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Grey Matters, January 16, 2017; Volume 5, Number 19

posted Jan 16, 2017, 12:38 PM by Andrew Shen   [ updated Jul 18, 2017, 11:10 AM by James Marcotte ]

Hi Everyone,

In recent years, escape rooms have become a very popular physical adventure game for groups of people to attempt.  For those not immediately familiar with the concept, here’s an excerpt that describes it well: “they vary in design and style, but the basic premise is the same: People are trapped inside a space for a specific amount of time and need to solve a number of puzzles to get out.”  Here’s a recent Boston Globe story that describes the craze.  I am pleased to share that seven friends and I successfully escaped from “The Apartment” this past weekend, with one second remaining (photo to the right).  We’re now 2 for 4 in our efforts to escape.  Most of the credit this time around goes to a few others in our group, and I ended up playing more of a supporting role.  Whenever I do these escape games I often think about what it would be like to bring teachers from RJ Grey as a work event given that we utilize a team-based model at school.  If I’m feeling a bit more daring, and want to risk the ire of the whole staff, we could also go up a few notches and travel to Survival Systems USA in Connecticut.  For $950 a person, Survival Systems USA is now converting their training exercises that were originally intended to provide aquatic survival tactics for aviators and military agencies and offering it as a team building activity to increase morale in the workplace.  From simulating plane crashes to replicating hurricane-like weather, participants go through a whole series of high-risk challenges that make me realize I should have taken my childhood swimming lessons more seriously.  Here’s one of my favorite lines from the New York Times article about this emerging trend:  “Now, the classmates jumped without hesitation from a 14-foot platform into the pool. Life vests inflated, they were given the duration of Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On to find a way to stay warm while floating.”  It’s unlikely that your child’s teachers and Principal will find themselves giving this a go, but it’s fun to think about.  If by chance any of you have ever participated in something like this, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.  

Here’s a couple of reminders and notes I want to bring to your attention:

  • This year’s Winter Chorus and Strings Concert is this Wednesday, January 18 at 7pm in the Auditorium.

  • I made reference last week to our Cooking Club.  This program will likely get started up in the first week of February, so I’ll have more information in the next week or two about signing up for students who are interested.  

  • Our next round of Fit Club is also getting finalized in terms of dates and meeting location. Stay tuned on that as well.  

  • Our school district is currently going through its annual process for building a proposed budget for the following school year (2017-2018) and presenting it to the School Committee and the community at-large.  Dr. Brand has already made a few initial presentations that outline include the requests for new positions and programs that we’d like to include as part of next year’s budget.  If you’d like to review some of that information, you can review these materials that were presented at the December 15 School Committee meeting.  Our efforts to provide the budget story for next year always culminates in Budget Saturday, which is a daylong presentation to the School Committee that includes details of the proposed budget and reasons behind new requests.  Budget Saturday will be this coming Saturday, January 21 from 8:30am to 2:30pm in the Junior High Library and is open to the public.  

  • The next edition of the District’s Challenge Success newsletter is now up.  January’s edition is focused on ideas related to mindfulness and highlighting different ways that mindfulness practices are being incorporated into classrooms within our schools. It also includes an important reminder about the January 25 presentation by Pamela Katz Ressler about mindfulness for those who would like to learn more about this topic.  

An important Save The Date message to 8th grade families regarding the transition to the high school: On Thursday, February 9th at 7pm the high school will be hosting an evening for the parents of 8th graders. The goal of the evening is for parents to get an overall feel for the high school - including the class offerings available to ninth grade students. The night will begin in the high school auditorium with a welcome by principal Dr. JoAnn Campbell followed by a brief presentation by each department leader focusing on the classes available to ninth grade students. Immediately following the presentation parents may join department leaders in the East Commons where they will be available to answer questions.

We’ve got some great community events coming up in a few weeks as part of our Family Learning Series.  Last week I introduced Dr. Josephine Kim to all of you, as she will be speaking at the High School Auditorium on Monday, February 6 at 7pm.  “Let’s Talk! Bridging the Cultural Gap Between You and Your Child” is Dr. Kim’s platform for supporting families bridging the cultural gap that oftentimes exists between immigrant parents and their children.  With a particular focus on Asian American families, Dr. Kim’s presentation will create opportunities for parents and guardians to explore ways of promoting both the success and emotional well-being of their Asian American children. Dr. Kim plans to engage with the audience about how cultural expectations and differences manifest in daily interactions, and strategies for improving communication on these topics.  This event is open to parents/guardians and students in Grades 6 through 12.  To be sure, the focus of this event is geared towards Asian and Asian American members our community. Nevertheless, this presentation is like all of our community events and open to everyone in Acton and Boxborough who may want to attend.  Click here if you’d like to download/print a copy of the flyer for this event.  

On the following Monday, February 13, our next Family Learning Series event will be one where we welcome back Chris Herren to Acton-Boxborough.  Chris Herren is a former professional basketball player who grew up in the Boston-area, and whose personal and professional life was consumed by substance abuse for several years. During Rebound: The Chris Herren Story, Mr. Herren will tell of his descent into addiction, recover, and new mission of sharing his story with the goal of reaching young people and helping them make smart decisions when it comes to substance abuse and use.  His visit to Acton-Boxborough in 2013 was a powerful event for those who attended and we’re looking forward to his visit next month.  Many thanks to Acton-Boxborough United Way, Acton-Boxborough PTSO, Danny’s Place Youth Services, and the Acton Health Department for co-sponsoring this event.  This event will take place at 7pm in the High School Auditorium, and you can download the flyer/press release for this event by clicking here.  

Last April we took about 100 RJ Grey students on a trip to Washington D.C. A few of us chaperones are still in the process from recovering from that trip, so we’re probably going to offer this as an every other year adventure.  One of the highlights of the trip for me and three other chaperones was getting to watch the last few minutes of a Supreme Court hearing (after waiting outside in a line for three hours).  While the case itself wasn’t terribly exciting for us - it was about insurance fraud - just being in the courtroom was exhilarating.  I spent some time this week thinking about those ten minutes at the Supreme Court because the Court just finished hearing arguments about a topic that is very relevant for our work in public schools.  Specifically, Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District is a case that asks the Court to offer a more specific interpretation of the 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and the standard to which public schools can and should be held when determining the services and supports that should be provided to children with disabilities.  I am sharing information on this case not to provide commentary but to direct your attention to this development, as whatever interpretation of special education law the Supreme Court establishes through this case will have significant impact on how schools and families move forward when addressing the educational needs of students who receive special education services.  If you’re interested in reading more about the case, you can read this recent New York Times article or this article from the Los Angeles Times.  

"Life's most persistent and urgent question: what are you doing for others?"

-- Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

On the day we devote to the memory and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it seems more than appropriate that we highlight the importance and value of community service, and how it is encouraged and recognized within our District.  I want to once again make special mention of our new community service recognition efforts at the Junior High through Rise to the Challenge.  Congratulations to the students who have already submitted a record of their service hours and participated in this program.  This program is ongoing throughout the year so it’s definitely not too late for any student to get involved (learn more by clicking here to visit our website).  As I mentioned in a recent Grey Matters, 8th grade students and families should remember that starting January 1, students can record community service activities and hours that can also be counted towards the High School’s “Accept the Challenge” program, which recognizes students for their commitment to, and engagement in, community service.  To learn more, you can visit the High School Community Service website, and also review some of their literature by clicking here.  

Finally, I want to briefly touch upon the difficult and incredibly sad week our community had with the recent death of a McCarthy-Towne student.  I hope that all of you had an opportunity to read the message that Dr. Brand sent to families, and perhaps you also availed yourself of the resources and supports that were included in his message and/or last Wednesday’s presentation by Maria Trozzi.  I can appreciate that some parents may also be curious, perhaps even concerned, about the absence at RJ Grey of any school wide statements to our students about Tylen Cunningham.  Our approach up to this point has been to follow the District’s protocol outlined by the Good Grief program which advises that we not initiate all-school announcements and activities given that Tylen was not a student at our school. Instead, the protocol in which we’ve been trained outlines action steps for offering responses and language to individual students who may have questions or comments, and for supporting students who are themselves vulnerable for one reason or another. We’ve been heavily focused on those measures, and appreciate the support that many parents have provided as part of those efforts.  All of that being said, I also know that the overall accumulation of what has transpired over the course of this year, and the tremendous loss that our community has experienced, may make things a bit atypical. Therefore, we might have to consider some additional measures to support our students as we continue to move forward.  I’ll be attending some meetings in the next few weeks that are focusing on this very topic, and we’ll be looking at this from a couple of different angles and see what makes sense.  I don’t know what that might be but I do want you to know that it’s on my mind as well.  Many thanks for the kind and supportive words and gestures many of you offered to us this past week.  

Have a great week, everyone.