Grey Matters

Grey Matters, June 18, 2018; Volume 6, Number 39

posted Jun 17, 2018, 9:36 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,


My parents moved to the United States from Taiwan in the early 1970s to continue their graduate studies.  My father was studying electrical engineering and my mother is a classically trained musician whose two children subsequently studied the cello (me) and the flute/piano (my sister) and throughout our childhood streams of students would come to our house each afternoon for music lessons, and those lessons in some respects became the soundtrack to the early part of our lives.  All these things contributed to my limited exposure to popular American music during my childhood. I was initially raised on a healthy diet of classical music, John Denver (as previously shared), and….. Rosemary Clooney (don’t ask) - that’s all that was ever played in the car. When I was in 5th grade I took on a paper route for the Boston Globe that required early morning delivery and so I commandeered my parents’ clock radio which, for those who grew up in the Boston area during the 1980s, was set at WSSH 99.5, a station that featured adult contemporary music with playlists that emphasized artists like Phil Collins, Neil Diamond and Bette Midler.  Of course, not knowing any better, I developed the mistaken impression that this station was playing the newest music at the time, that I’d finally been exposed to what was hip and fresh, and that my knowing all the words to Bette Midler’s The Rose and Phil Collins’ A Groovy Kind of Love put me on par with everyone else when it came to popular trending music. Finally, in the early 1990s, a friend of mine gave me a bunch of music by U2 - the band that was developing its status as the biggest rock band on the planet - and I spent the next few years obsessing over their music and their story.  During that time, their Zoo TV tour brought them to the old Foxborough Stadium in 1992 and a different friend somehow secured us tickets to the concert and this just added more fuel to my newly developed obsession.  All of this became for me an entrypoint to discovering a whole new expanded landscape of music.


I share the above story now for a few reasons.  First, my kids and I have reached the stage where we disagree pretty regularly about what music should be played in the car.  That’s not an experience I myself had growing up, but that I have read about as a common rite of passage amongst parents and their children - perhaps a few of you can relate and have also been asking out loud, “what’s so great about Drake?” There are fewer and fewer Top 40 songs that are familiar to me, and that remotely interest me.  This divide in musical tastes was also on full display last Friday at the 7th grade dance (more on the dance below) where your kids were incredibly enthusiastic and inspired by the music blaring from the speakers and where I was developing a small migraine. I’m trying to remind myself that this was probably what my parents felt about my eventual discovery of popular music in the early 90s and I need to remind myself that my own lack of interest or enjoyment in that music isn’t necessarily what matters in those moments in the car or at the dance.  Thinking of this collision of musical tastes reminded me of an article I read in the New York Times last February, The Songs that Bind, about the idea of musical nostalgia and the belief that later in life, the majority of us stick with the music that captured us in our teenage years.  As for why this happens, a recent follow up article on this subject summarized the research well:  “research has shown how our favourite songs stimulate our pleasure responses in the brain… the more we like a song, the more of these chemicals flow through our body. This happens for everyone, but during our adolescent years our brains are going through a lot of changes. We're also incredibly hormonal and sensitive, so if we hear a song we really love, it's more likely to stay with us forever.  That isn't to say you won't hear a new song you love in later life — it just might not elicit the same strong response because you aren't such a sponge anymore.” This idea of musical nostalgia is also probably why I am irrationally giddy about this Thursday --I have not seen U2 live since that first concert in Foxborough twenty-six years ago, but will see them again on Thursday at their concert at TD Garden as a Father’s Day present from Melisa and the kids - they win for best present idea within the Shen household this year.  My kids don’t particularly care for my music, but they respect that it makes me happy and they are excited for my upcoming concert, and it’s a good reminder that I should offer a similar respect and enthusiasm for their developing tastes.  A Happy Father’s Day to any and all of you who also celebrated the event this past weekend.  


Here’s some reminders for this last full week of school:  


We expect the temperatures on Monday to rise into the 90s tomorrow (Monday) by mid-day.  Some classrooms and spaces in the Junior High are air conditioned, most classrooms are not.  We will remind students to stay hydrated and I would encourage you to send them to school with a water bottle that they can refill during the day.  


If your child is not planning to attend RJ Grey or the High School next year, please be sure to let us know.  We have to officially confirm your family’s plans to withdraw your child from the school system, and can also assist you in transferring records and other information to your child’s next school.  Please email our registrar Lena Jarostchuk (ljarostchuk@abschools.org) with that information.  


Does your child have an RJ Grey Library book or old textbook buried under some laundry?  Teachers will begin the process of collecting textbooks and other learning materials, so anything you can do to help unearth these items would be greatly appreciated (and save you some money).  Also, for families who might have a negative balance in their child’s lunch account, please be sure to reconcile that matter as well.  If you have questions about your lunch account, feel free to email Kirsten Nelson at knelson@abschools.org


The end-of-year field trips are on June 26th- next Tuesday.  Both 7th grade and 8th grade students will be back from their respective trips in time to be dismissed at the regular 2:06pm time and can take the buses home.  If your child is not planning on attending either trip (or simply won’t be at school by that point), please be sure to email Katy Frey (kfrey@abschools.org).  


We had a great turnout for last Friday’s 7th grade celebration, and from what I could tell the students had a great time (hopefully that’s what they shared with all of you).  The success of any event such as Friday night’s event hinges on the dedication and hard work of some RJ Grey staff and parent volunteers.  This dance, and next week’s 8th grade dance, wouldn’t be possible without the work of Debbie Ahl, 8th grade English teacher and Student Council advisor.  Tracey Estabrook graciously took on the task of organizing parent donations and staffing the food tables during the event, and we are enormously grateful for her efforts last week, and really for the past few years.  Thank you to Kate and the other parents and guardians for setting up and staffing the food and drink table last Friday evening.


The 8th Grade End-of-Year Celebration is this Friday at 7pm!  Thank you to the parents and guardians who have already volunteered and signed up for one or more of the roles that are listed on the Sign Up form for this event.  We could still use a few more volunteers to make sure that everything runs smoothly - if you’re able to participate please sign up by following this link to a Sign Up Genius:  8th Grade Celebration Help.  If you have questions, contact Carol Chytil at carol.chytil@gmail.com. For those of you bringing kids to the school that evening, this event is held in our (transformed) cafeteria and students enter through the side door (you’ll see it); so parents who are dropping kids off can pull right up to the front of the school.  When picking kids up after the event, we would suggest parking in the lower parking lot and either waiting in the car, or coming up to the entrance to meet your kids (your options probably depend on the degree to which your child allows you to be seen in public with them).  I’ll send out a reminder to 8th grade families this Friday, but in advance please be mindful of the 9:30pm end time and a plan where your child will be picked up by 9:45pm that evening.


Congratulations to the students and staff on 7 Blue for the successful completion of their inaugural RJ Grey CANstruction project and food drive.  Their goal was to receive donations of 1000 cans of food that they would first use to design and make a structure that would be on display in the lobby, and then eventually would be donated to the Acton Food Pantry.


At the end of every school year, we send off our 8th grade students and wish them well as most of them make their way down the street to the high school, while others join private schools, enroll in a vocational program, or are moving out of Acton or Boxborough.  This year, we are also preparing to bid farewell to four retiring members of the RJ Grey staff, as they begin new chapters of their lives as well. Lynne Bover (30 years), Mark Hickey (24 years), Mary Fran Doiron (23 years), and Cheryl Carter-Miller (9 years) are completing distinguished careers as educators.  Celebrating the retirements of our colleagues is always bittersweet; we are happy they’re in a position to pursue other interests, and we’ll also miss them deeply.  If you and/or your children have some fond memories of working with any of these teachers and staff members, I would encourage you to drop them a quick note and join us in thanking them for their years of service to RJ Grey and all of its students.  


Have a great week, everyone. We’re almost there!


Cheers,

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Grey Matters, June 11, 2018; Volume 6, Number 38

posted Jun 10, 2018, 7:22 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,


We recently we had our last round of Everyday Leaders, bringing our total number of students recognized this year through this effort to a little over 60. During my lunch last Thursday with the 8th grade Everyday Leaders I took advantage of the moment and asked them a barrage of questions on an issue that still dominates my household.  I am of course talking about Fortnite.  I recently shared with families some articles about the Fortnite phenomenon, and since then I have carved out a few moments to ask my oldest son about the game that seems to have a hold on his attention.  So my questions to the group of 8th graders in my office were asked as part of my “trust but verify” approach to what had previously been shared with me at home.  One of the more disappointing aspect of gaming (I think this extends to most multiplayer games) that the students confirmed for me is that only one individual can play on a console at a time.  So unless you have more than one gaming console and a separate television set up in the room, “playing” with and “spending time” with your friends playing these games means that you are physically apart and likely each in your respective homes as you connect virtually (and through the headset glued to my son’s head).  I didn’t realize the days of my friends and I playing Legends of Zelda together are specks in the rearview mirror.  This is an issue I’ve been giving a bit of thought to as we approach the summer months and my goal of creating conditions in our home that push our children to situations that involve human contact and unstructured time with friends and contemporaries.  Back to our Everyday Leaders for a moment, congratulations (and thanks for the insight about Fortnite and the conversation in general) to Ryan Brady, Eli Jarsky, Avery Mathews, Djeana Timas, Sarah Verner, Ofri Eizman, Ashwin Krishnamurthy, Sid Chatrath, Vanessa Conley, and Dominic Flumo.  


A few quick and friendly reminders about the next two and a half weeks:


Does your child have an RJ Grey Library book or old textbook buried under some

laundry?  Teachers will begin the process of collecting textbooks and other learning

materials, so anything you can do to help unearth these items would be greatly

appreciated (and save you some money).  Also, for families who might have a negative

balance in their child’s lunch account, please be sure to reconcile that matter as well.  If

you have questions about your lunch account, feel free to email Kirsten Nelson at

knelson@abschools.org


The end-of-year field trips are on June 26th. Both 7th graders and 8th graders will

return from their respective trips before 2:06pm so they can take the buses home or be

picked up by families.  If your student is not planning on attending school for some or all

of that final week, please call or email Katy Frey (kfrey@abschools.org).  


The District’s Late Bus service will be ending on Friday, June 22 (meaning that the last

run will be on that Friday).  There will be NO late bus service on June 25, 26, or 27.  We

are pleased that the Late Bus service was consistently used by students at both the

Junior High and High School, and looking forward to offering it again next year.  


Our 7th Grade Dance is this Friday, June 15 from 7:00pm to 9:00pm in the gymnasium, and then the 8th Grade End of Year Dance/Celebration is the following Friday, June 22 from 7:00pm to 9:30pm in the cafeteria.  Many thanks to the parents and guardians who have volunteered their time and/or made donations towards these two events.  As we approach these two events, we certainly want to focus on the celebratory aspects, and our goal of having an event where students can enjoy themselves and spend a bit of time with classmates and friends.  Part of our preparation does require a bit of attention to rules and expectations for these events, and homeroom teachers will be reviewing some of those guidelines later this week. As we get ready to share an overview of those rules, I am again reminded of the This American Life episode from 2011 that included a feature on middle school dances and an interview with two students who were perplexed by the “no petting” rule that their school emphasized before the dance, and wondering “do people sit at dances and pet other people? That’s weird.”  We have not codified a “No Petting” rule at RJ Grey, but we would ask students and families to keep in mind reasonable expectations about behaviors on the dance floor (let’s avoid lifting classmates into the air, pushing/shoving/chasing) and at the event in general (staying within designated areas). Please also note that only current RJ Grey students are allowed to attend, and guests from other schools are not permitted.  Additionally, students need to attend school the day of the dance/celebration in order to particulate in the event later that evening. For parents and guardians, we ask you to please arrange a pick-up plan where students will be off-campus no later than 15 minutes after the dance.  We are fortunate that we have many staff members who have volunteered to chaperone these events and I want to make sure that we respect their time and desire to get home at a reasonable hour.  


The last reminder that students will receive this week about the upcoming dances is about school expectations and restrictions related to, among other things, possession and use of nicotine and e-cigarettes.  Earlier this year I introduced to families through Grey Matters an emerging trend called vaping (also referred to as “juuling”) - which involves the use of electronic cigarettes.  As part of that introduction, I included a link to a Boston Globe article that offered a concise description of vaping and the challenges that exist because of how the new technology is more readily available and easier to mask (they look like thumb drives).  The use of e-cigarettes is growing in prevalence amongst teens across the country and there are more indications that we aren’t immune to this trend at RJ Grey and we’re going to need to partner with families to address this issue more aggressively.  My sense is that amongst the student population, there’s a good bit of talk about how prevalent vaping might be within the school. While my gut tells me it’s not as high as some of the chatter has suggested, I don’t doubt that usage has increased within certain social circles and it’s definitely a situation that demands our attention in the months ahead.  Plans for offering more education to families, students and staff about vaping/e-cigarettes is written in bold red letters on the whiteboard in my office, and it’s a project we’ll be working on this summer. Parents, guardians and schools will need to find effective ways to disrupt the belief by adolescents that these activities are safe and risk-free endeavors.  Unfortunately, our plans will also need to include identifying options related to any possible methods for detecting use of these products at school and clarifying for everyone the consequences and disciplinary outcomes that might be involved.  In the meantime, I would ask parents and guardians to consider reading the Globe article I referenced above, familiarize yourself with this trend, and engage your child in a conversation about it.


Finally, we had our most recent edition of Poetry Friday at the end of last week, and it was another piece written by an RJ Grey student, this time 8th grader Kyra McCraken who read “The Kid at the Back of the Class.”  Many thanks to Kyra for sharing her writing with the school last Friday.  


Have a great week, everyone.


Cheers,

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Grey Matters, June 4, 2018; Volume 6, Number 37

posted Jun 3, 2018, 7:05 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,


I’m wondering if there’s an unwritten rule that the school principal is forbidden to be the person within a school community who is most excited for the arrival of Summer.  Or at least forbidden from being open and public about that excitement. Given how long this particular school year has felt to almost all of us, I’m guessing that most of you will forgive me for any added enthusiasm for the Summer that I might articulate over the next few weeks, and that I probably have quite a bit of competition amongst parents, guardians, students, and staff for the title of “Most Excited for Summer.”  I’ve got a soft spot (and as a result, a softer belly) for fried seafood, so I’m looking forward to frequent visits throughout the summer months to clam shacks and ice cream stands in and around New England.  I’ve also begun generating my own summer reading plans that begins with Witness, by Karen Hesse, which is a text that all 7th grade students read as part of the English curriculum.  Second on the list is The Astonishing Color of After, which is a young adult novel that has received quite a bit of attention, including top billing in a recent New York Times article that offers reviews of young adult texts to consider picking up this summer.  For those of you who are eager to help your children be open to some pleasure reading over the summer, a few resources for you: (1) our RJ Grey librarian Ms. Charpentier has put together a recommended summer reading list that you can view here, and our RJ Grey Library website includes a number of links to book lists and search engines that provide suggestions based on specific interests; and (2) the High School has released its updated Summer Reading List (click here to view) that it encourages all of its students, including rising 9th grade students (those are your kids, 8th grade parents!), to look at if they’re stuck for suggestions.  Please note that the Junior High nor the High School do not have any required summer reading, but we all want to encourage students to find something to enjoy and read.  


Here’s a few reminders for you and your kids:


An important reminder for 7th grade families that the RJ Grey Student Council will be

hosting the 7th Grade Celebration/Dance in the school gym this Friday, June 15 from

7-9 pm.


Have you sent in your child’s permission slip for the end-of-year Kimballs (7th) or

Canobie (8th) trip?  Thanks in advance for your attention to this.  


If your child has books and materials from our Library, please remind them to begin

returning those items.  We know that it often takes a bit longer to really get everything

returned (and sometimes requires more than one reminder, occasionally four or five…).


On a related note, I do want to make families aware of textbook “obligations.”  Over the

next few weeks, teachers will begin collecting textbooks, library books, and other

materials that need to be returned to the school. Please work with your children on

locating textbooks that might be hidden under piles of laundry, and avoid replacement

fees (some of which can reach a painful $75 for a textbook).


If your child is not planning to be at school during the last day(s) of the school year, we

would appreciate it if you let us know so we can plan accordingly and account for

students during those days.  You can send an email to Katy Frey (kfrey@abschools.org)

and it would also be helpful if you let your child’s team teachers know as well.  


Don’t forget about the Empty Bowls event tomorrow - Monday, June 4 from 5:30pm to 7:00pm!   This is an evening of art, singing and ice cream! Students will showcase their art and singing talents and invite families to a charity ice cream social.  There will be an art show, Select Choir performance, a silent auction, and of course the charity ice cream social. The money raised from this event will be donated to the Acton Community Supper and Acton Food Pantry.  The ice cream social is $5 per person with a $20 family maximum. The rest of the event is free and we hope many of you are able to carve out some time to join us.


The RJ Grey CANstruction project being led by students on 7 Blue will continue through this Friday, June 8th.  Their goal is to receive donations of 1000 cans of food, with all donations going to the Acton Food Pantry.  They are happy to accept cash donations as well and purchase the cans that will first be used to build the display being constructed in the lobby during the last week of school, and designed by 7 Blue students.  Through the Empty Bowls event and this CANstruction project, please consider participating in efforts that will ultimately benefit an important community agency that supports families in need.


Here’s another reminder about the End-of-Year 8th Grade Dance/Celebration scheduled for the evening of Friday, June 22.  Parents or guardians of 7th and 8th graders are needed for the following jobs: set up after school on June 22nd; clean up after the dance; food and drink donations.  In past years, 7th grade Parent/Guardian Volunteers "pay it forward" so that parents of 8th graders can focus on their own children's participation in this important event.  Please sign up if you can help us with setup/cleanup activities or with food donations by following this link to a Sign Up Genius:  8th Grade Celebration Help.  If you have questions, contact Carol Chytil at carol.chytil@gmail.com.

An important note about our end-of-year field trips on Tuesday, June 26, regarding transportation home at the end of the day for 8th grade students.  In previous years, 8th graders did not return from Canobie until after 3:00pm and so we asked the Transportation office to schedule an additional bus run for our students.  This year, Canobie Lake is opening its doors earlier in the day which will allow us to arrive there around 9:00am and return to RJ Grey before our typical 2:06pm dismissal and utilize the regularly scheduled bus routes.  I wanted to share this change for families who have had other children attend this trip in previous years and might wonder about timing. 7th grade students attending the Kimball Farms trip will continue to return to RJ Grey before the end of the school day.  

Congratulations to 7th grader Joy Wang who was named Artist of the Month for this June. In February I introduced this new program created by RJ Grey art teacher Holly Vlajinac as an opportunity for 7th and 8th Graders to have an authentic, juried art exhibition experience similar to the process in which professional artists participate.  Joy and her artwork were chosen for the month of June and she is posing with one of her pieces in the photo to the left.  When asked about her artistic interests, she notes that, “Usually, when I find some animal, or an interesting plant, or a funny picture-I save the moment so I can draw it later and remember it. Though most of the time, I just doodle randomly while listening to music, sometimes continuing to finish the product.”  You can view more of Joy’s work by clicking here.  


I mentioned in early April that we were planning to collect updated information from our current students about their homework and workload experiences at RJ Grey.  We know that as we continue to try new things in our classrooms, incorporate new materials and objectives, and engage with different groups of students, it’s helpful to collect updated information and see if there have been any substantive changes within this part of the student experience at RJ Grey.  The students completed this survey shortly after we returned from April Break, and I wanted to share the results with all of you along with some initial thoughts and what questions I might be asking as I enter the summer. Below is a chart that shows the responses of 7th and 8th grade RJ Grey students when asked about average nightly school-assigned homework during weekdays (Monday thru Thursday):


April, 2018

RJ Grey

7th Grade

8th Grade

Less than an hour

47%

31%

1 hour

21%

22%

75 minutes

11%

11%

1.5 hours

7.3%

10%

1 hr 45 min

2%

5.5%

2+ hours

11.7%

21.5%


When asked how they feel about the quantity of the homework that is typically assigned, this is how students in both grades responded:



7th Grade

8th Grade

I have too little

6.6%

8.2%

The amount is just right

68.1%

65.4%

I have too much

25.3%

26.4%


As I have mentioned in previous messages, our staff continues to look at our homework practices from a number of different angles and how best to support our students in their efforts to engage successfully with homework that is assigned.  As you know, we are implementing the school wide 20-minute Study Period next year that all students will have with their team teachers. Big picture, I am fairly pleased to see that a significant percentage of our students report spending no more than 1.5 hours on homework on average (with many students reporting closer to an hour or less).  I think that’s a healthy place to be -- where we are continuing to ask students to engage in academic work outside of class, but not to the point where the workload creates what would essentially look and feel like a second shift of school.


While I think the results suggest that we’re overall in a healthy place with workload, I’m not ignoring the fact that we still have a decent sized cohort of students who believe they have too much homework and another cohort that reported two hours or more of work nightly (and it’s not necessarily the same students who are in both cohorts).  I’m curious about their viewpoint and want to learn a bit more about their experiences and what might be contributing to this outcome. As our District continues to engage in our approach to homework and workload across all grades and schools, I hope that the results from this most recent survey of our students proves helpful in the conversations that families and individual school communities have about transitions to and from the Junior High.  


Have a great week, everyone.  


Cheers,

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Grey Matters, May 28, 2018; Volume 6, Number 36

posted May 28, 2018, 5:16 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,


It’s my hope that during this Memorial Day long weekend you each found yourself benefiting from a bit of extra sleep on at least one of the three days, and was also able to avoid the long stretches of holiday traffic that experts predicted would be worse than previous years.  On the subject of sleep, the Journal of Sleep Research just released a report last week that suggested that the idea of “catch up” sleep has some validity, where sleeping in on the weekends (or whatever might be your day(s) off) allows you to reduce the sleep debt that you may have accrued during the week.  To be sure, this report should not be interpreted as an endorsement of a model where sleep deprivation during the week (and in our case, on school days) is fine as long as you sleep in on the weekends. But it might nevertheless be something to consider as a short-term strategy to combat challenges we face in terms of busy weeks and schedules.  Longer term, let’s continue to reflect on what a more appropriately balanced schedule might look like for adolescents, and adults, which would be a great complement to our upcoming plans to shift school start times at the Junior High and High School next year by at least 30 minutes. In the next few weeks a number of us will be part of conversations and planning for the change in morning drop-off procedures and re-orientation of traffic patterns that will be required now that buses will first stop at the Junior High and then makes it way down to the High School, and will be happening later in the morning.  A more immediate issue I’d like to ask families to keep in mind is the increase we have seen recently in students being dropped off outside the front of the school right at 7:30am (when Homeroom begins) or shortly thereafter. As you can tell from my comments above, I am sympathetic to the daily challenges of an early school start time and excited for next year’s push to 8:00am. At the same time, and in the meantime, I would ask families to make an effort to help their children get to school a bit before the start of Homeroom. It’s certainly of benefit to the student to start the day a bit more grounded with a few calm moments before the first class period begins.  Also, a challenging byproduct of this increase in late(r) drop-offs is a bit of vehicular chaos where many cars and children are jousting in and around the relatively small and narrow front entrance of our school. If you find yourself needing to drop a student off at the front, please make sure they only get out onto the sidewalk, rather than letting them weaving in and around oncoming traffic. I will always be the first to acknowledge that morning drop-off on our campus is tedious and time consuming, and I also know that none of us wants an accident involving students to serve as a reminder to exercise extra patience and caution while coming to and from school.


Here’s some reminders and updates for students and families:


     Our Yearbook advisor Mr. Lewis has ordered several extra copies of this year’s Yearbook

that will be available to purchase by students and families who may have forgotten to

order one during the original window.  Stay tuned for details of how to purchase.  


Thanks to those families who have submitted their field trip permission form and

payment for the end-of-year field trips to Kimball’s (7th grade) and Canobie Lake (8th

grade).  If you still need to send it in, please make an effort to do so this week.  Within

the next week we will begin reaching out to families for whom we do not have a record

of their plans for that day.  


If your child is not planning to be at school during the last day(s) of the school year, we

would appreciate it if you let us know so we can plan accordingly and account for

students during those days.  You can send an email to Katy Frey (kfrey@abschools.org)

and it would also be helpful if you let your child’s team teachers know as well.  


     Don’t forget about the Empty Bowls event on Monday, June 4 from 5:30pm to 7:00pm!   

This is an evening of art, singing and ice cream! Students will showcase their art and

singing talents and invite families to a charity ice cream social.  There will be an art show,

Select Choir performance, a silent auction, and of course the charity ice cream social.   

The money raised from this event will be donated to the Acton Community Supper and

Acton Food Pantry.  The ice cream social is $5 per person with a $20 family maximum.  

The rest of the event is free and we hope many of you are able to carve out some time

to join us.  


Here are two important follow-ups to last week’s information about the End-of-Year 8th Grade Dance/Celebration scheduled for the evening of Friday, June 22.  First, parents or guardians of 7th and 8th graders are needed for the following jobs: set up after school on June 22nd; clean up after the dance; food and drink donations.  In past years, 7th grade Parent/Guardian Volunteers "pay it forward" so that parents of 8th graders can focus on their own children's participation in this important event.  Please sign up if you can help us with setup/cleanup activities or with food donations by following this link to a Sign Up Genius:  8th Grade Celebration Help.  If you have questions, contact Carol Chytil at carol.chytil@gmail.com.

Secondly, I mentioned last week that there will be a cohort of students who will be eager to attend the event with a special someone (I can’t believe I just used that term), and have plans to go with a date.  What we’ve noticed in recent years is a temptation by our students to replicate the “promposal phenomenon” - where high school students have taken to planning elaborate and very public ways of asking someone to accompany them to the prom.  The Washington Post recently published a short history of the promposal given how entrenched its become in teen culture.  While we may have some RJ Grey students who are eager to deliver their own mini version of a promposal, any “asks” and invitations that are intended to be more public in nature (i.e. in the hallways and classrooms at RJ Grey) are not something we would encourage in a middle school setting, or at least while at school.


High school graduation is this Friday, June 1.  For those RJ Grey families who also have graduating seniors, a big congratulations to your graduate and to you as well.  Enjoy the moment (once you’ve actually found parking on campus for the ceremony). Fingers crossed for good weather.


Finally, we had our most recent edition of Poetry Friday at the end of last week, and it was a continuation of students from Ms. Bryan’s 7 Blue English class reading original poems that they wrote as part of their class’ most recent poetry unit. Kudos to Irene Tsitlenko, Karynna Yeh and Estella Harmon for sharing their poems with us last Friday.  


Have a great week, everyone.  


Cheers,

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Grey Matters, May 21, 2018; Volume 6, Number 35

posted May 20, 2018, 10:31 AM by Andrew Shen


Hi Everyone,


I am not sure how to describe the current status of the relationship between me and Bailey, our family’s puppy, who last Thursday chewed through the back of the shoes I wear most frequently to work.  We’re not in a particularly good place right now. Besides the tenuous dog-owner standoff that is stressing everyone out in my house, there were certainly several other moments, events and stories in the news throughout the week about different kinds of relationships, mostly between humans - the most prominent being the royal wedding and exchange of vows between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.  I didn’t watch the entire event, but I did scroll through a number of clips based on initial comments on social media, and the gospel choir performance of “Stand By Me was definitely my personal favorite.  I was a bit floored by the stoic facial expressions and zero body movement by most of the guests - I was looking for at least a few smiles and casual swaying of the body during the stirring performance.  The week leading up to the royal wedding certainly witnessed a flood of stories, articles, and psychoanalysis that extended beyond the typical chatter about fashion and celebrity sightings. Within the crush of stories that were appropriately optimistic and celebratory, I did read with a bit of additional interest a New York Times article that approached relationships and marriages from a slightly different angle, but perhaps one that a few can relate to - and that’s when you’ve got some reservations about the person your friend or loved on is planning to marry.  In other words, are you tempted to speak now before having to forever hold your peace and if so, why, and how, and at what cost? Then there was this follow up story in the Boston Globe about the Mars One project that announced in 2015 the 100 applicants who were selected to participate in a one-way trip to colonize Mars in 2032.  Specifically, it looked closely at the impact on the personal lives of the individuals who made a commitment to eventually leave friends and family in order as a sacrifice that comes with what they see as an opportunity of a lifetime. For one person (who lives in Stoneham), this decision resulted in the end of his marriage, yet for another spouse it presents the opportunity to be what he calls, “the ultimate long-distance relationship.” I’m not sure I could share that gentleman’s optimistic view of his wife being 55 million kilometers away, though I suppose that arrangement would give me a bit of the extra time that I often wish I had to buy birthday and anniversary gifts.  


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


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

weekend!  


The Spring Chorus and String Ensemble concert is this Tuesday evening at 7pm in the

Junior High auditorium.  


On Wednesday, June 26 (second to last day of school), both grades will be participating

in their respective end-of-year field trips, and permission slips will be distributed to

students in the very near future.  As in previous years, the 7th grade will be going to

Kimball Farm where they have full access to the bumper boats, miniature golf course,

driving range, and other activities; the 8th grade will be going to Canobie Lake

amusement park in New Hampshire. These field trips have historically been great and

memorable parts of our year-end activities.  We also appreciate that the RJ Grey

community includes families that may find the cost of these trips difficult to absorb.  Like

all of our other trips and activities, we never want cost to prevent anyone from

participating.  Please do not hesitate to let us know if some relief from these field trip

costs would be helpful to your family (contact Assistant Principal Jim Marcotte at

jmarcotte@abschools.org).  



I’m pleased and excited to be sharing with everyone information about our fifth annual Empty Bowls event.  The Empty Bowls event will take place this year on Monday, June 4 from 5:30pm to 7:00pm.  This is an evening of art, singing and ice cream! Students will showcase their art and singing talents and invite families to a charity ice cream social.  There will be an art show, Select Choir performance, a silent auction, and of course the charity ice cream social. 7th grade students made hand-crafted ceramic bowls in their art classes and families that participate will get to take home a handcrafted bowl as a reminder of the vast number of hungry families around the world and right here in our own community. The money raised from this event will be donated to the Acton Community Supper and Acton Food Pantry. This organization helps to feed many hungry families in the greater Acton area. This event has helped raise $1000 for the charity each year.  Families from throughout the District are welcome, not just those with students at the Junior High. The ice cream social is $5 per person with a $20 family maximum. The rest of the event is free and we hope many of you are able to carve out some time to join us.


The Student Council elections were held last week to determine next year’s President, Vice President, Treasurer and Secretary.  We first want to thank and applaud every 7th grader who ran in the elections. It’s not easy at any age to put yourself out there, let alone plan and deliver a speech to a few hundred classmates. The 7th grade class listened to a range of thoughtful and funny speeches by each of our candidates.  Congratulations to next year’s Student Council officers: Treasurer Anish Mudide, Secretary Eli Jarsky, Vice President Grace Lee, and President Jefferson Wu.  


A few weeks ago I provided a “save the date” for our end-of-year 8th grade celebration, which is scheduled for Friday, June 22nd.  I also provided 7th grade families with their own “save the date” for a 7th grade celebration that we are planning for Friday, June 15 and will be at 7pm.  Next week we will include some additional information for how families can offer their assistance for the 7th grade event.  This week, I’d like to pass along some information about the 8th Grade Celebration from Carol Chytil, Deb Verner and Ranjini Reddy, the RJ Grey parents who (thankfully) are again coordinating the planning of this event.  Usually at least 350 students attend this event, so we rely heavily on the many volunteers who help make this evening a special way to end the year.  Parents or guardians of 7th and 8th graders are needed for the following jobs: set up after school on June 22nd; clean up after the dance; food and drink donations.  In past years, 7th grade Parent/Guardian Volunteers "pay it forward" so that parents of 8th graders can focus on their own children's participation in this important event. As a volunteer, you'll also get a preview of what your child will enjoy next year! Coming soon will be a “Sign Up Genius”  that invites parents and guardians to sign up to help in various capacities. This will also be sent out via the PTSO weekly newsletter. If you have questions, please free to contact Carol at carol.chytil@gmail.com.


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


We definitely make an effort (and with the help of parent volunteers, are always successful) to make this more than a “typical” or casual dance/celebration in terms of atmosphere -- we’ve got great decorations, props and backdrops for group photos, and an impressive spread of food (and it’s at night).  We want students to come excited and eager to spend an evening with their friends and classmates, and somewhat dressed up for the event. We ask students who attend this event to dress a bit more formally than most would for a regular school day -- whatever is your child’s individual version of “taking it up a notch”.  I’d try and get into more detail about clothing options, but then you’d discover how out of touch I am with current youth fashion trends.


As we get closer to the end of the year and students typically develop an increasing interest and excitement about the event, which is great.  We want to celebrate that enthusiasm and we also want to make sure everyone has a clear understanding that this is not an event that requires “coming with a date.” Quite frankly, it doesn’t even require dancing.  It’s a social event where music and the option to dance are a central feature, but certainly not a requirement. Please know that we are not trying to discourage students from attending the dance together, and happy for those who might be at that place. Our students are certainly at an age where for some of them dating, romantic feelings, and matters of the heart are a new area of intense interest. For other kids, this particular aspect of puberty does not currently play as prominent a role, with some being completely oblivious or unphased by it.  With that in mind, we are trying to strike a bit of a balance of providing an appropriate space for students to navigate this arena of teenage romance, but not have other students unintentionally develop the impression that dances and social events must involve a romantic angle.


Have a great week, everyone.


Cheers,

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Grey Matters, May 14, 2018; Volume 6, Number 34

posted May 13, 2018, 8:51 AM by Andrew Shen   [ updated May 20, 2018, 10:32 AM ]






Hi Everyone,


Happy Mother’s Day to any and all of you who plays that role to one (or more) of our students, or to anyone else. To ensure that Mother’s Day in the Shen household is appropriately celebrated, this edition of Grey Matters will be fairly short and my attention will be devoted towards Melisa and the plans we’ve made for the day.  If any of you were gifted with extended periods of peace and quiet as part of the day, here are a few items that you may want to consider reading and viewing.  First, the New Yorker has compiled a number of Sunday Reading pieces that address in different ways mothers and motherhood.  I also wanted to celebrate Mother’s Day by re-sharing a link to a video that I came across four years ago, and have shared every year since, that documents the time when the New York Times Magazine decided to invite a group of 2nd grade students to experience a 7-course tasting menu prepared by chef Daniel Boulud.  Normally a dining experience that comes with a $220 per person price tag, I am predicting many of you will appreciate the experiences and honest feedback that the 7-year olds offer in this 8-minute video.  There’s no direct connection between the video and Mother’s Day, it’s just a fun video to watch during a quiet moment and offer a few moments of laughter.  


Here’s some reminders for this week and beyond:


A friendly reminder that this coming Friday we will be taking the annual 8th Grade class

photo.  This is a panoramic photo that we take outside on the hill by the football field.  

Order forms have been distributed to 8th grade students.   If you have any questions or

need any sort of financial assistance, please contact David Lawrence at

dlawrence@abschools.org


Another friendly reminder for families whose children participate in our Band, Chorus or Strings programs.  The Spring concerts are coming upon us this week and next.  The Band’s Spring concert is scheduled for this Tuesday, May 15 at 7pm, and the Chorus and Strings Spring concert is scheduled for Tuesday, May 22 at 7pm.


MCAS testing is finishing up this week (hallelujah), with a few 8th grade teams completing the Science and Technology MCAS, and then we shift to 7th grade teams taking the Math MCAS for the remainder of the week.  


Memorial Day weekend is Monday, May 28th and all schools will be closed for that holiday - there will be no homework assigned for the long weekend, and I hope that families will use that time to relax and enjoy themselves.  


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


We’ve got a great community event coming up in a few weeks as part of our Family Learning Series.  On May 16 (this Wednesday) at 7pm in the High School Auditorium, residents can meet Andrew Forsthoefel who will be presenting “Walking to Listen: A talk on the power of listening”.  In 2011, Mr. Forsthoefel walked out of his backdoor near Philadelphia with a backpack and a sign that read “Walking to Listen” and then embarked on a year-long 4,000 mile journey across America.  For a preview of his story and message, you can watch this Ted Talk, or listen to this episode of This American Life, which also featured a story about Mr. Forsthoefel and his trek across the country.  


Finally, we had our most recent edition of Poetry Friday at the end of last week, and it featured two students from Ms. Bryan’s 7 Blue English class.  Rohan Ravindran and Vanessa Conley each read an original poem that they wrote as part of their class’ most recent poetry unit.  Check out this great student work yourself by clicking here.  


Have a great week, everyone.


Cheers,

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Grey Matters, May 7, 2018; Volume 6, Number 33

posted May 6, 2018, 6:23 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,


This past Saturday my parents and I drove together to one of Parker’s soccer games in the new car that my dad finally bought! I was not there when he finally signed on the dotted line at the car dealership, so I don’t know if he or the car salesman blinked first.  Anyway, that short trip to the soccer game also doubled as a stroll down memory lane when my dad’s music playlist reached Sunshine on My Shoulders, which was one of several John Denver songs my family sang during our trip to Acadia National Park in 1988.  I have mentioned in the past that while it’s not confirmed, it’s likely that our family of four accounted for about 40-50% of the Chinese American population in the state of Maine at the time, and definitely the only ones also belting out John Denver’s greatest hits.  While I was experiencing this brief This is Us-type flashback of my childhood, I started wondering what kinds of childhood memories my own children might recall thirty years from now.  I’m hoping that moments from our road trip last summer to Washington D.C. will be recalled, and maybe a few lazy days in the summers by our backyard pool.  What makes me nervous is that thirty years from now their reminiscing of this current time in our lives will be dominated by images from Fortnite.  Based on a combination of anecdotal evidence, and a bit of reading on my part, it sounds like a safe bet to assume that many of you are familiar with this video game that has spread like wildfire and according to a recent article on NPR, may be around for a long time and signaling a new era gaming culture (of which I know very little).  On the sidelines of one soccer game last week, there was a prolonged conversation amongst parents who were trying to figure out what exactly Fortnite is, who plays it, what it involves, and how to create and manage reasonable expectations around it.  For those of you who might be asking similar questions, I found this recent piece in the New York Times to be somewhat helpful in developing an introductory understanding to this game/culture, and a few entry points that I can use to ask my own son about his understanding and involvement with the game.  When this conversation takes place, I may have Mr. Denver playing softly in the background.


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


We are about to enter the final two weeks of MCAS testing (insert cheers, streamers,

and noisemakers here).  On Monday and Tuesday, 8 Gold and 8 Green will be

completing the Math portion of the MCAS, and then we shift to 8 Blue and 8 Red.  8th

grade students will also be taking the Science/Technology portion of the MCAS on either

Friday or Monday.  7th grade students will then start the Math MCAS the following

Tuesday the 15th.


Interim reports for this current Spring Trimester will likely be sent via email on Monday.  If your child receives an interim from a teacher please take a moment to review the comments and feedback.  If you have any questions about those interims, please start a dialogue with your child’s teacher.


RJ Grey’s StageWorks theatre program is preparing for its Spring Play performance of

“Zink: The Myth, The Legend, The Zebra.”  Performances will take place this Thursday,

May 10 and Friday, May 11 at 7pm in the Dragonfly Theatre here at RJ Grey, with tickets

being sold at the door ($8 for adults, $5 for students).  


A friendly reminder for families whose children participate in our Band, Strings and Chorus programs.  The Spring concerts are coming upon us. The Band’s Spring concert is scheduled for Tuesday, May 15 at 7pm, and the Chorus and Strings Spring concert is scheduled for Tuesday, May 22 at 7pm.  Please stay tuned for updates from your kids and/or Mr. Hickey (band), Ms. Green (Strings) or Mr. Charig (chorus) about details for those evening festivities.  


On Friday, May 18, we will be taking the annual 8th Grade class photo.  This is a

panoramic photo that we take outside on the hill by the football field.  Order forms will

be distributed to 8th grade within the next week or so. If you have any questions or

need any sort of financial assistance, please contact David Lawrence at

dlawrence@abschools.org.  Please know that we are very committed to never letting

finances interfere with any student’s ability to fully participate in these types of school

events or “keepsakes”, and want everyone to enjoy these moments without having to

think twice about potential financial impact.  


I want to be sure to acknowledge the upcoming start of Ramadan, which for our Muslim classmates, neighbors and friends will begin the evening of May 15 and continue through mid-June.  Thank you to the students and families who have taken a moment to share with us their experiences and what, for them, serves as the most important and impactful aspects of Ramadan. Last year, a few of our students who were fasting during Ramadan had conversations with teachers about options and choices for their daily lunch period.  There will be some students who are fasting who may still want to be in the cafeteria so they can spend some downtime with their friends. For students who would prefer to be in a space other than the cafeteria, a few teams have started to identify some supervised rooms that can be available during lunch.


For 7th grade families, the last part of MCAS testing falls within the first week of Ramadan (Wednesday, May 16 through Friday, May 18).  During the MCAS testing window, we often send reminders to families about the benefits of students having something to eat before they arrive to school and we also make small snacks (goldfish crackers, etc.) available to students who might want something when they first arrive to class.  For our 7th grade students who will be observing Ramadan during this time, I wanted to acknowledge that this particular testing schedule could feel a bit harder for them if they are fasting. If your student plans to fast during that week, I wanted to offer a friendly reminder and suggestion to, if possible, plan a pre-dawn meal (I believe it’s called sehri) for your child on those days in particular so they may have a bit of food in their stomachs as they begin MCAS testing later that morning.  We will continue to work with each of our teams to offer messages to our students about the choices that are available and the standing invitation to speak to us about anything they’d like us to keep in mind as they and their families continue to observe Ramadan this month.  


For those of you whose children might be open to some continued pleasure reading over the summer (it’s coming up quickly), two resources for you: (1) our RJ Grey Library website includes a number of links to book lists and search engines that provide suggestions based on specific interests; and (2) our Librarian Ms. Charpentier has released a Junior High Summer Reading List (click here to view) that it encourages all of its students, including rising 9th grade students (those are your kids, 8th grade parents!), to look at if they’re stuck for suggestions.  Please note that this is NOT a required summer reading list, and instead is simply a resource for possible titles to consider this summer.  


And a hearty congratulations to Shreya Sarcar who was named Artist of the Month for this May. In February I introduced this new program created by RJ Grey art teacher Holly Vlajinac as an opportunity for 7th and 8th Graders to have an authentic, juried art exhibition experience similar to the process in which professional artists participate.  Shreya and her artwork were chosen for the month of May and she is posing with one of her pieces in the photo to the left.  Shreya dreams of becoming an architect one day and she notes how drawing, doodling or coloring is joyful for her and really helps her destress.  You can view more of Shreya’s work by clicking here.  

Have a great week, everyone.


Cheers,

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Grey Matters, April 30, 2018; Volume 6, Number 32

posted Apr 29, 2018, 7:08 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,


I have another parent confession to make.  I am glad that all of my kids enjoy participating in organized sports and there are moments within the Fall and Spring sports seasons when I’m not exactly devastated to get an email or text that announces that one or more of my childrens’ practices or games is canceled due to poor weather conditions.  I may have even, at different times, performed a rain dance to encourage stronger precipitation and a few claps of thunder. As much as I have accepted my second job as an Uber driver for my kids and their teammates, criss-crossing around town and around the greater Boston area can take its toll on one’s well-being.  The weather-related challenges this Spring, however, have been unique in its impact on outdoor sports so our family welcomed this past Saturday’s perfect weather with open arms even if it meant that five different sporting events (including a few doubleheaders) were on the docket. My oldest son’s soccer team had their first game of the season without having had a single practice, and four more make-up games to schedule.  My youngest son’s soccer team had a different challenge on Saturday, in the form of a 3rd grade team from Acton-Boxborough that ran roughshod over them in the second half (we’ll get our revenge in three years when members of that team arrive at RJ Grey). On the subject of schedules and plans that have been complicated by this year’s weather, I want to make sure that our families have an understanding of what the end of our school year looks like in terms of plans and activities.  With the last day of school now scheduled for Wednesday, June 27, we are aware of the dilemma this creates for families who may have made significant plans for that week that involve travel, camps, or other family activities that are difficult to re-schedule.  This is clearly a fluke of a year where numerous snow days has created an unintended collision of commitments. With that in mind, I want to share with you an overview of the final days of school so you can make informed decisions about any conflicts that may be before you.  


Date

Day

Plans

June 22

Friday

8th Grade End of Year Dance/Celebration

(evening event)

June 25

Monday

Class Wrap Up (class/team activities, returning books, etc.)

7th and 8th Grade Variety Show (student talent show)

June 26

Tuesday

Class Field Trips

7th Grade - Kimball Farms

8th Grade - Canobie Lake

June 27

Wednesday

Yearbook Distribution

End-of-Year Assembly

Early Release (10:40am)


By the last week of school (June 25 through June 27), our core academic plans will have been completed, and we’ll be shifting to our traditional end-of-year programming and activities.  These activities lead up to our End-of-Year Assembly that serves as a “capstone” school event where we acknowledge a number of year-long achievements, celebrate a good year with a bit of music and speeches, and close with a slideshow that includes photos from events throughout the year.  For me, the events throughout those last few days of school, and then the assembly, are important ways to conclude the year as a community. So if students and families are able to make adjustments to their summer plans and finish the year with us, I think it’s worth the effort. However, I also want to be up front about our plans for that week so families who are facing some hard choices can decide what makes the most sense for them.  If your child signed up for a special program or camp out of state (as one example) that starts that Monday and you make the decision to prioritize that opportunity, I don’t think that’s at all an irresponsible choice and would understand that rationale. I hope the above information helps.


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


RJ Grey’s StageWorks theatre program is preparing for its Spring Play performance of

“Zink: The Myth, The Legend, The Zebra.”  Performances will take place on Thursday,

May 10 and Friday, May 11 at 7pm in the Dragonfly Theatre here at RJ Grey, with tickets

being sold at the door ($8 for adults, $5 for students).  


Interim reports for this current Spring Trimester will likely be sent via email on or around Tuesday, May 8.  If your child receives one or more from his/her teachers and you have any questions about those interims, please start a dialogue with your child’s teacher.  


A friendly reminder for families whose children participate in our Band, Strings and Chorus programs.  The Spring concerts are coming upon us.  The Band’s Spring concert is scheduled for Tuesday, May 15 at 7pm, and the Chorus and Strings Spring concert is scheduled for Tuesday, May 22 at 7pm.  Please stay tuned for updates from your kids and/or Mr. Hickey (band), Ms. Green (Strings) or Mr. Charig (chorus) about details for those evening festivities.  


This week we take a pause on MCAS testing and then the following week we move to the Mathematics portion with 8 Gold and 8 Green scheduled for that Monday and Tuesday.  7th grade students will take the Math portion of the MCAS between May 15 and May 18. Students who are absent on days where they are scheduled to participate in MCAS testing will be scheduled for make-ups during the following week.  Here again is the MCAS schedule.  A friendly reminder to please help your child get some nourishment in the morning before they leave for school.  


Hopefully many of you are familiar with our District’s ongoing efforts to explore and expand definitions of success, and including efforts related to stress, homework and workload, sleep, parental expectations, academic goals and integrity, and extracurricular commitments.  Starting in 2016, we’ve partnered with Challenge Success, a Stanford-based organization that supports schools in their efforts to wrestle with hard topics and choices that many schools face in this day and age.  As part of this partnership with Challenge Success, all of our students in grades 6 through 12 completed in Spring of 2016 a survey that covered the topics listed above and provided a baseline of information regarding our students’ experiences and concerns.  From that initial data set, we were provided information on a number of topics, one of which was homework. The responses from the students gave us the confidence to feel that overall, our students’ experiences with nightly homework and workload was in a place that was comfortable for us. That’s not to say there still weren’t areas of growth and change to consider, but that our efforts up to that point were moving the dial in the direction we wanted. Specifically that a significant percentage of students reported spending no more than 1.5 hours on homework on average, with many students reporting closer to an hour.  We feel that’s a healthy place to be -- where students are asked to engage in academic work outside of class, but not to the point where workload creates what would feel like a second shift of school. Now that we are two years removed from that data set, we are planning to collect updated information from our current students about their homework and workload experiences at RJ Grey.  We know that as we continue to try new things in our classrooms, incorporate new materials and objectives, and engage with different groups of students, it’s helpful to collect updated information and see if there have been any substantive changes within this part of the student experience at RJ Grey. This week, all students will be asked to complete a short (about 10 minutes) survey about homework and workload.  The questions mirror the Challenge Success questions in 2016, but limited to the ones about homework and workload, which will allow for some comparisons. We also added a question about access to computers and the internet at home, and a chance for students to share things that teachers and teams do that help them with their schoolwork, and suggestions they’d like us to consider. I’m looking forward to reviewing the responses with staff and families.  


Finally, this past week I met with our fifth group of Everyday Leaders, who joined me for some pizza and conversation, as the students caught me up on how the school year has gone.  Congratulations to the following students whose teachers included them in this cohort of Everyday Leaders: Lexie Kepner, Jackson Sullivan, Colin Martineau, Maura Hashem, Connor Sheehan, Krish Surapuraju, Emily Hiltunen, Melissa Torres, Isaac Han, and Joshua Jeon.  


Have a great week, everyone.  


Cheers,

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Grey Matters, April 23, 2018; Volume 6, Number 31

posted Apr 22, 2018, 8:27 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,


Welcome back from what was hopefully a restful and meaningful April Break for you and your family.  For those of you who traveled to more tropical climates to enjoy warmer weather, you must be kicking yourselves for wasting all that money on airfare and hotel reservations since those of us who stayed got to enjoy a full week of sunny 80-degree weather.  Of course, if those of you who went away watched any footage of last week’s Boston Marathon, you are well aware that my previous statement comes from a place of pure fantasy (and at this point, from a place of total irritation).  For those who ran the Marathon last week, I bow down to you and what you battled in terms of the cold and driving rain.  It must have been quite the experience to be running and seeing Noah and his Ark floating by alongside you.  In a show of solidarity, I too ran 26 miles last week, though admittedly spread out over five days, indoors, in a temperature-controlled gym, on a treadmill.  While my family didn’t go anywhere exciting this past week, we used the time to complete a few tasks that have been on our family to do list for so long they’ve started to take root, and I also carved out time to read a number of articles that I now want to pass along to all of you should you share some interest in the subject matter.  First, as a nod to our District’s plans to change the start times for the Junior High and High School next school year, I wanted to share this report about the results of a study indicating that a later start to the day resulted in more sleep and better moods for teenagers.  Speaking of moods and teenagers, here are two articles for those who, like me, may find themselves reflecting on how best to communicate with their teenage child.  It’s a good thing none of you were guests at my house last week since there were a handful of moments where I had out-of-body experiences as I watched myself (in what felt like slow motion) respond to situations that would not get me nominated for Parent of the Month.  One of those moments involved a five minute lecture, the full contents of which I won’t repeat but did include the following words and phrases: “That XBox”, “respond to my question”, “are you kidding me”, and “will throw that machine in the pool.”  With that image in your mind, check out this CBS article about a new book by Wendy Mogel entitled, Voice Lessons for Parents: What to Say, How to Say it, and When to Listen” which offers guidance on improving how you communicate with your kids.  The second article is from the New York Times online and whose title gives you a good preview of its focus: “Why Teenagers Become Allergic to Their Parents” and also offers some interesting food for thought for those of us in the throes of parenthood.


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


We begin MCAS testing for 7th grade students this week, starting this Tuesday and

through the remainder of the week.  Testing this week will focus on the English Language

Arts (ELA) portion of the assessment.  Here is the MCAS schedule if you’d like to review

it.  Please encourage/help your 7th grade students have a healthy breakfast before

coming to school and feel free to send them with a little something (i.e. breakfast bar,

muffin) to start the day.  


For current 7th grade students: students who are interested in running for one of next year’s Student Council officer positions (President, Vice President, Treasurer, Secretary) should begin the process for “pulling papers” and the election process.  Nomination forms will be available starting tomorrow --- Monday, April 23 and are due Friday, April 27.


RJ Grey’s StageWorks theatre program is preparing for its Spring Play performance of

“Zink: The Myth, The Legend, The Zebra.”  Performances will take place on Thursday,

May 10 and Friday, May 11 at 7pm in the Dragonfly Theatre here at RJ Grey, with tickets

being sold at the door ($8 for adults, $5 for students).  


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


Finally, I’m also looking forward to some warmer weather this week and checking on the growth of the plantings in our RJ Grey Garden.  On the Friday prior to break, students from various classes lent a helping hand with our first planting of “cold weather crops”, specifically spinach, arugula, carrots, kale, and lettuce, all of which will be harvested before the end of the school year.  It’s always nice to see many of our students getting some dirt between their fingers during the school day. The RJ Grey Garden would not be possible without the green thumb and enthusiasm of Anne Spalding.  For those who don’t already know Anne, she’s my administrative assistant and office manager and spent a good portion of this past week making sure our plantings survived the less-than-friendly weather (and snow!).  Many thanks to Anne and the teachers who assisted in coordinating the garden activities before the break.


Have a great week, everyone. Welcome back.





Cheers,

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

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

Hi Everyone,


If you ever find yourself approached by a colleague and the first thing that colleague says to you is, “so, there’s a cookie in a urinal in the boys’ bathroom” then you might actually be attending a middle school dance.  We had about 220 8th grade students join us last Friday night for a fun Spring Fling social event in the gym. We hope everyone had a great time and enjoyed the opportunity to spend some time together that evening. While I also wouldn’t have minded spending that night lying on my couch, I was also glad that we ended a tough week in a more celebratory setting with a few hundred kids enjoying each others’ company.  Each year, when we host a school dance, I use it as an opportunity to encourage parents and guardians to spend ten minutes listening to one of my favorite episodes of the NPR program This American Life.  First aired in October of 2011, “Middle School” includes a number of stories about this particular stage of adolescence and schooling, including a hysterical look at middle school dances.  I don’t believe, however, there was any mention of cookies in urinal stalls.  This examination was not exactly a scientific study but certainly hit on some themes and concepts that ring true for many who remember those complicated adolescent years, and certainly for those who for some reason decided to make it the setting of their professional careers.  For me the best part of the section focusing on middle school dances is when two students were describing the rules and expectations that their school articulated to them in advance of a dance, some of which were shared as written guidelines that included, “No Petting.” To which the students expressed serious confusion wondering out loud, “do people sit at dances and pet other people? That’s weird.”  If you are interested in listening to this episode, click here.  


Here’s another important reminder for current 7th grade families about the scheduling/registration form regarding your child’s 8th grade year.  This form includes math level recommendations, confirmation of current world language choice, and a space to indicate preferences for Grey Block. The registration forms need to be signed and returned to the Junior High by tomorrow - April 9.  For those who may consider an override request regarding math level placement, please make note of the process for doing so (which involves a separate form that can be picked up at the Junior High).  


This year’s MCAS testing begins tomorrow with students on 8 Gold and 8 Green taking the English/Language Arts portion.  Here again is a link to the RJ Grey-specific schedule for MCAS testing for April and May, and for both grades.   We hope you will encourage your kids to get a good night’s sleep before they are scheduled for an MCAS test day.  We of course hope you encourage a good night’s sleep every night, but maybe place additional emphasis on it knowing they’ll be taking some assessments that are longer than what they typically experience.  A good breakfast always helps, and we will have some snacks (goldfish) and water for everyone to have before the testing begins. If your child is absent for one of his/her testing dates, there are a number of make-up dates that we have already scheduled, and we will coordinate those make-ups with students.  


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


April Vacation is next week.  Please note that Friday is a full day of school.  If your travel plans involve your child missing some school we would appreciate your letting us know ahead of time so we can manage the attendance process a bit more easily.  Secondly, I wanted to continue offering a reminder and encouragement to use the vacation period to prioritize “playtime” and/or downtime for your kids. Remember, there’s no homework assigned over the vacation periods, and that’s so families can comfortably attend to other activities and interests.  There will also be almost 150 RJ Grey students who are visiting Washington D.C. during the first half of the April Vacation, and we hope everyone’s excited for an adventure that will include visiting famous monuments, memorials and museums that connect the ideas of our Founding Fathers to how our country works today (or at least how it’s supposed to work). Some, but not all, of the highlights of the trip will include a visit to the National Air and Space Museum, a walking workshop of Capitol Hill, a mock Congress debating timely political issues, and a visit to the new (and hard-to-get-tickets to) Museum of African American History.  Many thanks to Mr. Lewis (7 Gold Social Studies) for organizing this incredible trip, and to the many school staff who have offered to spend part of their April Vacation attending this school event. In addition, we are grateful to Dr. Bronson Terry and Mrs. Maureen Jones, parents who have graciously offered to provide medical supervision for our students.


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


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


Cheers,

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