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Grey Matters, March 2, 2015; Volume 3, Number 24

posted Mar 1, 2015, 10:07 AM by Andrew Shen   [ updated Jul 6, 2015, 6:51 AM by James Marcotte ]

Hi Everyone,

A few things happened this week that triggered two memories from when I was 11 years old, and have been stored somewhere in the recesses of my brain.  First, the online radio station I was listening to yesterday included John Denver’s Take Me Home, Country Roads, which our family sang several times on our vacation to Acadia National Park in 1988.  I can’t confirm, but I think our family of four might have represented about 30% of the Chinese American population in the state of Maine at that very moment; and there we were, in our silver Dodge Caravan, singing about country roads taking us home to West Virginia.  Secondly, I found myself on Friday telling a teacher about a time in 5th grade when I had to clean off my desk in Mrs. McGrath’s class, and having an impossible time getting some scotch tape off of the surface.  When I shared my dilemma with Mrs. McGrath, she immediately replied, “you know, I think if you just use a little elbow grease, you can get the tape to come off.”  So I walked back to my desk, looked at the tape, grabbed my right forearm with my left hand, and then  began to furiously rub my elbow back and forth across the desk at the spot where the tape was taunting me.  After about two minutes of this, I wore off about five layers of skin, and had a red, open and expanding welt on the underside of my arm. The thing is, most of the tape actually did come off, so I assumed this was what she had in mind.  What brought this memory to the surface last week was a class that I attended on how to improve our support of English Language learners in the classroom.  Along with a whole host of other topics covered in the class readings was mention of the habit of including idioms and other expressions into our dialogue with students. It’s easy to forget that we might have students who may simply have never heard a particular expression (i.e. 11-year old Andrew Shen), and/or students who are just learning the English language and therefore telling them to “stop pulling my leg” or to “spill the beans” may generate some serious confusion.  I can only imagine what it would have looked like if Mrs. McGrath had instead told me to “put your back into it” as a way to clean my desk.   

Did you know that at the elementary level (K thru 6), we have almost 200 students who are part of our ELL population?  This represents an increase over the past ten years of over two hundred percent.  We have yet to see a similar increase at the Junior High, but I think that will shift in the near future.  Along with slowly increasing our ELL staffing within the District over the next few years, many of us are participating in workshops and courses on how to effectively support our ELL population (and this is also part of a larger statewide initiative).  It’s a fascinating shift in the demographics of our school community, and one that compels us to think about how we structure and support our classrooms.  By the way, on a semi-humorous tangent, it seems now that once we’ve all developed a comfort with more traditional methods of written communication, we now have to learn all about the rules governing how punctuation marks are to be used in text messages, and the way a period is no longer a period, and could carry with it different types of emphasis and meaning.  

We just had opening weekend for Once on This Island!  In fact, our installment of Poetry Fridays last week was dedicated to the cast and crew of the musical, and Mr. Malloy selected and read a poem written by a student from Framingham, MA called “Acting”.  I hope those who attended the four show this weekend were appropriately impressed and had a great time.  There are still three more shows that you can attend -- Friday the 6th (7pm) and Saturday the 7th (2pm and 7pm). If you go Friday night, I’ll see you there.  Tickets are $10, and you can purchase them at the RJG Main Office, Donelan’s, and Red, White & Brew.  Those with ABSAF Passes can pick up their complimentary tickets at the RJG Main office.  Any remaining tickets (if there are any) for a particular showing can be purchased at the door.  

A few reminders and previews of things for you to know:

  • The Winter Trimester ends next Monday, March 9.  Report cards will most likely go home with students on or around the 18th.  

  • We have three finalists for the Athletic Director position.  All of the finalists will be available to meet with members of the community this Wednesday evening, in the JH auditorium.  You can learn more about each candidate, and the details of the forum by viewing this announcement.  Those with an interest in our athletic program are encouraged to attend and offer feedback.  

  • I mentioned last week that 8th grade students can begin to log community service hours that can be credited towards their efforts as high school students.  Forms and additional information about this opportunity are now available from Mrs. Jarostchuk in our 8th grade counseling office.  

  • Our next community event for parents is scheduled for April 1 when Dr. Michael Thompson will be speaking to the A-B community about themes found in his latest book, The Pressured Child.  Sponsored by the AB PTSO, the AB United Way, and Danny’s Place, this event will be at 7pm in the High School auditorium, and will address a number of topics related to the challenges that often emerge from a performance-driven learning environment.  Click here for more information.  

  • I’m going to devote a good portion of next week’s Grey Matters to our MCAS testing schedule and plans. In anticipation of that, here are the dates for our March testing period (we always begin shortly after homeroom):


March 24

7th Grade, ELA Long Composition


March 25

8th Grade ELA Reading Comprehension, Pt. 1


March 26

8th Grade ELA Reading Comprehension, Pt. 2


March 27

8th Grade Make Up Day


March 30

7th Grade ELA Reading Comprehension, Pt. 1


March 31

7th Grade ELA Reading Comprehension, Pt. 2

Wednesday & Thursday

April 1+2

7th Grade Make Up Days (Reading Comprehension and Long Composition)

Ok - now we shift gears to high school course registration for current 8th grade students.  The below is a bit on the lengthy side (what’s new for me), and is essentially what I shared last year, and hopefully it proves somewhat useful to families navigating this process for the first time.  

On Thursday (March 12), a group of high school staff will be visiting every 8th grade team to explain the high school schedule and provide each of them with an orientation packet that describes the registration process. During that week, 8th grade teachers will also begin individual conversations with students to discuss their recommendations for level placement.  The actual registration process takes place via the Parent Portal (directions will be included in the materials each student receives) when the portal opens in about three weeks.  

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 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 (my parents needed to wait until I was about 20 to witness me figuring those 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 orientation packet given to each student, there is a description of the steps that the high school would like you to take to pursue those requests.  

Apologies for the somewhat lengthy Grey Matters this week.  As the French philosopher Blaise Pascal once wrote, “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.”  

Have a great week, everyone.