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Grey Matters, January 2, 2017; Volume 5, Number 17

posted Jan 2, 2017, 3:14 PM by Andrew Shen   [ updated Jul 18, 2017, 11:11 AM by James Marcotte ]

Hi Everyone,

Welcome back from Winter Break, and welcome to 2017.  Our family didn’t go anywhere for vacation, and instead we filled a few days with some time with our extended families, and other activities that centered around having the kids burn off a good deal of energy (translation: multiple trips to places with indoor trampolines).  I could tell you that we planned those activities as an opportunity for our kids and their friends to enjoy themselves and their time away from school, and it would be true.  There might have also been a few thoughts related to self-preservation and survival (for us the parents, not our kids) that inspired us to come up with these short adventures.  We did a semi-decent job of keeping them entertained, though I did remind myself throughout the week that a few moments of “boredom” may actually be healthy for the kids and letting them try and figure out ways to entertain themselves (which I expand upon a few paragraphs down). Like many previous vacations, we all found ourselves a bit torn about the end of the break -- not really ready to return to school, but thinking that a little more routine and some space and distance amongst the siblings may be in everyone’s best interest.  While I am sure that many of you were able to plan some great vacations and adventures, my guess is that many of us also share a view of these “breaks” as a much needed window to take care of all manner of tasks, chores, or appointments that are long overdue in terms of getting our attention.  The holidays are also a time when I know that many of us tend to many other obligations or responsibilities related to aging parents, friends who may be struggling a bit, or others who rely on our support.  So whether you had an opportunity to get away on a relaxing adventure, focused on taking care of someone who needed attention, or maybe a bit of both, I hope all of you feel satisfied with how you spent the Winter Break.   

Here’s some updates and reminders for the first few weeks of January:

  • Our last set of parent-teacher conferences is scheduled for this Thursday, January 5.  That means all students will be dismissed at 10:40am, and conferences begin at 11:30am.  Please check in with your kids about plans and expectations for that day.  Remember that the Library is not available for students after school.   

  • There is no school for all Acton-Boxborough students on Monday, January 16 for the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.  

  • The RJG Winter Band Concert is scheduled for the evening of Tuesday, January 10, and the Winter Chorus and String Ensemble Concert is scheduled for the evening of Wednesday, January 18.  Both events begin at 7pm and taking place in the RJ Grey auditorium.  

  • Yearbooks are still on sale through January 19.  Instructions for how to order a copy can be found by clicking here.

  • A friendly but important reminder about our community service recognition efforts via Rise to the Challenge.  We had an uptick in the number of students who submitted hours before the break and looking forward to receiving more!  For 8th grade students, please note that any service hours that you complete between now (January 2) and the rest of the school year can be counted towards the High School community service program since their calculations are recorded based on the calendar year.  In other words, service hours that 8th grade students fulfill moving forward can be included in the hours they complete as a 9th grade student next year.  Be sure to review information about the High School’s program and tracking forms. You can learn more about the High School program by clicking here.

The first Ski and Board Club session is taking place on Tuesday (tomorrow).  An important reminder to families whose kids are participating that skis and snowboards are not allowed on the buses during the morning pick-up routes, so an alternate plan is needed on these Tuesdays.  For those parents/guardians bringing kids and equipment during the morning drop-off process, please (please!) have the skis, poles, boots, etc. put together in a way that will help us keep things moving (and safe) down there in the parking lot.  Some families also choose to drop off ski/boarding equipment to the school later in the day (we store it all in the auditorium).  

I was gifted a few books over the break and I look forward to carving out some time in the near future to start reading them (or at least starting with one of them).  While I didn’t get to any of those full-length books, I did have an opportunity to read a number of articles about kids, adolescent development, and parenting.  I read them wearing both my dad hat and educator hat, and wanted to pass along links to a few of those pieces should some of you also have some interest in the subject matter.  First, here is an article in Time Magazine that reminded me of something Michelle Icard (author of Middle School Makeover) said about teen struggles with reading facial expressions when she visited Acton-Boxborough earlier this Winter.  Entitled, “Parents Don’t Get How Negative They Seem to Their Teenagers”, this article summarizes results from studies that looked at parent-teenager relationships and the tendency for parents and teenagers to misinterpret the intent and/or level of emotion found in the response or actions of the other.  The second article is from NPR and is the transcript of an interview with Erika Christakis, a lecturer at Yale and author of The Importance of Being Little, about the challenges she sees with shifts away from play during preschool years.  While this article focuses on the earlier stages of childhood and schooling, I did find the main issues being discussed to be linked to some of our Challenge Success discussions about definitions of success and our efforts to constantly accelerate the academic development of our children.  The part of the article that really captured my attention is where Christakis defends the value of unscheduled time (i.e. no lessons, practices, enrichment classes): “I think boredom can be a friend to the imagination.  Sometimes when kids appear to be bored, actually they haven’t had enough time to engage in something.  We quickly wish it away and move them along to the next thing...You’ve really kind of adultified childhood so kids really don’t have those long, uninterrupted stretches of time to engage in fantasy play.”  Finally, as the father of two boys (currently ages 11 and 8), I took a few minutes to read this article in the Wall Street Journal entitled, “What Parents of Early Teen Boys Need to Know”.  This article spent some time looking at which skills develop more slowly in boys, and where they may demonstrate certain strengths earlier on.  Additionally, it offered some initial insight into ways parents can offer some guidance and modeling in areas related to language, attention, and empathy (including something called mentalizing).  

The WSJ article reminded me of the work of Dr. Abigail Baird who visited Acton-Boxborough last Winter (so some of you may remember her).  Dr. Baird teaches at Vassar and conducts research on adolescent brain development. I really like Dr. Baird because she has a way of presenting information on adolescent brain development (and explaining behaviors) in a way that is accessible and relatable.  She’s also a diehard Red Sox fan, and that’s always a plus. While we won’t have the opportunity to have Dr. Baird visit us this year (maybe next year), those of you interested in this topic can watch this video of an interview that she did with Lisa Kudrow of “Friends” fame (and a Vassar alum). They spend time talking about the interplay between emotions and decision making and a whole host of other really interesting topics - including some important differences in how boys and girls develop during adolescence. The interview is a bit long (about an hour) but if you’ve got the time it’s one of those videos that I have personally viewed several times, usually after my 6th grader does something particularly vexing or when one of my incredible surefire parenting strategies did not elicit the result I was expecting.  

Finally, I wanted to mention quickly that over the next few weeks I’ll be highlighting some of the Challenge Success themes and topics that we introduced in the Fall.  In particular, how we at RJ Grey will be looking at possible changes to our school schedule (how we organize the school day, length of classes, frequency of meeting, ways to reduce the frenetic pace of the day, etc.) as one way to pursue some meaningful changes for our students. As I will discuss in more detail, this work will take some time and wouldn’t be implemented for another year.  This is separate, though not entirely unrelated, from the larger district wide discussion about school start times.  There’s a School Start time committee that will be working on that issue over the next few months and I also look forward to passing along updates that can be shared from that committee.  

Have a great week, everyone.  Welcome back.