friday and it didn’t help me one bit in avoiding the excruciating traffic into Logan Airport that evening.  No, we didn’t head to San Francisco, nor were we in Hawaii -- that would have made for a much different and not as restful experience given the accidental ballistic missile alerts that paralyzed and terrified everyone in that community. We feel fortunate that our actual destination provided us an opportunity to relax and enjoy some sun and warmth, including an ability to take a break from the tedious and monotonous treadmill and go for my morning run outside.  This is all despite the fact that our daughter Addison wrote us a sweet note the night before we left that also included a slight detour when she used the term “abandoned” to describe how she was feeling about our plans to leave for the weekend.  Her ability to deliver messages intended to generate feelings of guilt have recently sharpened.  Not enough to prevent us from going, clearly, but still impressive.  As our flight now continues to head towards Boston and its 13 degree weather, and I occasionally grip the armrest during bouts of turbulence (my aversion to flying can be analyzed in a future Grey Matters), I am looking forward to seeing our kids, and then your kids at school on Tuesday.  I hope they and you also had a chance to take advantage of the homework-free long weekend.  There are some reports that we may see more snow, including Wednesday morning, so stay tuned for any school-related announcements.

Here’s some updates and reminders for the next week or so:

  • Yearbooks are still on sale through January 19.  Instructions for how to order a copy can be found by clicking here.

  • Interim reports for this current Winter Trimester will be emailed to families at the end of this week.  Please remember that this includes any email addresses currently listed on your child’s Emergency Card. Not all students will necessarily receive an interim and if your child does receive one or more, please take a moment to review the feedback and information with him/her/them.  If you have any questions about those interims, I would encourage you to start a dialogue with your child’s teacher.  

  • The chorus and strings Winter Concert is this Wednesday at 7pm in the auditorium.

  • An important Save The Date message to 8th grade families regarding the transition to the high school: On Thursday, February 8th at 7pm the high school will be hosting an evening for the parents of 8th graders. The goal of the evening is for parents to get an overall feel for the high school - including the class offerings available to ninth grade students. The night will begin in the high school auditorium with a welcome by interim principal Mr. Larry Dorey followed by a brief presentation by each department leader focusing on the classes available to ninth grade students. Immediately following the presentation parents may join department leaders in the East Commons where they will be available to answer questions.

  • I’m excited that starting next week we will be expanding our recycling program in the cafeteria to include composting.  This has been an initiative spearheaded by members of our Green Team who have been committed advocates for this addition and are working hard to address the logistics that need to be figured out in order to ensure success.  We will be showing students two short videos about this plan (probably during Silent Reading) that were developed by members of the Green Team and one of our local Girl Scout troops that include RJ Grey students.  You can also view these brief videos by clicking here and here.  Many thanks to Mrs. Jeanne Bouchard (7 Blue Science) and our Green Team for helping us move towards practices that support sustainability.

Thank you to the many 7th grade families who have already submitted their signed consent forms regarding our upcoming plans to present the Signs of Suicide (SOS) lesson and screening tool to our 7th grade teams.  We had about 30 parents/guardians attend last Monday’s information session with Dr. Larry Berkowitz and I hope those in attendance found it useful.  The signed consent forms were due this past Friday, January 12 and we will continue to accept forms from families this week.  Please also remember that students who don’t submit the consent form will be scheduled to participate in the lesson but not the screening tool.  We are scheduled to deliver the SOS lesson on January 22, 24, 29, and 31 (one team per day).  

Also, another important reminder that the Eliot Community Human Services (with a location in Concord), with a Healthy Teen Initiative Grant from the AB United Way, will conduct a suicide prevention workshop for members of our adult community on Monday, January 29 from 6:30pm to 8:30pm, also in our Junior High Library.  QPR - Question, Persuade and Refer is a community-wide program that teachers the warning signs of suicide and an effective emergency response.  People trained in QPR learn how to recognize the warning signs of a suicide crisis and how to question, persuade and refer someone for help.  Please note that while it has a shared goal, the Parent Information session about our SOS has a very different focus, and is narrowly focused on providing families with an overview of our plans with students. If you are interested in attending, please contact Dr. Deborah Garfield at  

A few weeks ago I shared an article about the ongoing challenges that many parents face regarding the use of technology and social media by their children.  As I’ve mentioned before, Melisa and I are really good at limiting our kids’ access to digital devices at bedtime, including expectations about when those devices get turned off and charging devices next to our bedroom.  We are not so good, and actually pretty terrible, about regulating the amount of time on those devices during various unstructured times in the afternoon and particularly on weekends.  So I continue to read with interest articles that remind us of the importance of being more proactive on this front, and perhaps some strategies for how to talk to our kids about the benefits and challenges of their engagement with the digital world.  That’s one reason I want to bring your attention to a community event in early March (see below), as well as share links to a number of articles and stories that touch upon this topic - some with a narrow focus on a particular trend, others with a more general perspective on the topic.  First, I want to make specific mention of a story you may have come across this past week about a recent trend where teens are daring peers (through social media) to eat Tide pods - the laundry detergent packets.  I really haven’t learned enough about this story to fully understand its origins and offer any of you an explanation to reduce the bewilderment you are likely experiencing at this moment.  I do, however, have a video of Patriots player Rob Gronkowski trying to convince adolescents that this practice is a dangerous practice that should be avoided.  

More broadly, here are a number of articles that examines the topic of teens and technology.  NPR just recently posted an article about trends and discussion topics centered around “screen time” and the Washington Post published this piece summarizing “what teens wish their parents knew about social media.”  The last item in that piece about how social media has altered the way in which adolescents view healthy relationships (romantic, sexual, or platonic) is a topic that I think we all need to confront and address more directly in the near future.  There’s a new documentary on A&E called Undercover High where seven young adults posed as high school students for a semester, and cell phone use was a significant storyline.  Lastly, to offer a bit of international flavor to this conversation, the French government is weighing whether to pursue a ban on the use cellphones by students in schools, as they struggle with the same challenges and benefits that accompany these devices.  

For those of you who want to start and/or continue a conversation on this topic, there’s an event in early March that I would encourage you to attend.  On Thursday, March 8 at 7pm, the Blanchard Elementary PTF and the ABFN are bringing the documentary film Screenagers to the Sargent Memorial Library in Boxborough.  Marketing for the film includes this brief description: “Award-winning SCREENAGERS probes into the vulnerable corners of family life, including the director's own, and depicts messy struggles, over social media, video games, academics and internet addiction. Through surprising insights from authors and brain scientists solutions emerge on how we can empower kids to best navigate the digital world.” The film screening will be followed by a facilitated discussion led by Boxborough's Community Services Coordinator Lauren Abraham, LICSW. The discussion will focus on how each of us can help our children make healthy choices in daily life that balance the benefits of technology and positive, face-to-face social interactions.  Click here for more information and to register for the event.

"Life's most persistent and urgent question: what are you doing for others?"

-- Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Finally, on the day we devote to the memory and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we again highlight the importance and value of community service, and how it is encouraged and recognized within our District.  I want to once again make special mention of our community service recognition efforts at the Junior High through Rise to the Challenge.  Many thanks to the students who have already submitted a record of their service hours and participated in this program.  This program is ongoing throughout the year so it’s definitely not too late for any student to get involved (learn more by clicking here to visit our website).  As I mentioned in a recent Grey Matters, 8th grade students and families should remember that starting January 1, students can record community service activities and hours that can also be counted towards the High School’s “Accept the Challenge” program, which recognizes students for their commitment to, and engagement in, community service.  To learn more, you can visit the High School Community Service website, and also review some of their literature by clicking here.  

Have a great week, everyone.



Grey Matters, January 8, 2018; Volume 6, Number 18

posted Jan 7, 2018, 5:39 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,

I know it’s a very New England thing to talk incessantly about the weather, and I think we can hardly be faulted for doing that this past week.  I hope all of our families were able to stay warm and didn’t experience any heating malfunctions or challenges.  None of you will be surprised to learn that I saw this most recent stretch of weather as an opportunity screaming out for me to revisit with my wife the idea of heading out west and settling down in San Francisco.  In my mind, things were lining up in a way where it would be hard to ignore the appeal of the Bay Area. This extended stretch of brutally cold temperatures, coupled with the wind and snowfall on Thursday presented one of the best opportunities I’ve had in the past few years to make a solid and convincing case to Melisa and the family. We even had a whole snow day on Thursday to discuss the merits of my argument.  And as if on cue, a 4.4 magnitude earthquake struck the San Francisco area early Thursday morning. Fortunately, there were no reported injuries or substantial structural damage in the area.  No, the only permanent damage that this earthquake caused was to my dreams of our family living there.  Many of the stories post-quake were centered around questions of whether this incident was a foreshock to something larger because the last big quake in the area was 1868, and that big quakes tend to happen every 150 years on that particular fault line.  So I guess that settles that.  

We appreciate the flexibility and understanding our families demonstrated with the weather-related changes we made to the end of last week’s schedule.  While the abrupt change of the early release day was ultimately made into a non-issue by the additional snow day, that wasn’t necessarily something families could plan for and the change we made could have complicated plans.  Please remember that we now have the early release day scheduled for this Friday, January 12th where students and staff are dismissed at 10:40am.  As for the final set of parent-teacher conferences, those will be held this Thursday, January 11th from 5pm to 8pm.  Thank you for your flexibility on that shift as well.  

Along with the automated calls that our District sends out to families regarding school delays and cancellations, families can also utilize different social media platforms for that and other information as well.  Acton-Boxborough has both an official Twitter feed as well as a Facebook page where announcements and reminders will be posted.  If you aren’t already following RJ Grey’s Twitter feed, please also consider joining our 693 other followers.  On that feed, we’ll “re-tweet” important District announcements along with our own school-based reminders and updates.  

Here’s a few additional reminders and update for the coming two weeks:

  • The Winter Band Concert is this Tuesday, January 9 at 7pm in the Auditorium.  The Chorus and Strings Concert is next Wednesday, January 17 at 7pm in the Auditorium.  

  • Temperatures are expected to rise into the double digits this week, so we are confident that Ski and Board Club will be starting on Tuesday.  An important reminder to Ski and Board Club families that equipment is not allowed on buses.  Most families bring the equipment at morning drop off, and a few families bring the equipment to school later in the day (it all gets stored in the auditorium).  Please be sure to have the ski and board equipment organized for a speedy drop off in the morning.  

  • A reminder to students and families that our after school clubs and activities welcome new members throughout the year! You can review the club and activity options on our website at this page.  

  • There is no school next Monday, January 15 in recognition of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday (and the aforementioned early release this Friday).  

I hope 7th grade families have had a chance to review the letter that I sent to parents/guardians last Wednesday regarding our plans to conduct the Signs of Suicide (SOS) lesson and the Brief Screening for Adolescent Depression to students in 7th grade later this month.   We require every family to return a signed consent form (included with the email and also sent via US Postal Mail) from every student’s parent/guardian indicating the student’s level of participation.  Please send that form in with your child as soon as possible.  If you need another copy of the consent form, please let me know.  

For parent/guardians who would like to learn more about the SOS lesson and preview the materials that are included in the lesson before deciding on their child’s level of participation, please consider attending the Parent Information session that we have scheduled for Monday (tomorrow), January 8 at 6pm in the Junior High Library.  This session will be led by Dr. Larry Berkowitz, Director of the Riverside Trauma Center.  

Separately, and in support of our efforts with student mental health, Eliot Community Human Services (with a location in Concord), with a Healthy Teen Initiative Grant from the AB United Way, will conduct a suicide prevention workshop for members of our adult community on Monday, January 29 from 6:30pm to 8:30pm, also in our Junior High Library.  QPR - Question, Persuade and Refer is a community-wide program that teachers the warning signs of suicide and an effective emergency response.  People trained in QPR learn how to recognize the warning signs of a suicide crisis and how to question, persuade and refer someone for help.  Please note that while it has a shared goal, the Parent Information session about our SOS has a very different focus, and is narrowly focused on providing families with an overview of our plans with students.  In the coming weeks I’ll provide a few more reminders about this opportunity and encouragement to attend.  

Have a great week, everyone.


Grey Matters, January 1, 2018; Volume 6, Number 17

posted Jan 1, 2018, 7:41 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,

Welcome back from Winter Break, and welcome to 2018 (imagine fireworks here).  Put me in the camp that would prefer to have a two-week Winter Break, and then a week off in March (in place of February and April).  That would be accompanied by my idea that involves shortening summer vacation a bit and inserting more three-day weekends into the school year.  This is clearly a debate for another day when nothing else is going on and we have the time and energy to talk about different visions of what makes an ideal school calendar.  The School Committee has the unenviable task of reviewing and determining the school calendar for each year, and it has recently voted on the 2018-2019 calendar and you can download it by clicking here.  Our family didn’t go anywhere for this recent vacation - which was intentional and much preferred. We filled a few days with our extended families, a few trips to the movie theatre, and activities that centered around having the kids burn off a good deal of energy.  I’ve noticed that our motivation for planning activities has become less centered around avoiding “boredom” and instead to fill their time and space with alternatives to having their faces buried in their digital devices.  A noble parenting goal from a father and mother who, along with other adult family members, also gave our kids a number of presents that fed the technology beast. This definitely continues to be an area of modern parenting where my choices and strategies are full of contradiction.  When we were at my parents’ house last week my dad tried to go a bit retro and introduced them to his first typewriter, and a slide rule that he’s kept from his graduate school days.  It was a great effort by my dad, and created almost three whole minutes of museum-visit-worthy entertainment and curiosity.  While all three of my kids are quite tethered to their iPads and Xbox consoles, none of them have developed any interest (yet) in social media and so our household hasn’t needed to navigate that messy world as much, nor have we had the need to set rules for use of social media sites.  For those parents who are knee-deep in it, I read this New York Times article from last January where the author took a peek at the rules that kids themselves establish for how and what to post as they develop and cultivate an online persona.  It offers prompts and questions that you might consider if you have an opportunity to talk with your child about their experiences with social media - perhaps a reasonable new year’s resolution/goal for a few of us?  Whether you had an opportunity during the break to get away on a relaxing adventure, focused on taking care of someone who needed attention, or maybe a bit of both, I hope all of you feel satisfied with how you spent the Winter Break.   

Those who did stick around over the break are now quite familiar with the extremely cold temperatures that have settled into the area, and will likely continue through this week.  This means that I’ll be dressed in full winter gear during morning drop-offs, which often creates an interesting image as I am at times greeting students who are arriving in not a lot of clothing, including shorts.  Please know that you are not alone if your child wants to head outside in shorts or without a jacket.  While I typically joke around about this phenomenon with kids and parents, I would like to make a more sincere and serious request that parents hold the line, at least for this week, with their kids in terms of appropriate clothing choices as it relates to the single-digit temperatures we’ll be experiencing in the morning.  The frigid temperatures are leading us to postpone the start of this year’s Ski Club, which was originally scheduled to have its first session tomorrow (Tuesday) after school.  Ski Club families should have already received notification from Lynne Kondracki, but this is another important reminder that we are now planning to start on Tuesday, January 9 instead.  

An important note about this week: our last set of parent-teacher conferences is scheduled for the evening of Thursday, January 4, from 5pm to 8pm.  This is our first year with an evening session and I want to provide a reminder of what this means for our school schedule on Thursday and Friday.  

  1. Thursday, January 4 is a full day of school from 7:30am to 2:06pm.  

  2. Parent-teacher conferences scheduled for Thursday, January 4 will be held during the 5pm to 8pm window.  

  3. The following day, Friday, January 5, is an early release day for all students and staff.  School will be from 7:30am to 10:40am, and buses will be available for their “regular routes.”  

Here’s additional updates and reminders for the first few weeks of January, and then a bit of important information about an upcoming school initiative:

  • There is no school for all Acton-Boxborough students on Monday, January 15 for the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.  

  • The RJG Winter Band Concert is scheduled for the evening of Tuesday, January 9, and the Winter Chorus and String Ensemble Concert is scheduled for the evening of Wednesday, January 17.  Both events begin at 7pm and taking place in the RJ Grey auditorium.  

  • Yearbooks are still on sale through January 19.  Instructions for how to order a copy can be found by clicking here.

  • A friendly but important reminder about our community service recognition efforts via Rise to the Challenge.   For 8th grade students, please note that any service hours that you complete between now (January 2) and the rest of the school year can be counted towards the High School community service program since their calculations are recorded based on the calendar year.  In other words, service hours that 8th grade students fulfill moving forward can be included in the hours they complete as a 9th grade student next year.  Be sure to review information about the High School’s program and tracking forms. You can learn more about the High School program by clicking here.

Finally, I want to provide families with a preview of a letter that families of 7th grade students will be receiving later this week by email as well as US Postal Mail, that discusses our school’s implementation of the Signs of Suicide (SOS) lesson and mental health screening tool.  

Most of you are familiar with the incredibly difficult and challenging year our schools and community experienced last year with the suicides of current and former students.  Along with pursuing additional staff training and partnerships with outside professionals and local agencies, Acton Boxborough made the commitment to conduct annually the Signs of Suicide lesson and the Brief Screening for Adolescent Depression to students in 7th and 9th grade. The Signs of Suicide Prevention Program is a universal program for middle and high school students that has proven effective in helping students who are concerned about themselves or a friend.  It is the only school-based suicide-prevention curriculum listed by the Substance Abuse and Medical Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) in its National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices that addresses suicide risk and depression.  

At RJ Grey, the program is scheduled this year to take place in 7th grade team classes during the week of January 22 and January 29, with two teams scheduled per week.  For parents and guardians who would like to preview the Signs of Suicide lesson and the video used during the lesson, we are hosting an information session on Monday, January 8 at 6pm in the Junior High Library.  Joining us that evening will be Dr. Larry Berkowitz who is the Director and co-founder of Riverside Trauma Center.  At that session we will provide an overview of the program and answer questions that parents/guardians might have. Families of 7th grade students will be receiving a letter about the SOS lesson and mental health screening tool, along with a consent form that we need parents and guardians to return by Friday, January 12th.  Families will receive a copy of the letter via email this Wednesday, and another copy of the letter via US Postal Mail on Thursday or Friday.  The consent form allows you to select your child’s level of participation in the program.  Thank you in advance for your assistance with our continued implementation of this important program.  

Finally, before the start of conferences on December 19 we had our annual Staff Appreciation Luncheon which was hosted by our amazing PTSO. Educators are no different when it comes to our stomachs being the quickest way into our hearts.  Par for the course, the food that was made and donated by our families was much appreciated and quickly consumed.  Many thanks to parents Tracey Estabrook and Mai Nguyen for taking on the coordination, planning, and set up of this event, and the many families who contributed to an inviting and filling spread.  

Have a great week, everyone.  Welcome back.  



Grey Matters, December 18, 2017; Volume 6, Number 16

posted Jan 1, 2018, 7:39 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,

This is the week before the upcoming Winter Break, and that’s always a reason to be excited given the opportunity to rest, maybe travel a bit, and find moments of connection with family and friends.  Before we part ways, there are a few things I’d like to share with you and the first part will admittedly not fit the traditional mold of a cheerful holiday message. That’s because it starts by naming and speaking to the ongoing collision of differing values we are presently witnessing in our country today.  However, my hope is that despite the sobering beginning, the remainder of this opening message offers all of you reason to head into the holiday season feeling confident about the work and efforts taking place at RJ Grey regarding school climate.  

In November of last year, I sent a message to families that addressed the post-presidential election landscape. The tenor of the national discourse at the time left many in our community feeling vulnerable, and it was important to reaffirm to families our commitment to inclusion, human dignity and respect for every member of our community.  Since then, our nation has continued to struggle with a rise in acts and speech that are rooted in ignorance, bigotry and bias. There is also the long overdue spotlight on misogyny and sexual harassment that extends beyond any one setting, and is clearly a more ubiquitous problem experienced by many, including young people. Schools everywhere have experienced an increased frequency of incidents that mirror these issues and violate expectations prohibiting harassment towards others based on, but not limited to, race, gender, nationality, sexual orientation and religious affiliation.  At RJ Grey, we are not immune to the difficulties that other schools face, and the hazards and problems that ail our society.  We too have needed to address and respond to students whose actions, words, and choices have been in direct contradiction to our school’s norms and values.  

Since the challenges I describe above may not be a brief flare up, and might instead be a bit more chronic in nature, I see value in revisiting the topic of RJ Grey’s school climate with our families and restating to everyone our commitment to the immediate and long-term work that is needed to ensure a safe environment for our students, staff and families.   A couple of specific points on this subject:

Teachers at RJ Grey work hard to provide opportunities for students to listen to opposing viewpoints and wrestle productively with areas of disagreement.  This is central to developing habits that are at the heart of being decent people and engaged citizens. There is a broad landscape where lively disagreement is acceptable and there also exists clear and explicit boundaries in our school when it comes to certain types of words and actions.  Allowing for objectivity does not require us to abandon our school’s expectations regarding respectful behavior, and Acton-Boxborough has explicit policies pertaining to harassment and bullying behavior that all schools must uphold. As I mentioned last year, we do this not simply because it’s policy, but because it’s central to our work as educators of young people.  

When we encounter incidents that violate our norms and values, especially as it relates to incidents of harassment, we communicate with the families of the students involved and ideally work together to address the concern.  Along with any discipline that may be appropriate for a specific incident, we continue to consider meaningful learning opportunities that can be included when appropriate.  To that end, I am currently working with a group of teachers to develop assignments that students may be required to complete for situations that merit this additional restorative and educational measure. Beyond our response to individual situations, an aspiration for our curriculum is to introduce students to a diversity of life experiences and identities that reflect the world in which we live.  As the world around us continues to change and evolve, we know that our curriculum and our direct engagement with students should continue to be responsive and adapt to different priorities.  Our English Department, as one example of this work, is currently reviewing additional texts that might offer more mirrors through which our increasingly diverse student body can see and explore their own lives, and windows through which they can become more familiar with experiences and circumstances that differ from their own.  This is work that will require time and effort that extends well beyond this current school year, but please know that this work has begun.

I also want to ask all of you to continue partnering with us in modeling for our children the behaviors that we hope they adopt and practice.  Along with our work and conversations within the classroom, many students will benefit from discussions and direct guidance from parents and guardians about the power, impact and history of certain words and symbols, and to be clear about what ethical, kind, and respectful behavior looks like in day-to-day settings.  From the harm caused by casual pejoratives to understanding the boundaries they should establish in terms of welcome and unwelcome attention, young people will at certain times, and for certain topics, need explicit direction and guidance.  One resource that recently arrived in my Inbox and worth sharing is a brief article by Dr. Richard Weissbourd, from the Making Caring Common initiative at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education.  Focusing specifically on sexual harassment and misogyny this piece offers parents strategies for inviting their children into a conversation that can be tricky to initiate.  If and when I have other materials that could be helpful for parents on any of these difficult subjects, I will be sure to make them available through Grey Matters or other platforms.  

While there is likely a diversity of opinions within our community when it comes to the many topics dominating the national and political landscape, I hope that the goals and expectations I have articulated above are ones that you accept and endorse as important for all of our students.  Thank you for the efforts you’ve already made towards this work, and for the ones that you will take moving forward.  

OK - now on to the other chapters of this week’s Grey Matters.  First, a few important reminders heading into the Winter Break:

  • Last Thursday the School Committee voted to change the school start times for our District and to go into effect next school year.  Start and end times for next year are: Junior High (8:00am to 2:36pm), High School (8:07am to 2:47pm), and all six elementary schools (8:50am to 3:20pm).  I’ll share more thoughts on these changes after we return from the Winter Break.  

  • The next set of parent-teacher conferences is this Tuesday, December 19.  That means that all students will be dismissed at 10:40am.  Please be sure to confirm with your child plans and expectations for after school as they will not be able to remain in the school building.

  • We have a full day of school on Friday, December 22, and then the Winter Break begins!  If you and your family are beginning your break a bit before that (or a lot before that), please be sure to let our front office know so we can take accurate attendance (email Katy Frey at  It would also be important to have your child speak to each of his/her teachers about missed work and assignments.

  • School resumes after Winter Break on Tuesday, January 2 (translation: don’t send your kids to school on Monday, January 1 - we won’t be there! We have our final set of parent-teacher conferences scheduled for the evening of Thursday, January 4.  There will be a full day of school on that Thursday of conferences, and then a half-day of school the following day (Friday) where students are dismissed at 10:40am.  

  • Save the Date: The Winter Band Concert is the evening of Tuesday, January 9, and the Winter Chorus and String Ensemble Concert is the evening of Wednesday, January 17.  

  • Don’t forget that Yearbook sales are currently underway, and students and families can order a copy up through January 19.  Click here to review the options for ordering a yearbook.  

We have many students participating in the Ski and Board Club when we return from the Break.  Please remember that ski and board gear can not be brought on AB buses in the morning, and that means on Tuesdays Ski and Board Club members are dropped off in the morning with quite a bit of gear.  The first session of Ski and Board Club is actually the Tuesday we return from Break (January 2).  For those of you planning to drop off kids and gear in the lower parking lot, it would be immensely helpful if the gear was organized in a way that supported a speedy drop-off.  The best case scenario is if you have those ski bags that package everything up all nice and are easy to carry. Believe it or not, some of our 13-year olds throw their equipment all over the trunk before leaving the house (I know, hard to imagine), and then everyone in the parking lot gets to watch them and me get tangled up in boots, poles, and helmets.  I’ll do my best to help kids with getting gear out of the trunk, and anything that you can do in advance would be much appreciated.  There are also some families who choose to drop off their child’s ski/boarding gear later in the day and bring it to the auditorium where it is stored.  

We had our latest round of Everyday Leaders take place two weeks ago. It was great to spend some time with a number of our students and see how the year is going, and to also get some of their initial feedback on different parts of the RJ Grey experience.  Congratulations to this group of Everyday Leaders: Henry Haines, Mariella Laria, Bridget Bartlett, Caitlin O’Connell, Yousef Khan, Amelia Kim, Andrew Zeng, Paul Michaelidis, Zoe Onken, Biz Brooks, and Cam Beaudoin.  

I want to acknowledge and highlight our school’s Speech team, which hosted a tournament for their league this past Sunday.  An event of this magnitude couldn’t be offered without the commitment of our students and the guidance of Mr. Spencer Harvey, 7 Blue Social Studies teacher.  Additionally, we appreciate (again and again) the volunteer work of our many parents and teachers who also spent their Sunday at the tournament.  

We finished last week with another edition of Poetry Fridays that highlighted a very brief but poignant excerpt of the poem Out Beyond Ideas by 13th century poet Rumi read by 8 Red student Tahlia Kamieniecki.  Click here if you’d like to read it as well.

Finally, I want to wish everyone a wonderful Winter Break.  Remember that as part of our homework practice there will be no homework or studying assigned to students for this period of time.  Please encourage your child to disconnect from school for the duration of the vacation, and focus his/her energies and time on other interests, friends, and family.  Safe travels to those of you who might be making a trip out of state.    

Have a great week, everyone.



Grey Matters, December 11, 2017; Volume 6, Number 15

posted Dec 10, 2017, 7:26 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,

What I should be doing at this very moment is pulling on my winter gear and clearing last night’s snowfall from our driveway and walkway.  That’s easier said than done when it’s much warmer in the house, and I can use the unfinished task of writing this week’s Grey Matters to convince myself that there are more pressing things that demand my attention.  The first snowfall of any school year always feels like it sneaks up on you even though this has in recent years been the time period when we get our first real accumulation of snow.  Besides checking weather records from previous years, a less scientific but still accurate marker of this trend is that mid-December is also when I usually start to feel like I’m surrounded by countless references to San Francisco, which I have long viewed as my ideal escape from the New England winters. I know that this is an example of observational selection bias - the tendency to feel like the increased appearance of things or events must be more than a coincidence - like buying a new car and then believing that you now see that same car everywhere. RJ Grey parents who have been with us in previous years are likely familiar with my obsession interest in the Bay Area for, among other things, its weather and food.  Unfortunately, the real estate market is a bit out of my price range.  When I mention to others that our family could probably only afford a one-car garage, they politely note that a home with a garage for only one car is perfectly fine.  That’s when I clarify that what I meant was what we could likely afford is the garage itself, without any house attached to it.  Besides the astronomical real estate prices, my wife usually ends my efforts to bring up San Francisco and annoyance with snow and ice dams by noting that Boston doesn’t sit on the San Andreas fault line and that snow won’t lead to the ground shaking and/or opening up beneath us.  Game-set-match to Melisa. Now that we are entering the winter season, a friendly reminder that any changes in the school schedule, such as a delayed start or a snow day, will be communicated via an automated phone call to home and/or cell phones (and also posted on news sites).  This will typically happen between 5am and 6am.  Current weather forecasts are indicating that we might experience some messy precipitation on Tuesday morning, so you may or may not get a call that morning.  While probably not a popular sentiment amongst our students, I am hoping for ZERO snow days this year.  

Some useful reminders for the next two weeks before the Winter Break:

  • Report cards for the Fall Trimester went home with students last Friday, and were also emailed directly to parent/guardian email addresses listed in the student’s emergency card.  If for some reason you didn’t get your child’s report card - either from your child or in your email account, feel free to send me an email and we can generate another copy for you.  

  • Our first set of Parent-Teacher conferences is scheduled for this Thursday (December 14).  That means we have an early release for all Junior High students, and dismissal will be at 10:40am. Be sure to coordinate with your child expectations about where to be after school (they can not stay at school).  For those parents/guardians who have conferences this Thursday, please be sure to double check your times ahead of Thursday.  Please know that at this point options for re-scheduling conference times are extremely limited, and more than likely not available.    

  • Thru next week, RJ Grey will be collecting toys this holiday season to donate to local families.  Our teachers and students have coordinated this Toy Drive as an annual holiday effort, and it’s always been a wonderful opportunity to offer some holiday cheer to children in and around our community.  Toys must be new, unused (and unopened) and may be dropped off in the collection box in the main lobby.  All toys will be donated to families in the Acton, Boxborough, and surrounding towns.  If you have any questions, you can email Gabrielle Berberian at  

  • The Acton-Boxborough Regional School District has engaged the New England School Development Council (NESDEC) to assist them in the search process for a new Superintendent of Schools. An integral part of the process involves parent/guardian and community participation in focus groups. The groups are designed to obtain participant input about the attributes, experience and knowledge that the new superintendent should possess. The groups also provide an opportunity for participants to identify immediate tasks which the new superintendent should address. Focus group sessions for parents, guardians and Acton Boxborough community members will be conducted this Wednesday, December 13 at 12:30 in the Sargent Library in Boxborough, and on Monday, December 18 and Wednesday, January 3 at 7:00 p.m. in the R.J. Grey Junior High School Library. Each group will last approximately 1 – 1 ½ hours.

  • Our last day of school before the Winter Break is Friday, December 22. Please know that this day is scheduled to be a “regular” full day of school.  If you have plans that involve your child being absent towards the end of that week because of winter break plans, please be sure to communicate that with the Main Office (Katy Frey, and your child’s team teachers.  

As we near the Winter Break, I also want to take a moment to include this annual reminder about guidelines for giving gifts to school staff members.  First and foremost, please know that no family should ever feel that gift giving is expected. My experience has been that simple expressions of thanks that are sent along to teachers by students and families are “gifts” that are greatly appreciated by our staff.  For families who choose to provide a gift to a member of the RJ Grey staff, I do need to direct your attention to state ethics laws that limit the gifts that teachers, coaches, and staff are permitted to receive.  There’s actually a whole series of details about this (because it tends to get a little complicated at the elementary levels with class gifts, etc.), but to keep things simple for us: staff can not accept gifts from a single family that exceeds $50 in value for the entire school year. For those who send in homemade desserts and treats and want to know what monetary value is placed on those, the answer is of course priceless.  I share the above info about gift giving as a friendly reminder about important guidelines that we’re obligated to follow and to take this opportunity to thank all RJ Grey families for the many ways that each of you supports the school and our teachers throughout the year.  

In addition to the above updates and reminders, I want to direct your attention to two other items - each different from the other but I think both have value to you as Acton-Boxborough residents and parents.  First, an update on our District’s conversation about school start times.  This Thursday evening’s School Committee meeting includes this topic as an agenda item where our leadership team will provide an update on our work towards a possible shift in start times for the Junior High and High School, and a single shared start time for all six elementary schools.  This presentation will include information about our continued focus and support of a model where the Junior High shifts to an 8:00am start time, the High School to an 8:07am start time, and all elementary schools to an 8:55am start time.  Many of you may have been following the recent announcement by the Boston Public Schools about their decision to shift many of the start times of their schools for next year- with many middle and high schools scheduled for later starts, and several elementary schools now scheduled for much earlier starts. Here is a Boston Globe article about the decision, and here is a follow-up article about the feedback and discussion that has emerged from that decision.  On the subject of start times, there are certainly a number of considerations, competing interests, and challenges that are shared by, and common to, the schools in Boston and here at A-B.  There are also a number of variables that are more specific and unique to each community and District (beyond sheer size) and so what’s unfolding in Boston can be instructive for our efforts, but not necessarily an apples-to-apples comparison.  I am personally looking forward to the next steps that we are hoping to take for our school district.  

Second, at the risk of giving you a bit of unintended whiplash, I now direct your attention to something completely different from the above.  Specifically, to an emerging trend called vaping (also referred to as “juuling”) - which involves the use of electronic cigarettes.  I don’t have a sense of how familiar members of our parent community are with this activity and so I wanted to make an effort to at least provide a baseline of information by mentioning it here. The Boston Globe recently wrote a very thorough story on vaping and its growing prevalence amongst teens in the area and if you aren’t terribly familiar with this trend, I’d encourage you to spend a few minutes reading the article.  Included in the article is this concise description of vaping and the use of e-cigarettes: “Electronic cigarettes are devices that utilize stored electricity to heat a liquid into vapors, which are then inhaled by the user….the liquid can be anything from a flavored water-type mixture to liquid nicotine to THC, the principal active element of marijuana.”  As the article notes, this trend has become more widespread amongst adolescents and has added another layer of complexity to our work as parents and educators in terms of navigating the terrain of substance use and abuse. I am highlighting this topic not in response to any specific incidents at RJ Grey, or current challenge that we’re facing with our students.  If this was already a significant problem that we’ve been dealing with at school, I’d tell you.  However, I also believe that like other trends and challenges, we won’t be immune to this issue. While this new terrain is complicated by the fact that current technologies make them more readily available and easier to mask, the human temptation to experiment with substances, especially when presented as a safe and risk-free endeavor, is a longstanding reality of adolescence that parents and educators will need to address through education and engagement with our kids.  To that end, I again encourage you to read the Globe article I referenced above, familiarize yourself with this trend, and consider engaging your child in a conversation about it.  

Don’t forget the early release this Thursday.  

Have a great week, everyone.



Grey Matters, December 4, 2017; Volume 6, Number 14

posted Dec 3, 2017, 7:25 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,

It was a busy weekend where some of our family’s plans didn’t go quite as intended, so instead we adjust and find joy in the imperfections.  The first thing that went awry is this year’s Shen Family Christmas tree that, for the fourth year in a row, is not standing upright and leaning at about a 15 to 20 degree angle, and (once again) secured by some string that we’ve attached between the tree and window behind it in an effort to avoid a repeat of the Ornament Massacre of 2014.  I remember writing about that incident in an edition of Grey Matters three years ago but at that time didn’t have the courage to include a photo of that tree in its sad state.  So in an effort to model and embrace vulnerability, here to the right is a photo I took this morning of our tilting tree that I’ll probably also forget to water until it’s too late. I took that photo after I went to try and wake up our oldest son who gave me specific and enthusiastic instructions yesterday to wake him up early so that he can make his mother breakfast in bed to celebrate her birthday, which is also today.  During my attempt to wake him I succeeded in getting a momentary acknowledgement that I was in the room and two full shakes of the head when I asked him if he was still up for making breakfast.  I’m still debating whether the phrase, “it’s the thought that counts” is applicable in this situation.  While these Shen family moments didn’t go quite as planned, what has gone incredibly well was this weekend’s impressive 5-show run of the RJ Grey production of Singin’ in the Rain.  I attended the opening-night performance on Thursday and as always it’s immensely enjoyable to watch a performance featuring our students as they showcase a whole different dimension of who they are, and the many talents they possess.  Along with the many parents, families and staff who attended the musical, I was again heartened to see a large contingent of current and former RJ Grey students in attendance and cheering loudly for their classmates and friends.  Planning and preparation for a production of this magnitude starts in the summer, and involves a high level of commitment and focus for the first three months of the school year - auditions, rehearsals, costume making, set building, and more rehearsals.  Congratulations and many thanks to the student cast and crew, RJ Grey staff and parent volunteers who were part of this year’s musical production.

Some reminders for this week, and then a note about Fall Trimester report cards coming home later this week (probably Friday).  

  • An important reminder that the towns of Acton and Boxborough will hold Special Town Meetings on Monday, December 4 (tomorrow) at 7pm and the first article to be voted on will be the potential allocation of funds for the new school building feasibility study.  Our school district has been accepted into the state’s school building funding program and would receive reimbursement for up to 50% of the project.  The vote on December 4 is to allocate funds for the feasibility study only. I would encourage you all to attend, participate, and cast your vote based on how you view this proposal.  

  • Similar to previous years, 7th grade students will again participate in an annual presentation by Meghan McCoy, from the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center (MARC) about cyberbullying and engaging in a discussion about the benefits and risks of maintaining a social media presence.  This presentation is scheduled for Friday, and we’re looking forward to welcoming Meghan back to RJ Grey, who has worked with our school for several years, and is very familiar with our student audience.  

  • The first of three parent-teacher conference days is scheduled for Thursday, December 14.  All (Junior High) students will have an early release day, and dismissed at 10:40am.  All bus routes will be available after school, and a friendly reminder to families to have a quick conversation with your child about plans and expectations for where they should be going once school is dismissed.  For those parents and guardians who have meetings scheduled on Thursday, please double check your assigned times.  You would have received that via an email message from either Katy Frey (7th grade) or Anne Spalding (8th grade).  

Here’s an important message from Marc Lewis, our Yearbook advisor: RJ Grey Yearbooks are now on sale and make great holiday gifts for your kid(s)! Our book this year consists of 70+ colored pages full of 7th and 8th graders participating in school activities, clubs, sports, and special events. The hardcover book will include survey responses, fun photos, student art and poetry, and everything in between. The cost of the book is $37 and can be ordered one of two ways: The preferred way is purchase the book online, by going to this link and entering our school ID: 13545.  When you get directed to our school’s page, click the “buy a yearbook” option on the left and then (1) put in the quantity and click “buy these items”; (2) click “buy these items for a student” and type in your child's name; you will then be prompted to select the student from our school's database; (3) pay by credit card and then save your email receipt for record purposes. If you prefer not to order online, students may also go the more traditional route and order a yearbook with cash or check made out to RJ Grey. They should bring payment to Mr. Lewis in Room 313 or to the Main Office. Important: Please make sure to include a note with the student’s name, grade, and homeroom teacher’s name. We know this is something your child will enjoy receiving in June. We hope also that years from now your child will look back at their RJ Grey experience with fond memories and know this yearbook will be a way for them to do just that!  

Now a message from me about yearbooks and other school-related costs.  If the cost of the yearbook presents a financial hardship for your family, please do not hesitate to contact us and we can have a discrete and simple conversation, and we always make things work.  I’d like to use the launch of yearbook orders to offer a general but important reminder to all families that we never want the cost of any school-related program or activity to prevent a student from fully accessing important school programs or experiences. It is inevitable that we will need to attach a fee to some programs, trips, or optional things that are “extra” and if there are moments when cost does present a dilemma for your family, I hope you’ll feel comfortable reaching out to your child’s counselor and/or Assistant Principal who will be happy to work with you on a solution.  

Fall Trimester report cards are going home with students later this week, likely Friday. Starting this year, we will also be emailing report cards directly to parents and guardians on the same day they are handed to students.  Once you have time to view the report cards, please use this as an opportunity to have a conversation with your child(ren).  For subjects where they experienced some success, what did they think was an important factor, and how can they build on that momentum?  For subjects where they might be hoping to improve, what goals or strategies might be worth trying over the next few months?  Asking students to self-assess and giving them a supportive venue to be honest with themselves is a critical first step to any adjustments that they (or you) might hope they make moving forward.  

I would imagine that amongst our student population, there may be a few whose report cards show some signs of difficulty in a few subjects.  They aren’t the first (nor will they be the last) middle schoolers whose report cards may result in a bit of angst and distress for themselves and their parents. What has become to me an important tradition during my time as Principal is where I confess to RJ Grey families about my own sordid middle school academic career, specifically the minor disaster that was my 7th grade winter report card, issued in 1989 by the Andover Public Schools. Like other RJ Grey parents before you, you can view a photo of said report card by clicking here. Please note that teachers’ names, and my parents’ home address, have been blurred to protect the innocent.  If you are tempted but unsure of whether to show my report card to your child, shed yourself of any reluctance you might have and go right ahead.  I’ve enjoyed many of the stories that parents have sent to me about the conversations they had with their children about their Principal’s report card.

On the day that my 7th grade report card was distributed, I spent a good hour devising an ingenious plan to save myself from what I expected to be a painful conversation with my parents.  My brilliant idea?  I folded up my report card, placed it in my pants pocket, and then purposely ran those pants through the washing machine - twice.  I convinced myself (truly) that a spin cycle or two would actually make the D+ I earned in Math fade a bit and that I could convince my mother that the unclear and fuzzy marking was a B+.  Shockingly, the plan didn’t work - I probably should have used hot water instead of cold.  On behalf of your kids, and the thirteen-year old version of me, please keep in mind that if you find yourself having a bewildering conversation about their report cards, they are not purposely trying to make you miserable and turn prematurely gray/bald.  The prefrontal cortex of thirteen and fourteen-year old brains is still developing, and this will often result in utterly nonsensical explanations and excuses.  This too shall pass, eventually.

For those whose kids may be coming home with “that other” report card that might look a bit like mine, when you have a conversation with your child about it, please remind yourself of what we all already know: that patience and encouragement (and some mercy) often go a long way in these situations. If you hope to have a productive conversation with them, they need to be convinced that your motivation for talking is not just rooted in judgment, but also driven by curiosity and a sincere interest in expressing empathy and support.  

Middle school is a time when a dozen things are happening and changing at the same time - to their brains, their bodies, how they relate to peers and adults, and they’re trying on different personalities to see what feels right.  With all this change, sometimes the academic part doesn’t go quite as planned and they may not be prepared to identify the reasons why.  A less-than-stellar middle school report card is not usually a preview of what your son or daughter will be like when they are adults (or even as high school students), nor is it really structured to offer insight about their continued development as kind, thoughtful, and creative individuals.  We (parents and educators) should definitely continue to have healthy academic goals and aspirations for all of our kids, and let’s remind ourselves that getting there can sometimes be a function of time and might also include, and indeed benefit from, a few detours and potholes along the way.  

Finally, we had another installment of Poetry Fridays to end our week.  Mr. Malloy chose to read the poem “Storage” by Mary Oliver.  Click here if you’d like read the piece.  

Have a great week, everyone.



Grey Matters, November 27, 2017; Volume 6, Number 13

posted Nov 26, 2017, 7:36 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,

Welcome back from what I hope was an enjoyable and restful Thanksgiving vacation for each of you.  From when Melisa and I first got married, we’ve celebrated Thanksgiving several different ways and in varied locations.  Each year’s plans have been heavily influenced by changes and expansion of our extended family and circumstances specific to a particular year.  This year, we went to the movies and then out to dinner with my parents, a much appreciated low-key and mess-free Thanksgiving.  Because those plans didn’t involve a helping of Stove Top stuffing, we decided the following day to cook a Thanksgiving-inspired dinner whose only requirement was a box of that artificial flavor goodness, and enough homemade gravy to last us about a week.  I might have just made hash browns this morning so I could have a reason to warm up some leftover gravy for breakfast (don’t judge).  For those of you with significantly more leftovers and are at a bit of a loss with what to do, a friendly reminder that former Governor Dukakis strongly believes that throwing away a turkey carcass is absolutely sinful and two years ago had about 30 bags of turkey bones dropped off at his home after the Boston Globe profiled his waste-not want not approach to Thanksgiving (and did a follow-up story last week).  If you’re feeling a bit more ambitious in the kitchen, consider following the lead of Chef Massimo Botura who took the leftovers brought to NPR’s cafeteria and made passatelli, an Italian pasta dish served in broth.  One experience that I am fairly confident will not be part of our family’s Thanksgiving festivities is participation in the madness of Black Friday shopping.  Crowds and long lines are two things I don’t handle particularly well, and reading about this year’s pandemonium reminded me of an article I read this summer in The Atlantic about the history and psychology of waiting in lines (The Agony and the Ecstasy of the Single File Line).  For those of you who may have braved the chaos, or perhaps get an adrenaline boost from the experience, I hope you returned home relatively unscathed and with many great deals in tow.  

Before everyone went their separate ways last week, we held our traditional Thanksgiving assembly, which is always the first all-school gathering of the year.  As usual, this assembly featured and was led by our students, starting with our Student Council officers (Tycho Dickerson, Michael Hu, Michael Cai, Balaji Ganapathi, and Ashley Dawn).  Along with great performances (as usual) by students in our Band, Chorus and Strings programs, our assembly also featured speeches by three students who submitted entries for this year’s speech competition.  Many thanks to Mariana Maranga, Anish Mudide, Sonia Wong, Shrinithi Kumar, and Stephanie Campbell for their heartfelt words and reflections.  

The annual RJ Grey musical is this week!  Five performances of Singin’ in the Rain are scheduled for this 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 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.  

Tryouts for our Winter Sports get under way this week.  Please review the Athletics Website for information and click here for each team’s specific tryout schedule.  Please remember that the process for requesting a waiver for the athletics fee should be submitted to the Athletic Director’s office.  Please contact Assistant Principal David Lawrence ( with any questions.  

Here are some reminders for this week and next:

  • A friendly reminder that our first round of Parent-Teacher conferences are scheduled for Thursday, December 14.  Families who requested conferences have begun hearing back from Katy Frey or Anne Spalding with confirmation of their conference schedule.  A reminder to all families that for the December 14 and December 19 conferences, all students will be dismissed early at 10:40am.  The normal bus routes will run at that time and available to students.  Please keep these dates in mind when considering after school plans for your student(s).  

  • We will be highlighting the sale of our Yearbook in the next few weeks, stay tuned for more details.  

  • The Fall Trimester closes this Tuesday and report cards will be distributed on or around Friday, December 8.  This year, report cards will be emailed to families as a PDF document and a paper copy will also be handed to students that same day.  

Finally, an important reminder about capital planning efforts by our school district.  First, the towns of Acton and Boxborough will hold Special Town Meetings next Monday, December 4 and the first article to be voted on will be the potential allocation of funds for the new school building feasibility study.  Our school district has been accepted into the state’s school building funding program and would receive reimbursement for up to 50% of the project.  The vote on December 4 is to allocate funds for the feasibility study only.  If you’d like to learn more before the Town Meeting (at 7pm in the High School auditorium), you can attend one of three remaining information forums (11/29 at noon at Boxborough Senior/Community Center; 11/29 at 7pm, Conant School; 12/2 at 10am, Douglas School) or watch the video presentation and/or the tour of the Douglas School.  

Have a great week, everyone.  Welcome back.  



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 (

  • 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.



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 (

  • 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.



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 (

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.  



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