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Grey Matters, June 20, 2016; Volume 4, Number 39

posted Jun 19, 2016, 9:07 AM by Andrew Shen   [ updated Jun 24, 2016, 5:20 AM by James Marcotte ]

Hi Everyone,


Happy Father’s Day to those of you who celebrated the event this past weekend.  About a month ago, when discussing a bit of our family’s plans for Mother’s Day, I mentioned my hope that this year’s Father’s Day parade of endless gifts would include this outdoor pergola structure that I’ve been eyeing for some time now.  Apparently, my thinking that including one’s wishes in Grey Matters would lead to them actually coming true was a bit ambitious.  My relaxing under the pergola will have to wait another year.  Nevertheless, I am still grateful for the small miracle we experienced on Saturday night when we ventured out to a local restaurant and completed a full dinner without any of the three children putting their hands on each other.  During this dinner, Melisa and I also had a chance to discuss a recent email we received from one of our daughter’s teachers about the school’s music program.  Some of you may recall that earlier in the year, I shared that we had the pleasure of once again witnessing firsthand the 3rd grade curriculum’s inclusion of learning the recorder, with this year’s experience enhanced by Addison’s commitment to practicing Hot Cross Buns over and over, and over.  Well, what better additional gift could a father receive this weekend than to learn from that email that starting next year, the recorder will now also be an integral part of the 4th and 5th grade curriculum?!  I’m happy for my daughter, and we are sincerely appreciative of our childrens’ school’s attention to the arts.  And I’ll admit that both Melisa and I wept silently for a few moments.  

We had over 330 8th grade students join us last Friday night for our annual end-of-year celebration and dance.  Watching and interacting with them at these events always reminds us of how fortunate we are to have a school full of great kids. We were fortunate to have some really wonderful weather, and even more fortunate to once again have an army of volunteer parents take the lead on this event.  An event of this size is only possible because those parents and families are willing to contribute their time and energy, and to donate a mountain of food.  A big “Thank You” to everyone who helped make the evening a big success. And an extra thank you to parent coordinator Kristen Kina for choreographing the whole evening, soup to nuts, and doing it with such grace and good humor.  We hope your children came home having enjoyed the evening.  

The next few days are definitely focused on end-of-year activities such as the Variety Show, Yearbook signings, and the class field trips, and below are some details and reminders about the next three days.  Since it’s easy to start getting ready for the summer, and a bit harder to maintain focus, it was great to still see a lot of meaningful class activities that were taking place in school last week.  I had the opportunity to spend a bit of time with Mr. Thompson and one of his 8 Gold science classes, and they spent time outside with their Yolkswagons, student-designed vehicles that needed to protect their egg-passengers in a series of progressively more challenging crash tests (see photo to right).  Also, last Wednesday, 7th grade students had a chance to listen to meet Attorney General Maura Healey, who made a brief visit to RJ Grey, accepting an invitation to touch upon some of the themes and topics that students have explored as part of the social studies curriculum, particularly their study of our country’s constitution.  Many thanks to Mr. Lewis (7 Green) and to student Amy Burke, who introduced Maura Healey to the audience.    

We also continue to make improvements to the school, and if you visit the building in the next few days you might see the changes to the space right outside of the cafeteria.  With continued support from the PTSO, we now have a mixture of flexible seating for students to use in this space - both high cafe-style tables, as well as more traditional (lower) seating.  We anticipate that a few more of the lunch periods next year will involve use of this space, and we’re looking forward to continually finding ways to make different areas of the school warmer and more inviting to students and others who visit the building.  We’re pretty excited about this new space, and thinking of maybe painting the ceiling above these new tables a different and warmer color, but we’ve also got a summer to-do list about a mile long so we’ll see how far we get.  Many thanks to the PTSO for their continued support of our school.  

Here’s a final list of reminders and notes about this week, please make sure you follow up with your sons or daughters about anything that might pertain to you:

  • The Library will not be open after school this week.  As a side note, we only have a few more library books to collect, which is great.  Thank you to the students and families for remembering to return borrowed items.  

  • Class field trips are on Tuesday - rain or shine! The forecast right now looks “ok” with a little bit of rain to start the morning, but ending early.   7th graders heading to Kimball’s will be back for the regular 2:06 dismissal and bus routes.  8th graders heading to Canobie Lake will return around 3:45pm, and buses will offer an additional run of the routes between 4:00pm and 4:20pm.  Parents are also welcome to come and pick up their children.  

  • Students who ordered yearbooks will be receiving them on Monday!  There are a limited number of additional yearbooks that will be sold that day for $37.  Many thanks to Vicki Weeks (8 Green English) and her Yearbook Club crew for their hard work and efforts this year.  

  • The last day of school is Wednesday, and it is a half-day.  Our closing activity is an all-school assembly (students and staff only) that will take place in the High School auditorium.  Students will be dismissed at the end of the event, and can get on buses right outside the high school (at 10:45am).  Parents planning to pick their children up can still park in the Junior High parking lot.  

  • Report cards will be mailed home to families at the end of June.  If you haven’t seen anything in the mail by mid-July, send me an email and we can get you another copy.  Or, if your son/daughter pulled an “Andrew Shen”, you might want to check your washing machine to see if the report card is currently going through a second spin cycle.  

  • Families of current 7th grade students who are returning to RJ Grey next year (or if you are a family with a student joining us next year from the elementary schools), you’ll receive our summer mailing in early August.  If you are a current 7th grade family who is not planning to return to RJ Grey next year (moving, attending a private school, etc.), we would appreciate hearing from you, as that information will assist us with our scheduling work this summer.  

  • Next year, school starts for students for 7th and 9th graders on Wednesday, August 31. 8th grade students start the next day, Thursday, September 1.  Here is a link to next year’s school calendar.  

So this is the 39th and final edition of Grey Matters for the year.  I hope you will allow me to end with some words and thoughts that I put together at the conclusion of last year.  While I regret that my closing remarks aren’t entirely original and unique to this year, I am also grateful that the experiences and sentiments that I expressed last June continue to be applicable one year later, and with another school year coming to a close.  

Before we briefly part ways for the summer, I want to thank you, our parent community, for your continued support of our school. It does not escape me (or us) the degree to which parent involvement and investment changes the landscape of a school, more often than not for the better.  We know that parents have high expectations for the school, and that we also have high expectations for the parents.  This partnership is indeed what often leads to the great experiences that so many of our students have at RJ Grey.  To be sure, those high expectations also means that there will be moments where we aren’t in total agreement on some things.  However, I’ll always take passionate debate and occasional disagreements over apathy and disinterest, especially when it comes from a shared interest in how to help our students (your kids) develop into thoughtful and confident individuals.  We’ve enjoyed working with you this year, and we certainly hope the feeling is mutual.  

As I mentioned at the end of last year, the summer months away from school serve an important purposes for students, families, and teachers.  It’s an opportunity to decompress, pursue other interests, and re-charge.  Thinking about school 24/7 doesn’t benefit anyone, and we hope that everyone uses these next 8-10 weeks to expand their horizons, try some new things, and sometimes enjoy and treasure those moments where time feels like it moves more slowly while you’re doing absolutely nothing at all.  It is always remarkable to see the degree to which young people change and grow, even in these (too short) summer months, and we look forward to reuniting with our returning 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.  

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



Grey Matters, June 13, 2016; Volume 4, Number 38

posted Jun 12, 2016, 12:28 PM by Andrew Shen   [ updated Jun 24, 2016, 5:21 AM by James Marcotte ]

Hi Everyone,

I think it’s a safe bet that many, if not most, of us are becoming more preoccupied with the start of summer, which is within arm’s reach.  Based on a number of conversations I’ve had with students, teachers, and families, what we anticipate to be the excitement that comes with summer vacation is taking up quite a bit of real estate in our collective minds.  I’ve heard about plans for summer camps, trips to Cape Cod and Maine, and sports clinics.  I’ve also had described for me some really exciting trips to Europe and Asia, though interestingly and surprisingly none of those descriptions included an invitation for me to join.  Our family doesn’t have any significant adventures planned for this summer, though I am sure we’ll make good use of the pool in our backyard.  I am also tempted to try and convince my family that we should try and hit all 37 New England clam shacks that were recently featured on, and then I can include a review of each establishment as part of each edition of Grey Matters next year.  I will freely admit that I’ve got a soft spot (and as a result, a soft(er) belly) for fried seafood.  My wife and kids, however, would much prefer to visit all of the ice cream shops also featured on, and write reviews about those experiences.  I’m wondering if we can’t do both?  If when we return in late August, you see about 4 additional inches on my waistline, you’ll know what the answer was to that preceding question.  

We had a great turnout for last Friday’s 7th grade dance, and from what I could tell the students had a great time (hopefully that’s what they shared with all of you).  The success of any event such as Friday night’s dance hinges on the dedication and hard work of some RJ Grey staff and parent volunteers.  This dance, and next week’s 8th grade dance, wouldn’t be possible without the work of Debbie Ahl, 8th grade English teacher and Student Council advisor.  Tina Connors once again graciously took on the task of organizing parent donations and staffing the food tables during the event, and we are enormously grateful for her efforts last week, and really for the past few years.  Thank you to Tina, and Sudha Vijay, Christine & John Casebolt, Jen Birenbach, Kate Imhoff, Claudine Lesk, and Xinrong Qiu for staffing the snack table and making sure we all stayed hydrated.  

The 8th Grade End-of-Year Dance/Celebration is this Friday at 7pm!  This event is held in our (transformed) cafeteria and students enter through the side door (you’ll see it); so parents who are dropping kids off can pull right up to the front of the school.  When picking kids up after the dance, we would suggest parking in the lower parking lot and either waiting in the car, or coming up to the entrance to meet your kids (your options probably depend on the degree to which your child allows you to be seen in public with them).  

A few friendly reminders about the next two weeks:

  • Does your child have an RJ Grey Library book or old textbook buried under some laundry?  Teachers will begin the process of collecting textbooks and other learning materials, so anything you can do to help unearth these items would be greatly appreciated (and save you some money).  Also, for families who might have a negative balance in their child’s lunch account, please be sure to reconcile that matter as well.  If you have questions about your lunch account, feel free to email Kirsten Nelson at

  • The end-of-year field trips are on June 22nd.  7th graders will be dismissed at the regular 2:06pm time and can take the buses home.  8th graders will return from Canobie around 4pm, and there will be a second run of the bus routes that take place between 4pm and 4:20pm (or you can come and pick them up).  

We had our last edition of Poetry Friday last week, with a final selection by Mr. Malloy.  Sharing my enthusiasm for how summer is right around the corner, he selected a piece by Stuart Dyback called “Clothespins.”  As he noted in his introduction, “Summer beckons with its care-free hours and, if we’re lucky, chances to let our imaginations wander.  This morning’s poem features languid summer afternoons and much imagination.” Click here to read the piece.  

About a week and a half to go.  

Have a great week, everyone.



Grey Matters for June 6, 2016; Volume 4, Number 37

posted Jun 5, 2016, 9:16 AM by Andrew Shen   [ updated Jun 24, 2016, 5:22 AM by James Marcotte ]

Hi Everyone,

Our friend Rachel is staying with us for a little bit, having sold her apartment and needing a place to stay while she closes on her new home.  Rachel is a lot a bit younger than us, and expressed quite a bit of excitement at the prospect of joining the Shen family, helping out with the kids, and experiencing what she imagines being the joys of parenthood.  The kids were psyched for this, and welcomed Rachel with open arms, eager to engage with an adult who is cooler than their father (which, admittedly, does not require overcoming a very high bar).  On one of the first nights, Rachel paired up with Hayden for the nightly bedtime routine, and used the time to ask him about his thoughts on entering 6th grade next year.  In response to her question of what he thought they would be studying, he started listing off a range of subjects and classes.  Then, at the end he adds, “And they told us that next year we’re going to learn about puberty, and what to expect when our bodies go through puberty.”  Brief pause and silence for both Rachel and Hayden, and then he adds the post script, “But I think learning about it next year is too late for one of my friends.  I think he’s been through it already.”  So Rachel’s now staying at a hotel.  Just kidding, she didn’t run for the hills.  She’s still with us, having maneuvered that moment gracefully and still eager to spend more time with the kids.  

An important reminder for 7th grade families that the RJ Grey Student Council will be hosting the 7th Grade Dance in the school gym this Friday, June 10 from 7-9 pm.  The PTSO is still looking for donations of snacks and drinks and a few parent volunteers to set up and staff the snack tables.  If you are able to donate snacks or drinks or a little of your time, please sign up via the SignUpGenius link.  If you have any questions, please contact Tina Connors at  Thank you for your support!  

And of course, there’s the 8th grade end-of-year celebration/dance, which is Friday, June 17th at 7pm.  A friendly reminder that only current RJ Grey 8th grade students are allowed to attend, and students must have been at school that day to attend the evening event - if there are any unique circumstances, send me an email and we can figure it out.

All library books and materials need to be returned to the RJ Grey Library by this Friday, June 10.  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.  

On a related note, I do want to make families aware of textbook “obligations.”  Over the next two weeks, teachers will begin collecting textbooks, library books, and other materials that need to be returned to the school.  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).

A very important note about our end-of-year field trips on Tuesday, June 21, 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 4:15pm.  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

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 Nidhi Bhat, Shane Fitzgerald, Michael Grega, Elena Bauer, Ryan Scripps, Anissa Zeroual, Sahithi Cheerla, Alyssa Washburn, Olive Jaros, and Liam Fenton.  

Have you ever come upon a job posting that you felt was written specifically with you in mind? I had that experience earlier this week, and will be spending some time working on my application. If and when the time comes, I would welcome letters of reference from the Grey Matters readership.  The job is….. wait for it….. a freelance Bacon Critic who will cover bacon’s role in food, drinks, and culture.  The application involves a 600 word essay that recounts my favorite bacon-related memory, and I think to meet that requirement I might string together some combination of the 80 to 90 overindulgent references to bacon that littered last year’s editions of Grey Matters.  Fingers crossed.  

Have a great week, everyone.  



Grey Matters for May 30, 2016; Volume 4, Number 36

posted May 30, 2016, 10:50 AM by Andrew Shen   [ updated Jun 24, 2016, 5:22 AM by James Marcotte ]

Hi Everyone,

At this time last year, I came upon and shared an article that helped me clarify the origins and differences between Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day, and the focus of each day.  Both are important and share important features (most notably honoring those who serve), and yet still have distinct points of emphasis.  I thought I’d share the article again should some of you also find it helpful and informative.  Along with activities you might have pursued in the spirit of Memorial Day, I hope you and your family also had a chance to decompress a bit, and perhaps enjoyed a slightly less hectic schedule.  Along with finally weeding the backyard and some other house-related tasks (that included but was not limited to four trips to Home Depot), I did have a chance to read a few interesting articles including this one in the Washington Post.  Part of a series called The Screen Age, this particular article takes you inside a current research study that is trying to unpack some of the ways current teenagers’ “digital and daily lives intersect.”  It should be noted (and was prominently done so in the article) that this particular study is heavily funded by companies that have a financial interest in how best to reach this generation (now known as iGen or Gen-Z) from a commercial marketing standpoint.  Commercial interests notwithstanding, what’s explored is still a worthwhile look into this particular topic for parents and curious (or bewildered) bystanders. I also came upon some clever phrases like “tech-laden world” and “generational pivot” that I might borrow in the future.  If you read and enjoy this article, you might want to read some of the other articles that are part of this series, though be forewarned that the Washington Post only lets you read 5 free articles a month!  

Many families consider Memorial Day weekend to be unofficial start of summer and often kick things off with a barbecue of some kind, and reconnect with families and friends.  Knowing this, last week’s edition of Poetry Friday was delivered by Ms. Carter (8 Red Social Studies), and she read Roy Blount Jr.’s (of Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me fame) light and fun poem, “Song to Barbecue Sauce.”  Click here to read the poem.  

We are getting very excited about the upcoming Empty Bowls event of Thursday June 2nd from 5:30 to 7:00pm.  7th grade students made hand-crafted ceramic bowls in their art classes and families that participate will get to take home a hand-crafted bowl as a reminder of the vast number of hungry families around the world and right here in our own community. The money raised from this event will be donated to the Acton Community Supper and Acton Food Pantry. This organization helps to feed many hungry families in the greater Acton area. Last year this event helped to raise $1000 for the charity. As another treat, the Select Choir will perform throughout the evening in our outdoor courtyard. This event is also an opportunity for 7th grade students to display other artistic works in a non-competitive, communal environment.

This week we are entering the month of June.  I wanted to provide everyone a quick summary of some important end-of-year school-wide dates and events.  Please note that there may be team-specific activities that are not included in the list below.  

Friday, June 10

7th Grade Dance

Friday, June 17

8th Grade Dance & Celebration

Monday, June 20

Variety Show, Team Activity & Yearbook Signing

Tuesday, June 21

School Field Trips - 7th Grade to Kimball Farm, 8th Grade to Canobie Lake

Wednesday, June 22

Last Day of School - Dismissal at 10:40am; Closing Assembly (Students and Staff Only)

Finally, 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 three retiring members of the RJ Grey staff, as they also begin new chapters of their lives.  Kerry Byrne (Special Education), Robin Crown (Spanish), and Jean MacDonald (Digital Literacy) are completing distinguished careers as educators.  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.  

High school graduation is this Friday, June 3.  For those RJ Grey families who also have graduating seniors, a big congratulations to your graduate and to you as well.  Enjoy the moment!

Have a great week, everyone.



Grey Matters for May 23, 2016; Volume 4, Number 35

posted May 22, 2016, 12:21 PM by Andrew Shen   [ updated Jun 24, 2016, 5:22 AM by James Marcotte ]

Hi Everyone,

I experienced, and I think survived, a minor collision of worlds this past Saturday.  Around mid-day, I found myself at AB’s Lower Fields for the first time as a parent, watching my oldest son’s travel soccer team competing against a 5th grade AB team.  I resisted the temptation to bring a wig and sunglasses to try and preserve my anonymity, especially for when I might find myself getting caught up in some over-animated cheering for Hayden and his team.  Rest assured that at no time did I consider sidling up to the teenage referees/current RJ Grey students and dropping hints about doctoring their report cards (for better or worse depending on the calls that were made).  That never crossed my mind. Truth be told I have also developed, after eight years at Acton-Boxborough, some affection for things related to the school and its students, so I also genuinely wanted to celebrate some of the good play and effort by the opposing team. I think the Universe was aware of my division of loyalty, and steered a really well-played game to a 1-1 tie.  

In last week’s Grey Matters I mistakenly, and for the second straight week, sent out the wrong date for an upcoming school event.  I introduced to everyone the third annual Empty Bowls event, which will take place this year on Thursday, June 2 from 5:30pm to 7:00pm.  I am sorry for the continued mistakes, I am now going to be triple-checking all dates and times that I list for the rest of the year.  

Over the past few weeks, I’ve made mention of the 8th grade End-of-Year Dance/Celebration and how we rely heavily on the many volunteers who help make the event a special way to end the year. First, many thanks again to Kristen Kina for coordinating the many moving parts associated with the event. The Sign Up Genius is now and up and running, and we hope there will be parents who are available to help ensure this event is a great one for our students.  Similar to past years, it would be great to see parents of 7th graders volunteer "pay it forward" this year so that parents of eighth graders can focus on their own children's participation in this important event.

I wanted to make sure families are aware that the school district will be adopting the ALICE protocol for our approach to school safety planning.  Dr. Brand and our school resources officers Detective Keith Campbell and Officer Mike Eracleo will be hosting an information session for community members interested in learning more about the ALICE program, and our plans to implement this protocol at the start of the next school year.  The information session will be on Tuesday, May 31 at 7pm in the RJ Grey Library.  Click here for a downloadable flyer.  

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).  These are daylong trips scheduled for the second-to-last day of school.  If you still need to send it in, please make an effort to do so this week.  If any families would benefit from some financial assistance for this final field trip, please don’t hesitate to contact Jim Marcotte at  

Finally, for those of you whose children might be open to some continued pleasure reading over the summer (it’s coming up quickly), two resources for you: (1) our RJ Grey Library website includes a number of links to book lists and search engines that provide suggestions based on specific interests; and (2) the High School has released its updated Summer Reading List (click here to view) that it encourages all of its students, including rising 9th grade students (those are your kids, 8th grade parents!), to look at if they’re stuck for suggestions.  Please note that the High School does not have any required summer reading for 9th grade English, but they do want to encourage students to find something to enjoy and read.  They also want to note that a number of the titles on the list are ones that families could read together.  

Have a great week, everyone.



Grey Matters, May 16, 2016; Volume 4, Number 34

posted May 15, 2016, 10:56 AM by Andrew Shen   [ updated Jun 24, 2016, 5:23 AM by James Marcotte ]

Hi Everyone,

What was already shaping up to be a very busy month of May for the Shen kids in terms of their participation in Spring sports was only made more complicated by the stretch of cold and rainy weather in April that has resulted in a flurry of re-scheduled make up games.  Recently, a greater percentage of the nightly dialogue that takes place between Melisa and me involves coordination of drop-offs and pick-ups, checking on whose turn it is to bring popsicles and/or oranges to a game, whether a child’s uniform has been washed in time for the next game, and which child has to tag along for the ride to another sibling’s game or practice.  I get the feeling that the experiences I describe above are ones that are intimately familiar to many of you, and you might even have logistical challenges (i.e. out-of-state travel) that would make me see our schedule with more fondness.  As I was beginning to get lost in the mechanics of having our kids be involved in these activities (and sometimes secretly hoping for rained out practices), it was becoming easier to lose sight of what playing sports meant to me when I was their age, and what I hope they too will experience by participating in youth sports.  Coming to my rescue was a good friend who, knowing how much I like to write, recently shared with me some letters and speeches by her late father-in-law, a man who also loved to write. Included in that collection was a letter he wrote in May of 1977, two months after I was born, to the players assigned to the Little League baseball team he was coaching that Spring.  Chalking it up to a bit of serendipity, I’ve now read that letter a few times, and wanted to share a portion of it with all of you in case it might resonate with you in a similar fashion: “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.”

MCAS testing is now officially over, except for students who may have missed one or more days last week (which isn’t a lot).  Students who may need to complete a missed MCAS test will be called down on Monday and/or Tuesday to complete those assessments.  We hope each of our students found themselves in a place last week where they were able to demonstrate their knowledge of the questions that were asked.  We also hope and will try our best to remind each student that while the scores that come back in Fall tell us how they did on these recent days in May, it will not tell us everything about them, including their growth as thoughtful students and people.  

A reminder to families of students who participate in the Band or Chorus programs.  The Spring Band concert is this Tuesday, May 17th at 7pm in the JH auditorium.  The Spring Chorus concert is the following Tuesday, May 24th at 7pm, also in the JH Auditorium.  If you have any questions, please contact Mr. Hickey ( or Mr. Charig (  

I’m pleased and excited to be sharing with everyone information about our third annual Empty Bowls event (also previously known as Arts Happening).  The Empty Bowls event will take place this year on Thursday, June 4 from 5:30pm to 7:00pm.  This is an evening of art, singing and ice cream! Students will showcase their art and singing talents and invite families to a charity ice cream social. 7th grade students made hand-crafted ceramic bowls in their art classes. Families that participate will get to take home a hand-crafted bowl as a reminder of the vast number of hungry families around the world and right here in our own community. The money raised from this event, will be donated to the Acton Community Supper and Acton Food Pantry. This organization helps to feed many hungry families in the greater Acton area. Last year this event helped to raise an amazing $1000 for the charity!  As another treat, the Select Choir will perform throughout the evening in our outdoor courtyard. This event is also an opportunity for 7th grade students to display artistic works in a celebratory environment. There will be many artworks on display to show off the talents of our students.

Last week, I experienced an epic and repeated failure when I tried to share with everyone the correct dates for both the 7th and 8th grade dances/celebrations.  Sorry about that.  Just to confirm, here are the dates:  7th grade dance: Friday, June 10th at 7pm in the gym.  8th grade dance: Friday, June 17th at 7pm in the cafeteria that is magically transformed into an amazing space for celebrating and ending the school year.  

Even though the 8th grade Dance/Celebration is a little over a month away, I want to re-share some information and messaging that I send out each year 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.  Every year, I mention the below thoughts because sometimes, during some bouts of excitement about the event, a few expectations get generated within our student population that may be a bit on the unrealistic/ambitious/fantasy-ish side-- and then they occasionally get re-articulated to parents as school guidelines. So below is my annual “We’re really excited for this event, but this is not an episode of MTV’s My Super Sweet Sixteen” plea.  

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 great decorations, props and backdrops for group photos, 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 pants, collared shirts (some choose to wear ties), whatever is their version of “taking it up a notch”.  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.  This last point is why I’ve recently started to refer to this event using the term “celebration” along with “dance.”  

On Tuesday, June 21, both grades will be participating in their respective end-of-year field trips, and permission slips will be distributed to students this week, and due by May 27.  As in previous years, the 7th grade will be going to Kimball Farm where they have full access to the bumper boats, miniature golf course, driving range, and other activities; the 8th grade will be going to Canobie Lake amusement park in New Hampshire. These field trips have historically been great and memorable parts of our year-end activities.  We also appreciate that the RJ Grey community includes families that may find the cost of these trips difficult to absorb.  Like all of our other trips and activities, we never want cost to prevent anyone from participating.  Please do not hesitate to let us know if some relief from these field trip costs would be helpful to your family (contact Assistant Principal Jim Marcotte at  

Finally, I’d like to offer a quick plug for our 7 Orange team’s currently service project.  Once again this year they are organizing a drive to collect gently used backpacks and various school supplies for underprivileged kids in Liberia.  Many children in Liberia have been orphaned by the civil war and the Ebola outbreak that followed.  7 Orange is working with a Liberian gentleman who will fly to Liberia with our collected supplies and hand-deliver them to children in need.  The students have named this project "Hope in a Backpack."  This is a great opportunity for you to rid closets and attics of backpacks that your children may have outgrown.  Also, the students are looking for the following school supplies (new or gently used): notebooks (wide ruled), pens and pencils, pencil sharpeners, rulers, erasers; solar calculators, and hand sanitizer (8 oz). 7 Orange is collecting these items through May 27th and contributions can be dropped off in the boxes placed in the school’s front lobby.  We appreciate your help!

Thanks, everyone.  Have a great week.  



Grey Matters, May 9, 2016; Volume 4, Number 33

posted May 12, 2016, 8:34 AM by Andrew Shen   [ updated Jun 24, 2016, 5:23 AM by James Marcotte ]

Hi Everyone,

Happy Mother’s Day to any and all of you who plays that role to one (or more) of our students, or to anyone else. Melisa (my wife) and I have now been together for almost 15 years, and from pretty early on in our relationship we’ve been a couple that prioritized getting the right gift over the joys of being surprised (and potentially confused) by a gift.  Melisa was with me when her engagement ring was designed and ordered, which gave me, an individual who knows little about jewelry styles, immense peace of mind that it suited her tastes. Side not, the fact that I waited for a bit of time after having bought the ring to actually present it to her and propose was apparently not evidence of good planning on my part.  I didn’t think that the time in between was too long, but my then soon-to-be mother-in-law gently offered me an alternate perspective. So for me, when I got an email from Melisa two weeks ago about a possible Mother’s Day present that included a link for a dress that she liked, and a note that ordering it that day would enable me to use a 25% off coupon, I didn’t flinch and instead was happy that she found something she liked, and grateful she sent me the note.  Hopefully she’ll have a similar reaction when I send her a link to the outdoor pergola that I’ve been eyeing for our backyard (to go with all the weeds), and think would be a wonderful Father’s Day present.  It’s great that the sun has finally decided to make an appearance today-- Mother’s Day-- and I hope many of you are enjoying the day with family and friends. 

MCAS testing returns tomorrow.   7th graders will take the MCAS math portion tomorrow and Tuesday, May 9th and 10th, and 8th graders will take the math portion on May 11th and 12th, and also the Science & Technology exam on Friday, May 13th.  Here is a link to the RJ Grey-specific schedule for MCAS testing.   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. Please remember to encourage/facilitate a good night’s sleep before each MCAS session, and make a point of getting your kids to eat a little something in the morning.  

I provided a “save the date” last week for our end-of-year 8th grade dance, which is scheduled for Friday, June 17th.  I also provided 7th grade families with their own “save the date” for a 7th grade dance that we are planning for Friday, June 10, and will be at 7pm.  

Back to the 8th grade End-of-Year Dance/Celebration.  Right now,  I’d like to pass along some information from Kristen Kina, the RJ Grey parent who (thankfully) is coordinating the planning of the event.  Given that we usually have at least 350 student attend, we rely heavily on the many volunteers who help make the event a special way to end the year.  Parents or guardians of 7th and 8th graders are typically needed for the following jobs: Set Up after school on June 17th; Clean Up; Drink Donations; and Food Donations.  Similar to past years, it would be great to see parents of 7th graders volunteer "pay it forward" this year so that parents of eighth graders can focus on their own children's participation in this important event. You'll also get a preview of what your child will be able to enjoy next year! Kristen will be sending out a “Sign Up Genius” email that invites parents and guardians to sign up for different roles.  Tina Connors, who is in charge of the 7th grade dance, will also be sending out a Sign Up Genius email to invite volunteers to help with that event as well.  If you have questions, you can contact Kristen and, or Tina Connors at  Thank you in advance for your help with these two year-end activities.  

A friendly reminder that this coming Tuesday 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 have been distributed to 8th grade students.   If you have any questions or need any sort of financial assistance, please contact Jim Marcotte at  

A second friendly reminder for families whose children participate in our Band or Chorus programs.  The Spring concerts are coming upon us.  The Band’s Spring concert is scheduled for Tuesday, May 17 at 7pm, and the Chorus’ Spring concert is scheduled for Tuesday, May 24 at 7pm.  Please stay tuned for updates from your kids and/or Mr. Hickey (band) or Mr. Charig (chorus) about details for those evening festivities.  

Finally, I wanted to briefly direct everyone’s attention to an article that perhaps some of you may have already recently read about a Princeton professor’s “CV of Failures” that he published, listing programs he didn’t get into, funding he didn’t successfully secure, and rejections from academic journals.  Reading this article reminded me of one of my all-time favorite commencement speeches, which was JK Rowling’s (author of the Harry Potter series/newly minted trillionaire) speech at Harvard in 2008.  If you have 20 minutes, I’d encourage you to take a moment and watch her speech, where she talks both about the value of failure, and the importance of imagination.  Back to the article about the Princeton professor, here’s my favorite part of that article:  “As scientists, we construct a narrative of success that renders our setbacks invisible both to ourselves and to others...often, other scientists’ careers seem to be a constant, streamlined series of triumphs. Therefore, whenever we experience an individual failure, we feel alone and dejected. She advises people to keep a CV of failures, to remind themselves that failure is an essential part of what it means to be a scientist, and perhaps to inspire a disheartened colleague along the way.”

Have a great week, everyone.



Grey Matters, May 2, 2016; Volume 4, Number 32

posted May 1, 2016, 6:45 AM by Andrew Shen   [ updated Jun 24, 2016, 5:23 AM by James Marcotte ]

Hi Everyone,

I am currently staring out my dining room window at our backyard, where my perennial dandelion garden is in full bloom, daring me to do something about it.  I’m a bit in denial about what needs to be done, and thinking about the last day of our Washington D.C. trip, when I was part of a group that visited the United States Botanical Garden, which has both an indoor conservatory and a beautiful and sprawling outdoor garden (minus the weeds).  Other than the state of my own backyard, the idea of outdoor spaces and gardens has been on my mind lately because we are in the beginning stages of creating a community garden at RJ Grey.  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.  Last year, 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 space now looks 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 that we are hoping can serve as the new home for a number of raised beds where we can, among other things, perhaps 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.  Since we’re still in the brainstorm and daydreaming stage of this project, we’ve let our imaginations run a bit wild and given some thought to also developing a sitting and meeting area that would be designed for a part of the courtyard where there are already a number of natural contours (tree stumps and medium sized boulders) that would suit that purpose.  As we develop these plans, we are thinking about two important features: (1) sustainability and coming up with an approach that takes into account ongoing maintenance and upkeep of the space; and (2) how to have students play a central role in the initial building, care, and then use of the space.  To make sure our current ambitions don’t get in the way of thoughtful planning, we are now in the process of getting some advice and guidance for how to develop a landscape design plan.  Once we have that in hand, we can then figure out what part comes first and how to include students and families in that project.  If you’ve got a green thumb and would like to play a part, stay tuned for updates later this Spring or even this Summer.  If you can’t wait that long, I have plenty of things in my backyard that you are more than welcome to address.  

MCAS testing returns for one final round next week (a week from Monday), starting on Monday, May 9th.  7th graders will take the MCAS math portion on May 9th and 10th, and 8th graders will take the math portion on May 11th and 12th, and also the Science & Technology exam on Friday, May 13th.  Here is a link to the RJ Grey-specific schedule for MCAS testing.   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. Please remember to encourage/facilitate a good night’s sleep before each MCAS session, and make a point of getting your kids to eat a little something in the morning.  

The RJ Grey Drama Club will be putting on its Spring One-Act Plays. The production will feature two hilarious comedies about life in Junior High!  Performances are Thursday May 5 at 3:30 pm and Friday May 6 at 7pm in the Junior High School Auditorium. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for students, and refreshments will be sold at intermission.  

On Tuesday, May 10, 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.   If you have any questions or need any sort of financial assistance, 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 types of school events or “keepsakes”, and want everyone to enjoy these moments without having to think twice about potential financial impact.  

A friendly reminder for families whose children participate in our Band or Chorus programs.  The Spring concerts are coming upon us.  The Band’s Spring concert is scheduled for Tuesday, May 17 at 7pm, and the Chorus’ Spring concert is scheduled for Tuesday, May 24 at 7pm.  Please stay tuned for updates from your kids and/or Mr. Hickey (band) or Mr. Charig (chorus) about details for those evening festivities.  

For 8th grade families, a very brief “save the date” for the annual End-of-Year Celebration for 8th grade students.  It will be held the evening of Friday, June 17th, so mark it on your calendars.  In next week’s Grey Matters, I’ll share a bit more about the event, and also the role that families play in making it a great event to finish off the year (and one’s time at RJ Grey).  I also want to provide 7th grade families with their own “save the date” for a 7th grade dance that we are planning for Friday, June 10th.  We resurrected the 7th grade Spring dance last, and it turned out to be a great event and we’re looking forward to holding it again this year.  Stay tuned for more details later this month.   

Finally, our latest installment of Poetry Fridays was a nod to the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death.  Shakespeare wrote 37 plays that are still regularly performed and read the world over.  Here at RJ Grey, our 8th graders will typically read either A Midsummer Night’s Dream or Julius Caesar.  To commemorate Shakespeare’s enduring impact, Mr. Malloy and Ms. Scalice (7 Orange English) read a number of selections from different scenes in Romeo and Juliet.  Click here if you’d like to view the lines that were part of the reading.  

Have a great week, everyone.  Welcome to the month of May.  



Grey Matters, April 25, 2016; Volume 4, Number 31

posted Apr 24, 2016, 12:39 PM by Andrew Shen   [ updated Jun 24, 2016, 5:24 AM by James Marcotte ]

Hi Everyone,

Welcome back! I hope everyone had an April Break that met whatever goals you might have set for that time off from school (and work).  Hopefully the good weather in the Boston area gave those who stayed local the opportunity to begin some Spring-related activities.  As you know, 100 students and 10 of us chaperones made

our way to Washington D.C. for the first half of the vacation week, starting with a 3:30am departure on Sunday to Logan Airport.  We returned to RJ Grey at midnight on Wednesday evening (without having lost anyone), and then the Shen family took off for New York City mid-day on Thursday.  Whatever possessed me to think that such a brief turnover was a good idea is beyond me.  Both adventures turned out to be great experiences for all involved. At this very moment, I hope all will understand and be sympathetic to the moderate feeling of exhaustion that is currently overwhelming my body and mind.  When some energy has returned I look forward to sharing with everyone over the next few weeks highlights of our trip.  In the meantime, I offer these three teasers to tide you over: (1) what I learned by listening to a group of 8th grade boys coordinating plans to rent a microwave for their hotel room; (2) the giddiness that anyone of any age experiences when the President’s helicopter flies low over your head and comes in for a landing on the White House lawn while you’re right across the street; and (3) the hot mess that your Principal became while going through two security checkpoints at the Supreme Court, with his belt in one hand, holding up his shorts with his other hand, and explaining to the less-than-amused security guard that it was normal for my Fitbit to have a rapidly flashing green light.  Drama notwithstanding, I was the last one allowed in to watch the final ten minutes of an actual court hearing of a case that originated in Massachusetts, so the temporary possibility of getting tackled was all worth it.  On a serious note, we will be appropriately spending the rest of the year finding multiple opportunities to thank parent chaperone Dr. Jeff Ristaino for serving as our medical support for the trip, and for doing so with such grace, humor and patience throughout the entire adventure.

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 two days of tours that we offer to parents and guardians on Thursday and Friday; 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.  

I’m excited to share with everyone a new dimension to the all-school assembly that we hold on the last day of school (for students and staff).  This year, as part of our celebration and annual send-off, the English Department will be sponsoring a (friendly) contest for students who wish to read an original poem during the assembly.  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.  

The week prior to the April Break, I met with our fifth group of Everyday Leaders, who joined me for some pizza and conversation, as the students caught me up on how the school year has gone, and some ideas I should entertain for next year.  Congratulations to the following students whose teachers included them in this cohort of Everyday Leaders: Riley Fagans, Ashleigh Parlman, Katie Jackson, Matt Erickson, Charissa Yu, Sean Bamberry, Katie Kaminski, Jack Bartle, Caroline Caruso, and Tal Dassau.  

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. Congrats to 8 Orange Science teacher Mae Shoemaker who completed the marathon for the umpteenth time in her storied running career.  

Have a great week, everyone.  Welcome back.



Grey Matters, April 11, 2016; Volume 4, Number 30

posted Apr 10, 2016, 8:26 AM by Andrew Shen   [ updated Jun 24, 2016, 5:24 AM by James Marcotte ]

Hi Everyone,     

The success of our new Iron Chef Cooking Club has led to a second round of sessions so we could invite previously wait-listed students who couldn’t participate the first time around.  As they were preparing for this next series of activities, I mentioned to Deb Rimpas (Health teacher and club advisor) that I recently came upon an article that highlighted the less-than-healthy concoctions that many baseball parks are actually offering to its patrons - ranging from the hot dog covered in cotton candy to the one pound bag of cheetos that is opened up and topped with one’s choice of “chili, taco meat, chicken, or brisket then covered in nacho cheeses.”  See above photo of the burger/pizza/coronary on a plate is offered down in Atlanta.  While many of you are well aware of my (and my youngest son’s) affection for bacon, we’ve got our limits (though I was excited to read about this bacon-themed gastropub opening up in Worcester!). Rest assured that our cooking club will be taking a slightly different approach to our exploration of food.  Speaking of food, I hope the students on 7 Red enjoyed participating in that team’s annual egg drop competition.  The shouts of joy (and playful anguish) that were coming from the cafeteria last Thursday gave me the impression that everyone was having a good time watching different student groups’ attempts to design a contraption that would provide a safe landing for their egg.  As you can see in the photo to the left, Ms. Doiron had the honors for setting the eggs on their voyage to the cafeteria’s tile flooring.  

    A few updates, reminders and acknowledgements for 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 Friday, April 15th, and the override form must be submitted by that date.  We will not be able to accept requests after that date.  

  • We had about 170 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 Tina Connors, Susan Rigby, and Carol Zeroual.  Also, many thanks to our teacher chaperones Mrs. Ahl, Mrs. Latham, Mr. Balulescu, Mrs. Shoemaker, Ms. Mazonson, Mrs. Lin, Mrs. Byrne, and Ms. Kelley.

                                                                            We are done with
MCAS testing for the next few weeks.  Math MCAS for 7th and 8th grade students, and                                                                                         Science MCAS for 8th grade students, will take place the week of May 9th.  

April Vacation is next week,  and so couple of things on that.  First, Friday is a full day of school.  If your travel plans involve your child missing some school 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.  There will, of course, be 101 RJ Grey students who are visiting Washington D.C. during the first half of the April Vacation, and we hope everyone’s excited for that adventure.  I’ll be attending this trip, along with teachers Marc Lewis, Gabby Berberian, Lana Paone, Chris Fenniman, Denis  Reedy, Deb Rimpas, Val Glod, Lynne Kondracki, and parent Dr. Jeff Ristaino.  Many thanks to Mr. Lewis for coordinating this trip, and to Dr. Ristaino for providing medical support  for our group.  

I hope everyone received and had a chance to read the letter that was sent to all Acton-Boxborough families about some areas we hope to prioritize in our work with staff and families, and our upcoming work with Challenge Success.  That letter made reference to a student survey we hope to administer between April 25 and May 4 to students in grades 6 through 12.  Tomorrow (Monday), I will be sending an email to all RJ Grey parents and guardians that provides a bit more information regarding the survey, as well as a document from Challenge Success that describes the scope of the survey in more depth.  I’m looking forward to this work, and hope many of you share my interest in what the survey will provide us in terms of better appreciating the current experiences and perspectives of our students.  

We had our most recent edition of Poetry Fridays at the end of last week, with Mr. Malloy offering to us a piece that poet Ted Kooser wrote about American artist Mary Cassatt.  Entitled, “A Box of Pastels” Kooser pays homage to an artist who often created images of the social and private lives of women, with a particular focus on the special bond between mothers and children.  Click here if you’d like to read the poem.  

Finally, I read with a good deal of enjoyment a tribute to children’s author Beverly Cleary, who turns 100 this coming Tuesday.  Nicholas Kristof’s piece in the New York Times offered those of us who remember with some fondness the adventures of Ramona Quimby, a few moments of nostalgia and I appreciated the opportunity to turn back the clock a bit.  Not sure I’ll feel the same if and when author Judy Blume reaches her next milestone birthday (she’s currently 78).  I have a more jarring and semi-traumatic memory of when, as a fairly naive and sheltered 5th grade boy who loved to read anything within arms reach, innocently came upon Ms. Blume’s, Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret.   I still remember feeling like I had entered an alternate universe and being completely disoriented after finishing that book.  

Have a great week, and a wonderful April Vacation, everyone.



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