Grey Matters

Grey Matters, February 13, 2017; Volume 5, Number 23

posted Feb 12, 2017, 12:53 PM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,

It feels like it’s been two weeks between this Grey Matters and the last Grey Matters with so much having happened in the interim.  Last Sunday’s Super Bowl was certainly an interesting way to start the week.  I may not have been a fan so dejected by the score that I started to do laundry during the 3rd quarter when the score was 28-3, but I will admit that I started bracing myself for the pall that I assumed was going to hang over the greater Boston area for a bit of time if we lost the game.  Instead, the Patriots pulled off an incredible victory and I was gifted with a highlight video that I have now watched a few dozen times during my morning runs on the treadmill (and I’m still not tired of it).  The late night celebration did make for a long day on Monday, especially since our District had the event with Dr. Josephine Kim that evening in the High School Auditorium.  We’re thrilled that over 200 parents (and a few students) joined us for the event despite being equally spent from post-Super Bowl celebrating.  Then there was the parade on Tuesday where I’m going to assume that at least a few students in the Commonwealth may have risked having their own Ferris Bueller moment by attending the parade during a “sick day” and risked an unplanned appearance on local television.  We of course ended the week with the first snow day of the year, along with a two-hour delay the following morning.  I personally think that one snow day per year isn’t the worst thing in the world, and actually might be a nice interruption to our regularly scheduled programming.  When we start entering the world of multiple snow days within a short period of time, that’s when I get a little cranky and start to wonder if our children can survive being within such close proximity to each other for another stretch of time.  That’s why this evening’s likely snowstorm is not my favorite bit of recent news.  Dr. Brand will obviously be monitoring the situation and will provide any updates when it’s appropriate.  That may or may not happen by the time you all receive/read this edition of Grey Matters, so stay tuned later this evening or early tomorrow morning for any news about plans for Monday.  

Here’s a couple of reminders (mostly repeats) for this upcoming week:  

  • 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, February 27th. Please click the link for submissions guidelines and instructions. Please contact Vicki Weeks ( with any questions.  

  • February Vacation starts at the end of the school day on Friday, February 17.  Please note that February 17 is a full day and will end with our annual Blue & Gold Assembly (more on that below).  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 ( and your child’s teachers.

  • Weather permitting (so stay tuned to updates), the Chris Herren event will be on Monday night at 7pm in the High School Auditorium. Chris Herren is a former professional basketball player who grew up in the Boston-area, and whose personal and professional life was consumed by substance abuse for several years. Mr. Herren will tell of his descent into addiction, recover, and new mission of sharing his story with the goal of reaching young people and helping them make smart decisions when it comes to substance abuse and use. This event is recommended for parents, guardians and students 6th grade and older.   

  • Please remember that the High School’s Information Night for 8th Grade Parents/Guardians has been re-scheduled for Monday, February 27th at 7pm in the High School Auditorium (the Monday we return from Break).  

Last Friday all families should have received a letter from Dr. Brand regarding our District’s upcoming efforts to bolster existing preventive measures in the area of mental health (click here to review the letter).  Along with the proposed addition of a Late Start Day on March 10 (so staff can participate in a training that morning), we are also in the process of finalizing plans for our counselors and health education staff to deliver the Signs of Suicide lesson to all 7th grade students in late March.  My focus right now is on confirming some important logistics within the next few days and then send all 7th grade families a separate follow up letter that includes details of our plans and an important consent form that needs to be returned to the school.  That letter will also include confirmation of a date when we plan to hold an evening information session for any parent/guardian who would like a preview of the lesson and video that is used as part of the discussion.  

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).  For the past few years the assembly has involved RJ Grey staff participating in various competitions that involve challenging mind, body and soul.  A few of these events have revealed the more competitive sides of our teachers, and with me cowering on the sides hoping we avoid injuries.  Some of you think I am exaggerating but that’s because you didn’t witness Ms. Frey dragging Mr. Harvey across the gym floor a few years ago.  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.



Grey Matters, February 6, 2017; Volume 5, Number 22

posted Feb 5, 2017, 12:03 PM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,

All three of my kids were home sick for some part of last week (my daughter being out three days), and now my oldest is once again struggling with a cough that has returned with some vengeance.  That means we’ll need to cancel our plans to watch the Super Bowl at a friend’s house, which actually isn’t the worst thing since I tend to be one of those people who yells at the television during big games and that might best be done in the comforts of my own home.  Rest assured, I only yell words of encouragement and praise during these games.  I share news of my sick kids because there are many of you who are also currently nursing your own children back to health.  I know this because last Thursday we had 93 students absent due to illness, and then by the end of the day Friday we had 130 students out sick or dismissed early due to illness (about 14% of our student population).  There were also a number of RJ Grey staff members who were felled by sickness and were out at some point last week, and some for the entire week. An article in last Thursday’s Boston Globe notes that reports of flu-like illnesses are up, particularly in suburbs west of Boston, and reminded readers that it’s not too late to get a flu vaccination. Along with encouraging all of you to heed that advice about getting a flu shot,  I am hoping that some time apart this weekend will help with clearing out whatever bug has been traveling back and forth within our community.  If your child does become ill, please keep in mind the District’s guidelines about returning to school:  students should stay home if they have a temperature of 100 Fahrenheit or above, and should not return to school until their temperature has been normal for at least 24 hours (without assistance of Tylenol/Advil).  For stomachaches, vomiting, and diarrhea, students should stay home until symptoms have resolved for at least 12 hours.  We know there are other illnesses making the rounds, but fever, sore throat, and vomiting have tended to be the most frequent culprits lately.  Depending on how tonight’s Super Bowl goes I anticipate some additional cases of sore throats - hopefully due to shouts of celebration rather than anguish.  Please mention to your children that any sore throats due to the game, and not from actual illness, will not be accepted as a reason to miss school on Monday.  

A couple of quick reminders to bring to your attention:

  • 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, February 27th. Please click the link for submissions guidelines and instructions. Please contact Vicki Weeks ( with any questions.  

  • February Vacation starts at the end of the school day on Friday, February 17.  Please note that February 17 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 ( and your child’s teachers.  

One final reminder about tomorrow night’s event with Dr. Josephine Kim!  This event is at the High School Auditorium tomorrow night at 7pm.  “Let’s Talk! Bridging the Cultural Gap Between You and Your Child” is Dr. Kim’s platform for supporting families bridging the cultural gap that oftentimes exists between immigrant parents and their children.  With a focus on Asian American families, Dr. Kim’s presentation will create opportunities for parents and guardians to explore ways of promoting both the success and emotional well-being of their Asian American children.  I’m optimistic that we’ll have a good turnout and look forward to seeing many of you there.  

I mentioned earlier in the Fall some of the different ways that our school implements strategies and programs intended to address bullying prevention and prosocial behavior.  Similar to previous years, we will 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 the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center (MARC) specifically on cyberbullying and internet safety.  The presentation by MARC will take place for 7th grade students this Friday, February 10th 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.  

The February edition of “Expanding Our Notions of Success”,  the District’s Challenge Success newsletter is out, and you can access it by clicking here.  The focus of the February newsletter is the concept of “engagement” - specifically student engagement in school.  To complement the newsletter I wanted to share links to two recent articles in The Atlantic that look at the idea of student engagement from very particular (and different angles), both raising some questions that certainly overlap with our District’s ongoing work.  The first article tackles the concept of “growth mindset” which is based on the work of Carol Dweck.  A simplified explanation of growth mindset -- the idea that abilities can be developed and is the result of plowing through difficult challenges and new concepts.  Maintaining a growth mindset means believing that working through difficulties and setbacks is how you “get smarter”, as opposed to the belief that one’s intelligence is a fixed and static condition.  What’s become a concern for Dweck is how her work has has often been misinterpreted in a way where encouraging a growth mindset centers around focusing solely on a student’s effort (regardless of outcome) and offering what she ultimately sees as empty praise.  “How Praise Became a Consolation Prize” is an interview with Dweck where she tries to offer some clarification and redirection for those who are interested in the work around growth mindset.  The other recent Atlantic article explores the work of Harvard professor Richard Weissbourd, the founder of the program Making Caring Common.  Entitled, “Ending Extracurricular Privilege”, this piece looks at Weissbourd’s concerns that the college admissions process has contributed (perhaps heavily) to an unhealthy fixation on achievement to the detriment of other important priorities such as developing a sense of caring, and commitment to the well-being of others as central to a meaningful life.  This article also provides a summary of a report, Turning the Tide, authored by Weissbourd and his colleagues, that offer recommendations for reforming the college admissions process - and some well-regarded colleges and universities are starting to listen (read the article to hear about responses by MIT and Trinity College).  Here’s a quick excerpt to perhaps get you interested in the piece:

The report aims to revamp how students spend their time in school by asking colleges to de-prioritize the “long brag sheets” kids are typically encouraged to accumulate, Weissbourd said. The report warns against “overcoaching” and piling on too many Advanced Placement classes. Students “should feel no pressure to report more than two or three substantive extracurricular activities,” it says. The report recommends that some colleges consider making standardized tests optional. All schools should emphasize that it matters less whether community service was performed in a distant location than whether students “immersed themselves in an experience.”

Finally, we had our recent installment of Poetry Friday at the end of last week.  Mr. Malloy, Chairman of Poetry Friday, read “Theme for English B” by one of my favorite poets Langston Hughes.  Mr. Hughes was an American writer whose poetry and fiction portrayed the lives of working-class African-Americans in America.   Click here if you’d like to read the poem.  

Have a great week, everyone.



Grey Matters, January 30, 2017; Volume 5, Number 21

posted Jan 29, 2017, 11:01 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,

Last Tuesday’s delayed school opening ended up being a slight hiccup for my plans to shadow David from 7 Orange.  Fortunately I was able to clear the deck on Thursday so I could spend that day experiencing the school through the eyes of a student.  Full disclosure: I didn’t do the homework that was assigned for later that evening. I gave myself that liberty as a reward for successfully resisting the temptation to check my phone during the whole school day.  I’m glad that we have several staff members participating in this exercise of shadowing students, and it was an incredibly rewarding and revealing experience for me.  I’ve got pages of notes and observations from, as one 7 Orange student put it, “stalking David all day.”  I’m going to spend some time reflecting on those notes in anticipation of our April staff meeting where those of us who shadowed a student will share those observations with our peers as part of our discussion about possible changes to our schedule. In the meantime, here are eight moments and initial observations from my day, in no particular order, and with no particular themes in mind:  

  1. Time moves slowly when you have the last lunch period of the day and have had no snack. I may have checked the schedule 20 times to verify that lunch wasn’t going to happen earlier.  

  2. Students are doing a lot of sitting during the school day, and in chairs that aren’t particularly comfortable.  Maybe my not-so-limber 39-year old body contributed to the level of discomfort I experienced.  Regardless, I was longing for my office chair after about two periods.  

  3. One of the non-sitting moments came in French class when Ms. Gilfix had us perform the song, “Head and shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes….” in French and complete with all the movements and tapping of body parts throughout the song. She had us repeat the song a number of times and started to speed things and we reached a pace where I started wondering if this was what Crossfit felt like.  Despite being out of breath, I appreciated how Ms. Gilfix mixed things up a bit and gave us the opportunity to be out of our seats.

  4. Seven periods a day is a lot - a lot of transitions, both physically and mentally, from one subject and classroom, to another subject and classroom.

  5. I rejoiced when I finally made it to the cafeteria and bought lunch.  I can confirm that there is enough time to chew and swallow your lunch.  There was perhaps a brief moment or two to enjoy the company of your friends, but not much more beyond that.  Before I knew it, it was time to head back to class.  

  6. Several of the classes on 7 Orange were starting or continuing some really creative lessons and in-class activities, which was great to experience.  All of them ran out of time, often when the momentum is just picking up, and planned to continue the exercise the following day.  

  7. We ask students to do a lot of listening, and the teachers give them a lot of (useful) directions throughout the entire day.    If I’m a student who might struggle with attention, or is perhaps learning English as a second language, it’s a long day.  

  8. The teachers have done a great job of creating classroom routines to help students feel grounded and ready for the class.  In each room that I visited, students knew where to get materials for the day, and where to look for instructions about the day and what might be assigned for homework that night.

Many thanks to David, his classmates, and the 7 Orange teachers (and Mr. Charig and the PE teachers) for welcoming me as a student/classmate for the day.  

Here’s some updates and reminders for everyone to keep in mind:

  • We have an early release for students this Thursday, February 2.  Students will be dismissed at 10:40am, and teachers will be remaining to participate in professional development.  Please be sure to connect with your child about after school plans.  Buses will run their normal routes at dismissal.  

  • Apologies for including in last week’s Grey Matters the wrong date for the upcoming 8th grade information session that is being hosted by the High School.  The correct date for this event is Thursday, February 9th at 7pm. The goal of the evening is for parents to get an overall feel for the high school - including the class offerings available to ninth grade students. The night will begin in the high school auditorium and will end promptly at 8:30pm.  Please also note that this event is geared specifically for a parent/guardian audience, and not for the students themselves. In early March, the 8th graders will participate in a series of workshops that provide them with a comprehensive overview of course registration, requirements, and opportunities. Rest assured that I will send out additional information about that process, most likely after February Vacation.  

  • 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, February 27th. Please click the link for submissions guidelines and instructions.

We’re about a week away from the next installment of our Family Learning Series with Dr. Josephine Kim who will be speaking at the High School Auditorium on Monday, February 6 at 7pm.  “Let’s Talk! Bridging the Cultural Gap Between You and Your Child” is Dr. Kim’s platform for supporting families bridging the cultural gap that oftentimes exists between immigrant parents and their children.  I recently had an opportunity to exchange a few emails with Dr. Kim and shared with her some insights about our community, and what I think would be areas that deserve some attention on her part.  With a focus on Asian American families, Dr. Kim’s presentation will create opportunities for parents and guardians to explore ways of promoting both the success and emotional well-being of their Asian American children.  I look forward to seeing many of you there.  

Finally, I want to wish those in our community who celebrates Chinese New Year a happy and festive new year as we enter the Year of the Rooster.  For those who may share my delight in the culinary aspects of different cultures and holidays, you may want to set aside 10 to 15 minutes to scroll through this recent article in the Los Angeles Times that profiled foods for a Chinese New Year feast.  Even if you never plan to try any of the recipes included in the article, you can get full (or insatiably hungry) by just looking at all the photos of the dumplings, noodles, and soups featured in the story.  And if that’s not enough, you can go here and watch a brief video of Tom Brady (my fellow 39-year older) take a break from his Super Bowl preparations to wish everyone a happy Chinese New Year in Mandarin Chinese.  I give him an A for effort and for putting himself out there, and I take great comfort in knowing that the outcome of next week’s game will not depend on this particular skill.  

Have a great week, everyone.  



Grey Matters, January 23, 2017; Volume 5, Number 20

posted Jan 22, 2017, 9:52 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,

A few years ago I included in an edition of Grey Matters mention of cognitive biases, which refers to some common tendencies that many of us have when trying to make sense of information that comes before us.  For example, there’s the gambler’s fallacy which is where someone flips a coin and it lands on “heads” five times in a row, and so he might have the inclination to believe that the law of averages means there is a greater chance that the sixth coin flip will be “tails”.  The reality is that each coin flip is an independent event, and so the chances of landing heads or tails will never change from being 50-50.  If this has piqued your interest, here is a 2014 article from Business Insider that summarized 58 cognitive biases.  I am returning to this topic of cognitive biases because I think I am experiencing what is known as frequency illusion.  This is the illusion in which “a word, a name or other thing that has recently come to one’s attention seems to appear with improbable frequency shortly afterwards.” Right now, everywhere I turn and everything I read, seems to be strategically placed to remind me that I’m going to be turning 40 later this Spring.  The most recent occurrence of “you’re getting older, deal with it” happened this morning when I came across a feature article in the Boston Globe about Tom Brady.  As part of the build up to tonight’s AFC Championship game, the Globe decided to look closely at how Brady, also 39 years old, has been able to delay the physiological decline that typically happens to the rest of us.  Tom Brady had a statistically incredible football season competing with athletes almost half his age.  Me? I eat a bagel and it feels like I’ve got a bowling ball in my gut.  Clearly intended to make me feel wonderful about myself, the article “Tom Brady: Ageless Wonder”, describes in detail, body part by body part, “what science suggests the average 39-year old human encounters” and how Brady defies those expectations.  Despite my less than enthusiastic response to that article, I will of course join all of you in cheering on Brady and the Patriots tonight and in two weeks when they (hopefully) play in the Super Bowl.  

Here’s some useful updates, notes and acknowledgments to bring to your attention:  

  • Interim reports for this current Winter Trimester will be mailed this Tuesday via US Postal service.  If your child is receiving one or more interims from his/her teachers, it’s likely to arrive at your home on Wednesday or Thursday.  If you have any questions about those interims, please start a dialogue with your child’s teacher.  

  • Many thanks to those involved with organizing and supervising last Friday’s Summer Fun in Winter event!  We had a lot of students attend the event, and many seemed to enjoy themselves.  Ms. Ahl and the Student Council officers put a great deal of work into the preparations, and thanks also to the many parents who donated food.

  • A friendly reminder to families that we have our next early release scheduled for Thursday, February 2.  This will be a professional learning session for staff, and students will be dismissed at 10:40am.  Please plan accordingly.  

  • Congratulations to our students in the Chorus and String Ensemble programs, led by Chris Charig and Katherine Greene on their wonderful concert last Wednesday.  

  • Our Exploratory rotation (i.e. Art, Music/Drama, Minuteman Tech, Digital Literacy) will be switching this Thursday. Students were enrolled in two of the four Exploratories for the first half of the year, and now they will switch to the other two for the remainder of the school year.  

  • Here’s my weekly reminder about our February 6 event with Dr. Josephine Kim who will be delivering her presentation, “Let’s Talk! Bridging the Cultural Gap Between You and Your Child”.  This will start at 7pm and be held in the High School Auditorium.  Parents and guardians, and students in Grade 6 and higher are invited to attend.  Here’s a link to a downloadable flyer.  

  • The following Monday, February 13, Chris Herren will be returning to Acton-Boxborough to engage with our community about his descent into drug addiction, his recovery, and new mission of sharing his story with the goal of reaching young people and helping them make smart decisions when it comes to substance abuse and use. This event will be in the High School Auditorium, and begin at 7pm.  This event is also recommended for families, including students in Grades 6 and higher.  

Last week I provided 8th grade families a “save the date” note about the event on February 11 for 8th grade parents that will provide information about the transition to the High School.  A few more pieces of clarification for those planning to attend:  this particular event is geared towards parents and guardians, not for the 8th graders themselves. Also, please know that the event will be from 7pm to 8:30pm (at the High School).  In early March, the 8th graders will participate in a series of workshops that provide them with a comprehensive overview of course registration, requirements, and opportunities.  These student sessions are led jointly by our counselors and staff from the High School.  

Our District just presented our proposed budget for the next school year (2017-2018) at the annual Budget Saturday marathon event.  The School Committee voted unanimously in favor of supporting the proposed budget as a preliminary figure.  As we enter the Spring and prepare for the town meetings in Acton and Boxborough additional conversations will naturally take place and then the citizens of both towns can vote (up or down) on the school district’s request.  Our proposed budget does include a request for new staffing positions and programs that we believe reflects areas where student (and family) needs continue to expand and merit additional investment.  For example, our request includes an additional elementary ELL (English Language) teacher, a social worker for the high school, and an expansion of our new string ensemble program to include fourth grade students next year.  If you’d like to see the presentation slides from Saturday’s event, you can click here (and then scroll to the bottom of the page).  Those slides will provide additional context and data regarding our plans for next year.  

A few weeks ago I briefly mentioned that our staff is beginning to look at how we organize the school day and considering options for a revised schedule. First, just to be clear, no changes would go into effect earlier than the 2018-2019 school year.  Changing school schedules is a pretty substantial endeavor that usually takes the better part of two school years to design and test drive, and since we’re a two-grade school it’ll be our current 6th grade students who may experiencing the day at RJ Grey a bit differently.  Like the High School our motivation for considering some changes to our school schedule is borne partially from our ongoing attention to the health and well-being of our students and thinking carefully about how our structuring of the day can address both our academic goals and overall wellness of our students. To be sure, our work this year with Challenge Success and reflecting on expanding notions of success and wellness contribute to our work in this area.  Speaking for myself, I enter this process wondering a few things, including whether we can make some adjustments that reduce what can often feel like a frenetic pace to the day.  A committee of RJ Grey staff has been formed to lead some of our work on this issue throughout the Spring, and to identify specific areas of interest that might be worth exploring.  Additionally, we plan to gather feedback from our students on their day-to-day experiences.  Along with a student survey that we’ll likely administer to all students in the Spring, a number of staff will be participating in a program where they shadow a current student for an entire school day.  My shadow day is this Tuesday and I’ll be joined at the hip with David on 7 Orange.  So for those of you with kids on 7 Orange you may hear about how Mr. Shen was in their classes all day and was having trouble answering any of the questions that Ms. Paone asked him in Math class (let’s not all forget the D+ I got in math when I was in 7th grade).  I look forward to providing all of you updates on this important scheduling work, and whether I survived the day not being allowed to check my cell phone.  

We had our latest round of Everyday Leaders take place last week. I spent a good deal of time last week preparing for our District’s budget presentation on Saturday, so having lunch with this group of students was a welcome distraction for me (hopefully it was fun for them too).  Congratulations to this group of Everyday Leaders: Luca Centrella, John Goguen, Marie Danzig, Nikila Surapanini, Caitlin Laska, Hana Chytil, John Hennessey, Lipika Hedge, David Corrigan, Anthony Oullette, and Caleb Straayer.  

Finally, we had our latest installment of Poetry Fridays at the end of last week, with guest reader Ms. Kellie Carter, Social Studies teacher on 8 Red.  She offered all of us a reading of the poem “The Guitar Maker” by Alfred Nicol of Newburyport, MA.  Click here if you’d like to read the poem as well.  

Have a great week, everyone.



Grey Matters, January 16, 2017; Volume 5, Number 19

posted Jan 16, 2017, 12:38 PM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,

In recent years, escape rooms have become a very popular physical adventure game for groups of people to attempt.  For those not immediately familiar with the concept, here’s an excerpt that describes it well: “they vary in design and style, but the basic premise is the same: People are trapped inside a space for a specific amount of time and need to solve a number of puzzles to get out.”  Here’s a recent Boston Globe story that describes the craze.  I am pleased to share that seven friends and I successfully escaped from “The Apartment” this past weekend, with one second remaining (photo to the right).  We’re now 2 for 4 in our efforts to escape.  Most of the credit this time around goes to a few others in our group, and I ended up playing more of a supporting role.  Whenever I do these escape games I often think about what it would be like to bring teachers from RJ Grey as a work event given that we utilize a team-based model at school.  If I’m feeling a bit more daring, and want to risk the ire of the whole staff, we could also go up a few notches and travel to Survival Systems USA in Connecticut.  For $950 a person, Survival Systems USA is now converting their training exercises that were originally intended to provide aquatic survival tactics for aviators and military agencies and offering it as a team building activity to increase morale in the workplace.  From simulating plane crashes to replicating hurricane-like weather, participants go through a whole series of high-risk challenges that make me realize I should have taken my childhood swimming lessons more seriously.  Here’s one of my favorite lines from the New York Times article about this emerging trend:  “Now, the classmates jumped without hesitation from a 14-foot platform into the pool. Life vests inflated, they were given the duration of Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On to find a way to stay warm while floating.”  It’s unlikely that your child’s teachers and Principal will find themselves giving this a go, but it’s fun to think about.  If by chance any of you have ever participated in something like this, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.  

Here’s a couple of reminders and notes I want to bring to your attention:

  • This year’s Winter Chorus and Strings Concert is this Wednesday, January 18 at 7pm in the Auditorium.

  • I made reference last week to our Cooking Club.  This program will likely get started up in the first week of February, so I’ll have more information in the next week or two about signing up for students who are interested.  

  • Our next round of Fit Club is also getting finalized in terms of dates and meeting location. Stay tuned on that as well.  

  • Our school district is currently going through its annual process for building a proposed budget for the following school year (2017-2018) and presenting it to the School Committee and the community at-large.  Dr. Brand has already made a few initial presentations that outline include the requests for new positions and programs that we’d like to include as part of next year’s budget.  If you’d like to review some of that information, you can review these materials that were presented at the December 15 School Committee meeting.  Our efforts to provide the budget story for next year always culminates in Budget Saturday, which is a daylong presentation to the School Committee that includes details of the proposed budget and reasons behind new requests.  Budget Saturday will be this coming Saturday, January 21 from 8:30am to 2:30pm in the Junior High Library and is open to the public.  

  • The next edition of the District’s Challenge Success newsletter is now up.  January’s edition is focused on ideas related to mindfulness and highlighting different ways that mindfulness practices are being incorporated into classrooms within our schools. It also includes an important reminder about the January 25 presentation by Pamela Katz Ressler about mindfulness for those who would like to learn more about this topic.  

An important Save The Date message to 8th grade families regarding the transition to the high school: On Thursday, February 9th at 7pm the high school will be hosting an evening for the parents of 8th graders. The goal of the evening is for parents to get an overall feel for the high school - including the class offerings available to ninth grade students. The night will begin in the high school auditorium with a welcome by principal Dr. JoAnn Campbell followed by a brief presentation by each department leader focusing on the classes available to ninth grade students. Immediately following the presentation parents may join department leaders in the East Commons where they will be available to answer questions.

We’ve got some great community events coming up in a few weeks as part of our Family Learning Series.  Last week I introduced Dr. Josephine Kim to all of you, as she will be speaking at the High School Auditorium on Monday, February 6 at 7pm.  “Let’s Talk! Bridging the Cultural Gap Between You and Your Child” is Dr. Kim’s platform for supporting families bridging the cultural gap that oftentimes exists between immigrant parents and their children.  With a particular focus on Asian American families, Dr. Kim’s presentation will create opportunities for parents and guardians to explore ways of promoting both the success and emotional well-being of their Asian American children. Dr. Kim plans to engage with the audience about how cultural expectations and differences manifest in daily interactions, and strategies for improving communication on these topics.  This event is open to parents/guardians and students in Grades 6 through 12.  To be sure, the focus of this event is geared towards Asian and Asian American members our community. Nevertheless, this presentation is like all of our community events and open to everyone in Acton and Boxborough who may want to attend.  Click here if you’d like to download/print a copy of the flyer for this event.  

On the following Monday, February 13, our next Family Learning Series event will be one where we welcome back Chris Herren to Acton-Boxborough.  Chris Herren is a former professional basketball player who grew up in the Boston-area, and whose personal and professional life was consumed by substance abuse for several years. During Rebound: The Chris Herren Story, Mr. Herren will tell of his descent into addiction, recover, and new mission of sharing his story with the goal of reaching young people and helping them make smart decisions when it comes to substance abuse and use.  His visit to Acton-Boxborough in 2013 was a powerful event for those who attended and we’re looking forward to his visit next month.  Many thanks to Acton-Boxborough United Way, Acton-Boxborough PTSO, Danny’s Place Youth Services, and the Acton Health Department for co-sponsoring this event.  This event will take place at 7pm in the High School Auditorium, and you can download the flyer/press release for this event by clicking here.  

Last April we took about 100 RJ Grey students on a trip to Washington D.C. A few of us chaperones are still in the process from recovering from that trip, so we’re probably going to offer this as an every other year adventure.  One of the highlights of the trip for me and three other chaperones was getting to watch the last few minutes of a Supreme Court hearing (after waiting outside in a line for three hours).  While the case itself wasn’t terribly exciting for us - it was about insurance fraud - just being in the courtroom was exhilarating.  I spent some time this week thinking about those ten minutes at the Supreme Court because the Court just finished hearing arguments about a topic that is very relevant for our work in public schools.  Specifically, Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District is a case that asks the Court to offer a more specific interpretation of the 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and the standard to which public schools can and should be held when determining the services and supports that should be provided to children with disabilities.  I am sharing information on this case not to provide commentary but to direct your attention to this development, as whatever interpretation of special education law the Supreme Court establishes through this case will have significant impact on how schools and families move forward when addressing the educational needs of students who receive special education services.  If you’re interested in reading more about the case, you can read this recent New York Times article or this article from the Los Angeles Times.  

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

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

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

Finally, I want to briefly touch upon the difficult and incredibly sad week our community had with the recent death of a McCarthy-Towne student.  I hope that all of you had an opportunity to read the message that Dr. Brand sent to families, and perhaps you also availed yourself of the resources and supports that were included in his message and/or last Wednesday’s presentation by Maria Trozzi.  I can appreciate that some parents may also be curious, perhaps even concerned, about the absence at RJ Grey of any school wide statements to our students about Tylen Cunningham.  Our approach up to this point has been to follow the District’s protocol outlined by the Good Grief program which advises that we not initiate all-school announcements and activities given that Tylen was not a student at our school. Instead, the protocol in which we’ve been trained outlines action steps for offering responses and language to individual students who may have questions or comments, and for supporting students who are themselves vulnerable for one reason or another. We’ve been heavily focused on those measures, and appreciate the support that many parents have provided as part of those efforts.  All of that being said, I also know that the overall accumulation of what has transpired over the course of this year, and the tremendous loss that our community has experienced, may make things a bit atypical. Therefore, we might have to consider some additional measures to support our students as we continue to move forward.  I’ll be attending some meetings in the next few weeks that are focusing on this very topic, and we’ll be looking at this from a couple of different angles and see what makes sense.  I don’t know what that might be but I do want you to know that it’s on my mind as well.  Many thanks for the kind and supportive words and gestures many of you offered to us this past week.  

Have a great week, everyone.



Grey Matters, January 9, 2017; Volume 5, Number 18

posted Jan 8, 2017, 9:58 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,

I’m still pretty shaken from the “snowmageddon” that we experienced a few years ago but I was pretty comfortable and even somewhat pleased with the snowstorm we had this past weekend.  The snow was pretty light so clearing the driveway wasn’t too taxing, and there was enough accumulation where the kids could entertain themselves with a variety of activities.  Granted, I had a temporary moment of concern/curiosity when I saw my kids pushing our wheelbarrow towards the hill in the back of our yard because my kids are indeed the ones who would actually consider careening down a hill in a wheelbarrow and consider themselves geniuses for coming up with that plan.  Their daredevil-ish tendencies are also why we make each of them wear ski helmets whenever they go sledding despite some initial protests about that particular non-negotiable rule.  Having the opportunity to send them out into the snow also provided me a temporary reprieve from a recent tendency of my oldest son to offer me all sorts of critical “feedback” that he feels empowered to send my way because he generously starts it off with the qualifier, “Dad, no offense, but…..”  This expression appeared out of the blue (which probably means there’s a classmate at his school I have to thank for this) this week, and has been heard way too often, at least with me being on the receiving end. “Dad, no offense, but I really didn’t think the noodles you made me were that good.”  “Dad, no offense, but that decision you made to attack the Eastern United States (while playing the board game Risk) was really bad.”  I suppose when they all become teenagers and the unsolicited feedback is still offered without the “no offense” qualifier I’ll probably look back longingly at these moments.  

Here’s some updates and reminders to put on your radar:

  • We have no school next Monday, January 16 as it is the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.  

  • We have completed our parent-teacher conference sessions for the year.  The next early release day for the Junior High is Thursday, February 2 for a professional development session.  

  • The calendar for the 2017-2018 school year has been voted by the School Committee and is now available to view.  Please note that the early release schedule for the elementary schools (and to a lesser degree for the Junior High and High School) have not been finalized as part of this calendar.  But this current version does have dates for the start of school, holidays, and vacations.  Click here to view the calendar.  

  • Our anuual Summer Fun in Winter will take place on Friday, January 20th from 2:30-4:00. There will be a volleyball tournament, lots of food, music and prizes. All students may attend the event for $4.00. If you would like to enter a team consisting of 6 students, please pick up a form outside Room 327 and return it with payment to Ms. Ahl no later than Tuesday, January 10. Many thanks to our School Council for organizing this event.  

Before the start of last Thursday’s conferences we had our annual Staff Appreciation Luncheon which was hosted by our amazing PTSO.  Educators are no different when it comes to our stomachs being the quickest way into our hearts.  Par for the course, the food that was made and donated by our families was much appreciated and quickly consumed.  Many thanks to parent Elizabeth Bruce for taking on the coordination and planning of this event.  Additionally, much gratitude to Kate Imhoff, Linda Vittum, Anne-Marie Smith, Marie Klinkmueller, Zhu Xao, Angie Tso, Hong Ye, Kayo Aoki, and Kathleen Erikson who led the set-up and clean up process.  Finally, here is a very long list of the generous families who made this luncheon possible (and tasty).  

I want to provide everyone an update and reminder about our great extracurricular program that is available to students.  For those who have completed Fall activities that don’t continue into the Winter, there are all sorts of clubs and activities that students can always join as a new member.  You can see a description of most clubs by going to this page on our website.  We are continuing our Yoga Club and Fit Club programs, with the next round of Yoga beginning this Thursday, January 12 at 2:30 (until 3:30pm).  If your child is interested in participating, please email Katy Frey at, or have your child speak to Ms. Frey directly.  Last year we also started a wonderful Cooking Club program (which I affectionately call Iron Chef RJ Grey) led by our Health teacher Ms. Rimpas in partnership with staff in our Food Services Department.  This program will launch again soon and we’ll be sure to send out sign-up information given that space is limited due to safety considerations (i.e. supervision in our kitchen).  I am also pleased to share that this Winter we will be launching a Junior High version of the student group Common Ground.  Common Ground has been a longstanding student group at the High School that is AB’s version of a Gay/Straight Alliance (GSA).  Our efforts to create a Junior High version of this student group is motivated by thoughtful feedback we received from current high school students who shared with us how valuable this type of school group would have been during their time at RJ Grey. The addition of this group also contributes to our ongoing efforts as a school to develop and support space and opportunities for all of our students to feel connected, engaged and affirmed within our school community.  Led by two veteran teachers, Mr. Lewis and Ms. Berberian, Common Ground at RJ Grey will be a space for students to support one another and talk about issues that are important to them.  The goal will be to provide a safe place to socialize and create a comfortable and welcoming environment where students can build respect for LGBTQ people.  Details about meeting times and locations are still being finalized, and will be shared soon by the club’s advisors for those who may have an interest in attending.  

We’ve often talked about the benefits and challenges that accompany the increasing diversity of the Acton-Boxborough community, and how the demographics of our community continue to evolve in many ways including, but not limited to, socio-economic diversity and racial and cultural diversity.  To be sure, one prominent dimension of our changing demographics is the continued growth of our Asian American community.  This year our Asian and Asian American student population from Kindergarten through Grade 12 is well over 30% of our overall enrollment. Our school district is committed to expanding our work to include resources that support the experiences and needs that may be particular to specific groups within our larger community, including our Asian American students and families.  With this in mind, we are pleased to be adding another event to this year’s Family Learning Series featuring Dr. Josephine Kim, Ph.D.  On Monday, February 6, Dr. Kim will be visiting Acton-Boxborough and presenting “Let’s Talk! 

Bridging the Cultural Gap Between You and Your Child”.  Dr. Kim is a licensed mental health counselor who teaches at Harvard University, and is also on the faculty at the Center for Cross-Cultural Student Emotional Wellness at Massachusetts General Hospital.  Her research and practice focus on bridging the cultural gap between immigrant parents and their children, with a particular emphasis on Asian American families.  Through her presentation, Dr. Kim looks to create opportunities for parents and guardians to explore ways of promoting both the success and emotional well-being of their Asian American children.  Included in this dialogue will be an examination of intergenerational conflicts and varied perceptions and comfort with issues related to mental health. Dr. Kim plans to engage with the audience about how cultural expectations and differences manifest in daily interactions, and strategies for improving communication on these topics.  This event on Monday, February 6 will begin at 7pm in the High School Auditorium, and is open to parents/guardians and students in Grades 6 through 12 are also encouraged to attend.  Parents and guardians may of course come alone, and this is certainly appropriate for parents who have younger children, but not for those younger children to attend.  As one can tell from the description, the focus of this event is geared towards Asian and Asian American members our community. Nevertheless, this presentation is like all of our community events and open to everyone in Acton and Boxborough who may want to attend.  Many thanks to the Acton Chinese American Civic Society (ACACS) for co-sponsoring and partnering with the schools on this event.  I hope many of you will join me for this event.

Finally, we finished last week with another installment of Poetry Friday.  Ms. Vacca, 8 Orange English teacher, introduced the school to the poem Naming of Cats by T.S. Eliot.  Check it out if you’ve got a spare moment or two!  

Have a great week, everyone.



Grey Matters, January 2, 2017; Volume 5, Number 17

posted Jan 2, 2017, 3:14 PM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,

Welcome back from Winter Break, and welcome to 2017.  Our family didn’t go anywhere for vacation, and instead we filled a few days with some time with our extended families, and other activities that centered around having the kids burn off a good deal of energy (translation: multiple trips to places with indoor trampolines).  I could tell you that we planned those activities as an opportunity for our kids and their friends to enjoy themselves and their time away from school, and it would be true.  There might have also been a few thoughts related to self-preservation and survival (for us the parents, not our kids) that inspired us to come up with these short adventures.  We did a semi-decent job of keeping them entertained, though I did remind myself throughout the week that a few moments of “boredom” may actually be healthy for the kids and letting them try and figure out ways to entertain themselves (which I expand upon a few paragraphs down). Like many previous vacations, we all found ourselves a bit torn about the end of the break -- not really ready to return to school, but thinking that a little more routine and some space and distance amongst the siblings may be in everyone’s best interest.  While I am sure that many of you were able to plan some great vacations and adventures, my guess is that many of us also share a view of these “breaks” as a much needed window to take care of all manner of tasks, chores, or appointments that are long overdue in terms of getting our attention.  The holidays are also a time when I know that many of us tend to many other obligations or responsibilities related to aging parents, friends who may be struggling a bit, or others who rely on our support.  So whether you had an opportunity to get away on a relaxing adventure, focused on taking care of someone who needed attention, or maybe a bit of both, I hope all of you feel satisfied with how you spent the Winter Break.   

Here’s some updates and reminders for the first few weeks of January:

  • Our last set of parent-teacher conferences is scheduled for this Thursday, January 5.  That means all students will be dismissed at 10:40am, and conferences begin at 11:30am.  Please check in with your kids about plans and expectations for that day.  Remember that the Library is not available for students after school.   

  • There is no school for all Acton-Boxborough students on Monday, January 16 for the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.  

  • The RJG Winter Band Concert is scheduled for the evening of Tuesday, January 10, and the Winter Chorus and String Ensemble Concert is scheduled for the evening of Wednesday, January 18.  Both events begin at 7pm and taking place in the RJ Grey auditorium.  

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

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

The first Ski and Board Club session is taking place on Tuesday (tomorrow).  An important reminder to families whose kids are participating that skis and snowboards are not allowed on the buses during the morning pick-up routes, so an alternate plan is needed on these Tuesdays.  For those parents/guardians bringing kids and equipment during the morning drop-off process, please (please!) have the skis, poles, boots, etc. put together in a way that will help us keep things moving (and safe) down there in the parking lot.  Some families also choose to drop off ski/boarding equipment to the school later in the day (we store it all in the auditorium).  

I was gifted a few books over the break and I look forward to carving out some time in the near future to start reading them (or at least starting with one of them).  While I didn’t get to any of those full-length books, I did have an opportunity to read a number of articles about kids, adolescent development, and parenting.  I read them wearing both my dad hat and educator hat, and wanted to pass along links to a few of those pieces should some of you also have some interest in the subject matter.  First, here is an article in Time Magazine that reminded me of something Michelle Icard (author of Middle School Makeover) said about teen struggles with reading facial expressions when she visited Acton-Boxborough earlier this Winter.  Entitled, “Parents Don’t Get How Negative They Seem to Their Teenagers”, this article summarizes results from studies that looked at parent-teenager relationships and the tendency for parents and teenagers to misinterpret the intent and/or level of emotion found in the response or actions of the other.  The second article is from NPR and is the transcript of an interview with Erika Christakis, a lecturer at Yale and author of The Importance of Being Little, about the challenges she sees with shifts away from play during preschool years.  While this article focuses on the earlier stages of childhood and schooling, I did find the main issues being discussed to be linked to some of our Challenge Success discussions about definitions of success and our efforts to constantly accelerate the academic development of our children.  The part of the article that really captured my attention is where Christakis defends the value of unscheduled time (i.e. no lessons, practices, enrichment classes): “I think boredom can be a friend to the imagination.  Sometimes when kids appear to be bored, actually they haven’t had enough time to engage in something.  We quickly wish it away and move them along to the next thing...You’ve really kind of adultified childhood so kids really don’t have those long, uninterrupted stretches of time to engage in fantasy play.”  Finally, as the father of two boys (currently ages 11 and 8), I took a few minutes to read this article in the Wall Street Journal entitled, “What Parents of Early Teen Boys Need to Know”.  This article spent some time looking at which skills develop more slowly in boys, and where they may demonstrate certain strengths earlier on.  Additionally, it offered some initial insight into ways parents can offer some guidance and modeling in areas related to language, attention, and empathy (including something called mentalizing).  

The WSJ article reminded me of the work of Dr. Abigail Baird who visited Acton-Boxborough last Winter (so some of you may remember her).  Dr. Baird teaches at Vassar and conducts research on adolescent brain development. I really like Dr. Baird because she has a way of presenting information on adolescent brain development (and explaining behaviors) in a way that is accessible and relatable.  She’s also a diehard Red Sox fan, and that’s always a plus. While we won’t have the opportunity to have Dr. Baird visit us this year (maybe next year), those of you interested in this topic can watch this video of an interview that she did with Lisa Kudrow of “Friends” fame (and a Vassar alum). They spend time talking about the interplay between emotions and decision making and a whole host of other really interesting topics - including some important differences in how boys and girls develop during adolescence. The interview is a bit long (about an hour) but if you’ve got the time it’s one of those videos that I have personally viewed several times, usually after my 6th grader does something particularly vexing or when one of my incredible surefire parenting strategies did not elicit the result I was expecting.  

Finally, I wanted to mention quickly that over the next few weeks I’ll be highlighting some of the Challenge Success themes and topics that we introduced in the Fall.  In particular, how we at RJ Grey will be looking at possible changes to our school schedule (how we organize the school day, length of classes, frequency of meeting, ways to reduce the frenetic pace of the day, etc.) as one way to pursue some meaningful changes for our students. As I will discuss in more detail, this work will take some time and wouldn’t be implemented for another year.  This is separate, though not entirely unrelated, from the larger district wide discussion about school start times.  There’s a School Start time committee that will be working on that issue over the next few months and I also look forward to passing along updates that can be shared from that committee.  

Have a great week, everyone.  Welcome back.  



Grey Matters for December 19, 2016; Volume 5, Number 16

posted Dec 18, 2016, 8:34 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,

Well that was quite the wintry blast that we experienced at the end of last week.  I assume most of you also felt and heard the howling winds that came through on Thursday night.  As I was listening to the wind begin to crescendo and wondering which tree in our yard was going to fall on my house, I swear that within the noise I heard the refrain “San Francisco….” over and over again.  Combined with the single digit temperatures on Friday morning, I was inspired to put some $20 bills into my San Fran or Bust moving jar, bringing the current balance to $82.50.  That amount will probably go down to $42.50 when I realize that I need most of that cash for something else later this week - probably buying one of my kids a pair of gloves after he/she loses another set.  I didn’t realize that all of the money that I no longer spend on daycare costs would now be redirected to making sure Lost & Found bins throughout the metro Boston area would be overflowing with my children’s clothing, but I digress.  While I was outside during Friday morning drop off, I did spend some time thinking about turning my money jar into a GoFundMe page and mobilizing the Acton-Boxborough community to get into the holiday spirit and send their Junior High principal to a warmer climate.  While this fundraising idea and plea for donations is in fact a playful figment of my imagination, mentioning it gives me an opportunity to transition to something that the Superintendent’s office has asked Principals to mention to families, which is a reminder about guidelines for giving gifts to school staff members.  First and foremost, please know that no family should ever feel that gift giving is expected.  To be honest, and with all sincerity, I have noticed that simple expressions of thanks that are sent along to teachers by students and families are “gifts” that are treasured by our staff.  For families who do choose to provide a gift to a member of the RJ Grey staff, I do need to direct your attention to state ethics laws that limit the gifts that teachers, coaches, and staff are permitted to receive.  There’s actually a whole series of details about this (because it tends to get a little complicated at the elementary levels with class gifts, etc.), but to keep things simple for us: staff can not accept gifts from a single family that exceeds $50 in value for the entire school year. For those who send in homemade desserts and treats and want to know what monetary value is placed on those, of course the answer is priceless.  Though truth be told, those sugary gifts should probably come with a 6-month health club membership for the start of the new year.  All kidding aside, I share the above info about gift giving as a friendly reminder about important guidelines that we’re obligated to follow and to take this opportunity to thank all RJ Grey families for the many ways that each of you supports the school and our teachers throughout the year.  

Here’s some important calendar and event reminders for the next few weeks:

  • The next set of parent-teacher conferences is this Tuesday, December 20.  That means that all students will be dismissed at 10:40am.  Please be sure to confirm with your child plans and expectations for after school as they will not be able to remain in the school building.  

  • We have a full day of school on Friday, December 23, and then the Winter Break begins!  If you and your family are beginning your break a bit before that (or a lot before that), please be sure to let our front office know so we can take accurate attendance (email Katy Frey at  It would also be important to have your child speak to each of his/her teachers about missed work and assignments.  

  • School resumes after Winter Break on Tuesday, January 3 (translation: don’t send your kids to school on Monday, January 2 - we won’t be there!)

  • We have our final set of parent-teacher conferences scheduled for Thursday, January 5.  Students will again be dismissed at 10:40am.  

  • Save the Date: The Winter Band Concert is the evening of Tuesday, January 10, and the Winter Chorus and String Ensemble Concert is the evening of Wednesday, January 18.  

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

We have many students participating in the Ski and Board Club when we return from the Break, and that means on Tuesdays Ski and Board Club members are dropped off in the morning with quite a bit of gear.  The first session of Ski and Board Club is actually the Tuesday we return from Break (January 3).  For those of you planning to drop off kids and gear in the lower parking lot, it would be immensely helpful if the gear was organized in a way that supported a speedy drop-off.  The best case scenario is if you have those ski bags that package everything up all nice and are easy to carry. Believe it or not, some of our 13-year olds throw their equipment all over the trunk before leaving the house (I know, hard to imagine), and then everyone in the parking lot gets to watch them and me get tangled up in boots, poles, and helmets.  I’ll do my best to help kids with getting gear out of the trunk, and anything that you can do in advance would be much appreciated.  There are also some families who choose to drop off their child’s ski/boarding gear later in the day and bring it to the auditorium where it is stored.  Ski/boarding gear can not be brought on school buses in the morning.  

We had our latest round of Everyday Leaders take place two weeks ago. It was great to spend some time with a number of our students and see how the year is going, and to also get some of their initial feedback on different parts of the RJ Grey experience.  Congratulations to this group of Everyday Leaders: Skylar Busiek, Mara Clement, Libby Drum, Paolina Garro, Elsa Grant, Josh Grieco-Page, Maya Kamireddi, Maria Redmond, Cailey Ryan, and Aishwarya Srinivasan.  

In an effort to keep some perspective about the frigid temperatures on Friday, we had an edition of Poetry Fridays that highlighted a poem by Stephen Dunn entitled, “The Same Cold” and was read by Mr. Malloy.  Click here if you’d like to read it as well.  

Finally, I want to wish everyone a wonderful Winter Break.  Remember that as part of our homework practice there will be no homework or studying assigned to students for this period of time. I would, however, highly recommend at least a little bit of reading during their time off! A book, magazine, graphic novel - reading for pleasure is always a good thing.  Please encourage your child to disconnect from school for the duration of the vacation, and focus his/her energies and time on other interests, friends, and family.  Safe travels to those of you who might be making a trip out of state.    

Have a great week and restful Winter Break, everyone.  



Grey Matters, December 12, 2016; Volume 5, Number 15

posted Dec 11, 2016, 12:44 PM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,

Current weather forecasts are suggesting that we might be getting our first real taste (for this school year) of snowy precipitation later Sunday evening and early Monday morning.  On an annual basis, the prospect of snow triggers three things that are shared with readers of Grey Matters.  First, a friendly reminder that any changes in the school schedule, such as a delayed start or a snow day, will be communicated via an automated phone call to home and/or cell phones.  This will typically happen between 5am and 6am.  Dr. Brand also posts this information on his Twitter feed and will also be available on most of the local television networks. Second, for those who drop off their children to school in the mornings, be prepared to not only see me in my winter outfit that looks similar to Ralphie’s from A Christmas Story (photo to right), but to also see a fair share of references in Grey Matters to not understanding how some of your children (mostly boys) can continue to still arrive at school wearing shorts.  Finally, if we experience a healthy level of snowfall this season, I will need to re-introduce to all of you my ongoing efforts to save/collect enough money for my family and I to move to San Francisco.  There’s a part of me that has always thought that I belonged in the Bay Area - a more temperate climate, I can go eat dim sum in Chinatown every week, and I can go running outside all year long. The San Francisco-area real estate market is, as many of you know, not exactly in tune with the income base of most non-gazillionaire families.  The single-family house in the photo to the left sits on .04 acres, was built in 1900, has 1.75 bathrooms, and is currently on the market for $2 million.  Given that my “San Fran or Bust” jar currently has about $22.50 in coins, I might need to come up with a Plan B. Even if the money to afford the

San Francisco real estate market suddenly appeared at my doorstep, I will also admit that another obstacle to this fantasy is my comfort (temperature notwithstanding) with the metro Boston area.  Except for college, I’ve lived along the Rt. 128 corridor my whole life.  I usually get anxious and disoriented when I drive past Rt. 495, and going to the Wrentham Outlets feels like a road trip.  So I think I’m going to need to come up with other strategies to cope with the annual arrival of the winter season.  It doesn’t sound like the precipitation this Sunday night is expected to have an impact on school tomorrow, but keep it on your radar nonetheless and maybe be prepared for a slightly messier drop off/commute.

Some useful reminders for the next two weeks:

  • Report cards for the Fall Trimester went home with students last Thursday.  Not sure how many of them went through the washing machine before they reached your hands.  If for some reason you didn’t get your child’s report card (from your child), feel free to send me an email and we can generate another copy for you.  

  • Our first set of Parent-Teacher conferences is scheduled for this Thursday (December 15).  That means we have an early release for all Junior High students, and dismissal will be at 10:40am. Be sure to coordinate with your child expectations about where to be after school (they can not stay at school).  For those parents/guardians who have conferences this Thursday, please be sure to double check your times ahead of time.  

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

  • Our last day of school before the Winter Break is Friday, December 23. Please know that this day is scheduled to be a “regular” full day of school.  If you have plans that involve your child being absent next week because of winter break plans, please be sure to communicate that with the Main Office (Katy Frey, and your child’s team teachers.  

There is another parent workshop for Acton-Boxborough families (click for flyer) being offered this Wednesday evening that I think may be of interest to many of you.  Jessica Minahan is a well-known and highly regarded board certified behavior analyst who has worked with many school districts and families on supporting students with anxiety. During her presentation, Ms. Minaha will be sharing easy to implement preventive tools, strategies, and interventions to reducing anxiety, increasing self-regulation, executive functioning, and self-monitoring.  Click here to visit her website. This workshop begins at 7pm in the Junior High Library, and  is co-hosted by the AB SPEDPAC and Acton-Boxborough, and is part of our Family Learning Series.

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve made direct mention of our Challenge Success work and topics that fall under that umbrella.  We’re doing a lot to make sure that the conversations which started earlier in the Fall continue to drive our work in schools and with families.  At the Junior High, we’re really beginning to think about what a different school day schedule might look like (not next year, but perhaps the year after) where we can address the frenetic pace of the day, maybe find other ways to enhance student-teacher relationships, and where the lunch period doesn’t feel like a timed pie-eating contest.  The December edition of the District’s “Expanding Our Notions of Success” newsletter about our Challenge Success work is now available, and I would encourage you to check it out.  The newsletter continues to include results from last Spring’s student survey along with resources and videos for families to learn more about topics such as building resilience in children.  Along with the December newsletter, I also want to share with all of you a series of recent articles that may be of interest to many of you, and is either directly or tangentially related to our Challenge Success topics and themes.  The first is a Time Magazine article summarizing some initial research that suggests a connection between increased physical activity of young boys and improved reading skills (of those boys).  The second is an article from Reuters that argues that even a modest change in school start times could lead to positive outcomes for students.  Based on a study of high school students in Hong Kong, researchers note that a even 15 minute change still led to reports of improvements in sleep, attention, and getting to school on time.  Finally, I am sharing two separate articles about the ongoing challenges that many parents face regarding the use of technology and social media by their children.  Here’s an article from the New York Times that tries to explore some of the different arenas where the use of digital devices may have evolved in ways that you didn’t necessarily intend (i.e. dinner time, before bed).  Here’s another article from that looks a bit more closely at some possible parenting strategies to capitalize on the benefits that digital devices can offer, while providing some deliberate limits and controls.  Melisa and I are really good at limiting our kids’ access to digital devices at bedtime, including expectations about when those devices get turned off and charging devices next to our bedroom.  We are not so good/moderately terrible about regulating the amount of time on those devices during various unstructured times in the afternoon and particularly on weekends.  So we continue to read with interest articles that remind us the importance of being more proactive on this front, and perhaps some strategies for how to talk to our kids about the benefits and challenges of their engagement with the digital world (thankfully none of our kids are remotely interested in social media….yet).  

Finally, I want to acknowledge and highlight our school’s Speech team, which hosted a tournament for their league this past Sunday.  An event of this magnitude couldn’t be offered without the commitment of our students and the guidance of Mr. Spencer Harvey, 7 Orange Social Studies teacher and Ms. Valery Glod, 8 Green Social Studies teacher.  Additionally, we appreciate (again and again) the volunteer work of our many parents and teachers who also spent their Sunday at the tournament.  

Have a great week, everyone.



Grey Matters, December 5, 2016; Volume 5, Number 14

posted Dec 4, 2016, 12:21 PM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,

It was a big week/weekend for RJ Grey with five performances of Once Upon a Mattress.   There might have been a little bit of stress and anxiousness that permeated the atmosphere during the start of the week as rehearsals lasted longer and became a bit more intense.  Some costumes needed some extra sewing, parts of the set were being painted, and last minute adjustments of the choreography were injected into the plan.  By Thursday night when the curtains parted and the house lights went down, our students were ready to put on another great performance for our entire community to enjoy.  I attended the Friday night performance and once again found myself marveling at the talent and joy that was on display by our students.  I also had the unexpected pleasure of being invited to watch the musical with the “cool kids” -- Mrs. Frey and Mrs. Jarostchuk. Along with the many parents and families who attended the musical, I was really heartened to see such a large contingent of current and former RJ Grey students (who are now at the high school) in attendance and cheering loudly for their classmates and friends.  Congratulations to the many students, staff and parent volunteers who were part of this year’s musical production.

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

  • Don’t forget that Yearbooks are now for sale. If you’d like to review the two different options for ordering a Yearbook, you can do that by clicking here.

  • The first of three parent-teacher conference days is scheduled for Thursday, December 15.  All (Junior High) students will have an early release day, and dismissed at 10:40am.  All bus routes will be available after school, and a friendly reminder to families to have a quick conversation with your child about plans and expectations for where they should be going once school is dismissed.  For those parents and guardians who have meetings scheduled on Thursday, please double check your assigned times.  You would have received that via an email message from either Katy Frey (7th grade) or Anne Spalding (8th grade).  

  • There will be a presentation this Thursday, December 8 at 7:30pm in the RJ Grey Library on the District’s Master Plan Study Report.  Multiple options for future school building and/or renovation projects will be presented, including ones that may involve changes in grade configuration (which grades are grouped together) and/or the number of schools and buildings.  This is the beginning of a very important process that will be (or at least should be) of significant interest to community members.  Some of you may have recently seen a series of articles about other communities and their current efforts related to designing and funding new school building projects.  Check out this recent Globe article about projects in Waltham, Somerville, and Lowell, or one earlier this Fall about Brookline’s plans for building a much needed elementary school.  I know weeknights are really hard in terms of getting away, but if you can find a way to attend I really recommend making an effort to participate.

  • We just finished our Fall sessions for Yoga Club and Fit Club.  We’re currently working on finalizing dates for Winter sessions for both activities.  Stay tune for follow-up announcements about signing up.  Yoga Club will likely continue to be on Thursdays, and Fit Club will likely continue to be on Fridays (specific dates and meeting locations TBD).  

  • I had the pleasure of writing letters of congratulations for our first few students who submitted their hours of community service as part of our Rise to the Challenge program. You can review details of the program and download forms by clicking here.  

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

I would imagine that amongst our student population, there may be a few whose report cards show some signs of difficulty in a few subjects.  They aren’t the first (nor will they be the last) middle schoolers whose report cards may result in a bit of angst and distress for themselves and their parents. What has perhaps become one of the more amusing traditions during my time as Principal is where confess to RJ Grey families about my own sordid middle school academic career, specifically the minor disaster that was my 7th grade winter report card, issued in 1989 by the Andover Public Schools. Like many other parents before you, you can view a photo of said report card by clicking here.  Again, please note that teachers’ names, and my parents’ home address, have been blurred to protect the innocent. I’ve enjoyed many of the stories that parents have sent to me about the conversations they had with their children about their Principal’s report card. If your child is reluctant to fork over the report card or comes up with an illogical explanation about its whereabouts, compare it to the below story of what I tried to do with mine. (now being re-told for the 5th time).  

On the day that the above report card was distributed, I spent a good hour devising an ingenious plan to save myself from what I expected to be a painful conversation with my parents.  My brilliant idea?  I folded up my report card, placed it in my pants pocket, and then purposely ran those pants through the washing machine - twice.  I convinced myself (truly) that a spin cycle or two would actually make the D+ I earned in Math fade a bit and maybe look like a believable B+.  Shockingly, the plan didn’t work.  On behalf of your kids, and the thirteen-year old version of me, please keep in mind that they are not purposely trying to make you miserable and turn prematurely gray/bald.  The prefrontal cortex of thirteen and fourteen-year old brains is still developing, and this will often result in utterly bewildering decisions (and excuses).  This too shall pass, though later for boys than girls.  For boys, I’ve been told that it will probably happen between their 40th and 42nd birthdays.  

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

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

Finally, we had another installment of Poetry Fridays to end our week.  Our guest presenter was Mr. Harvey, Social Studies teacher on 7 Orange.  Mr. Harvey chose to read the lyrics of Bob Dylan’s song Forever Young as a nod to the Nobel Prize being recently awarded to Mr. Dylan (despite his seeming lack of interest in the award).  You can read the lyrics by clicking here.

Have a great week, everyone.



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