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Grey Matters 13-14

Grey Matters, June 16, 2014; Volume 2, Number 38

posted Jun 15, 2014, 2:16 PM by Andrew Shen   [ updated Jun 26, 2014, 11:05 AM by James Marcotte ]

Happy Father’s Day to those of you who celebrated the event this past weekend.  What great weather after a wet Friday (which unfortunately led to a detour for many of our teams with outdoor plans).  In honor of Father’s Day, Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon created (with the help of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie) the latest in a series of “evolution of dance” videos, this time focusing on the Evolution of Dad Dancing, which you can view here. My family has made Sunday a great day for me, starting with the presentation of some gifts.  No, it didn’t include this house that was recently featured in the Globe as the most expensive for sale in Brookline, or a ticket on Virgin Galactic’s passenger spaceship, but they were heartfelt and sincere, and so I treasure them more.  Along with a few iTunes gift cards, I was presented a painted rock from my youngest son that any passerby would have immediately recognized as a paperweight for my desk.  Rest assured, the 5-second pause and head tilt on my part while looking at it wasn’t a sign of confusion by me as to its purpose, but my awe at its magnificence.  My comment after the long pause of, “Oh, it’s a paperweight” was really, “Oh! It’s a paperweight!” That was followed by a package of gifts from my 7-year old daughter who included a card that I could give back to her for when I’d like one hour of silence (if you ever meet her, it’ll make sense).  Today reminded me again of the Cosby Show episode where Bill Cosby engaged in a dialogue with his wife and kids about their choice of Father’s Day and birthday presents.  I included the link back in December (during the holiday season), and you can see it again here and compare his gifts with yours.  

Before mentioning a few other things, a quick reminder on some end-of-year items:

  • The Library will not be open after school for the rest of this week.  

  • Textbooks and library books were/are due! Students have been told by teachers what they might still owe (and the replacement costs).  These obligations need to be met before students attend the end-of-year field trips. If you have any questions, please contact Jim Marcotte at  

  • 7th graders attending Kimballs will be dismissed for buses or car pick up at the “regular time” of 2:06.  8th graders attending Canobie will return to RJ Grey at around 3:45. Parents can pick students up at that time.  Buses will also return for another run, but could be between 4pm and 4:30pm depending on the completion of their elementary school routes.  

  • Wednesday, June 18 (our last day) is a half-day.  Students will be dismissed from the high school auditorium at 10:45am.  

  • The 2014-2015 school calendar was approved at the last School Committee meeting. You can download the calendar by clicking here.  

  • Report cards with Spring Trimester and year-end grades will be mailed home to families after school has ended, and should arrive in mailboxes a little later in June.

The RJ Grey Library website has turned its attention to the summer and has included many links that provides book recommendations and summer reading suggestions.  Check it out by clicking here. Also, the last issue of our online literary magazine Insights, featuring student writing and artwork, is now posted on the library website for all to view by clicking here. I hope everyone finds a little time this summer to catch up on reading - be it a novel, magazine, newspaper, or comic book.  

Last Friday night, we had our end-of-year 8th grade Dance/Celebration, and had over 300 students attend and spend a fun evening together.  The photo booth was quite the hit, and I was surprised and impressed when the students knew the lyrics to a few songs that were written before the turn of this century.  Our whole school community owes a big thanks to parent Judy Nolan for managing this event, and for agreeing to reprise her role for the next 5 years (Ok, she didn’t promise that, but it doesn’t hurt to plant the seed).  She also got a lot of help from staff members Debbie Ahl and Kate Murray, and parent Wendy Schaad.  Special thanks also to Visjna Zarak-Croke and Donna German who donated 300 cupcakes (that’s a whole lot of sugar…).  In addition, an event of this size depends on many parents volunteering their time (for set up/clean up) and donations of food and drinks, and you can see the list of our many wonderful volunteers by clicking here. A big thank you to each of them.  

Before we briefly part ways for the summer, I want to thank our parent community for their continued support of our school.  We’ve enjoyed working with you, and we certainly hope the feeling is mutual.  As I mentioned at the end of last year, these summer months away from school serve an important purpose for students, families, and teachers.  It is always fairly remarkable to see the degree to which young people change and grow even in the span of 8-10 weeks, and we look forward to reuniting with our returning (now) 8th grade students, and welcoming our next 7th grade class to RJ Grey.  Like last summer, we too will decompress a bit, and spend time dreaming up ways to make next year a great one for our students. For those of you with students returning/joining RJ Grey next year, we’ll be in touch in August with information about next year- school supplies, tryout schedules, and everything in between.

I’d like to end this year’s last Grey Matters with the Poetry Friday poem that was read to students last week.  The selection was a poem from Edna St. Vincent Millay, an American poet and playwright. She received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1923.  Mr. Malloy read Millay’s “Afternoon on a Hill” which is about taking a break from the hurried pace of our daily lives - somewhat appropriate as we enter summer vacation….

Afternoon on a Hill

Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1892-1950

I will be the gladdest thing

Under the sun!

I will touch a hundred flowers

And not pick one.

I will look at cliffs and clouds

With quiet eyes,

Watch the wind bow down the grass,

And the grass rise.

And when lights begin to show

Up from the town,

I will mark which must be mine,

And then start down!

Thanks, everyone. Have a great week and summer vacation.  



Grey Matters, June 9, 2014; Volume 2, Number 37

posted Jun 8, 2014, 9:13 AM by Andrew Shen   [ updated Jun 26, 2014, 11:05 AM by James Marcotte ]

I’ve been thinking about summer vacation a lot a little bit, and talking to some of the students about their plans.  The summer after my 7th grade year, we visited Hayward, California (near Oakland) and stayed with my grandmother for about a month.  Memories of this trip came flooding back recently because of a story last week in about how ABC Family just aired The Little Mermaid. With not a lot to do at my grandmother’s, my sister and I watched her copy of The Little Mermaid no less than 200 times, eventually trading roles and singing different parts several times a day.  For better or worse, I don’t remember most of the Latin that I learned in middle school, but I do remember all the lyrics to “Under the Sea.” I’ve also got Disney on my brain, because there is currently a campaign in my home to book a vacation to Disney World this summer.  I just used the Disney website to plan a possible trip, but I think there is a glitch with their online program, because the total estimated bill keeps coming back with too many digits after the dollar sign.  If any of you has some useful tips and hints for a Shen family excursion to Disney (World), as I know nothing about Disney-related vacations, I am standing by to receive your advice and any donations.  

A very important note about our end-of-year field trips on Tuesday, June 17, regarding transportation home at the end of the day: 7th grade students will return to RJ Grey before the 2:06 dismissal, and can take the bus home during the “regular” time (or be picked up).  Our 8th graders will be returning from Canobie around 3:45pm.  Please note that our District’s buses will return to do a second run for our 8th grade students. However, because they are finishing their elementary routes, some buses will pick students up at 4:00pm, and others may start these second runs closer to 4:20-4:30pm. We will stay with the students in the auditorium until their buses arrive, or families are welcome to make other arrangements to pick their children up after we return.  We just want everyone to be aware of the timing.  For any questions, please contact Jim Marcotte at

The 8th grade End-of-Year Dance/Celebration is this Friday! Tickets are now on sale in homerooms until June 12.  Tickets are $5 and will not be sold at the door.  Please know that only current RJ Grey 8th grade students are allowed to attend, and students must have been at school that day to attend the event - if there are any unique circumstances, send me an email and we can figure it out.  For any other questions, contact Kate Murray at 

Last year, members of the high school volleyball coaching staff and current varsity athletes offered a series of volleyball clinics for RJ Grey students interested in the sport.  They are offering the opportunity again this year to learn the basics of volleyball and enjoy some opportunities to play.  No experience is necessary.  The first session is today, June 9 from 2:45 to 4:15 in the gym, and will also take place on Wednesday, June 11 and Monday, June 16 (also from 2:45 to 4:15). 

Textbook Obligations: this week teachers will begin collecting textbooks, library books, and other materials that need to be returned.  Students who still owe textbooks are provided a form that details what is still missing, and the potential replacement costs.  Students must meet their textbook obligations in order to attend the end-of-year field trips!  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 $75 for a textbook). 

Yearbooks will be distributed on Monday afternoon to students who ordered a copy.  We do have a limited number of extra copies that can be ordered on a first come-first served basis.  Please contact Ms. Weeks at with any questions.  

If it wasn’t already circled and highlighted on your family calendars, the last day of school is Wednesday, June 18.  It is a half day that concludes with an all-school assembly at the high school auditorium. Please note that we aren’t able to invite parents to this assembly, and this event is for students and staff only.   Students will then be dismissed from the high school and will get on buses that are lined up outside the high school entrance at 10:45am, or they can be picked up by parents in the JH or HS parking lots. 

We had our last round of Everyday Leaders last week, bringing our total number of students recognized through this effort to a little over 60. Congratulations to Maya Murphy, Becky Wolf, Zach Olson, Maddie Steverman, Nethra Prassana, Jenn Benati, Jackson Parker, Lizette StaMaria, Nithyani Anandakugan, and Shayom Debopadhaya for their selection.  I’ve now eaten way too much pizza and committed to finding some alternatives for next year.  

As everyone prepares for the summer, I do hope that a year of daily Silent Reading has contributed to an increased interest in, and joy of, reading by our students, that will hopefully carry on into the summer months.  Interestingly, the topic of “Young Adult” literature received quite a bit of attention these past two weeks.  First, the film version of the popular book, “The Fault in Our Stars” opened, and that probably had something to do with an editorial that appeared online at chastising adults who choose to read novels that have been categorized as “Young Adult” fiction.  You can read that editorial by clicking here.  That editorial generated quite a bit of hoopla, and a number of passionate responses and rebuttals that took a closer look at some of the complexities found within the genre (as well as pointing out that the labeling of books as “Young Adult” is more marketing than anything else).  Here’s an article from the New Yorker about John Green, the author of The Fault in Our Stars, and also another article from the Wall Street Journal about the increasing presence of raw, heavier, and complex themes found in young adult literature (and the possible reasons and benefits of that trend). Finally, after I read the editorial reprimanding adults who read texts marketed towards children, I did wonder what the author would say about my lifelong love and admiration of the Calvin & Hobbes comic strip series whose author (Bill Watterston), by the way, made a surprise and secret return to the world of comics almost 20 years after he ended Calvin & Hobbes.  For those of you who are fellow admirers of the Calvin & Hobbes series, read about his recent collaboration with another comic strip artist in this recent Rolling Stone’s article.  Just some food for thought in case any of you were also thinking about your own summer reading plans and wondering if it should/could include titles such as Eleanor & Park, or the Divergent series.  

7 ½ days of school and one edition of Grey Matters left! 

Have a great week, everyone. 



Grey Matters, June 2, 2014; Volume 2, Number 36

posted Jun 1, 2014, 7:24 AM by Andrew Shen   [ updated Jun 26, 2014, 11:06 AM by James Marcotte ]

After the Red Sox had lost their 10th straight game last week, my 9-year old son and I were lamenting the team’s struggles, and in an effort to stay optimistic he says, "It's OK. They can just win the next 10 games." My more cynical self took over (I myself was 9 when the ball went through Bill Buckner’s legs), and I replied, “Hayden, if they win the next 10 games, I’ll buy you an iPad.”  As of this Sunday morning, the Red Sox are now at six wins in a row, with four to go (which he reminds me of once an hour).  The loyal fan in me will root for them to keep winning.  My bank account hopes they have one very minor setback in the next four days.  

We are now entering the month of June, and the home stretch for the school year.  Here are a number of reminders and notes to keep in mind: 

(1) 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.  Towards the end of the week, we will begin reaching out to families for whom we do not have a record of their plans for that day.  

(2) All library books and materials need to be returned to the RJ Grey Library by Wednesday, June 4.  We set this due date knowing that it often takes a bit longer to really get everything returned (and sometimes requires more than one reminder, occasionally four or five…), and to identify what resources and texts we may need to replace for next year.  Please know that if a student needs texts for a school-related assignment, we can make arrangements to provide him/her those materials.  Our experience has been that at this time of year, the books that are still out are more for pleasure reading.  

(3) Arts Happening! is taking place this Thursday evening, June 5.  This is a great event for students and families, including any younger siblings and relatives.  Arts Happening is an evening of arts and ice cream this year.  It will include on-going events which will include both musical and dramatic performances, creation of musical 'portraits', an opportunity to make art, and a fundraising Empty Bowls Ice Cream Social. All proceeds will go to the Acton Community Supper and the Acton Food Pantry. Bring your family to enjoy an evening filled with amazing arts and ice cream, while helping to feed hungry families in our area. For more information, visit the Arts Happening website by clicking here

(4) Our 8th Grade End-of-Year Dance/Celebration is Friday, June 13th.  We usually have over 350 students attend, and so we need many volunteers to make the event special and successful.  Parents or guardians of 7th and 8th graders are needed for the following volunteer jobs:

  • Clean Up (10 more people needed to begin at 9:30pm)

  • Food Donations/Appetizers (5 more donations needed)

Please contact Judy Nolan at if you can help with either of these jobs.  As a side note, many thanks to Judy and the other parent volunteers and organizers who have taken on this important event.  

I have had a few inquiries from students and families about next year’s calendar and the first day(s) of school. For those continuing to make summer plans, the first day of school for 7th and 9th grade students will be Wednesday, September 3.  The first day of school for 8th and 10th-12th grade students will be Thursday, September 4.  So everyone starts after Labor Day this year.  As for the rest of the 2014-2015 calendar, there are a few modifications being made due to the recent contract that was reached between the School Committee and the teacher’s association, and I would imagine the finalized version will be released within the next few weeks (I’ll send out a link when I get a copy).  

Finally, I want to make mention of Maya Angelou’s passing last week at the age of 86.  We included a session of Poetry Friday last week to mark Dr. Angelou’s passing, and Mr. Malloy read “Alone”, one the many poems she authored during her distinguished career.  Click here if you’d like to read the poem.  

Have a great week, everyone.


Grey Matters, May 26, 2014; Volume 2, Number 35

posted May 26, 2014, 5:53 AM by Andrew Shen   [ updated Jun 26, 2014, 11:07 AM by James Marcotte ]

We had dinner with my in-laws on Saturday night, and as Henry was telling me how he won an auction for some great Red Sox tickets and was going to take my oldest son, the Red Sox themselves were in the process of losing their 9th straight game.  Regardless of their win-loss record, my son will be excited to go, as he’s very much enjoyed his experiences playing baseball this Spring.  Given how many little league games I’ve attended lately, I read with great interest an article about how the city of Holyoke has started to hang up signs on the recreation fields that provide reminders to the adults about the importance of maintaining a positive atmosphere and modeling good sportsmanship.  Click here to see the article and the picture of the sign.  I should say, however, that the parents involved in my son’s league have and continue to be great supporters of all the kids, and we all cheer through the occasional 45-minute innings that usually involve a strike to ball ratio of about 1:44, 1-2 hit batters, and inside-the-park home runs that start out as a bunt.

For the next four days, 8 Red, under the steady guidance of Mr. Nolan, will be hosting a food drive for the Acto Food Pantry.  This has been an annual event, and something where our students can see how, collectively, we can make a difference.  The Food Pantry has indicated to us that they are especially in need of pasta, spaghetti sauce, peanut butter, mac and cheese, jelly, juice, sardines, canned fruit, rice, cereal, baked beans, bars of soap and other toiletries, and diapers.  For those who might be in a position to contribute, students (and/or families) can drop off donations to the RJ Grey lobby - there is a table set up by the Counseling Office (to your left as you enter the building) where items can be left.  Thanks in advance for your support. 

A friendly reminder about two things that are a bit time sensitive:

  • Field trip forms for the end-of-year trips have gone home (by way of students). The 7th grade class goes to Kimballs, and the 8th grade class goes to Canobie Lake Park. Please make sure you submit these forms (and payment) this week.  If you have questions or would like to request some financial assistance, please don’t hesitate to contact Allison Warren (  

  • This Wednesday, May 28, RJ Grey’s Girl Up club will be hosting a special screening of the film Girl Rising, and the event will also include musical performances and guest speakers on education and opportunity for girls in developing nations.  The event begins at 6:45pm, and there is a suggested $6 donation for students and seniors, and $10 for adults.  Click here to view the flyer for the event, and click here to learn more about the Girl Rising campaign.  

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 Minuteman Tech, or are moving out of Acton or Boxborough.  This year, we are also preparing to bid farewell to six retiring members of the RJ Grey staff, as they begin new chapters of their lives as well.  
Allen Warner (Science), Amanda Finizio (Science), and Dot Keyworth (Math) are completing distinguished careers as educators.  In addition, our front office staff - Betsy Bollier, Ann Decker, and Marcia Charter - the ones who make the trains run on time, and pass along messages, and lunches, and take care of everything in between - are retiring after many years of service to our staff, students and families.  And yes, I’ll say what you’re all thinking, “man, if the whole front office staff is retiring at the same time, Andrew must be a real bear to work with.”  They tell me that’s not the reason, though sometimes I think I see them winking when they say it.  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.  

I hope all of you are having a restful and enjoyable Memorial Day weekend.  One more week until June! 

Have a great week, everyone.



Grey Matters, May 19, 2014; Volume 2, Number 34

posted May 18, 2014, 6:11 AM by Andrew Shen   [ updated Jun 26, 2014, 11:07 AM by James Marcotte ]

Growing up, my wife spent several of her teen years working for Star Markets (now part of Shaw’s), and was often stationed at the customer service desk.  According to Melisa, she would periodically have customers who would bring back carcasses of turkeys and roasted chickens, and declare, “this [insert poultry here] tasted a bit off, I’d like a refund please.”  Each time this happened, she would be tempted to ask, “did you come to that conclusion only after you ate the entire bird?” but she was well-trained, and politely processed the refund. I recently thought of this because I find myself with a (sort of) similar dilemma.  Last spring, we bought numerous bushes and shrubs from a local garden store to plant in our backyard and it’s clear a few of them did not survive the winter. This garden store (like many others) offers one year warranties, and my sense is that I can bring back these plant “carcasses” for a refund/replacement (though I am nearing the one-year mark).  And yet, I will admit that I am a little nervous about doing this, feeling like I’ll be questioned about (or at least secretly judged for) my poor shrub and plant maintenance. I have this feeling that they’ll post a picture of me at their registers with a note about how my backyard is a deathtrap for rhododendrons and boxwoods.   So if any of you have had experiences at garden stores with returning dead plants, even and especially after a full year, I’d welcome your advice and guidance on this dilemma.  

Here’s our weekly reminder of upcoming events and dates to keep in mind:

  • The Spring Chorus concert is this Tuesday, May 20th at 7pm in the RJ Grey auditorium.  

  • We don’t have school next Monday as part of the Memorial Day long weekend.  

  • The 8th grade End of Year Dance/Celebration is Friday, June 13th.  In the near future, I’ll send some information from our parent volunteers about ways that RJ Grey families can help with food, and event set-up and clean-up duties.  

  • Another reminder about our Arts Happening festival on June 5th!  It will include on-going events which will include both musical and dramatic performances, creation of musical 'portraits', an opportunity to make art, and a fundraising Empty Bowls Ice Cream Social. All proceeds will go to the Acton Community Supper and the Acton Food Pantry. For more information, visit the Arts Happening website by clicking here

On Wednesday, May 28,
RJ Grey’s Girl Up club will be hosting a special screening of the film Girl Rising, and the event will also include musical performances and guest speakers on education and opportunity for girls in developing nations.  The event begins at 6:45pm, and there is a suggested $6 donation for students and seniors, and $10 for adults.  Click here to view the flyer for the event, and click here to learn more about the Girl Rising campaign.  

Our latest installment of Poetry Fridays was led by Mr. Malloy, and featured a poem by Robert Creeley.  Mr. Creeley is an internationally acclaimed poet who grew up in West Acton, and I learned from Mr. Malloy that between the ages of 5 and 14, the poet lived in the white farmhouse on the corner of Elm Street and Arlington Street.  The poem that Mr. Malloy read is entitled, “Oh No”, and 8-line piece about discovering what is truly important and the need of feeling like you belong.  If you’d like to read the poem, click here.  

Finally, I wanted to share an article I came across last week about two high school students in Liberty, Missouri who devoted a good deal of time and energy coming up with a solution to an extremely complex and widespread issue: watery ketchup.  As part of a project for a high school course, the students developed a cap for a ketchup bottle that prevents that first squirt of the bottle from being a watery sludge.  My favorite part of the article was reading about the teacher’s approach to the course, and how the project(s) start with the basic prompt, “it really bugs me when…” as a way to generate ideas for a problem they’d like to pursue.  To read the PBS article, click here.  

Have a great week, everyone.



Grey Matters, May 12, 2014; Volume 2, Number 33

posted May 11, 2014, 1:53 PM by Andrew Shen   [ updated Jun 26, 2014, 11:08 AM by James Marcotte ]

A very happy Mother’s Day to all of you out there who deserve our appreciation today and every other day of the year.  My family and I spent Mother’s Day weekend in New York City, attending the wedding of my brother-in-law and his (now) wife.  The ceremony itself was quite small and limited primarily to extended family and a few close friends.  Towards the end, the Priest asked if those in attendance would commit to supporting Josh and Anna as they begin this stage in their lives together.  All but one of us answered, “we will” and then my youngest son, as it’s clearly his life’s mission to contradict everything, blurts out an emphatic “no!” that echoed throughout the church.  You may recall from last week’s Grey Matters that he is the one who planned to see where the Principal’s office is during his Kindergarten welcome day, in anticipation of getting sent there by his teacher(s) next year.

We have now completed MCAS testing for the year (hallelujah).  If your child missed any of his/her testing days last week, we will be holding make-up sessions during the first part of this week.  If you have any questions, please contact Assistant Principal Jim Marcotte at  Our students deserve a lot of credit and applause for their effort during our MCAS sessions, and we appreciate their approach to what can be a cumbersome and lengthy process.  

Our second annual Arts Happening festival is coming to RJ Grey on June 5th! This is a great event for students and families, including any younger siblings and relatives.  Arts Happening is an evening of arts and ice cream this year.  It will include on-going events which will include both musical and dramatic performances, creation of musical 'portraits', an opportunity to make art, and a fundraising Empty Bowls Ice Cream Social. All proceeds will go to the Acton Community Supper and the Acton Food Pantry. Bring your family to enjoy an evening filled with amazing arts and ice cream, while helping to feed hungry families in our area. For more information, visit the Arts Happening website by clicking here

Now that we are entering the second week of May, we can now see some of our end-of-year activities on the horizon - dances, field trips, and other special events.  As we get nearer to those events, we’ll be sure to send out more information and details to families.  Two events that I want to highlight right now is, first, our Spring band concert, which will be this Tuesday, May 13 at 7:00pm (in the RJ Grey auditorium).  Secondly, on Tuesday, May 20, the Spring chorus concert will be held, also at 7pm in the auditorium.  We hope to see many of you at each/both events.  For any questions regarding the events, please contact Mr. Hickey (Band) at, or Mr. Charig (Chorus) at  

Finally, I briefly made mention a few weeks ago of the date for the 8th grade “End of Year” dance, which is now scheduled for Friday, June 13.  I know it’s a month away, and I want to try and provide a bit more information 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.  I mention the below thoughts because sometimes, during some bouts of excitement about the event, a few expectations may be discussed and generated within our student population that may be on the bit unrealistic/ambitious/fantasy-ish side-- and then they occasionally get re-articulated to parents as school guidelines. So below is a bit of guidance that I hope will help…..

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 some great decorations, a photo booth, and an impressive spread of food (and it’s at night).  At the same time, we are not trying to create our own version of a Prom.  We want students to come excited and eager to spend an evening with their friends and classmates, and somewhat dressed up for the event.  They don’t, however, need to think about “coming with a date” (the overwhelming majority do not, and is not even on their radar), hair appointments, or special transportation.  We ask students who attend this event to dress a bit more formally than most would for a regular school day -- be it a dress or nice slacks, collared shirts (some choose to wear ties), and some form of khakis (in other words, not wearing jeans).  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.   Finally, if dancing is not your son/daughter’s “thing”, please assure them that it’s not a required activity for the evening, and many simply come and socialize with their peers.  As we get nearer to the end of school, we’ll send out reminders about buying a ticket.  

Have a great week, everyone.



Grey Matters, May 5, 2014; Volume 2, Number 32

posted May 4, 2014, 7:04 AM by Andrew Shen   [ updated Jun 26, 2014, 11:08 AM by James Marcotte ]

At some point each year, we often hold a “crazy hat day” at RJ Grey where we encourage students to come to school wearing something on their respective heads. I thought of our tradition this weekend when I read about this year’s Kentucky Derby, and many news sites posted pictures of the various oversized and over-the-top hats that are part of that event’s tradition (slightly more elaborate than ours). For those who might enjoy spending a few moments viewing what one publication called “a veritable cavalcade of crazy chapeaus” (I had to look up the definition of chapeaus as well), you can see a sampling of hats by clicking here and here.  

This past week was heavily devoted to welcoming current 6th grade families to the RJ Grey community.  We had a strong turnout at our Curriculum Night presentation on Wednesday, and then a steady stream of parents and guardians visiting us on Thursday and Friday to participate in some tours of the building.  I even think a few of them signed up for our Twitter feed, which brings us to 122 followers.  Special thanks to Jenna Frizzel (7 Green) for speaking at our Curriculum Night, and to our many student Ambassadors for serving as tour guides to our visiting families.  

In the town where I live, the elementary schools were also holding welcome events this week for new families, and my youngest son was invited to an event for incoming Kindergarten students.  While preparing Parker for this event, I gave a plug for his soon-to-be school’s principal (gotta help fellow principals whenever you can).  I mentioned how exciting it would be to meet Mr. W. during his visit, to which he replied, “yes, I can also see where his office is, so I’ll know where to go when I get in trouble.”  My wife thought that this was a positive sign of his ability to plan ahead, whereas I took away something entirely different from his comment.  

Our final round of MCAS testing began today, with the first day of 7th grade Math.  Here is the schedule for the whole week:

Monday, May 5 --  7th grade Math

Tuesday, May 6 -- 7th grade Math

Wednesday, May 7 -- 8th grade Math

Thursday, May 8 -- 8th grade Math

Friday, May 9 -- 8th grade Science

(Monday, May 12 and Tuesday, May 13 are make-up days)

We had our latest round of Everyday Leaders take place last week.  I am still trying to figure out some alternative to serving pizza during our quick Everyday Leader lunch, but options are limited given that our first lunch starts before 11am.  It’s not that the pizza isn’t good and well-received, but it just seems a bit cliche when it comes to food that is served at a school event.  Nevertheless, it was great to spend some time with a number of our students and see how the year is going, and to hear from their teachers about the contributions they are making to our school and their peers.  Congratulations to this group of Everyday Leaders: Hannah Gearan, Allie Pearson, Noah Chinitz, Katy Holt, Harish Raman, Jake Abramowitz, Olivia Nikopolous, Varsha Jawahar, Grace Fitzgerald, Sanjana Cheerla.

Finally, a few reminders about upcoming events:

  • The 8th grade class picture is being taken this Wednesday, May 7 after MCAS.  Order forms were distributed to students last week.  If you have any questions about ordering a picture, please contact Jim Marcotte a

  • The Drama Club’s “Festival of Short Plays” is taking place this Friday, May 9 at 7pm in the auditorium.  Tickets are $4, and you can find more information about this event by clicking here.  

  • The Spring Band Concert is taking place on Tuesday, May 13th at 7pm in the auditorium.  For any questions, please contact Mark Hickey (Band Director) at

  • One last date to note -- the End-of-Year 8th grade dance is scheduled for the evening of Friday, June 13th (while I write this, I am realizing that it’s Friday the 13th).  I mention this because this is a new date that was the result of the several snow days that we had.  Plenty more information about the event will be forthcoming later in May.  

Have a great week, everyone.



Grey Matters, April 28, 2014; Volume 2, Number 31

posted Apr 27, 2014, 8:43 AM by Andrew Shen   [ updated Jun 26, 2014, 11:08 AM by James Marcotte ]

As usual, school vacations go by too quickly. I hope that during the break you had the chance to engage with your kids in some meaningful face-to-face activities.  Early last week, I went out to lunch with my three kids and when the conversation waned, or when I needed respite from some of the nudgy sibling fighting, I found myself escaping via my smartphone - checking emails, and checking the news.  It later dawned on me the degree to which I had succumbed to the trappings of being “wired in” and what messages I was sending to my kids- subtly and perhaps quite dramatically - about how our time together is best spent.  With that issue still on my mind, I came across two articles on what MIT professor Sherry Turkle calls “being alone together” and the impact of digital devices on how we interact with those around us. The first is a New York Times article from 2012, called “The Flight From Conversation.”  My favorite line from the article is, “Face-to-Face conversation unfolds slowly. It teaches patience” and my sense is that patience was the exact opposite of what I was modeling at lunch last Tuesday.  The other article was published more recently in The Atlantic with the fairly straightforward title:  “My Student’s Don’t Know How to Have a Conversation”, and focuses on the importance of helping students engage in, and practice, “real time talk”, and explaining the nuances, benefits (and maybe even joy) of face-to-face communication.  Anyway, a moment of parental confession reflection that I thought I would share in case any of you have sometimes found yourself and/or your kids wrestling with this similar temptation of being there without fully being there.

There are now 7 ½ weeks remaining in the current school year - a little hard to believe.   With the end of the year around the corner, we will also soon be sending home with students permission slips for the end-of-year field trips (stay tuned). On the second-to-last day of the year, our 7th graders enjoy a class trip to Kimball Farms, and our 8th graders take a trip up to Canobie Lake Park (New Hampshire) for the day.  

Also, and a bit more immediate, on Wednesday, May 7th (after that day’s MCAS session- more on that below) 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 students later this week/early next week.  If you would like to order a copy, please have your student bring the order form with him/her when we take the photo.  If you have any questions or need any sort of financial assistance for either the field trip and/or class photo, please contact Jim Marcotte at  Please know that we are very committed to never letting finances interfere with any student’s ability to fully participate in these school events, and want everyone to enjoy these moments without having to think twice about potential financial impact.  

Our next (and final) round of MCAS testing takes place next week, starting on Monday, May 5th.  That means that I’ll be making another pilgrimage to BJs at some point in the next few days, and loading the car up with juice boxes and breakfast bars.  Below is the schedule for which grades and which subjects are scheduled for each day:  

  •         Monday, 5/5 7th Grade Math MCAS
  • Tuesday, 5/6 7th Grade Math MCAS
  • Wednesday, 5/7 8th Grade Math MCAS
  • Thursday, 5/8 8th Grade Math MCAS
  • Friday, 5/9         8th Grade Science MCAS
  • Monday, 5/12 MCAS Make Up Day
  • Tuesday, 5/13 MCAS Make Up Day

I hope most of you received and had a chance to briefly read the email that I sent to all families regarding the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children.  As I noted in the email, we are being asked to develop records that will help in the implementation of this effort to support children of military families (whose schooling is often peppered with frequent moves).  If your family does meet the parameters outlined in the email, we would appreciate it if you sent me a quick email confirming this status.  You can view information about the Compact by clicking here

Along with the email that I sent about military families, my understanding is that you also received a message from the District about some updates and changes to the “Parent Portal” and how families can manage their username/password and link each of their student’s profiles to a single account (also known as “Single Sign On”). Starting April 23rd, families can create their own username and password (each parent/guardian can create his/her own), and you can click a link to get a “recovery” email that will help you retrieve a forgotten username or password (as opposed to calling the school).  The email included a link to a short video for how to set up your new account, which you can also access by clicking here

This week, we are welcoming 6th grade families to the RJ Grey community with a variety of activities, including our annual Curriculum Night which is taking place this Wednesday evening in our auditorium.  We’re actually changing the format a bit - shortening the presentation itself, and then setting up tables throughout the lobby where members of each department will show samples of assignments and student work, and be available to answer questions.  If you have friends or neighbors who will be joining RJ Grey for the first time next year, please encourage them to attend the Curriculum Night and/or the tours that we offer during the day (9am to 1pm) on Thursday and Friday.  

Have a great week, everyone. 



Grey Matters for April 14, 2014; Volume 2, Number 30

posted Apr 13, 2014, 6:38 AM by Andrew Shen   [ updated Jun 26, 2014, 11:09 AM by James Marcotte ]

Those of you who drop your kids off to RJ Grey in the morning may have noticed that I was missing for three days from my usual post across from the bottom of the parking lot stairwell.  It’s because I had the opportunity to attend a conference at Harvard with a few other A-B colleagues called “Learning Environments for Tomorrow” (or the LEFT Conference).  This conference brought together educators and architects from around the country (and a few from Istanbul and India) to work together and explore innovative practices in education, and the design of physical (or virtual) learning spaces that support those practices.  It was an exciting opportunity to work with architects and designers and focus on issues such as technology and sustainability, and then see some provocative examples of projects and programs already taking place around us.  We learned about a small outfit in Cambridge called NuVu Studio being run by a “mad scientist” from MIT that uses studio-based pedagogy to engage with 11 to 17 year olds for 12-week periods (and currently partnering with Beaver Country Day to provide this opportunity to its students).  There’s also an elective program at Newton North High School called the “Greenginering Lab” that gives students the chance to explore hands-on efforts at developing solutions to a myriad of issues.  Then there’s the the set of schools in San Diego known as High Tech High, that utilizes principles of project-based learning to engage students in the development of 21st century skills.  It’s going to take me (and us) a bit of time to digest everything, and to think about how we might be able to apply some of what we learned to our schools here at A-B.  Nevertheless, I was grateful for the chance to suspend reality for a few days and be exposed to some real cutting-edge work at the vanguard of education and design.  

For 7th grade families, thank you for your efforts to return the 8th grade registration form that each of you received last week.  If you still happen to have the registration form, please bring it to RJ Grey as soon as possible, as the deadline was last Friday.  As a reminder, your child’s world language and recommended math level were already listed on the form, and we need(ed) you and your child to identify a Grey Block choice for next year.  For those families who wish to submit a Math Override form, please remember that it is a separate form that must be received by May 23, 2014 - forms and requests received after that date can not be honored.  The override form can be picked up at the Counseling Office, or you can download it by clicking here.  Before submitting the form, please complete the required step of communicating with your child’s math teacher to engage in a conversation about their observations and feedback.  

A friendly reminder that we have a shortened school week, as there is no school on Friday for Good Friday.  I also know that we have a number of families who observe Passover this week (starting tonight, I believe), and I hope those celebrating any of these events have a meaningful experience.  

Finally, we are coming upon April Vacation, which is always a welcome break after what is typically a long stretch of cold school days.  Along with an opportunity for many of us to take a vacation and maybe visit faraway places, April Vacation also traditionally begins with the running of the Boston Marathon.  Like every other year, we have residents of Acton and Boxborough, and members of RJ Grey, who will be running in the marathon.  For obvious reasons, this year’s running of the marathon has taken on special and profound meaning, as we reclaim a community event that means so much to so many people. We wish everyone participating in the event the best of luck, a race free of blisters, and great joy as you cross the finish line.  

Have a great week, everyone.



Grey Matters, April 7, 2014; Volume 2, Number 29

posted Apr 6, 2014, 7:24 AM by Andrew Shen   [ updated Jun 26, 2014, 11:09 AM by James Marcotte ]

There have been enough signs of Spring, both subtle and more pronounced, that makes me confident that we’ve turned a corner -- some warmer weather, a little more daylight, and Opening Day at Fenway.  Also, with the start of Spring sports and activities, the amount of money I just spent this weekend on new cleats for one child, another uniform for a different child, and all sorts of other miscellaneous gear, ended up being the most vivid (and expensive) sign that Spring has arrived.  Along with the snow in my backyard, my credit card melted from all the swiping it suffered in the span of just a few hours.  My sense, however, is those woes pale in comparison to that of many families (perhaps some of you) currently figuring out how to finance college tuitions.  Since it’s also the season for college acceptance letters, I’ve noticed a lot of articles in the news (like this one or this one) on the astronomical tuition costs, and the world of financial aid (try this one, too).  For the “fun” of it, I began to calculate the cost of tuition for a private 4-year institution when my oldest son (3rd grade) would be considering post-secondary options in 2023. When I tried to use the calculator on my iPhone to figure out what an annual 4% increase would lead to, I am pretty sure I heard Siri start to snicker and snort.  

A few important calendar and event reminders that I want to make sure are highlighted this week:

         (1) We have our last late start day tomorrow (Tuesday, April 8).  Students will start the school day at 10:30am instead of 7:30am.  Everything, including 

                buses, will be pushed back three hours.  So if your child’s bus usually shows up at 6:50am, it will now show up at 9:50am.  Lunch will still be served to all 

                students, and dismissal is still at 2:06pm.  In the morning, our teachers will be participating in professional development activities and meetings.  

(2) Spring Track starts today! There was a meeting last Thursday afternoon with the coaches.   When I stopped in to check out the meeting, we had about 250 students in attendance - well over a quarter of our student population.  If your child still has not submitted his/her green form, please make arrangements to complete this requirement.  Unfortunately, students can not participate until those forms are received and reviewed.  We have some wonderful coaches who make the program a great experience, and if you have any questions please contact Mary Price Maddox at  

(3) Acton Town Meeting starts this evening, and takes place in the High School auditorium.  For those interested in reviewing school budget-related materials that were developed by the District, please visit the District’s website, which is  

(4) April Vacation is almost here.  A friendly reminder that there is no school on Friday, April 18 because of Good Friday, so the last day of school before break will be Thursday, April 17.  

When we return from April Vacation, we will be busy with our efforts to begin introducing ourselves to current 6th grade families.  Our Curriculum Night will be the Wednesday following vacation, along with the tours of the school for parents and the PTSO-organized parent panel in early May.  We are changing the format of our Curriculum Night for this year.  Instead of having every department speak to the audience, a few of us will provide a (hopefully useful) overview of RJ Grey (the teaming model, registration process, etc.) and then each department will have a table in the lobby where families can pick up handouts and ask questions of our department leaders. Our hope is that this model will streamline the evening, still allow for important information to be conveyed, and then let families focus on the questions and topics most important to them.  If you have friends and neighbors who may be sending their first child to RJ Grey next year, please encourage them to attend the Curriculum Night and/or the tours.  They should have gotten a letter from me last week that introduces some of these events.  

The NCAA college basketball tournament(s) are finishing up this week, but our own RJ Grey Library book bracket competition ended last week.  We had three winners, and congratulations goes to: Caleb Trotz (8 Gold) and Ms. Carter (8 Green) for tying with 96 points, and Dhruva Rangan (7 Gold) who had the most points with 104. Now that the tournament has ended, the Library has moved on to a different Springtime activity, which is now up on display in our lobby.  Members of the staff had pictures taken of them reading a book that either means a great deal to them, or that they are currently reading, and having most of their faces covered by those books - and thus requiring some guessing to figure out the reader in the photo.  Here’s a photo of the bulletin board in the lobby, but you’d probably need to come and see it in person if you really want to guess (the answers are pasted underneath the photo to provide for instant gratification).  Kudos to our Librarian Louisa Latham for continuing to engage our community in the joys of reading.  

Finally, a staff member at RJ Grey shared with me a local activity that she thought might interest some of our students.  The Acton-Boxborough Cultural Council is inviting all Acton and Boxborough students in grades K through 8 to submit names for the new sculpture in the wetlands area at NARA Park.  If you’d like to learn more, you can visit their website by clicking here

Have a great week, everyone.



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