Grey Matters

Grey Matters, April 24, 2017; Volume 5, Number 30

posted Apr 23, 2017, 5:09 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,


Welcome back from what was hopefully a restful and meaningful April Break for you and your family.  While I didn’t go anywhere exciting this past week, I did manage to stay away from work -- both physically and mentally (for the most part).  Similar to many of you, I certainly wouldn’t mind one more day before getting back into regularly scheduled programming.  Nevertheless, I am looking forward to seeing the staff and students at school tomorrow morning.  I’m also looking forward to checking on the growth of the plantings in our RJ Grey Garden.  On the Thursday prior to break, students on 7 Gold and 7 Green lent a helping hand with moving dirt, wood chips and peat moss into our new raised beds.  There was also plenty of time and (more than enough) hands to complete the 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 was nice to see many of our students getting some dirt between their fingers during the school day and we’re excited about finding different ways for the garden to play a role within our classrooms and extracurricular activities.  The RJG 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 (i.e. the one who makes me look more capable and on top of things than I really am).  Many thanks to Anne and the 7 Gold and 7 Green teachers who assisted in coordinating the activities that Thursday.  


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, specifically this Tuesday and Wednesday.  Makeups for absent students will take place later in the week. Testing this week will focus on the English Language Arts (ELA) portion of the assessment, and all 7th grade students will be participating in testing on both days.  Here is the MCAS schedule if you’d like to review it.  As a reminder, the 7th grade MCAS continues to be paper-based (as in previous years).  This is different from the 8th grade testing this year which has used a computer-based platform.  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 24 and are due Friday, April 29. Anyone who plans to run will need to meet in Room 325 during Grey Block on Friday, April 29.  


Before the April Break, I quickly mentioned that we are currently in the beginning stages of planning a student trip to Washington D.C. for next April 2018.  Up to 150 students will be able to participate in this program. We will first offer spots to our current 7th graders and then in September open remaining spaces to our newest class of students, as well as those who may not have signed up this Spring. If you are interested in learning more about this opportunity (financial cost, logistics, and programming) for your child, please considering attending an informational session at the Junior High on the evening of Wednesday, May 3 at 6:30pm in our auditorium.  This trip will again be coordinated by Mr. Marc Lewis, Social Studies teacher on 7 Green, and will eventually serve as the point of contact for parents and students wishing to learn more about this opportunity.  


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 (Friday) 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.  


Last year, as part of our all-school assembly that we hold on the last day of school (for students and staff), the English Department sponsored a friendly contest for students who had an interest in reading an original poem during the 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 will share additional details with students during their classes.  


During my time away from school last week I had an opportunity to read a number of articles that had a direct or tangential connection to some of the topics and projects we’ve been working on at Acton-Boxborough, along with some that touch upon themes related to parenting and kids.  Reading them from the perspective of a dad and educator, I wanted to pass along links to these pieces should you share some interest in the subject matter.  First, here is an article in the Washington Post that offers suggestions for how parents (and guardians) can stay connected and engaged with their teenage sons.  This one was probably my favorite one from last week, as it offered me some important reminders about exercising a bit more patience when my oldest son offers me one word answers to all of my brilliantly crafted and delivered questions about his day [Question: “What’d you have for lunch at school today?”  Answer: “Food”].  An article in the April 12 edition of the Boston Globe provided a summary of local efforts to explore adding time for school recess.  While the focus seems to be primarily at the elementary level, the idea of incorporating some downtime or “brain breaks” within the school schedule is something that has been a part of our recent review at the Junior High of our school schedule so that article definitely caught my eye. Finally, as a nod to our District’s ongoing work around the importance of sleep in the health and development of our students (and the rest of us), I wanted to share this article about how the Boston Red Sox now have a clubhouse sleep room as part of their efforts to encourage healthy sleeping habits in their players.  I know that the District’s Wellness Committee is working hard on identifying various options related to school start times and I’m looking forward to the next stages of that initiative.  


Finally, for those who ran the Boston Marathon last week, or who went to the event to cheer on friends and family, I hope it was a great day for all of you.


Have a great week, everyone.


Cheers,

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Grey Matters, April 10, 2017; Volume 5, Number 29

posted Apr 9, 2017, 7:23 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,


If I owned a Hawaiian shirt like the one to the right, I’d definitely plan on wearing it this coming Tuesday since the weather forecast predicts temperatures in the low 80s.  I don’t own any tropical shirts, so I might just wear sandals to celebrate what is hopefully a permanent shift into the Spring season.  Even though there are some days that have rain in the forecast, hopefully the warmer overall temperatures will allow our Spring sports programs to begin practicing and playing in earnest.  Par for the course, our Spring Track program has over 200 RJ Grey students on the battalion team, and our softball, baseball and volleyball teams have taken shape. I’m excited for our students participating in these programs to have a fun and enjoyable season. As we enter this Spring sports season, both at school and through community and club programs, I would encourage all of us (me included) to be continually mindful of how to be a supportive and thoughtful sports parent.  There is an intensity to youth sports today that can unfortunately dilute the many benefits that would typically be a part of the experience of being on a team and participating in lively competition.  Here is a recent Washington Post article where the managers of the New York Yankees (Joe Girardi) and St. Louis Cardinals (Mike Matheny) share their perspective about the secondary and less vocal role that they want to encourage parents to adopt in service of their kids who might be competing on the field or sitting on the bench.  Last May, I shared an excerpt of a letter written by the father-in-law of a good friend to the players assigned to the Little League baseball team that he was assigned to coach in the Spring of 1977.  As we enter this next season of Spring sports, I wanted to again share a portion of it in case it might resonate with you: “I do not care how many games you win or lose; I hope you win at least one game so that you and your teammates can experience the satisfaction of winning as a team, but I also hope you lose one so that you will experience the shared disappointment of a team loss...The purpose of the program is to give you and your teammates an opportunity to learn something about competition, sportsmanship and team play by actually playing on a baseball team, in the belief that, if well taught, the lessons learned on the baseball field will be valuable to you as you continue to grow up.”


Here are some reminders and acknowledgements for you to review this week:


  • Registration forms from current 7th grade students for their 8th grade year were due last Friday.  Thank you to the many families who submitted those forms.  If you’ve still got that form, please send it in with your child or bring it to the main office right away.  

  • For any 7th grade families considering a math override, please remember that the deadline for that request is this Thursday, April 13th, and the override form must be submitted by that date.  We will not be able to accept requests after that date.  

  • We had about 250 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.  Many thanks to our parent volunteers/coordinators who provided food and drink, and some much needed help during the evening.   

  • We have completed our initial round of MCAS testing for 8th grade students.  There are no MCAS tests scheduled for this week except for the students who were absent last week.  When we return from April Break we will begin the English Language Arts portion of MCAS for 7th grade students that Tuesday, April 25th.  I’ll be sure to provide a reminder to families that Sunday before we return.  


As we still have about nine weeks of school remaining, I want to remind everyone of the Junior High’s Rise to the Challenge program, which is our way of recognizing student involvement in community service.  Students who complete 10 hours of service within the school year will be recognized for their efforts, and it’s definitely not too late to submit that information.  Please visit the community service page on our website that provides all the details for this program.  If you have any questions, please email Debbie Brookes at dbrookes@abschools.org.  


April Vacation is next week, and so a couple of things on that.  First, Thursday is a full day of school and then we have no school on Friday in recognition of the Good Friday religious holiday that falls on that day.  If your travel plans involve your child missing some school this week 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.



During last year’s April Vacation we had our first ever RJ Grey school trip to Washington DC, where 100 7th and 8th grade students and ten staff members, including yours truly, spent four days exploring our nation’s capital.  We departed RJ Grey early Sunday morning for a flight to Washington, and participated in the Close Up Foundation’s Washington Middle School Program, and returned to Acton-Boxborough on Wednesday night. In DC, students visited famous monuments, memorials and museums that connect the ideas of our Founding Fathers to how our country works today, as the trip focus on the ideas of active citizenship that are a central focus of our 7th grade social studies curriculum. Some, but not all, of the highlights of the trip included a visit to the National Air and Space Museum, a walking workshop of Capitol Hill, a mock Congress debating timely political issues, a visit with Massachusetts Senator Edward Markey, and an afternoon at Arlington Cemetery and the National Archives. As the Principal, the most satisfying part of the trip was of course going with 100 students and returning home with the same number, and having avoided any engagement with hotel security or the Secret Service.  

It was an incredible experience for both the adults and the students on the trip and it certainly left us with an interest in returning with another group of students in the future.  Because of the significant amount of planning involved, and the need to ask teachers to give up a good portion of their vacation, our current plan is to offer this trip every other year during the April Vacation.  That means we are currently in the beginning stages of planning a student trip to Washington D.C. for next April 2018.  Up to 150 students will be able to participate in this program. We will first offer spots to our current 7th graders and then in September open remaining spaces to our newest class of students, as well as those who may not have signed up this Spring. If you are interested in learning more about this opportunity (financial cost, logistics, and programming) for your child, please considering attending an informational session at the Junior High on the evening of Wednesday, May 3 at 6:30pm in our auditorium.  This trip will again be coordinated by Mr. Marc Lewis, Social Studies teacher on 7 Green, and will eventually serve as the point of contact for parents and students wishing to learn more about this opportunity.  


Finally, an update on an exciting project that we dreamed up last year.  Last Spring we began discussions about creating a community garden at RJ Grey.  Many of you know that there is at the Junior High a pretty big enclosed courtyard that used to have some large trees that shaded the bulk of the space.  Two years ago, the largest of those trees fell down and because we discovered quite a bit of rot we needed to remove the remainder of those trees.  That untended land has for two years looked a bit like a nuclear wasteland, but has enormous potential and is screaming out for some attention.  There is quite a bit of flat land and we have finally reached the stage where we are installing our first raised beds where we can, among other things, grow a fair amount of vegetables and herbs that can support not only our cafeteria, but where both the growing and use of the food can be folded into classroom activities and other programs like our Cooking Club.  Earlier this Spring we met with Fresh Start Food Gardens, an organization based in Westford, to partner with us in developing a plan for our garden space and ideas for involving teachers and students in building the beds, planting, maintaining, and harvesting.  On Thursday, a few of our teams will be working alongside staff from Fresh Start to finish building the beds, filling them, and completing our first inaugural planting which will hopefully be ready to harvest before the end of the school year.  I’ll be sure to include photos of this work in the next edition of Grey Matters.  As our work on this garden evolves, we’ll hopefully develop additional ways for students and families who have an interest in this work to become involved.  


Have a great week, everyone.  


Cheers,

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Grey Matters, April 3, 2017; Volume 5, Number 28

posted Apr 2, 2017, 4:02 PM by Andrew Shen   [ updated Apr 2, 2017, 4:02 PM ]


Hi Everyone,


Not that looking out the window would tell you this, but the next season of Major League Baseball arrives this week.  Which means it’s time to check out stories that highlight the new food offerings at ballparks around the country.  Here’s a great summary from BravoTV that comes with high resolution photos of options such as the hot dog you can buy at a Cleveland game that is topped with bacon, macaroni and cheese and…..Fruit Loops (seriously, check out the picture in the article).  And then when you travel to Pittsburgh you can swap out the Fruit Loops for Cracker Jacks (also mixed with mac ‘n cheese on top of a giant hot dog).  As the BravoTV article accurately notes, “just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”  Closer to home, and with a healthier focus, the Junior High’s Iron Chef Cooking Club hosted its first ever Italian-themed family dinner event last Friday evening, serving 55 family members a full meal that they prepared.  Complete with music and table settings, those in attendance were treated to a full (and filling) dining experience courtesy of their kids.  Many thanks to Deb Rimpas (Health teacher) and Kirsten Nelson and Jean Tibbets (Food Services), and of course the students in the Cooking Club, for pulling off what will hopefully become an annual event.  My guess is that the American Heart Association would much prefer Cheez Whiz, peppers and onions-- being offered at Yankee Stadium this season.  



Here’s some reminders from our calendar and a few other items:


  • We have an early release for students this coming Thursday, April 6.  Dismissal is at 10:40am and normal bus routes will be available for transportation home.  Please note that students will not be able to stay in the school building after dismissal.  The Library is being used for professional learning and there will not be supervision available during that time.  

  • April Break starts on Friday, April 14th.  Good Friday falls on that date, so the last day of school before the break will be Thursday, April 13th (and it will be a full day)

  • This month’s Challenge Success newsletter from Acton-Boxborough focuses on the topic of growth mindset.  If you’ve got a few moments, click here and check out some of the resources that are highlighted in that newsletter.  


We have MCAS starting on Monday (tomorrow) with 8th grade students on 8 Gold and 8 Red taking the English Language Arts portion.  Here is the link to the MCAS schedule for our school this Spring.  We hope you will encourage your kids to get a good night’s sleep before they are scheduled for an MCAS test day.  Well, we 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 and water for everyone to have before the testing begins.  For students who are absent, we have make up periods scheduled and we will connect with those students at that time.  


One more note for current 7th grade families: the registration form for your child’s 8th grade year has been mailed home.  Please review this form, which indicates a math level recommendation and confirmation of current world language choice.  It also asks you (and your child) to indicate interest in any of the Grey Block electives for next year.  When doing so, please be sure to note that some of the electives do have class size limits and are not guaranteed, which is why we need you to potentially indicate more than one choice.  These forms are due to your child’s homeroom teacher by this Friday, April 7.  Those families who might be entertaining an override request for math levels must submit that form by not later than Thursday, April 13.  Please know that we can not accept override requests after that date.   


Finally, we’re looking forward to the 8th grade Spring dance scheduled for this Friday evening (April 7) from 7pm to 9pm.  Please note that this is not a formal dance, nor even a semi-formal dance.  That’s a more accurate description of the end-of-year event we host for 8th grade students in June.  I’ve heard that there’s some interest and excitement by students for this upcoming dance, 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 an 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.  Some of our parents and guardians with older children may be familiar with the recent “promposal phenomenon” - where some (a lot of?) high school students have taken to planning elaborate and very public ways of asking someone to accompany them to the prom.  The Washington Post actually wrote 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, the “asks” that are more public in nature are not something we would encourage in a middle school setting, or at least while at school. In terms of the dance itself, we’ll take care of the planning for what happens between 7pm and 9pm.  The logistics and plans for before and after the dance we leave in the capable hands of our parent community. We’re excited for our students to attend, and for a good time to be had by all.  


Have a great week, everyone.


Cheers,

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Grey Matters, March 27, 2017; Volume 5, Number 27

posted Mar 26, 2017, 8:52 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,


It’s an interesting but predictable phenomenon that the annual NCAA March Madness college basketball tournament leads to the sudden development of passionate but temporary loyalties and rabid school spirit by individuals who really have no prior connection to the colleges currently competing in the tournament.  This year, and for this week only, I am now the biggest fan of the University Oregon Ducks and their basketball program.  If Oregon wins, and Gonzaga loses, I have a very strong chance of claiming victory in the low-stakes basketball pool that I casually joined when invited by a friend.  Given how haphazardly I filled out my bracket (I barely follow college basketball), my current sense of enthusiasm and Oregon pride is a bit ridiculous.  Correction, it’s very ridiculous.  Nevertheless, Go Ducks.  



I’ve got some timely updates and reminders to put in front of you, and then I spend some time reviewing the upcoming arrival of MCAS testing, which begins next week.  


  • Last week I listed the wrong date for our now-scheduled last day of school.  With the most recent snow day, our last day of school is THURSDAY, JUNE 22.  Apologies for that.  

  • There is an 8th grade dance being planned by the Student Council, and scheduled for Friday, April 7 from 7pm to 9pm. Stay tuned for announcements throughout that week for purchasing tickets.  

  • Don’t forget that Thursday, April 6 is the Junior High’s last early release day, where students are dismissed at 10:40am and staff remain to participate in professional learning.  

  • I hope most families of current 8th grade students have begun to navigate the Parent Portal as you complete the registration process for 9th grade courses at the High School.  Please remember that the portal closes next Monday, April 3.  

  • Another plug for the work our School Committee is pursuing regarding our District’s long-term building needs, including the possibility of proposing the construction of a new school building and/or renovating existing school buildings.  Click here for a downloadable flyer that lists all of the forum dates that are being offered by the Committee.  Important questions such as how many schools should be used, the number of grade levels at each building, and whether an early childhood center should be included are part of this dialogue.  Please consider attending!

  • The tryout and sign-up schedule for our Spring Sports programs are all set.  Meetings and/or tryouts for Track and Softball start next week.  For those who are interested in baseball, softball, girls volleyball or track, you can review the tryout and sign-up schedule by clicking here.  You can always go to the RJ Grey Athletics Page to review that information and also download Green Forms and athletic fee waiver request forms.  Please remember that no student may participate in tryouts without a valid/updated Green Form.  This is an MIAA regulation and no exceptions can be made.  



A friendly and important reminder that we have students at RJ Grey who have organized a drive to support Cradles to Crayons  with donations of gently used or new clothing and shoes to support programs that assist families that are homeless.  Please consider donating sizes infant to adult medium for clothing, and shoe sizes 0-10. The drive will start tomorrow (Monday) March 27th and go until April 6th, and bins will be located near the library entrance.  Thanks in advance for your support.  


For current 7th grade families, you will be receiving in the mail later this week the scheduling/registration form regarding your child’s 8th grade year.  This form includes math level recommendations, confirmation of current world language choice, and a space to indicate preferences for Grey Block (when students take an elective or have a study hall).  Please sign and complete the form and return it to your child’s homeroom teacher by April 7.  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) and the hard no exceptions deadline of Thursday, April 13 for that request.  


MCAS! I am sharing with everyone some thoughts about MCAS, and a good portion of it is reused from the past few years, since my/our thoughts on it haven’t really changed, along with our suggestions for how families and students should view MCAS testing relative to other aspects of the educational process.  


If the weather continues to cooperate, we begin the 8th Grade English/Language Arts portion of the MCAS state assessments next Monday, April 3. Here again is a link to the RJ Grey-specific schedule for MCAS testing for April and May, and for both grades.  If your child is absent for one of his/her testing dates, there are a number of make-up dates that we have already scheduled, and we will coordinate those make-ups with students.  As I mentioned in an earlier Grey Matters, this is the first year where portions of the MCAS will be computer-based (for only 8th grade this year) and we will continue to help students be prepared for that testing platform.


At RJ Grey, we are interested in continuing to express and balance two messages to students about MCAS.  First, we hope that students take their participation in MCAS seriously, where they try their best and respond to the questions thoughtfully and to the best of their ability.  At the same time, we want students to know that how they perform on these tests does not define them as individuals, nor as students.  It’s one type of measure (given at one point in the year), and like any single assessment, can not truly capture all that there is to know (and needs to be known) about a student’s growth as a student, and all of their other talents and strengths.  


MCAS results are provided to individual families to be reviewed; and as a school, we are responsible for addressing areas of concern that the state may identify based on our results.  So we certainly pay attention to, and we work hard to prepare students for the MCAS, along with our other assessments. However, we never want students to experience anxiety or distress over the MCAS, and to know that there is much (so much) more to one’s development as a thoughtful individual than is reflected in this particular set of assessments.  Each year, I include a link to a 2014 New York Times article entitled,  “How to Get a Job at Google” (click here) that highlights Google’s approach and philosophy to recruitment and hiring, noting a de-emphasis on test scores and GPAs as a predictor for the qualities that they seek, and instead “cares about a lot of soft skills— leadership, humility, collaboration, adaptability and loving to learn and relearn. This will be true no matter where you go to work.” In a February 2105 article in the Boston Globe Magazine, a Williams College psychologist presented her ideas about how our schools’ efforts might benefit from a re-orientation of our standardized assessments around skills and qualities that, interestingly, have much overlap with the Google article.  While the author didn’t specifically make reference to Google, it was hard not to see the similarities found in her “7 Things Every Kid Should Master” (and should therefore be the focus of assessments) as she emphasized reading, collaboration, conversation, flexible thinking and use of evidence, inquiry, and well-being.  Just some food for thought as we enter this season of state assessments.  


In an effort to support students during these testing days, we hope to work with families on establishing some routines that will deliver that dual message that I describe above. We begin MCAS testing about 15 minutes after homeroom so we can provide some time to make sure that all students have a chance to settle down and, quite frankly, have the chance to eat something.  If you have time at home, please think about making sure your child has a good breakfast before leaving -- taking a 2 hour test on an empty stomach can be tough for some (count me as one of them).  If you don’t have time, please feel free to send your child in with some food that they can eat during that brief period before testing begins.  To repeat my plea from previous years: in the interest of avoiding a mess, please don’t send your kids in with a Grand Slam Breakfast from Denny’s, but some water or juice, a muffin, fruit or yogurt.  We will also be providing each room with some snack food for students who didn’t have the opportunity to eat at home, or able to bring something on their own.


Finally, we had our latest installment of Poetry Fridays at the end of last week.  Ms. Mazonson, Social Studies teacher on 8 Gold, brought two students who read Taoist-inspired poems that they crafted as part of a class exercise.  Many thanks to Ms. Mazonson, Cole Harris, and Sonia Mulgund for sharing their poetry with us. Click here to read their submissions.  


Have a great week, everyone.


Cheers,

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Grey Matters, March 20, 2017; Volume 5, Number 27

posted Mar 19, 2017, 12:31 PM by Andrew Shen   [ updated Mar 19, 2017, 12:31 PM ]


Hi Everyone,


For those of you who were pleased that we had a snow day last Tuesday, my guess is that you’re under 18 years of age and perhaps had a quiz or a test that was originally scheduled for that day.  My wife’s students had a long-term research paper due that day and they all received a much-appreciated extension because of the weather. I’m happy for everyone who benefited from the day off and I look forward to seeing them all on Thursday, June 23rd, which is now the scheduled last day of school for the year (how’s that for bursting everyone’s bubble).  I will acknowledge that I may be a bit cranky from the day, partially because of what happened to my mailbox that evening (see photo to the right).  I now join the fraternity of homeowners who have experienced the demise of a perfectly fine mailbox at the hands of a snowplow, and will have to wait until we truly enter Spring before I can actually replace the post.  And to add insult to injury, having a snow day on March 14 means that our school missed out on Pi Day (3/14) and all of the fanfare and hoopla that comes on that day.  To the credit of the 8th grade math teachers, they made up for it the next day as I saw Ms. Kelly coming in early that morning with boxes of mini blueberry and chocolate cream pies to assist in the celebration.  The Colorado Rockies (a major league baseball team), however, took home the prize for most clever Pi Day tribute with this photo posted on their team Twitter page.  I did discover later on that the numbers were photoshopped, but the gesture was nonetheless a clever one and, as the Washington Post stated, a “delightfully nerdy” photo to celebrate the day.  




Here are some useful reminders and updates for you to review for the upcoming weeks:


  • Report cards for the Winter Trimester went home with students last Thursday.  If your child’s report card is for some reason missing in action, you might want to ask him/her about it. If he/she reports that it got lost in transit or perhaps spontaneously combusted, let me know and we can generate another copy for you.  

  • The Signs of Suicide (SOS) lessons will be delivered this week, Monday through Thursday - one 7th grade team each day.  Thank you for sending in your consent forms indicating the level of participation for your child.  Two important reminders:  (1) any student whose family did not submit a consent form will participate in the lesson, but not the screening tool; and (2) any family whose son/daughter does have a follow up conversation with a counselor or staff member from Riverside Trauma Center will be contacted.  There will be some students who are asked to meet with a counselor simply to provide feedback about what they thought of the lesson, and we will let their parents know of that conversation as well.  

  • We have students at RJ Grey who have organized a drive to support Cradles to Crayons  with donations of gently used or new clothing and shoes to support programs that assist families that are homeless.  Please consider donating sizes infant to adult medium for clothing, and shoe sizes 0-10. The drive will start March 27th and go until April 6th, and bins will be located near the library entrance.  

  • There is an 8th grade dance being planned by the Student Council, and scheduled for Friday, April 7 from 7pm to 9pm. Stay tuned for announcements throughout that week for purchasing tickets.  Please note that this is separate from the annual end-of-year 8th grade celebration which is a more elaborate evening event in June.  

  • Don’t forget that Thursday, April 6 is the Junior High’s last early release day, where students are dismissed at 10:40am and staff remain to participate in professional learning.  

  • Poet Marie Howe, this year's Robert Creeley Award recipient, will read from her work at ABRHS on March 30. There will also be a community event the night before, March 29 at 7:30 p.m. in the ABRHS Auditorium. The evening event is free and open to all members of the community. For a brief introduction to Marie Howe and some of her work, visit robertcreeleyfoundation.org.


IMPORTANT REMINDER FOR 8TH GRADE FAMILIES: The parent portal for 8th grade families to begin registering for 9th grade courses at the High School opens tomorrow (Monday, March 20).  All students have had conversations with their current teachers about course and level recommendations.  If you’d like to review the presentation that was delivered to 8th grade students, you can view the powerpoint by clicking here.  As for the actual instructions for course registration, you can click here to view/download the directions for course selection.  You can also review the High School’s Program of Studies by clicking here.  I strongly recommend that all 8th grade families review the entirety of the directions - there is information about the process for override requests that must be followed (without exception) should you wish to pursue that route. Please note that families who might need assistance with accessing the portal should use the high school contact information that is listed at the top of the instruction sheet.  


For current 7th grade families, you will be receiving in the mail during the week of March 27 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 (when students take elective or have a study hall). I’ll send out some additional notes and reminders about this process at the start of that week.  


The tryout and sign-up schedule for our Spring Sports programs are all set.  Before I get into those details, a friendly reminder that our after school clubs and activities welcome new members throughout the year.  The Ping Pong Club is back in action, as is the Fit Club (email Katy Frey, kfrey@abschools.org to sign up for Fit Club), just to name a few.  For those who are interested in baseball, softball, girls volleyball or track, you can review the tryout and sign-up schedule by clicking here.  You can always go to the RJ Grey Athletics Page to review that information and also download Green Forms and athletic fee waiver request forms.  Please remember that no student may participate in tryouts without a valid/updated Green Form.  This is an MIAA regulation and no exceptions can be made.  


Finally, I hope by now most of you are at least somewhat aware that we have been studying our District’s long-term building needs, including the possibility of proposing the construction of a new school building and/or renovating existing school buildings. To this end, our District has recently been conditionally accepted for state funding for a school building project.  We are at a critical juncture where the School Committee is seeking input from the community about what might eventually be proposed. There are a series of meetings that have been planned starting with one tomorrow night at 7pm at Sargent Memorial Library in Boxborough.  Click here for a downloadable flyer that lists all of the forum dates.  Important questions such as how many schools should be used, the number of grade levels at each building, and whether an early childhood center should be included are part of this dialogue.  Shockingly, my request for a retractable and heated dome for the morning drop-off area in the Junior High parking lot was not included as part of this work.  Rest assured an online petition about that glaring absence will be forthcoming.  All kidding aside, this is the time to reflect on our long-term educational vision for our school community because we want the form (the school buidling) to fit the function (educating your children).  Your voice matters and I hope you’ll find an opportunity to participate.  








Have a great week, everyone.  


Cheers,

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Grey Matters, March 13, 2017; Volume 5, Number 26

posted Mar 12, 2017, 10:40 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,


I mentioned earlier this year that, like Tom Brady, I will soon be turning 40.  Unlike Tom Brady, I am not launching my own $78 per box meal-kit delivery service.  As the date gets closer and closer the Universe continues to harass prepare me with subtle and not-so-subtle reminders of this pending milestone. The first reminder came in the form of a recent Boston Globe story written by a reporter who turned 40 last May and had a hit ‘em over the head title of, The Biggest Threat Facing Middle-Age Men Isn’t Smoking or Obesity. It’s Loneliness.” I started reading it with the idea that it might be good for a few laughs, and ended up finishing it because it did have some interesting food for thought.  The other two reminders came during a car drive up to my parents’ house this past weekend with my two oldest kids.  About six months ago I shifted to listening primarily to classical music while driving.  Growing up with a classical musician for a mother, that was the music of choice for all of our time in the car.  I’ve been feeling like I think better and am more at ease while driving now that I’ve been listening to music that I’ve largely ignored for about twenty years.  Addison has not had the same level of exposure to classical music and so about ten minutes into our drive she asked me if I could change the station to one that played music.  I calmly explained to her that we were already listening to music.  She calmly replied, “Yes, but I want to listen to real music. Songs that actually have words.”  Shortly after that conversation we got to talking about the offseason activity of the New England Patriots and the recent trades they had completed.  At the end of that conversation, my oldest son (who will remain nameless to protect him from the Patriot fan base) blurts out, “I’ve decided not to be a Patriots fan this year and will cheer for another team.  Winning all the time is getting real boring.”  Fortunately for me, unfortunately for him, we had about fifteen more miles on 93 North for me to explain to him what being a Boston sports fan was like during the 1980s and 1990s and, save for a few great years for the Celtics, things were quite different when it came to winning (see inserted photo of Mr. Buckner from Game 6 of the World Series).  It was an interesting reminder that all of our kids born after 2000 really have had quite a different reality when it comes to our Boston-based sports culture.  


Many of you are probably following the weather forecast for this week which still includes predictions of a possible snowstorm on Monday night through Tuesday and estimated snowfall hovering around 12 to 18 inches.  We will see what unfolds and families should stay tuned to any messages from Dr. Brand about plans for school on Tuesday.  In the meantime, I will continue to try and figure out why the left wheel of my snowblower refuses to engage, leaving me doubly nervous about what might arrive later this week.  


Here are a series of announcements and reminders for families to review.  After that, I spend a bit of time providing context about the current 9th grade course registration process and the level recommendations that students may be receiving from their teachers.  I also give a preview of the Spring athletics program and this year’s MCAS testing schedule.  


  • Thank you to all of the 7th grade families who have submitted their Signs of Suicide (SOS) consent form and indicating the preferred level of participation for your child. The lessons are still scheduled for the following week - March 20 through 23.  We are still collecting the consent forms so please do not hesitate to send it in to school.  A final reminder that (as stated on the consent form), students without a consent form will be scheduled for Option 2, which is participation in the SOS lesson but not the screening tool.  

  • On Monday, March 20, the portal for current 8th grade students to register for high school courses will be open.  By then, all students will have had conversations with their current teachers about course and level recommendations (see my comments below on that).  You can click here to view/download the directions for course selection.  You can also review the High School’s Program of Studies by clicking here.  I would strongly recommend that all 8th grade families review the entirety of the directions - there is information about the process for override requests that must be followed (without exception) should you wish to pursue that route. Please note that families who might need assistance with accessing the portal should use the high school contact information that is listed at the top of the instruction sheet.  

  • It’s likely that Winter Trimester report cards will be coming home with students this Thursday.  Grades are being processed right now, and Thursday is our target.  If anything changes, I’ll let everyone know.  

  • Thank you to Debbie Ahl and the Student Council for organizing last Friday’s student basketball tournament.  We are appreciative of the parent donations of food, and the additional on-site support.


Starting last week, 8th grade teachers began having individual conversations with students to discuss their recommendations for 9th grade course level placement.  The actual registration process takes place via the Parent Portal (see above info) when the portal opens on March 20.  


During the conversation that takes place with a student, the teacher will explain some of his/her observations about the student’s strengths and areas for growth, and what level placement may be most appropriate for next year.  In many of these conversations, students also share with teachers their thoughts on next year, their level of interest in the subject, and their own reflections on the progress they’ve made this year.  To be sure, a teacher’s recommendation is influenced by a student’s performance thus far (trimester grades being one measure), along with a variety of other observations about a student’s approach to the subject.  There are certainly variations that come with different areas of study.  For example, English and Social Studies teachers are asked by the high school to give particular weight to writing, reading comprehension, and critical thinking.  To that end, a teacher in one of those disciplines may place emphasis on a student’s growth on certain types of writing assignments, along with other factors.  


In all of the subjects, a teacher will often review with a student his/her observations about specific student skills, such as time management and self-discipline, and consistency of work.  In addition, teachers are asked to consider level placement with the hope that students will both enjoy the class and have the time to pursue other interests, including extracurricular activities. During this process, it’s important to remind ourselves that these recommendations aren’t meant to serve as a final verdict or prediction for how a student will perform for the rest of their academic lives. It’s feedback based on what a student has demonstrated this year, and using that as a guide to thinking about what a student would be prepared to take on next year.   Some students may have hit their stride this year, and for others it may be their sophomore year when all of a sudden they develop a passion for a certain subject or they figure out that whole time management puzzle.  As I have mentioned in previous years, my parents needed to wait until I was about 20 to witness me figuring those things out.  I won’t speak officially for the high school, but I am confident that the high school also recognizes that things can and do change over time for adolescents and that there’s always a path for students to take that suit their interests and strengths.  


For many of you, the recommendations made by the teachers may align with your own leanings, and even your child’s. If there are situations where you feel you would benefit from some feedback from the teacher, please ask.  In addition, it’s very useful to discuss with your child what all of you might view as a healthy and appropriate course load for next year.  For example, while a student may have the ability to be successful in a number of accelerated courses, it may not be in his/her best interest to be taking them all at the same time (on top of participating in sports, and/or the school musical, and community service).  Finally, in those instances where you and your student would like to enroll in a course level that is different from the teacher recommendation, there is an “override” application process that is managed by the high school.  Within the registration instructions, there is a description of the steps that the high school would like you to take to pursue those requests.  


Our Spring sports season is around the corner.  We need a little bit more time to finalize the schedule for tryouts and sign ups for our Spring sports programs - Baseball, Softball, Volleyball and Track. Those will be up on the website shortly and we’ll include mention of it in our daily announcements. In the meantime, please remember that all students must have a “Green Form” in order to participate, and can be downloaded on the Athletics page of our website.   There are still tryouts for baseball and softball, tryouts for the girls volleyball program, and track continues to be a “no-cut sport.”  In other words, any student interested in participating is welcome to join.  For the last few years, we have averaged somewhere between 200 and 250 students participating in the track program, which is always sight to see (especially during the track meets).  


In terms of participation in the track program, we plan to continue providing an option for students (and families) who are interested in the track program, but not prepared to commit to the full practice and meet schedule.  Not attending each practice or meet, as you can imagine, can create some challenges given the need to organize and schedule things like relays teams, practice plans, and logistics for away meets.  With this in mind, we offer students the choice to sign up for one of two options: (1) students who can commit to at least three practices per week, including all home meets, should sign up for the Blue Team.  Please note that the two non-practice days for students on the Blue Team needs to be the same from week to week.  (2) Students who wish to travel to away meets (in addition to home meets) and be eligible for relay teams and field events can sign up for the Gold Team.  Gold Team members are expected to attend all practices and all meets, without exception (unless the student is sick and absent from school).  It is entirely up to the student (and his/her family) to choose the best option that makes the most sense for him or her.  Please note that the participation fee is the same for either option. The above options will be explained to everyone at the first Track meeting (date forthcoming) so they can make an informed decision.  Remember that all important information about Spring sports can be found at our school’s Athletics page.  


Assuming that we don’t get any additional surprise snowstorms in April, we begin our MCAS testing this year on Monday, April 3.  One of the biggest differences this year in the MCAS testing process is that the 8th grade MCAS assessments are computer-based, which means that students review questions and submit responses via computer (in our case, on one of our many Chromebooks).  The 7th grade MCAS will still be a “paper-based” version and so the elements of administering that test are a bit more familiar.  Rest assured that we will be giving our 8th grade students some training on how to engage with the computer-based testing platform prior to April 3.  


As we get closer to the MCAS testing dates, I will be sharing more information about how we organize the testing days (and constant reminders to make sure your kids eat a good breakfast), along with some thoughts about the role MCAS should, and shouldn't, play in the academic lives of our students.  In the meantime, here is a link to the MCAS schedule for the Junior High.   If your child is absent for one of his/her testing dates, there are a number of make-up dates that we have already scheduled, and we will coordinate those make-ups with students.


I had lunch with our latest round of Everyday Leaders last Thursday and I had great conversations with both the 7th and 8th grade lunch groups including, but not limited to, a lively discussion about installing new lockers in the Junior High that are secured by a fingerprint scanner and have chargers for phones, and mini-fridges for lunches.  Hopefully they didn’t mind breaking bread (in this case, pizza) with me that day and spending a little time in my office.  Congratulations to the following students who were part of this round’s Everyday Leaders group: Jalal Elsallal, Benvinda Gueye, Zach Taylor, Sydney Smith, Lindsey Vaillancourt, Fayad Bashir, Enzo Lando, Nina Robbe, Tamara Salant, Balaji Ganapathi, and Bobby Sweet.  


Finally, we had a wonderful series of activities as part of Foreign Language Week.  Each morning a different student offered a greeting to the school in a different language.  Thank you to Aryan Ranade (Hindi), Nicole Wei (Mandarin Chinese), Yusef Khan (Portuguese), Alisa Khomiakova (Russian), and Amna Aboushhiwa (Arabic) for making each morning a little more special with their messages of welcome.  We also ended the week with a special Foreign Language Week version of Poetry Friday, starring student Nathan Ramondeau who read “Le Cancre” by French poet Jacques Prevert.  


Have a great week, everyone.


Cheers,

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Grey Matters for March 6, 2017; Volume 5, Number 25

posted Mar 10, 2017, 10:56 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,


I hope last week’s re-entry from vacation proved to be relatively smooth and painless.  The warmer weather certainly helped, and I’m definitely not complaining about this week’s forecast that includes a few days with temperatures in the 50s.  I want to express my appreciation to our families for your support and words of encouragement last week after I had shared with all of you news about the incident that occurred right before the February Break.  I also hope you had a chance to read the letter that Dr. Brand also sent out at the start of the week regarding our District’s commitment to a safe and welcoming environment.  You can click here to review that message.  With a week filled with some tough conversations, I was extremely fortunate that Douglas School’s annual Read Aloud Day was scheduled for last Tuesday, and that I was invited to be a guest reader in Mrs. Shamah’s 1st grade classroom.  It was not only the highlight of my week, it may have been some of the most fun I’ve had in a really long time.  Asked to share my favorite children’s story, I came to Douglas with The Day the Crayons Quit, a story that some, but not all, of the 1st graders had seen before.  We had a wonderful time talking about our favorite colors, whether the sun should be colored with yellow or orange crayons, and all laughed at how the peach crayon wouldn’t leave the box because his wrapping had been removed and he was embarrassed at being nude.  I don’t know if our shared laughter at peach crayon’s nakedness is a sign that some things are universally funny or if my own sense of humor just hasn’t progressed since I myself was 7 years old (it’s probably a bit of both).  Finally, I was able to finish the week by opening a package on Friday that included illustrated thank you letters from all of the students in Mrs. Shamah’s class (see embedded photo).  There is a sequel to The Day the Crayons Quit so I’m angling for a possible invitation to return and read that book with them.  


We have now entered the month of March and this is typically one of the busiest months of the year in terms of school-related events, deadlines, and transition activities for next year.  I’ve got quite a bit of information to share with all of you, so I’m going to delay discussion of my youngest son’s decision that our family’s next dog (which we’ve agreed to pursue this June) must be a Bernese Mountain Dog (which grow to an average of 85 to 110 pounds) and will be named after his best friend Alex.  I’m also going to wait a bit to share more information about annual state MCAS testing because this year the testing period has been moved back (for elementary and middle schools) from mid-March into April and May.  There are quite a few changes related to MCAS testing and I’ll explain all of that within the next few weeks.  I’m also going to offer details about our Spring sports programs in next week’s Grey Matters, including tryout and sign-up dates for baseball, softball, girls volleyball, and track.  In the meantime, if you haven’t completed a “Green Form” this year (click here), it’s important to get on that task now as it is required for all students who wish to participate in the District’s athletics programs.  


First, here are some important reminders about upcoming events, deadlines, and special schedules:


Thank you to the many 7th grade families who have already submitted their signed consent forms regarding our upcoming plans to present the Signs of Suicide (SOS) lesson and screening tool to our 7th grade teams.  We had about 40 parents/guardians attend last Monday’s information session with Dr. Larry Berkowitz and I hope those in attendance found it useful.  The signed consent forms are due this Friday, March 10 and please don’t be alarmed if we check in with you over the course of the week to offer some reminders about submitting the form.  Please also remember that students who don’t submit the consent form will be scheduled to participate in the lesson but not the screening tool.  We are scheduled to deliver the SOS lesson on March 20, 21, 22, and 23 (one team per day).  


Please also remember that the Junior High and High School have a late-start scheduled for this Friday, March 10.  That means that for Junior High students the day starts three (3) hours later at 10:30am.  This late start allows us to provide our entire staff with an important suicide prevention training that we have scheduled for that morning.  Riverside Trauma Center will be conducting this training for our staff that day, and for elementary school staff on Thursday, March 30.  For students who take the bus to school, the bus routes will be scheduled exactly three hours later than usual.  For example, a normal 6:45am pick up will instead be at 9:45am.  Parents/guardians dropping off their children can not bring their children to RJ Grey earlier than 10am (the school won’t be open since we’ll be at the High School).  We will have “regular” dismissal at 2:06pm.  


Here’s a couple of more notes about upcoming dates and activities:


  • The Winter Trimester ends tomorrow (Monday), and report cards will likely come home with students on or around March 16.  

  • Over the next few weeks, all 8th grade students will participate in an information session with their current school counselor about transitioning to the High School.  Specifically they’ll be discussing the High School schedule, extracurriculars, and instructions for how to register for classes using the parent portal.  They will receive various forms and handouts that will prove helpful for parents/guardians as well.  The parent portal will be open to 8th grade parents/guardians on Monday, March 20 for them to review course recommendations and work with their children on developing a schedule for next year.  Between now and March 20, 8th grade teachers will be meeting with students to share their feedback about course and level recommendations.  Next week’s Grey Matters will include a lengthier segment on that process with some thoughts to keep in mind.

  • For parents and guardians of current 7th grade students, we haven’t started the registration process of 8th grade classes, so you haven’t missed anything.  You’ll likely receive materials at the end of this month about recommended math levels, and the form that you are asked to complete that summarizes world language enrollment, math level, and your child’s Grey Block elective requests.  Once the form goes out, I’ll send out a reminder in that week’s Grey Matters.  

  • A friendly reminder that the Junior High’s Stageworks theatre program (our version of a Drama Club) has scheduled auditions for their Spring one-act plays for this Tuesday, March 7 and Thursday, March 9, from 2:15pm to 4:00pm in the auditorium.  The performances of the one-act plays will be May 11 and 12.  For questions, please contact Cheryl Miller (cmiller@abschools.org) or Bethany Dunakin (bdunakin@abschools.org).  

  • Acton-Boxborough’s Challenge Success newsletter for March is now available!  The focus of this newsletter is on the issue of sleep and includes last year’s student responses about their sleep patterns.  It also includes a link to the presentation that Dr. Kirsty Kerin gave earlier this year on the science of sleep.  You can view it by clicking here.  

  • Minuteman Technical School has asked me to pass along information about their Spring Career Pathway after school program for students in grades 6 through 8.  There are a few sessions in late March and early April with 19 course offerings, and transportation is provided.  If you want to learn more about this program, click here to view their brochure.  


This week is National Foreign Language Week!  The goal is to bring awareness of the importance of foreign language study through celebration of languages and cultures. Our eight World Language teachers have put together a great series of activities and looking forward to the many ways that students will be featured throughout the week.  Students will be greeting the community in a variety of languages during morning announcements, and a 7th grade student will be reading a poem in French for our Poetry Friday selection.  There will also be trivia questions that are read in the morning and students can submit answers throughout the day and be entered to win a pulsera (bracelet) that was handmade in Nicaragua and part of the Spanish Club’s pulsera fundraising project.  Many thanks to our World Language department for taking the lead on this effort.  


This month’s organized chaos of events and activities also involves what art teacher Ms. Haskin has termed March Mural Madness.  Ms. Haskin and I met earlier this winter and discussed ways that we could work with students in the 8th grade Art Elective to begin the process of replacing and complementing some of the murals that currently adorn various hallway spaces throughout our building.  We see this as a great opportunity to give our students an opportunity to put their mark on the school (literally and figuratively), and think about themes and aesthetics that would be appropriate for public spaces in our building.  With Ms. Haskin’s guidance the students researched a variety of options for mural designs and came up with a number of exciting ideas.  They voted on their favorites, created planning sketches and then developed their final plans.  Starting last week the students have begun painting their murals and it will be exciting to watch these murals take shape over the next several weeks.  


Finally, we ended our week back from February Break with an edition of Poetry Friday that featured Physical Education teacher, and AB alum, Ms. Brenna Sacra.  Ms. Sacra shared with us a piece that was written by a fellow AB alum, the late Jenna Agule (AB ‘06) whose birthday would have been last Friday (March 3).  A nice way to end the week by honoring the memory of an AB alum, and sharing a piece that offers a hopeful message for our community.  Click here to read “Blessed” by Jenna Agule.  


Have a great week, everyone.


Cheers,

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Grey Matters, February 27, 2017; Volume 5, Number 24

posted Feb 27, 2017, 3:48 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,


Welcome back from February Break.  As we continue to partner with you on promoting a healthy schoolwork and life balance for students and families, I hope many of you found opportunities to use last week’s homework-free vacation for something meaningful and different from your daily routines.  In my “welcome back from break” editions of Grey Matters I typically offer some highlights and minor fiascos that usually result from spending a whole week with my children, and I definitely have a few worth sharing.  However, I am going to postpone sharing those for another Grey Matters because I want to instead direct everyone’s attention to a more difficult matter.  Please do me a favor and read the below message carefully and in its entirety.


I need to notify all of you about an incident that occurred right before we left for the February Break.  On Friday (before Break) we learned that a swastika had been drawn into the snow on the campus football field the evening prior. There were no other symbols or writing that accompanied the drawing.  Before we could disclose news of this with the broader community, we needed to spend that day working with School Resource Officer Detective Campbell on completing an investigation and meeting with the parents and students who were involved.  I also met with Superintendent Brand to ensure that he was aware and involved in our deliberation.  As we return from the Break, I am able to share some additional information with all of you.  


We know that a small number of RJ Grey students were responsible for this because they self-reported the incident to their parents and came forward to school administrators on Friday to explain what had been done and to express remorse.  In accordance with student privacy laws, we will not be sharing details of discipline-related outcomes that may have resulted from this incident.  What I can share is that we see this action as a clear violation of school policy, and more importantly our community’s core values.  It is one that demands a response that is both consistent with our student discipline code and includes a meaningful educational component for those involved.  Many thanks to Detective Campbell for his support and involvement as we determined the appropriate course of action.  


As I mentioned in late November, now more than ever students are constantly exposed to imagery and behaviors that run counter to our school’s values and norms, in particular through social media.  For students at such an impressionable age, there will be the temptation to mimic slogans or punchlines or to repeat provocative statements on a bus or playing field.  Parents and educators alike have the important ongoing responsibility of modeling for our children the behaviors that we hope they will adopt and practice. I would again encourage all parents and guardians to be proactive on this front and not hesitate to have conversations with their children and participate in some appropriate supervision of their children's social media activities and connections.  


It is also clear that we are currently witnessing an escalation in expressions of bias and bigotry that seem to have found fertile ground in the current political and social landscape.  The ongoing collisions between competing definitions of inclusion and acceptance have very tangible consequences for many.  It’s likely that our students are going to look to you and us to help them navigate this new and shifting landscape. Regardless of these potential shifts, there are some commitments and ideals that will remain unchanged at RJ Grey.  In particular, we will continue to devote ourselves to the goal of helping students elevate beyond the notion of mere tolerance and develop an ability to exercise and model empathy, compassion and sincere acceptance. We consider this aspiration central to Acton-Boxborough’s mission as an educational institution, and we pursue this work through our daily engagement with students, through the curriculum, and in our ongoing efforts to create a safe and optimal learning environment for all.  The foundation of our 7th and 8th grade Social Studies curriculum is built around that goal and serves as an anchor in this endeavor.   As we prepare for a return to school and have this recent incident also on our minds, I have plans to connect with members of our staff to discuss effective ways to continue our efforts and to provide over time the professional learning that can assist our whole staff in this work.  


This recent incident will surely be upsetting to those in our community, and the history of the swastika and what it has historically represented means that this particular situation, regardless of intent, may also generate additional emotions for members of our Jewish community.  With this in mind, I met with Rabbi Mintz of Congregation Beth Elohim in Acton on Saturday to share with him a preview of what I am sharing now and received helpful counsel from him.  We have agreed to keep in touch and I want to thank him for his time.  


Thank you again to all our parents and guardians for your ongoing support of our school community, and the patience and partnership that you continue to offer us in our work with your students.  


If you’ve got it in you, I do have some other fairly time-sensitive reminders that I want to make sure I put in front of you and ask that you review.  I promise to keep it relatively short.  


  • An important reminder to parents and guardians of 8th grade students that the High School’s postponed Information Night regarding transition to 9th grade is scheduled for tonight (Monday, February 27) at 7pm in the High School Auditorium.  Please remember that this session is for a parent/guardian audience only and will end at 8:30pm.  8th grade students will participate in an information session on March 14 that will be co-led by High School and Junior High counselors and administrators.  

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

  • For parent/guardians who would like to learn more about the SOS lesson and preview the materials that are included in the lesson, please consider attending the Parent Information session that we have scheduled for this Tuesday, February 28 at 7pm in the Junior High Library.  This session will be led by Dr. Larry Berkowitz, Director of Riverside Trauma Center.  

  • A friendly reminder that the Winter Trimester closes next Monday, March 6.  Report cards will likely be ready on or around March 16.  


Have a great week, everyone.  Welcome back.


Cheers,

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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 (vweeks@abschools.org) 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 (kfrey@abschools.org) 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.


Cheers,

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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 (vweeks@abschools.org) 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 (kfrey@abschools.org) 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.


Cheers,

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