Grey Matters

Grey Matters, April 9, 2018; Volume 6, Number 30

posted Apr 8, 2018, 7:34 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,


If you ever find yourself approached by a colleague and the first thing that colleague says to you is, “so, there’s a cookie in a urinal in the boys’ bathroom” then you might actually be attending a middle school dance.  We had about 220 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. While I also wouldn’t have minded spending that night lying on my couch, I was also glad that we ended a tough week in a more celebratory setting with a few hundred kids enjoying each others’ company.  Each year, when we host a school dance, I use it as an opportunity to encourage parents and guardians to spend ten minutes listening to one of my favorite episodes of the NPR program This American Life.  First aired in October of 2011, “Middle School” includes a number of stories about this particular stage of adolescence and schooling, including a hysterical look at middle school dances.  I don’t believe, however, there was any mention of cookies in urinal stalls.  This examination was not exactly a scientific study but certainly hit on some themes and concepts that ring true for many who remember those complicated adolescent years, and certainly for those who for some reason decided to make it the setting of their professional careers.  For me the best part of the section focusing on middle school dances is when two students were describing the rules and expectations that their school articulated to them in advance of a dance, some of which were shared as written guidelines that included, “No Petting.” To which the students expressed serious confusion wondering out loud, “do people sit at dances and pet other people? That’s weird.”  If you are interested in listening to this episode, click here.  


Here’s another important reminder for current 7th grade families about 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. The registration forms need to be signed and returned to the Junior High by tomorrow - April 9.  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).  


This year’s MCAS testing begins tomorrow with students on 8 Gold and 8 Green taking the English/Language Arts portion.  Here again is a link to the RJ Grey-specific schedule for MCAS testing for April and May, and for both grades.   We hope you will encourage your kids to get a good night’s sleep before they are scheduled for an MCAS test day.  We of course 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 (goldfish) and water for everyone to have before the testing begins. 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.  


While we’ve been teased with signs that the Spring season may actually show its face in the near future, last Friday’s mini snow storm offered a moment of doubt.  Nevertheless, we continue to remain optimistic that warmer (and hopefully a bit drier) weather will be on its way, not only for the sake of our sports programs, but also for another growing season for our RJ Grey Community Garden.  Last year, we converted one of our inner courtyards into a space that is now the site of eight raised beds and will see the addition of a few more beds later this month.  Our very first harvest last year included mustard greens, lettuce, arugula, and spinach that were used for salads offered as part of the lunch options in the cafeteria last Spring, serving as our inaugural “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.  


April Vacation is next week.  Please note that Friday is a full day of school.  If your travel plans involve your child missing some school 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.  There will also be almost 150 RJ Grey students who are visiting Washington D.C. during the first half of the April Vacation, and we hope everyone’s excited for an adventure that will include visiting famous monuments, memorials and museums that connect the ideas of our Founding Fathers to how our country works today (or at least how it’s supposed to work). Some, but not all, of the highlights of the trip will include a visit to the National Air and Space Museum, a walking workshop of Capitol Hill, a mock Congress debating timely political issues, and a visit to the new (and hard-to-get-tickets to) Museum of African American History.  Many thanks to Mr. Lewis (7 Gold Social Studies) for organizing this incredible trip, and to the many school staff who have offered to spend part of their April Vacation attending this school event. In addition, we are grateful to Dr. Bronson Terry and Mrs. Maureen Jones, parents who have graciously offered to provide medical supervision for our students.


Finally, we had our latest edition of Poetry Fridays at the end of last week.  With the D.C. trip in mind, Mr. Malloy offered a reading of the poem “Facing It” by American poet Yusef Komunyakaa.  Having served in the Vietnam war and earning a Bronze star, Mr. Komunyakaa wrote this piece to describe the emotions he felt upon visiting the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C.  Click here if you’d like to read the poem.  


Have a great week and a nice April Vacation, everyone.


Cheers,

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Grey Matters, April 2, 2018; Volume 6, Number 29

posted Apr 1, 2018, 5:39 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,


During my childhood and in my adult years, I’ve had the opportunity to be with, around and alongside my father on many occasions.  The fact that he and my mother have now lived in Andover for almost 45 years, and that I see anything west of Rt. 495 as frontierland and will likely never move far away (even to San Francisco), means that it’s relatively easy for us to continue getting together and spending time with each other.  I’ve seen my father and how he operates in different settings - from visiting his office when I was a kid, to socializing at their church, traveling overseas, and now

playing with my kids. And the accumulation of those moments have given me the confidence to predict how he may respond to other settings and situations.  However, nothing prepared me for this past weekend when my father asked me to accompany him to a few car dealerships with the goal of buying a new car. It was time to retire their 14-year old car as the odometer puttered towards 175,000 miles. I had never visited a car dealership with my dad and assumed that he wanted me to come with him to offer words of encouragement like a trainer would to a nervous boxer who returns to the corner after each round, or maybe even be the “tough guy” in the process.  Within ten minutes of our visit to the first dealership, I had no idea why he needed me there, and was busy trying to hide my look of surprise as the ice-in-the-veins poker-faced negotiator presented himself for all to see, and for a few salesmen to experience. I was both impressed and somewhat disoriented by the display and nervously waiting to see who would flinch first. At the end of the day, after visiting a few dealerships, we did not walk away with a new car and where I myself would have probably seriously debated caving, my dad just casually shrugged his shoulders, said “oh well, now I have more information, I’m in no rush” and then we left.  Truthfully, I think his current car may disagree with that lack of urgency, but I wasn’t going to argue with him after what I just witnessed.


While a completely different set of circumstances, I enjoyed reading about another moment where an individual was observed in a setting very different from their normal day-to-day role and circumstances.  During an NHL hockey game last Thursday, both goalies for the Chicago Blackhawks were/became injured and so they enlisted their emergency backup goalie who is a 36-year old accountant by the name of Scott Foster, and part of a small group of individuals who are non-professional athletes invited to attend games in the highly unlikely event that both of a team’s goalies are unavailable.  He then became an instant legend by stopping all seven shots he faced, and you can watch the highlights by clicking here.  On the subject of sports and the excitement that many derive from it, I’m excited for our students participating in our upcoming athletic 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.  Starting a few years ago, I have shared at the start of the Spring season 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 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.”  


We finalized the tryout and sign-up schedule for our Spring Sports programs and you can view the tryout schedule by clicking here, and can also visit the Athletics Page on our website, which also includes the medical Green Forms and athletic fee waiver request form.  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.  


Here’s some updates and reminders for all of you:


Don’t forget that this Thursday, April 5 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 visited the Parent

Portal to complete the registration process for 9th grade courses at the High School.  

Please remember that the portal closes tomorrow, Monday, April 2.  


Tickets are on sale in 8th grade homerooms for the upcoming spring dance which takes

place on Friday April 6th from 7:00 - 9:00 PM in the gym. Tickets are $5.00 each and will

not be sold at the door. The dance will feature a DJ and lots of great food. Tickets will be

sold through this Thursday, April 5th.


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.  


The next presentation in the Family Learning Series will take place on Tuesday, April 10, at 7:00 p.m. in the ABRHS  Auditorium. The topic is Movement, and the presenter is Anthony Rao, PhD. See the Family Learning Series page for more information.


A friendly reminder to our Acton families that Acton Town Meeting starts tomorrow - Monday, April 2 at 7pm in the High School auditorium.  Boxborough’s town meeting is scheduled for mid-May.  


Here’s another important reminder for current 7th grade families about 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. The registration forms need to be signed and returned to the Junior High by April 9.  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).  


One more week until we enter the season of MCAS testing.  This year we begin the 8th Grade English/Language Arts portion of the MCAS state assessments on Monday, April 9. Here again is a link to the RJ Grey-specific schedule for MCAS testing for April and May, and for both grades.


Congratulations to Jessica Chen who was named Artist of the Month for this March. In February I introduced this new program created by RJ Grey art teacher Holly Vlajinac as an opportunity for 7th and 8th Graders to have an authentic, juried art exhibition experience similar to the process in which professional artists participate.  Jessica and her artwork were chosen for the month of April and she is posing with one of her pieces in the photo to the right.  You can view more of Jessica’s work by clicking here.    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, MCAS this year will be computer-based for both 7th and 8th graders and we will continue to help students be prepared for that testing platform.


Finally, a Happy Easter to families who observe the holiday.  I hope whatever activities and gatherings were part of your celebration were enjoyable and meaningful  


Have a great week, everyone.


Cheers,

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Grey Matters, March 26, 2018; Volume 6, Number 28

posted Mar 25, 2018, 6:16 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,


I hope you all had a good full week that was un-interrupted and free from snow days.  If you had any tough moments last week where things didn’t go exactly as planned, consider comparing your experience with that of a 17-year old Minnesota student who was taking her road test to earn her drivers license.  Parked in front of the driver’s examination office, she started the test by shifting the car into “Drive” instead of “Reverse” and subsequently drove straight through the storefront of the examination station office.  Fortunately no one in the car or in the office was injured and any grumbling or complaining on my part about this, that or the other thing that I was dealing with last week quickly softened in intensity. I am about to complete and submit my tax returns for this year, so I may stil soon be experiencing a feeling similar to driving a car through a wall.  As for any grumbling or complaining on my part last week, those moments mostly centered around our 1-year old black labrador puppy Bailey who has now eaten three pairs of my shoes. We also use a baby gate to restrict Bailey’s access to a few rooms in the house and yesterday I caught my foot in the gate while trying to climb over and fell hard onto the ground.  You can imagine in my moment of pain I was able to develop a perfectly logical argument that made the dog responsible for why I was lying temporarily motionless on the ground.  It’s a good thing that as the dogs ran over to see what generated the giant “thud” neither of them had any of my clothes in their mouths. I did end the week on a good note, celebrating another birthday, though would you all believe that I share a birthday with a certain shoe-eating puppy?  I was touched by the streamers and other decorations our kids put up the morning of my birthday, only to be reminded that “half of them are for Bailey, dad.” Speaking of milestones, later this week the school district is hosting an event celebrating staff members who are currently in their 20th year of working in our schools.  At RJ Grey, Jeanne Bouchard (7th Science), Mae Shoemaker (8th Science),  Caroline O’Brien (Counseling), and Brenda Geldert (Food Services) are all completing their 20th year of service to students and we look forward to celebrating this achievement with them.  


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 April 9.  


A friendly reminder that Good Friday is on Friday, March 30 and we will not have

school that day.  


There is an 8th grade dance being planned by the Student Council, and scheduled for

Friday, April 6 from 7pm to 9pm. Stay tuned for announcements throughout that week

for purchasing tickets.  In June, we also have separate end of year dance/social for both

grades, and those dates have been changed as a result of the snow days.  The 7th grade

dance/social that was scheduled for Friday, June 8 will now be on June 15.  The

End-of-Year Celebration/Dance for 8th graders was scheduled for June 15, and will now

be Friday, June 22.  We’ll discuss those events at greater length once we get to the

month of June.


Don’t forget that Thursday, April 5 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 2.  


The tryout and sign-up schedule for our Spring Sports programs are all set and an

update was sent last week as part of our Daily Announcements.  You can view the tryout

schedule by clicking here, and can also visit the Athletics Page on our website, which also

includes the medical Green Forms and athletic fee waiver request form.  The meeting for

the track program was last week, and baseball and softball start up this week (in the

gym given the snow on the ground).  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 March 26th and go until April 6th, and bins will be located near the library entrance.  


For current 7th grade families, you should have received in the mail (the US Postal Mail not email) late last 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. There is also a letter that provides important information about the adjustment we are making to the schedule for next year that involves all students participating in an elective during our Grey Block period, and how we’ll be providing a study period for students in a different part of the day.  Please be sure to review that letter carefully because it will provide important context for your children as they identify their Grey Block preferences. The registration forms need to be signed and returned to the Junior High by April 9.  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).  


As “veterans” now of the Junior High, I know that you appreciate how our team placement process focuses on creating teams that strive for balance and diversity in different academic and social areas, equitable class sizes, accounting for math level and world language choices, as well as scheduling for a range of services that students may require (to name a few of the dozens of variables).  While we are not able to build teams based on individual requests, we do understand that there may at times be information worth considering during the placement process. Should that be the case, you may pick up a Parent/Guardian Information Form at the Junior High main office anytime or download a copy of the form by clicking here. The Parent/Guardian Information Form is due back to the Junior High main office by April 10, 2018.  Please remember that filling out this form is not necessary nor is it expected.


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.  


This year we begin the 8th Grade English/Language Arts portion of the MCAS state assessments on Monday, April 9. 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, MCAS this year will be computer-based for both 7th and 8th graders 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 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).   We will also be providing each room with some snack food (Goldfish crackers, fruit snacks) 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. Mr. Malloy selected “A Field of Roses” by Chris Corderly.  Click here to read the selection.  


Have a great week, everyone.


Cheers,

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Grey Matters, March 19, 2018; Volume 6, Number 27

posted Mar 18, 2018, 11:54 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,


Another week, another snow storm, another two snow days.  I went back and read the Grey Matters from last year at this time and was reminded that we have now missed March 14 - Pi Day - for two consecutive years.  These snow days have made for some interesting conversations with kids, along with conversations amongst kids that have been overheard.  I am sharing three that you might relate to, and perhaps might echo conversations you have also had or overhead. The first conversation comes from my wife, a high school teacher, who spent some time on her first day back at school last Monday (after the storm that knocked out power everywhere) talking to two 10th grade students who were debating which was more in-

tolerable - having no heat for two days (where the temperature in their house reached the mid-30s), or having no internet for two days.  I’ll leave you guessing as to where those students landed. The second was a conversation amongst my kids that I overheard last week, as they and a few of their friends were playing card games including what sounded like a very simplified version of Texas hold’em poker.  Somewhat related to the first conversation, I found myself not minding so much that they were dipping their toes into card games and gambling because at least they weren’t itching to be on their iPads and Xboxes.  We can unpack the sorry state of affairs that this preference of mine represents some other time.  The part of their conversation that I enjoyed the most was when I heard them create a new rule that if a player ran out of poker chips, they could request additional chips that they decided would be called “a student loan.”  We still have a few years before any of them might be considering college and time to correct their understanding of what a student loan really involves. Finally, at RJ Grey, a number of students claimed that they knew exactly what these snow days meant for the end of the school year.  A few students declared that it is against the law to have more than five snow days (maybe it’s in the Constitution?), others assured their friends that we can’t have any more snow days, a few students insisted that they heard we would have school on Saturdays, and others mentioned that April Break was being canceled.  There may be parents and guardians who are also a bit unsure of whether there are guidelines and limits involving snow days and how late the school year can go. Let me provide a quick overview: (1) there aren’t any limits on snow days. The school calendar tends to indicate what the last day of school would be if we had five snow days simply as a reminder for teachers and families of the possibility that school may extend beyond the stated last day if we have snow days within that year.  We can have, and this year we have had, more than five snow days in order to meet the requirement of a 180-day school year; (2) As of right now, our last day of school is scheduled for Wednesday, June 27; (3) there are no plans to “reclaim” school days by eating into April Break.  I have heard that some Districts are entertaining that idea (Billerica comes to mind), and Andover has already scheduled a day of school on Saturday, April 28 because they’ve already reached their ninth snow day. Please know that AB has not explored either of those pathways.  I understand the impulse to explore those options, and those are solutions that are both a blessing and a curse because they solve one problem and potentially create four others.  Here’s hoping that we will soon be turning a corner when it comes to the local weather and focus on transitioning to the Spring season.


Here’s some updates and reminders for you:


IMPORTANT FOR 8th GRADE FAMILIES: Because of the four snow days that we’ve had in the past two weeks, the course registration process has been pushed back a bit, which allows teachers to finish conversations with their students about their recommendations.  The Parent Portal was originally scheduled to open tomorrow (Monday) for families to review recommendations and submit course selections. The Portal will now open this Wednesday, March 21.  Nothing else has changed, just the date when the Portal opens.  


    A friendly reminder that Good Friday is on Friday, March 30 and we will not have school that day.  


            Report cards for the Winter Trimester were emailed to families last Friday, and a paper copy was handed to students at the end of the school day.                If you haven’t seen the report card (either via email or from your student), please let me know and we can produce another copy for you.  


            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 26th and go until April 6th, and bins will be located near the library entrance.  


Don’t forget that Thursday, April 5 is the Junior High’s last early release day, where students are dismissed at 10:40am and staff remain to                           participate in professional learning.  


For current 7th grade families, you will be receiving in the mail at the end of this week/early next 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.  There is also a letter that provide important information about an adjustment we are making to the schedule for next year that involves all students participating in an elective during our Grey Block period, and how we’ll be providing a study period for students in a different part of the day.  Please be sure to review that letter carefully because it will provide important context for your children as they identify their Grey Block preferences.


The tryout and sign-up schedule for our Spring Sports programs are almost set.  As you can imagine, the snow currently sitting on the ground has created some logistical challenges for our outdoor sports.  Before I get into those details, a friendly reminder that our after school clubs and activities welcome new members throughout the year.  For those who are interested in the Track program, there is a mandatory meeting this Thursday, March 22nd at 2:30pm in the auditorium.  Those interested in Girls Volleyball, tryouts have been scheduled for Monday, April 2 at 3:45pm, and April 3 and April 4, both at 2:30pm.  Once we have a clearer idea for Baseball and Softball tryouts, we will post them on the RJ Grey Athletics Page and I’ll provide an update in next week’s Grey Matters.  You might want to visit the Athletics Page to also review or download the Green Forms (medical) 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.  


In between the four snow days, we did have school last Monday and the School Committee met that evening to deliberate on the two finalists for our Superintendent position.  At the end of the evening, the School Committee voted to name Peter Light as the next Superintendent for Acton-Boxborough pending successful contract negotiations. Mr. Light is currently an Assistant Superintendent in Franklin, and would likely join our District in July.


Finally, after the need to reschedule twice, 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. Always grateful for the chance to break bread (in this case, pizza) with them and spending a little time learning about the school through their eyes.  Congratulations to the following students who were part of this round’s Everyday Leaders group: Casey Corkery, Casey Glode, Ian Ryan, Silvia Dominguez-Bodie, Keira Baglio, Claire Ali, Sophie Zhang, Aarti Jeslani, Shreya Sarcar, Isobel Brookes, and Isabella Mombrini.  


Have a great week, everyone.


Cheers,

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Grey Matters, March 12, 2018; Volume 6, Number 26

posted Mar 11, 2018, 12:28 PM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,


There is a United Airlines non-stop flight (Flt 319) from Boston to San Francisco departing tomorrow morning at 9:00am.  I haven’t bought a ticket for that flight, but it’s tempting and if I’m not in school tomorrow you’ll have a sense of where I might be instead.  Granted, I have no place to stay once I land which is a minor complication at this point, but at least I won’t have to keep looking out my window and seeing scenes similar to the one in the photo to the right.  While we unfortunately lost a few trees in last week’s snowstorm, I need to recognize and be thankful that our family was on the much luckier end of things given that we didn’t lose power to our home at any point last week.  A significant percentage of families in our home town (Sudbury) and here in Acton and Boxborough, along with my parents in Andover, were without power for multiple days and had to scramble around for alternate accommodations.  It sounds like there may still be a handful of families in our communities who are still without power.  If you are one of them, please don’t hesitate to let us know and we’ll work with the teachers to be flexible about schoolwork that might still need to be completed.  Our last day of school is, as of today, now scheduled for Monday, June 25.  Once things have settled down a bit here at school and we’re back into a more predictable rhythm, we’ll take a look at our schedule of year-end events (field trips, assemblies, dances) and see if we need to make any adjustments given that we’re starting to creep into that part of June where school and summer activities start to collide more frequently.  We’re also going to wait a bit to explore possible adjustments because of the reports indicating that we’re likely due for another bout of snow this Tuesday and it’s unclear what impact it could have on school for that day.  If we need to prepare for another delay, cancellation or early release, you’ll hear from Superintendent McAlduff about those plans.  


Here’s some updates and reminders, including things that may have been affected by last week’s snow days/early dismissals:


Winter Trimester report cards were originally scheduled to be emailed to families this

Wednesday.  At this point, the earliest we would have them available is Friday, and it

may be Monday depending on a few variables.  Thanks for your patience.


We will also need a few more days to finalize the tryout and meeting schedule for

Spring interscholastic sports - baseball, softball, and girls volleyball (which may also be affected by the snow currently sitting on the ground and when the fields for baseball/softball will be available).  I can confirm that students interested in the Spring Track program should plan to attend a meeting on Thursday, March 22 at 2:30pm in the Junior High auditorium.  At this meeting the coaches will provide an overview of the season, distribute important paperwork, and review expectations attached to the two levels of participation that I outlined in last week’s Grey Matters.  For the other sports, my hope is to have the tryout schedule available and posted on our school website by next Monday, if not at the end of this week.  In the meantime, please make sure your child has completed and submitted a Green Form (medical form) that has been reviewed and approved by the nurse.  


The annual March Madness basketball tournament obviously did not take place last

Friday. We will connect with the Student Council officers and advisor and see what

options are available for re-scheduling.  


A friendly reminder that the R.J. Grey Junior High yearbook is offering you the chance to

send your love, pride and congratulations to the graduating 8th grade student in your life. Please click on the link for instructions on how to submit an ad.  Family Ad Instructions.   The deadline to submit an ad is -- tomorrow Monday March 12.


Don’t forget about the community screening of the documentary film Screenagers which is now scheduled for 7pm on March 29 at the Junior High Auditorium.  Click here for more information and to register for the event.


I mentioned last week that on Monday, March 19 the portal for current 8th grade students to register for high school courses will be open. Before that time, students will have met with their current teachers to discuss course recommendations for next year.  As you prepare to work with your 8th grade student on his/her/their choices for next year, please be sure to review the materials that have been made available to you and them.  You can review the slides that our counselors used in their presentation by clicking here.  A timeline for this process can be found on our school’s Counseling Office web page which you can access here.  In addition to those resources, families should review all of the following documents: (1) the High School Program of Studies, which includes details about course requirements and guidelines; (2) the list of 9th grade electives for 2018-2019; and (3) directions for electronic course selections.  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.  


Last week was National Foreign Languages Week!  Before our time at school was interrupted by the snow, we were able to celebrate each morning with a different student offering a greeting to the school in a different language.  Thank you to Kayvon Touserkani (Farsi), Ian Ryan (German) and Emi Fung (Japanese) for making each morning a little more special with their messages of welcome. We look forward to capping off our planned celebrations with Saar Deschepper (Dutch) tomorrow morning, and closing with Song Leav and Ofri Eizman offering a Poetry Friday (delivered on Tuesday) poem in Spanish.  During the week these students also read/will read a trivia question in English about languages spoken around the world, and members of our Spanish Club have been selling pulseras (bracelets) that are handmade in Nicaragua and 100% of proceeds are returned to the artisans to fund various needs in their communities. Many thanks to the students and their World Language teachers for organizing this celebration.  


Assuming that we don’t get any additional surprise snowstorms in April, we begin our MCAS testing this year on Monday, April 9.  Last year we began the process of shifting to a computer-based testing platform with the 8th grade MCAS assessments, which means that students review questions and submit responses via computer (in our case, on one of our many Chromebooks).  This year, both 7th and 8th grade MCAS assessments will be computer-based. Rest assured that we will be giving our students in both grades some training on how to engage with the computer-based testing platform prior to April 9.


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.






Have a great week, everyone.  Fingers crossed about Tuesday.  


Cheers,

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Grey Matters, March 5, 2018; Volume 6, Number 25

posted Mar 4, 2018, 9:56 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,


About five years ago a friend of mine started including me in her tradition of attending the Banff Mountain Film Festival, an event that comes to the Somerville Theatre every February.  The Banff Mountain Film Festival is an international film competition which involves an annual presentation of short films and documentaries about mountain culture, sports, and the environment and typically involves activities that lead most of us to say, “you’re doing what?!” This year, that includes bicyclist Ben Page who, while cycling around the world, decided to include bicycling into the Canadian Arctic.  Entitled, The Frozen Road, you can watch the 24 minute video by clicking here (I suggest having a hot beverage available while watching this).  When I arrived at the Somerville Theatre this year I started running into a lot of Acton-Boxborough residents which was a pleasant surprise and had me wondering if it was just a coincidence.  I soon learned from one of those folks in attendance that the high volume of A-B viewers was because one of the films being featured was about Acton-Boxborough graduate Adam Rice who in 2016 climbed a world record 2.5 million feet on skis in a single calendar year. If you click on the linked article, the documentary film about Adam’s adventure is also embedded in the article and you can view the whole thing.  Inspired by the film that documented Adam’s story, along with the other films celebrating those who conquer dangerous terrain and conditions that truly test one’s ability to survive unforgiving elements, I am working on submitting my own short documentary film about the sleepover that we hosted at our home last Friday to celebrate Addison’s birthday and involved 12 5th grade girls who would occupy our home from 5:30pm on Friday to 9:00am on Saturday.  Shot entirely on mine and Melisa’s respective phones, the documentary will be a 10-minute video that includes footage from throughout the evening, except for the three hours when actual sleep (miraculously) occurred.  For most in New England the term “bomb cyclone” describes the wild weather we experienced on Friday.  For Melisa and I, it will be the title of the documentary we submit to the film festival next year.  


Here are a few updates and reminders about the next few weeks.  Please note that the second half of this week’s Grey Matters is focused on High School course registration for current 8th grade students.  If you have an 8th grade student and would like to learn a bit more about this process, please be sure to read that portion of this newsletter.  


The Winter Trimester closed last Friday. It’s likely that Winter Trimester report cards will be emailed to families on or around March 14. Please remember that report cards will be emailed to any email address currently listed in your student’s Emergency Card in the Parent Portal.   


On Friday, March 9 from 2:30 - 4:00 in the gym student council will sponsor the fifth

annual March Madness basketball tournament.  Students interested in forming a team

needed to submit forms by last Friday.  There will also be food, music, and limbo at the

event and students not competing in the tournament are welcome to attend and cheer

for their classmates.  


The R.J. Grey Junior High yearbook is offering you the chance to send your love, pride

and congratulations to the graduating 8th grade student in your life. Please click on the

link for instructions on how to submit an ad.  Family Ad Instructions.   The deadline to

submit an ad is Monday March 12.

Congratulations to Krish Surapuraju who was named Artist of the Month for this March. In February I introduced this new program created by RJ Grey art teacher Holly Vlajinac as an opportunity for 7th and 8th Graders to have an authentic, juried art exhibition experience similar to the process in which professional artists participate. Krish is a Digital Artist who uses a computer and programs such as 'Blender' as a way to create his artwork.  This style of artwork uses technology to create realistic looking animations, images and characters that can be used in many different online and digital applications.  You can view more of his work by clicking here.  


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.  


Ok - the focus of Grey Matters from this point on will be High School Course Registration for 8th Grade Students.  


Through the end of this week, our Junior High counselors will be giving presentations to 8th grade classes about course offerings and requirements at the High School, and team teachers will be making course recommendations for students.  If you’d like to review the slides that were/will be part of the presentation to your child, you can view that by clicking here.  A timeline for this process can be found on our school’s Counseling Office web page which you can access here.  In addition to those resources, families should review all of the following documents: (1) the High School Program of Studies, which includes details about course requirements and guidelines; (2) the list of 9th grade electives for 2018-2019; and (3) directions for electronic course selections.  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.  


On Monday, March 19, 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.  During the conversation that takes place with a student, the teacher will explain some of his/her/their 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, teacher will often review with a student their 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 one’s 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.  I hope this information is helpful to all of you as you navigate this process.  


Have a great week, everyone.


Cheers,

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Grey Matters, February 26, 2018; Volume 6, Number 24

posted Mar 4, 2018, 9:55 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,


Welcome back from February Break!  Our family was fortunate to spend the first half of the break on a trip to a warmer climate, and was ultimately a vacation that I would comfortably call a success.  Just to clarify, my bar for what constitutes a successful family trip is not on the more ambitious end given that the primary conditions that need to be met are (1) avoiding visits to the ER by any member of the family (this was included after Thanksgiving 2009), (2) not having any restaurant staff celebrate our departure from their establishment, and (3) not having our children glued to technol-

ogy for more than 50% of the day.  While I know that an important part of good parenting is letting children handle conflict on their own and not referee every single argument, I’ll admit that a big contributor to the extended moments of a cease fire between the siblings during this trip was our establishing an order and sequence to almost every aspect of our vacation that involved some element of choice and variation.  It all starts, of course, with figuring out who was going to sit in which seat, and next to which sibling, on the plane? That was decided in advance and involved a scheduled switching of seats halfway through the flight home to Boston, somewhere over North Carolina.  Picture in your mind that practice of rotating turns with a specific pre-set order to every restaurant seating, taking showers each day, and picking what’s playing on the television, and you will have witnessed a healthy portion of our vacation.  The “activity” where this strategy played the most prominent role, strangely enough, was in the hotel elevator.  If an alien observed our children fighting over who got to press the button for the desired floor (and subsequently, the button to hold the doors open), they’d think that pressing these buttons offered a host of prizes and riches beyond your wildest imagination.  In reality, it just created another public moment, in a tight enclosed space no less, where other hotel guests could witness the unconditional love that our three children have for each other, as evidenced by the swatting of arms, hip checks into the elevator wall, and exchange of verbal tongue lashings.  So we created a pre-set sequence of turns for that too which was “effective” to some degree, but also eventually led to each of them vying to be the last to exit the elevator so they could have the satisfaction of pressing the “door close” button and claiming whatever victory they conjured up in their minds.  Elevator drama notwithstanding, there were a decent string of moments where we all co-existed peacefully in the same space, and partial credit goes to the shared excitement that all of the kids had for the Winter Olympics, particularly the figure skating competition and even a bit of interest in curling, which was aided by the surprise gold medal run by the US men’s curling team.


Another reason I would consider this past vacation a success is the progress I’ve personally continued to make with separating work and play, and it’s a been a process that has required some deliberate effort (mentally) on my part to untangle those worlds.  I mentioned this important goal in a Grey Matters two years ago because I was fairly sure that many of our families, including our students, have also experienced that ongoing challenge. In that posting I shared a Washington Post article from a few years back that summarized an interview with Brene Brown about how shifts and demands within our society in general, and workplace cultures specifically, have impacted our ability to prioritize a balanced and healthy life.  Entitled, Exhaustion is Not a Status Symbol, the section of the interview that generated in me the longest pause and hardest reflection was the following:


One of the things that I found was the importance of rest and play, and the willingness to let go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth. A lot of people told me that when they put their work away and when they try to be still and be with family, sometimes they feel like they’re coming out of their skins. They’re thinking of everything they’re not doing, and they’re not used to that pace….That happens not just in work culture, I see it even with teenagers who now have four and five hours of homework and go to bed at one in the morning. We don’t know who we are without productivity as a metric of our worth. We don’t know what we enjoy, and we lose track of how tired we are.”


While not the only reason, some of the tendencies highlighted above contributed to our commitment of not assigning homework over school vacations, and I hope many of you have seen some positive outcomes from that shift.  Again, our discussions about developing healthy (school)work and life balance for students and families can’t and won’t be limited to just vacations, though it’s certainly an important part of the equation.  To that end, I hope all of you found opportunities to use last week for something meaningful and perhaps different from your daily routines.


Here’s some reminders and updates as we prepare to enter the month of March:


Don’t forget that the R.J. Grey Junior High yearbook is offering you the chance to send your love, pride and congratulations to the graduating 8th grade R.J. Grey student in your life.  You can purchase one of two advertisement formats to relay a message that your 8th grade student will cherish forever. Ads must be submitted by Monday, March 12. Please click the link for submissions guidelines and instructions. Please contact Marc Lewis (mlewis@abschools.org) with any questions.  


Before February Vacation, the Superintendent Search Committee announced three finalists who would be presented to the School Committee.  Since that time, one of the candidates has withdrawn his application, and there are public interviews scheduled for the two remaining finalists, Peter Light (click here for resume), and Anthony Parker (click here for resume).  The parent/community forum for Mr. Parker is scheduled for this Wednesdays, February 28 at 6:30pm in the Junior High Library.  The parent/community forum for Mr. Light is scheduled for this Thursday, March 1 at 6:30pm, also in the Junior High Library.  If you are interested in meeting the two finalists and engaging in a conversation about their candidacy, I would encourage you to attend one or both of those scheduled sessions.  Information about the search process can be found here.


We have no scheduled early dismissals or days off of school until the end of the month, when all schools will be closed on Friday, March 30 for Good Friday.  


In the coming weeks we’ll be sharing with students and families the sign up and/or

tryout schedule for our Spring sports programs (likely to start in late March/early April).  We will continue to have teams for baseball, softball, girls volleyball and Spring track.  Stay tuned for more information.  


Don’t forget about the community screening of the documentary film Screenagers which is now scheduled for 7pm on March 29 at the Junior High Auditorium.  Click here for more information and to register for the event.


The end of the Winter Trimester is this Friday, March 2nd, and we estimate that report cards will be emailed to families on or around March 14.  Also starting later this week and through March 9th, our 8th grade students and families will begin the process of learning about 9th grade courses at the high school. Before the February break, the High School held an orientation meeting for families of current 8th grade students, and provided an outline of the registration process.  8th grade teachers will also begin individual conversations with students to discuss their recommendations for level placement.  The actual registration process takes place via the Parent Portal when the portal opens in late March.  In next week’s Grey Matters, I will provide more detail and information about the above process, and offer some perspective specifically on the conversation that teachers will have with students about course and level recommendations.  


In the Grey Matters that I sent before February Vacation, I made mention of our Blue & Gold Day assembly plans for that Friday, and some of the traditions that have become a part of the event, including some form of competition amongst teachers that usually has me silently wondering what our school’s liability insurance does and does not cover.  I am pleased to report that no one was injured this year, except for maybe a few cases of wounded pride.  It wouldn’t surprise me if there was decent chatter amongst students that found its way to your homes about how this year’s teacher competition eventually led to a fierce battle between two Social Studies colleagues, Ms. Mazonson (8 Gold) and Mr. Balulescu (8 Blue) for bragging rights and the giant stuffed bear that would go to the last one standing.  If you couldn’t already tell from the above photo, Ms. Mazonson emerged victorious (again) and the entire school was able to witness the more competitive side of their teachers (Exhibit A: dragging a colleague along the floor of the gym, which also happened three years ago).  


Finally, I would be remiss if I did not re-direct this week’s Grey Matters to a more serious topic and address with all of you the school shooting that took place in Parkland, Florida on February 14.  I mentioned earlier that I avoided being consumed by work during the vacation, which is mostly true. However, the situation at Stoneman Douglas High School and the ensuing national dialogue has very much been at the forefront of my mind - both as a school leader and a parent of school-aged children.  Along with the pain we feel for the Parkland community, I would imagine that a good deal of your emotional energy is focused on thoughts related to the safety of your own children, and to our school community here in Acton-Boxborough. I hope you trust and believe my sincerity when I express to you that the physical and emotional well-being of your children has, and continues to be, our most important work, and at the core of our mission.  We continue to be vigilant about not only our safety procedures and protocols as it relates to things like building access and security, but also the vital importance of developing meaningful relationships between and amongst students, staff, and families within our school. While none of us can provide absolute guarantees about everything, we can truthfully reassure our students that at RJ Grey (and all throughout our two towns), they are surrounded by people who care about them, and that we are a community of individuals who will always look out for each other.  


As we prepare to return to school on Monday it is clear that there are many students, educators, parents, and community members who want to advance the conversation about school safety and gun violence beyond the usual platitudes.  I am aware of different plans that are being proposed and planned both locally and nationwide and we’ve received messages from students and others in Acton-Boxborough who want to join, organize and participate in upcoming events that might take place within our community, including proposals for activities on our campus.  We support the rights of students to speak out and engage in active citizenship, and we want to be thoughtful about how we can ensure a safe environment on campus for all students and staff - both in terms of sheer logistics as well as knowing that a diversity of opinions and viewpoints likely exists within our school community.  There are quite a few things we are going to think through and discuss, and please rest assured we will provide updates and information when there is something to share.  


Have a great week, everyone.  Welcome back.


Cheers,

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Grey Matters, February 12, 2018; Volume 6, Number 23

posted Feb 11, 2018, 10:18 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,


I know that it’s only been a week and the pain is still raw, so my inclusion of the Eagles’ logo may be a not-so-popular decision.  I am doing it for two reasons, neither of them having to do with any enjoyment of self-flagellation. I also didn’t lose a bet, like Massachusetts Representative Capuano who had to wear an Eagles helmet to a congressional hearing. First, I want to use this moment as another chance where we can model for our kids how to accept defeat gracefully.  Last week when I commented on how our kids didn’t really understand that Super Bowl victories shouldn’t be considered a predetermined outcome, I thought I was joking (though I wonder what that Northeastern student is doing about his tattoo).  But when the play clock hit 0:00 and Tom Brady’s desperation heave wasn’t successful, my three kids were legitimately confused.  When I sighed and said, “well, there it is” my youngest son looked at me and actually asked me “what happens now?”, as though there might now be some appeals process where we can get an extension to the game.  I resisted the temptation to show him a YouTube clip of the baseball going through Bill Buckner’s legs in 1986 and herded them all to bed.  Second, I include the logo as a nod to any and all RJ Grey families who are Eagles fans and offer them a hearty congratulations.  There is one family in particular (they know who they are), who has had several children attend RJ Grey during my time here, whose love of the Eagles is pretty intense.  We’ve spent many years exchanging friendly barbs (I think they were friendly….) about the Patriots and the Eagles, and they deserve the opportunity to savor the moment.  I, on the other hand, am slowly making progress from the disappointment of last Sunday.  By Wednesday I was able to visit sports-based websites and read some of the gentler articles about next season.  And earlier this weekend I finish preparing my 2017 tax returns. I figured why create an entirely separate painful experience later this Spring and just folded that annual gut punch into this recent stretch of tough moments.  If this opening to Grey Matters was a bit of a downer for you, look on the bright side: Boston’s traffic is only rated as the 7th worst in the country and so sometimes it’s good not be considered #1 (and ignore the fact that Boston traffic has actually gotten worse and moved up from its 8th place standing last year).  


Here are a few updates and reminders for the next few weeks:


February Vacation begins after school this Friday, February 16. Friday is a full-day of school.  If you already know that your child will be absent on that day, please be sure to let our Main Office know so we can manage the attendance process successfully.  You can email Katy Frey at kfrey@abschools.org.  


The Winter Trimester closes on Friday, March 2 and report cards will be emailed to families about two weeks after that.  Additionally, 8th grade students and their families will begin to discuss course registration and recommendations with teachers in early/mid-March.  I’ll be sure to provide additional details when we return from February Vacation.  


Given that we’ve had a number of weather-related adjustments to our school calendar, I wanted to provide an update and reminder that our last day of school is currently scheduled for Thursday, June 21.  If we experience any more school cancellations that date would be pushed back.  


It’s clear that the flu and other illnesses aren’t really letting up within our community.  That’s pretty consistent with what’s going on throughout Massachusetts, other parts of the country, and even at the Winter Olympics.  Last week we had two consecutive days where over 100 students were absent.  Given that there was no victory parade for the Patriots, we can safely assume that these absences were primarily due to sickness.  We’ve also had a number of teachers felled by illness and I’m hoping that the upcoming vacation will give everyone a chance to recover and for these pesky germs to dissipate.  If your child has been out for multiple days and is a bit nervous about returning to school and a pile of missed work, I would encourage you to contact your child’s counselor and work with them on a re-entry plan.  


I want to wish those in our community who celebrate Chinese New Year a happy and festive new year as we enter the Year of the Dog.  I want to congratulate and acknowledge the Acton Chinese Language School’s event this Sunday evening that celebrates the new year and their 15 year anniversary.  Along with that very local event, here’s a list of a few more activities and celebratory events in the Boston area that might be of interest.  Of course, if we lived in San Francisco we could also enjoy the Chinese New Year Festival and Parade, considered the largest celebration of this type outside of Asia.  


On Friday, we will enter the break by having our annual Blue & Gold Day assembly, which has traditionally served as a celebration of school spirit, and where we gather as a whole school (which only really happens a few times a year).  As usual we’ll be sure to post the best photos of the event on our Twitter feed, and it will make for a great start to the February Break.  An important reminder that there will be no homework assigned for vacation period.  We hope that everyone uses this time as an opportunity to disconnect from school and devote time to other interests.  Safe travels to those who are using the break as a chance to get away.  


Have a great week, a great February Break, everyone.


Cheers,

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Grey Matters, February 5, 2018; Volume 6, Number 22

posted Feb 4, 2018, 6:05 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,


Welcome to the Super Bowl edition of Grey Matters.  During my tenure as Principal of RJ Grey, there have already been four instances where I crafted an edition of Grey Matters before the Patriots competed in that year’s Super Bowl.  Our children have no idea what it was like to be a fan of New England-based teams prior to the 2001 season and the moments of anguish that seemed to pile up year after year, where vying for a championship, let alone winning it all was not really something to which we were accustomed.  And now? Now we have a student at Northeastern University who, ahead of tonight’s game, has already had a new tattoo inked on his back that commemorates a sixth Super Bowl victory for the home team. All this hype about the game has reminded of the first Super Bowl that I watched with great interest, Super Bowl XX in 1986, where the Chicago Bears annihilated the Patriots and William “The Refrigerator” Perry added insult to injury by scoring a touchdown in the third quarter.  Anticipating that a good number of you will be distracted later this evening, I am sending out this week’s Grey Matters earlier in the day.  Win or lose tonight, school will start at our regular time and we can celebrate or mourn together that morning.  While one superintendent in the Commonwealth has already announced a 3-hour delayed opening for Monday, a move perhaps even more bold than the tattoo, our District will resist tempting fate.  


Here’s a couple of updates and reminders for the next few weeks:


  • We have our next early release scheduled for this Thursday, February 8.  This will be a professional learning session for staff, and students will be dismissed at 10:40am.  Please plan accordingly.  

  • A reminder to families of 8th grade students that the High School is hosting an information session regarding the upcoming transition to the High School.  I know, it felt like yesterday that they were in elementary school.  Once you’ve recovered from that time warp, remember that the event will be from 7pm to 8:30pm (at the High School) and is intended for parents/guardians only.  

  • February Vacation starts at the end of the school day on Friday, February 16.  Please note that February 16 is a full day and will end with our annual Blue & Gold Assembly (more on that next week).  If your family has travel plans that will involve taking your kids out before this date, please take a moment to inform the Main Office (kfrey@abschools.org) and your child’s teachers.  

  • We are now in our second week of #GreyGoesGreen and incorporating composting into our lunchtime sustainability practices.  I want to offer a quick nod to our RJ Grey students who are also members of Girl Scout Troop # 85221 who have worked closely with our Green Team to make all of this possible.  


I’m pleased to share news of a new initiative at the Junior High that is the brainchild of 8th grade Art teacher Holly Vlajinac.  R.J. Grey Artist of the Month is an opportunity for 7th and 8th Graders to have an authentic, juried art exhibition experience similar to the process in which professional artists participate.  Congratulations to Iffah Liyakath who has been selected as February’s Artist of the Month. Since this event is supposed to mimic a real world, professional artist experience, not all students that apply will become RJG Artists of the Month. However, Ms. Vlajinac offers this important reminder to students who may have an interest in participating: “If you are not selected to be RJG AofM, DON’T STOP MAKING ART!!  If you are not selected it only means that there were a handful of people that had work that was just a bit stronger than yours…  Not being selected doesn’t mean that you are terrible at art or that we don’t like you as a person.  Quite the opposite actually!  We appreciate that you took a chance and put yourself/artwork out there. Doing that is SUPER BRAVE and you should be proud for even trying! To learn more about the RJG Artist of the Month process click here.


Next year we will be starting school thirty minutes later, going from 7:30am to 8:00am.  This will hopefully help families develop schedules and routines that increase the amount of sleep students get each night.  While the current 7:30am start time may be a bit tough, we need to ask families to please help us with reducing a pattern of tardiness that has been developing over the course of this year.  We now have a significant number of cars pulling up to the front entrance around the time of the opening bell. I don’t know if it’s in an effort to avoid the congestion of morning traffic, or the natural outcome of a lot students running a bit late.  If it’s the former, this effort to avoid the morning traffic (which I understand) has now created its own pocket of messy congestion that adds to students arriving late for class. Our encouragement and request that families help their students get to school on time is delivered knowing that families often need to juggle a lot of things each weekday morning.  From a traffic and safety standpoint, if you find yourself in that crush of cars at the front circle outside of the school, please have your student wait until you are stopped along the curb before they exit the vehicle.  


Over the course of each school year different topics and themes - both light-hearted and more serious -- organically emerge within multiple editions of Grey Matters.  Sometimes this happens in response to a topic that has generated a lot of discussion and debate, like adolescent sleep and school start times.  And there are other times when a topic surprisingly captures the hearts and minds of RJ Grey families and takes on a life of its own.  Three years ago, I introduced to readers my youngest son’s love of bacon, his request for a “box of bacon” for Christmas, and all the bacon-inspired presents he did receive from relatives, including the infamous Bacon Bowl.  At the time, I thought it was going to be a one-time reference to Parker’s love of the greasy breakfast meat.  Instead, it was the beginning of a 6-month dialogue and moderately intense love affair with families about all things bacon.  


This year it feels like the topic that has a bit more of a gravitational pull is screen time and social media use (and misuse) by adolescents.  This is certainly not the first year where this subject has been the focus of intense discussion.  I remember writing to families six years ago about the challenges and unintended outcomes of giving adolescents devices that make permanent any decisions and reactions they might make in a moment where their teenage impulsivity may have played a role.  The concerns haven’t changed, and it’s now receiving more sustained attention.  This might be because a first wave of studies that have examined the impact of “screen time” on adolescent development are releasing initial findings and contributing more questions, concerns, and theories about this changing landscape.  You might have read earlier this month how two substantial investors in Apple have urged the tech company to channel its powers of innovation to address the “psychological and neurological fallout of too much screen time, and that social media is anything but social.” [my emphasis] The National Institutes of Health just launched a landmark study of adolescent brain development where they will be following and documenting the biological and behavioral development of 10,000 adolescents for the next ten years and looking at a variety of factors including “screen time.”  This month’s edition of AB’s Challenge Success newsletter offers some food for thought on this subject, including possible strategies that parents and families might want to consider.  


Speaking with my parent hat on, my struggles with managing use of technology by my own kids has many layers, so let’s start with three of them.  First, I’ll openly admit that technology and screen time has softened the edges of different parenting challenges in terms of “boredom.”  While the educator and semi-intelligent adult knows that “boredom” can in fact be an opportunity and not a problem, that nugget of truth doesn’t really have staying power when we’re squeezed together on a plane for a four hour flight, or even the 30 minute car ride to a soccer tournament.  It also allows us the ability to reach out kids with greater ease, and communicate a change in plans or confirming this, that, or the other thing.  Instant, if not superficial, relief for frazzled parents.  That’s why I read with some enjoyment (and guilt) this Wall Street Journal piece Screen Time for Kids is Awful and I Can’t Live Without It, a tongue-in-cheek reflection by another dad who succumbs to the same temptation that technology offers (warning: it’s a bit on the snarky side).  Secondly, a good portion of the “psychological and neurological fallout” referenced above doesn’t occur within a short time span.  Instead the impact is more gradual and akin to a slow boil where the effects aren’t as apparent in the moment, and so it offers someone like me the ability to ignore the issue and continually push off hard decisions or shifts on our kids’ access to screen time.  There are always plenty of other immediate problems or dilemmas that demand our attention.  


And third, once I’ve gotten accustomed to one social media platform, twenty new ones become the next craze and present an infinite number of ways that teenagers might use them, both innocently and for less-than-noble reasons.  I curently face this challenge more frequently in my role as a Principal than as a Dad.  Let me offer just one recent example of this continually shifting landscape with the goal of encouraging all of you to engage in some active monitoring of what your kids have on their devices.  There is a free social media app called Sarahah that was originally designed as a workplace tool that encourages/allows employees to offer anonymous feedback to colleagues and employers.  Let’s all set aside for the moment questions about whether its intended purpose is actually a good idea and promotes a productive workplace environment.  Teenagers are now using this very easy to use app to send anonymous digital notes to each other, which unfortunately means that it’s a convenient and accessible tool for impulsive behaviors that could include actions that would be considered cyberbullying and harassment. While I don’t plan on getting into the business of telling parents and guardians what apps to permit on their child’s devices, and which ones to forbid, I would encourage you to consider the benefits and risks of any social media platforms that are available to them and making some decisions about what is allowed.  In case it wasn’t pretty evident, I am not a fan of Sarahah and wouldn’t mind if it disappeared, and in three months it will be replaced by something else. Because of this, I know that ongoing conversations, as opposed to a “one and done” lecture, with my kids about responsible use of devices is a commitment I need to make and at times I will likely need to make unilateral decisions (“because I said so, that’s why”) about access to certain apps that my children will see as evidence that I don’t understand what it’s like to be a kid, and that I’m ruining their social lives and from which they will never recover.  If what I’ve just shared has complicated your thinking a bit, and you’re looking for more opportunities to discuss, don’t forget the March 29 community screening of the documentary film Screenagers, which will be at 7pm in the Junior High auditorium.  


Finally, we had our latest installment of Poetry Fridays at the end of last week.  In an effort to offer acknowledgment to Black History Month, Mr. Malloy offered us a reading of the poem “Booker T and W.E.B.” by Dudley Randall.  This poem highlights the competing views of two prominent African American leaders and their visions for how best to achieve social and economic gains for and within the black community.  Click here if you’d like to read the poem as well.  


Have a great week, everyone.


Cheers,

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Grey Matters, January 29, 2018; Volume 6, Number 21

posted Jan 28, 2018, 5:43 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,


The United States Air Force just announced that Boeing has been awarded a contract to replace two of the refrigerator units in Air Force One, and the cost for this work will be at the bargain basement price of $24 million.  This news made me feel much better about the $3,000 I recently requested for next year to replace worn carpeting with tiles in some of our classrooms, and also makes me wonder if I should have been a bit more ambitious in my requests and made a pitch for constructing a heated canopy above the drop-off area in the Junior High parking lot.  As I mentioned last week, our District’s efforts to provide a clear and transparent story and budget proposal for the following school year culminates in Budget Saturday where we deliver a daylong presentation to the School Committee and members of the community and community boards (like Finance committees),

and participate in a series of question and answer periods.  Budget Saturday took place this past weekend and if for some strange reason you were a little reluctant to spend seven hours on Saturday with us to discuss debt service, enrollment projections, capital planning, and staffing needs, but would still be interested in perusing the information that was shared, you can view the presentation slides (all 177 of them) by clicking here.  To be sure, a good deal of what is shared on these slides requires, or at least would greatly benefit from, context and explanation that was included during the presentation.  There are also things like “Circuit Breaker” and “E&D” and “Regional Transportation Reimbursement” that are not exactly terms and concepts that most discuss around the dinner table, but still play an important role in how we craft an operating budget.  Nevertheless, I think most can still develop an appreciation for the areas of focus and priorities that we’ve established for next year, along with the parameters and obligations that must be considered.  You’ll also likely recognize a few of the drivers for the proposed budget, including a shift to single tier busing at the elementary level, and the change in start times for the Junior High and High School.  Our leadership team certainly feels like we’ve designed a proposal for next year that is thoughtful and responsible, and responsive to the needs in front of us. As residents and taxpayers in Acton and Boxborough, each of you will ultimately have to determine if you feel that the budget we’ve proposed is one that you can support (with your tax dollars), and in the best interest of the students and the community.  The next step in the process is for the School Committee to hold a Budget Hearing on February 15 to take an official vote on the proposed budget, and then residents weigh in with their votes at their respective town meetings in April (Acton) and May (Boxborough).


This is a reminder to 7th grade families that we will be finishing our Signs of Suicide (SOS) lesson and screening tool to 7th grade teams this week.  The lesson will be delivered tomorrow (Monday) to 7 Green students, and then to 7 Blue students on Wednesday the 31st. Remember that the Eliot Community Human Services will conduct a suicide prevention workshop for members of our adult community on Monday, January 29 from 6:30pm to 8:30pm (tomorrow), 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. If you are interested in attending, please contact Dr. Deborah Garfield at dgarfield@eliotchs.org.  


Last week RJ Grey joined a few of our fellow AB schools in collecting compostables and recyclables, and drastically reducing trash generated during our lunch periods.  Our student Green Team led the #GreyGoesGreen charge and many of them are serving as student coaches who guide their peers on how to sort their lunch items into compostables and recyclables.  Accompanying this change is a switch by our Food Services Department to new compostable trays, which is a first for our District.  Many thanks to Jeanne Bouchard, Kate Crosby, and Kirsten Nelson for their leadership, and to our Green Team students whose commitment to this effort is the only reason last week was a success.  


Finally, a story that has gained traction nationally is the surge in cases of the flu this season.  Unfortunately, some of the spotlight on this issue is because of the number of fatalities attributed to the flu, especially of young people and the elderly. In Massachusetts, flu activity has surged to record highs and the metro Boston area actually has the highest percentage of reported cases within the Commonwealth.  Along with encouraging all of you to consider the medical community’s strong push about getting a flu shot, I want to emphasize the importance of putting your child’s health above any worries that your child and/or you might have about missing school.  I appreciate that concerns about falling behind with work can produce some bouts of anxiety and worry.  We’ll make it work.  If you find yourself in a situation where your child has missed a few days of school, please reach out to your counselor and we can develop a plan to work with teachers on how to manage what has been missed.


Have a great week, everyone.


Cheers,










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