Grey Matters

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

posted by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,


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


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


Here are some important reminders and notes for this week:


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

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

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

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


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


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

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


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


Cheers,

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

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

Hi Everyone,


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


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


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

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

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

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


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


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



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


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


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


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


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


Have a great week, everyone.


Cheers,

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Grey Matters, September 11, 2017; Volume 6, Number 2

posted Sep 17, 2017, 10:07 AM by Andrew Shen   [ updated ]

Hi Everyone,


As we begin our first full week of school and you discuss and negotiate with your kids about the best habits for developing a healthy rhythm to start each day, be aware of the reports of a recent study out of Japan whose results suggest that eating ice cream for breakfast may improve mental performance and alertness.  I don’t know much about this study, which made the online news rounds last year, but there’s a part of me that doesn’t think it’s a stretch to accept that a dose of milk and sugar in the morning might jump start the day.  Whether eating this creamy treat each morning constitutes a healthy eating practice is a bit more questionable.  If any of your kids get a hold of this article you might want to gently point out to them that the study was conducted in partnership with an unnamed company that manufactures sweets, though I am not necessarily sure that tidbit will change their minds about the legitimacy of the results.  While many of you are adjusting to the earlier schedule (compared to our elementary start times) I would encourage all families to prioritize their kids eating something of substance in the morning.  Some of our later lunches are scheduled closer to noon and it can be a long morning on an empty stomach.  I myself have, on occasion, eaten my lunch at around 9:30am given how early we start our days.  I hope that you and your kids had a successful start of this school year and that our 7th graders, and students new to AB, are feeling good about their transition to RJ Grey.   


One of the weekly routines we have at the Shen household is for my wife Melisa and I to spend part of each Sunday reviewing our family’s Google calendar to double check on who’s going to be where, and who’s on deck for driving one of the kids to an activity or practice.   This coming week, we have Back to School Night for Melisa (she’s a high school teacher) and then two separate ones for our three kids. Our family’s fourth and final Back to School Night later this month is mine - which is also all of yours. RJ Grey’s Back to School Night will be on Thursday, September 28th, starting at 7:00pm.  For those of you with children who participate in the Band, Drama, String Ensemble or Chorus Grey Block electives, there is an optional meeting at 6:40pm where you can learn more about those programs. Parents should head straight for their child’s homeroom (schedules for that evening will be coming home) and I am going to travel with all of you to your kids’ classes throughout the evening, and hopefully we’ll have a few moments here and there to connect.  


On that evening, we also ask parents to vote for two 7th grade parent/guardian representatives who will serve on this year's School Council. The role of the School Council is to review and discuss various aspects of the school's activities and goals, and offer advice and guidance about different topics that may emerge during the year. The Council will meet seven times this year, on Monday evenings at 6:30pm (the first will be October 16). We are looking for 7th grade parents who are interested in serving on the Council.  If you have any interest, please submit a short (5-7 sentence max) paragraph about yourself by noon on Monday, September 25th for the ballot. Write-ups can be sent to me at ashen@abschools.org.


At Back to School Night, you will see a number of tables hosting a few different school-related organizations, including the PTSO. The PTSO is the parent organization that works with both RJ Grey and the high school to facilitate communication between the schools and the parent community, and supports the schools through various volunteer activities and forums.  The JH/HS PTSO is structured a bit differently in that they make a single financial request for the entire year -- a $40 membership donation, and there are no additional school fundraisers that take place.  Along with funding a number of projects, events, and equipment at the Junior High and High School, a membership entitles you to a free student directory (which you pick up that night).  This year, the funds that the PTSO provided to RJ Grey is one reason we are able to continue providing every student with a Student Planbook at no charge, and why we have some great new tables and chairs in the lobby outside of the cafeteria. To learn more about the PTSO, you can visit their site by clicking here.  


If you’ve had an opportunity to visit the Junior High and come through the main entrance, then you’ve walked alongside or under the rotunda area.  Each year, art teacher Holly Vlajinac designs an installation that is created by 8th grade students in her Art 2 class and is then hung in the open space.  This year’s installation features mobiles in various shades and tints of specific colors and provides the entrance of the school with some much needed color and a celebration of student (and teacher) work.  This year we have the added benefit of a time lapse video (also created by the talented Ms. Vlajinac) that offers the viewer an opportunity to see the space evolve into what you’ll now enter each time you visit the school this year.  


Here’s a few other scheduling reminders and notes you might want to keep in mind for the next few weeks:


  • Our annual school picture day is Wednesday, September 20. In the next week or so we will be distributing picture order forms to all students. Regardless of whether families order photos, each child will have his/her photo taken so we can include them in the yearbook. If you would like to order photos but the costs associated with the options would present a financial hardship, I would encourage you to contact David Lawrence at dlawrence@abschools.org. Each year, we have worked with our vendor to find ways for any family who wants a set of photos to receive one.

  • A friendly reminder that this year our school musical will be “Singin in the Rain” and audition workshops will be taking place this week.  Visit our Theatre Arts page for additional details and information.  

  • Within the next two weeks, most of our after school clubs and activities will have had their first meetings with interested students.  The updated list of clubs and activities will be ready within the next week, and we’ll post it on our website - the current list on the website is not completely updated.  This year we will again be offering Fit Club and Yoga this Fall, but do require students to sign up ahead of time (there’s no cost, just need a head count). To sign up or if you have questions about Fit Club or Yoga, you can email Katy Frey at kfrey@abschools.org.  


I’m also excited to be sharing with everyone our continued efforts to promote Rise to the Challenge, which is something we started last year as a way of recognizing student involvement in community service.  We know that many students are already participating in service activities outside of school, and we hope to celebrate those efforts along with encouraging more students to become active in service opportunities.  Students who complete 10 hours of service within the school year will be recognized for their efforts.  Please visit the community service page on our website that provides all the details for this program.  If you have any questions, please email Debbie Brookes at dbrookes@abschools.org.  


As a school community, we are continuing to place special emphasis on the conversations about the importance of sleep for adolescents.  Last year the District’s Wellness Committee submitted a report about this issue, and we will be continuing to look carefully at school start times and options for shifting start times within our District.   Along with our efforts around start times, we’ve also made a commitment to educating our students about this topic, and helping them develop a better understanding of how sleep affects their development and overall health.  To assist us in this process, we are fortunate that Dr. Kirsty Kerin, a Boxborough resident (and A-B parent) has continued to make herself available as a resource to our students and staff.  Dr. Kerin is a sleep researcher and has expertise in the science of sleep.  She is returning to RJ Grey on Monday to deliver a presentation to our 7th grade students and covering a number of topics on the importance of sleep and strategies that are readily available to all of us to achieve better sleep each night.  I’ll be sure to provide a summary of Kirsty’s talk in next week’s Grey Matters.  


Finally, we scheduled this year’s first installment of Poetry Fridays for the end of last week.  For those new to RJ Grey, Poetry Fridays is an activity that began five years ago where every other Friday, a staff member or a student recites a poem during morning announcements.  This activity is led by Tim Malloy, English teacher on 8 Red.  Starting a few years ago, we began a tradition where we schedule the first reading of the year to align with the anniversary of September 11, and select a piece that offers a gentle but sincere acknowledgement of the event.  This year’s selection was a poem that was composed by elementary school students in a New York classroom the year after September 11 and is entitled, List of 'Don't Forgets' and 'Remembers’.  Click here if you’d like to read the poem.  


Have a great week, everyone.


Cheers,

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