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Grey Matters, February 24, 2014; Volume 2, Number 23

posted Feb 23, 2014, 8:04 AM by Andrew Shen   [ updated Jun 26, 2014, 11:11 AM by James Marcotte ]

Welcome back, everyone.  If any of you are returning from warmer climates, your invitation to have me join you on your vacation must have gotten lost in the mail or was accidentally caught in my email spam filter.  For those who, like my family, stayed here for the week, I hope it was filled with activities beyond looking up at your ceiling and hoping your roof wouldn’t succumb to the ever-growing piles of snow.  Despite my not winning the $425 million Powerball drawing (again), it was a nice and relaxing week for the Shen clan. My week started off with an empathetic chuckle when I read about an Easthampton (MA) middle school student who had to be rescued when his tongue was frozen to a metal pole on school grounds, and a sigh of relief that the re-enactment of the triple dog dare scene from “A Christmas Carol” didn’t happen at RJ Grey (click here for the article).  Later in the week, a friend of mine also introduced me to the Banff Mountain Film Festival, which set up shop last week at the Somerville Theatre.  The film festival showcases short and feature-length films about mountain culture, sports, and environment (and a whole host of “don’t try this at home” moments).  Check out this short video if you want to see a sampling of the films.  

Over the next few weeks, Grey Matters will be focused on highlighting a number of significant events and activities that will be taking place during the month of March. I will preview a few of them today, and then provide relevant details as we get closer to each event.  

The first event that deserves special attention and a focused spotlight is our annual Spring musical.  This year, our students will be performing Willy Wonka and I hope all of you have a chance to attend one of the seven performances.  These musicals are very family-friendly, so we encourage you to bring older and younger members of your family.  I’m bringing my 7-year old daughter to the March 8 evening performance, so perhaps we’ll see some of you there.  This year, the performances will be on March 7 (7pm only), March 8 (2pm and 7pm), March 9 (2pm only), March 14 (7pm only), and March 15 (2pm and 7pm). Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at Red, White, and Brew (in West Acton), Donelan’s Supermarket, at the RJ Grey main office, and at the door. 

The end of the Winter Trimester is fast approaching.  Grades close on March 6, and students and families will receive report cards around March 17.  It is likely that many teachers may be working with students on end-of-trimester assignments and assessments, and make up work. 

For 8th grade students and families, the month of March is when some time needs to be spent thinking about next year, and plans for the high school.  On March 12, representatives from the high school will be visiting every 8th grade classroom and providing an overview of the high school program and things to consider when selecting 9th grade classes.  Between March 12 and March 21, teachers will have conversations with students regarding course and level recommendations.  The week before this happens, I will send out some specific thoughts about this process that I hope provides you with some direction and helpful food for thought.

For students in both 7th and 8th grade, March also means the start of MCAS testing.  The first MCAS assessment will take place on March 18 (for 7th grade only), and will continue off and on through March 27.  I will most likely include in the March 10 Grey Matters the specific MCAS schedule, and provide reminders about how we approach the MCAS, and how you can support your son/daughter during the testing process (mostly having to do with food, sleep, and a healthy perspective on what’s being asked of them).  Several weeks ago, I briefly mentioned that the state is also asking schools to administer a pilot of the PARCC assessments, which the state plans to use (perhaps starting next year) as the new statewide assessment (replacing MCAS).  We have two 7th grade classes and two 8th grade classes that have been randomly selected to participate in this pilot.  Families of students in those four classes have been sent a letter about the pilot and what it will look like for the students.  If you are one of those families, and you have questions or need clarification, please contact Mr. Marcotte (  If you did NOT receive a letter, and if your child did not hear a presentation from Mr. Marcotte about it, then your child is not part of the PARCC pilot.

The month of March also means Project Wellness at RJ Grey (on March 19).  We appreciate the efforts our 7th grade families made to complete the registration process.  A week or so before the event, I will send out a list of reminders and information about start and end times, driving directions, and other logistical details. Please remember that you can always visit the Project Wellness website (click here) for information about the day.  You can also email Kate Murray ( with questions that might be specific to your situation.

Finally, I want to acknowledge the students and staff members who were involved in our Blue & Gold assembly that was held right before we all departed for February Break.  The assembly had great performances from our Chorus, Band, some scenes from Willy Wonka, and a performance by student Riona Chen who won 2nd place at a recent Speech and Debate tournament for best prose interpretation.  In addition, our Student Council officers planned what I think may become a new tradition – an RJ Grey Hunger Games competition featuring a dozen staff members.  Just to set the stage for those who may not have heard about it from your child – the teachers were each seated on stools that were placed in a circle facing a pile of school-related items in the middle of the circle (I believe it was called the Cornucopia in the book). Each round required participants to race to the center and secure the item (a ruler, a binder, etc.) that was announced (always with the quantity available being one fewer than the participants left), until only one teacher remained.  It was an amazing scene, and students and staff alike reveled in seeing teachers in situations that, thankfully, were different from a typical classroom setting.  While I also enjoyed the activity, I was also having minor bouts of anxiety as I witnessed teachers sometimes colliding into each other, and in one case a teacher flying headfirst through the air (said teacher will remain nameless on Grey Matters, but your kids can tell you who it was).  Halfway through the Hunger Games I thought to myself, “how on earth would I accurately fill out a workplace injury form if one of them gets hurt?” Fortunately, there were no injuries to report and Ms. Mazonson, Social Studies teacher on 8 Gold, took home the prize.  Thanks again to Mrs. Ahl and our Student Council Officers (Robert Watt, Sarah Bradley, Christina Pathrose, Logan Penney, and Sijia Cai) for their work in planning this assembly.

Have a great week, everyone.  Welcome back.