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Grey Matters, December 16, 2013; Volume 2, Number 16

posted Dec 15, 2013, 6:25 AM by Andrew Shen   [ updated Jun 26, 2014, 11:13 AM by James Marcotte ]

Do any of the elementary schools in Acton and Boxborough include a music/performing arts unit that involves learning and playing the recorder?  My oldest son’s elementary school does, and hearing his rendition of “Hot Cross Buns” a few hundred times this past week has become a bonding experience for our family.  My mother is a piano teacher, and I grew up listening to students play the same measures, passages, and pieces over and over (and over) again during their lessons at our home.  Because of this, I am somewhat immune to some of the, uh, challenges with listening to our son practice on his recorder.  My wife is not so accustomed to the noise repetition.  Hayden (our son) should be grateful that grandma doesn’t live with us. I studied the cello for many years, and having a music teacher for a mother meant that there were several days between my formal weekly lessons that also included an informal (but no less structured) lesson.  At least he hasn’t asked about the drums.   

With the end of the Fall Trimester, we had our second round of Everyday Leaders - the program where each team, along with a rotation of exploratory teachers, identifies one student who has contributed to our school community, and has modeled some element of good citizenship within their classes and team.  Last week I met with the students who were selected for this round, and we had some good conversation while munching on pizza.  I have been tempted to adjust the program slightly so that instead of pizza with the principal, we could have sushi with Shen, but I think the associated costs may be a bit prohibitive.  Congratulations to this group of Everyday Leaders: Stephen Caliskin, Clare Simpson, Hannah Smokelin, Samantha Madden, Emily Ellis, Avani Shah, Genevieve Rudolf, Jack Ryan, Tim Davis, and Kate Jensen.   

A few (three, actually) logistical reminders and notes that I want to bring to your attention this week:

  • First, we have created a new page on our RJ Grey website that is devoted to the activities of the main office.  This page, go there by clicking here, offers information and guidance on a variety of things such as attendance, dismissals and dropping off items for students.  It also includes a link to a dismissal form that parents can use.  If there are other reminders or instructions that would be useful for us to include on this page, please let us know.  

  • Second, this is the last week for students and families to order a copy of the yearbook, which will be distributed at the end of the year.  We will not be able to take any additional orders after December 20.  This year, families can choose to order yearbooks online by going to and entering our school code -- 13545. For those who might prefer using a paper order form, please fill out the form that was distributed to students last week, and send it in with check or cash to the main office (attn: Vicki Weeks).  If you need another copy of the paper order form, you can download it by clicking here.

  • Finally, our first two rounds of parent conferences are taking place this week on Tuesday the 17th and Thursday the 19th.  This means that we have early dismissal for students on both days at 10:40am.  We would recommend that you clarify and confirm with your child(ren) the expectations you have for post-dismissal plans - whether that’s taking the bus home, getting picked up, or allowing them to walk off campus.  Please know that the Library will not be available to students on these days.  For parents who are coming in for conferences, there will be a table set up in the lobby where Marcia Charter will be available to provide directions if needed.  

A few weeks after we return from Winter Break, our 7th grade students will be participating in an assembly led by MARC - the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center. MARC came last year and made a presentation that looks specifically at cyberbullying and internet safety.  MARC is an organization based at Bridgewater State and has been heavily involved in the state’s recent efforts to address bullying and harassment in schools.  Some specific topics that will be discussed include online bullying vs. in-person bullying, and protecting one’s privacy online.  

This year, our hope is to have the speakers from MARC stay at RJ Grey and make themselves available to parents and guardians for an evening workshop.  We are still working on the details, and hope to provide confirmation of these plans right after we return from the break.  Part of our motivation for adding this adult-focused session is based on a letter that I co-wrote last year with Alixe Callen, who was at the time principal of the High School (click here if you’d like to read the letter).  We felt it important to make note of the continuing and expanding challenges associated with the appropriate  use of technology by teenagers.  Those challenges, unsurprisingly, still exist, and evolve (or devolve, depending on how we want to look at it) as quickly as the rate in which companies are introducing new ways for people to “connect”.  I just read three articles this morning about new options and practices on Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter (click on each to see the article).  While those efforts often have good intentions and are potentially beneficial tools (RJ Grey has our own Twitter feed), they also present new challenges and terrain to navigate for parents and for adolescents who, as we know, can be impulsive at times.  As parents and educators, we of course expect and help adolescents with mistakes that naturally and inevitably come with growing up.  The new(er) dimension to this effort is how technology makes adolescent mistakes harder to erase, and easier to amplify in terms of impact and risk.  So along with having MARC present to the students themselves, we are very much hoping to make them available to interested parents for a dialogue on this issue. So stay tuned.  

After this week, we enter the Winter Break, and I want to wish everyone a restful and enjoyable vacation and good thoughts for the upcoming new year.  We had another installment of Poetry Fridays at the end of last week, and I wanted to close this pre-Winter Break Grey Matters with the poem that was read by student Carolyn Kautz of 7 Orange.  She read a poem by Tom Hennen called “In the Sky of Winter” which was about the subtle beauty of a typical winter day - somewhat apropos given the snowfall that we experienced last night:

First day of winter and it seems all the insects are dead.  None sail around any more or chirp or buzz or suddenly forget the art of flying above your soup.  But they are there, under the leaves, burrowed into frozen plowing.  Wings folded, legs tucked close.  They are in the tiny cases of their bodies, alive, some of them, but still as fallen twigs or stones.  Meanwhile, the sky, lonesome without its tiny aviators, has filled the air with snowflakes.  

Have a great week, and a restful Winter Break, everyone.