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Grey Matters, March 13, 2017; Volume 5, Number 26

posted Mar 12, 2017, 10:40 AM by Andrew Shen   [ updated Jul 18, 2017, 11:09 AM by James Marcotte ]

Hi Everyone,

I mentioned earlier this year that, like Tom Brady, I will soon be turning 40.  Unlike Tom Brady, I am not launching my own $78 per box meal-kit delivery service.  As the date gets closer and closer the Universe continues to harass prepare me with subtle and not-so-subtle reminders of this pending milestone. The first reminder came in the form of a recent Boston Globe story written by a reporter who turned 40 last May and had a hit ‘em over the head title of, The Biggest Threat Facing Middle-Age Men Isn’t Smoking or Obesity. It’s Loneliness.” I started reading it with the idea that it might be good for a few laughs, and ended up finishing it because it did have some interesting food for thought.  The other two reminders came during a car drive up to my parents’ house this past weekend with my two oldest kids.  About six months ago I shifted to listening primarily to classical music while driving.  Growing up with a classical musician for a mother, that was the music of choice for all of our time in the car.  I’ve been feeling like I think better and am more at ease while driving now that I’ve been listening to music that I’ve largely ignored for about twenty years.  Addison has not had the same level of exposure to classical music and so about ten minutes into our drive she asked me if I could change the station to one that played music.  I calmly explained to her that we were already listening to music.  She calmly replied, “Yes, but I want to listen to real music. Songs that actually have words.”  Shortly after that conversation we got to talking about the offseason activity of the New England Patriots and the recent trades they had completed.  At the end of that conversation, my oldest son (who will remain nameless to protect him from the Patriot fan base) blurts out, “I’ve decided not to be a Patriots fan this year and will cheer for another team.  Winning all the time is getting real boring.”  Fortunately for me, unfortunately for him, we had about fifteen more miles on 93 North for me to explain to him what being a Boston sports fan was like during the 1980s and 1990s and, save for a few great years for the Celtics, things were quite different when it came to winning (see inserted photo of Mr. Buckner from Game 6 of the World Series).  It was an interesting reminder that all of our kids born after 2000 really have had quite a different reality when it comes to our Boston-based sports culture.  

Many of you are probably following the weather forecast for this week which still includes predictions of a possible snowstorm on Monday night through Tuesday and estimated snowfall hovering around 12 to 18 inches.  We will see what unfolds and families should stay tuned to any messages from Dr. Brand about plans for school on Tuesday.  In the meantime, I will continue to try and figure out why the left wheel of my snowblower refuses to engage, leaving me doubly nervous about what might arrive later this week.  

Here are a series of announcements and reminders for families to review.  After that, I spend a bit of time providing context about the current 9th grade course registration process and the level recommendations that students may be receiving from their teachers.  I also give a preview of the Spring athletics program and this year’s MCAS testing schedule.  

  • Thank you to all of the 7th grade families who have submitted their Signs of Suicide (SOS) consent form and indicating the preferred level of participation for your child. The lessons are still scheduled for the following week - March 20 through 23.  We are still collecting the consent forms so please do not hesitate to send it in to school.  A final reminder that (as stated on the consent form), students without a consent form will be scheduled for Option 2, which is participation in the SOS lesson but not the screening tool.  

  • On Monday, March 20, the portal for current 8th grade students to register for high school courses will be open.  By then, all students will have had conversations with their current teachers about course and level recommendations (see my comments below on that).  You can click here to view/download the directions for course selection.  You can also review the High School’s Program of Studies by clicking here.  I would strongly recommend that all 8th grade families review the entirety of the directions - there is information about the process for override requests that must be followed (without exception) should you wish to pursue that route. Please note that families who might need assistance with accessing the portal should use the high school contact information that is listed at the top of the instruction sheet.  

  • It’s likely that Winter Trimester report cards will be coming home with students this Thursday.  Grades are being processed right now, and Thursday is our target.  If anything changes, I’ll let everyone know.  

  • Thank you to Debbie Ahl and the Student Council for organizing last Friday’s student basketball tournament.  We are appreciative of the parent donations of food, and the additional on-site support.

Starting last week, 8th grade teachers began having individual conversations with students to discuss their recommendations for 9th grade course level placement.  The actual registration process takes place via the Parent Portal (see above info) when the portal opens on March 20.  

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 with teachers 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.  As I have mentioned in previous years, my parents needed to wait until I was about 20 to witness me figuring those things 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 registration instructions, there is a description of the steps that the high school would like you to take to pursue those requests.  

Our Spring sports season is around the corner.  We need a little bit more time to finalize the schedule for tryouts and sign ups for our Spring sports programs - Baseball, Softball, Volleyball and Track. Those will be up on the website shortly and we’ll include mention of it in our daily announcements. In the meantime, please remember that all students must have a “Green Form” in order to participate, and can be downloaded on the Athletics page of our website.   There are still tryouts for baseball and softball, tryouts for the girls volleyball program, and track continues to be a “no-cut sport.”  In other words, any student interested in participating is welcome to join.  For the last few years, we have averaged somewhere between 200 and 250 students participating in the track program, which is always sight to see (especially during the track meets).  

In terms of participation in the track program, we plan to continue providing an option for students (and families) who are interested in the track program, but not prepared to commit to the full practice and meet schedule.  Not attending each practice or meet, as you can imagine, can create some challenges given the need to organize and schedule things like relays teams, practice plans, and logistics for away meets.  With this in mind, we offer students the choice to sign up for one of two options: (1) students who can commit to at least three practices per week, including all home meets, should sign up for the Blue Team.  Please note that the two non-practice days for students on the Blue Team needs to be the same from week to week.  (2) Students who wish to travel to away meets (in addition to home meets) and be eligible for relay teams and field events can sign up for the Gold Team.  Gold Team members are expected to attend all practices and all meets, without exception (unless the student is sick and absent from school).  It is entirely up to the student (and his/her family) to choose the best option that makes the most sense for him or her.  Please note that the participation fee is the same for either option. The above options will be explained to everyone at the first Track meeting (date forthcoming) so they can make an informed decision.  Remember that all important information about Spring sports can be found at our school’s Athletics page.  

Assuming that we don’t get any additional surprise snowstorms in April, we begin our MCAS testing this year on Monday, April 3.  One of the biggest differences this year in the MCAS testing process is that the 8th grade MCAS assessments are computer-based, which means that students review questions and submit responses via computer (in our case, on one of our many Chromebooks).  The 7th grade MCAS will still be a “paper-based” version and so the elements of administering that test are a bit more familiar.  Rest assured that we will be giving our 8th grade students some training on how to engage with the computer-based testing platform prior to April 3.  

As we get closer to the MCAS testing dates, I will be sharing more information about how we organize the testing days (and constant reminders to make sure your kids eat a good breakfast), along with some thoughts about the role MCAS should, and shouldn't, play in the academic lives of our students.  In the meantime, here is a link to the MCAS schedule for the Junior High.   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.

I had lunch with our latest round of Everyday Leaders last Thursday and I had great conversations with both the 7th and 8th grade lunch groups including, but not limited to, a lively discussion about installing new lockers in the Junior High that are secured by a fingerprint scanner and have chargers for phones, and mini-fridges for lunches.  Hopefully they didn’t mind breaking bread (in this case, pizza) with me that day and spending a little time in my office.  Congratulations to the following students who were part of this round’s Everyday Leaders group: Jalal Elsallal, Benvinda Gueye, Zach Taylor, Sydney Smith, Lindsey Vaillancourt, Fayad Bashir, Enzo Lando, Nina Robbe, Tamara Salant, Balaji Ganapathi, and Bobby Sweet.  

Finally, we had a wonderful series of activities as part of Foreign Language Week.  Each morning a different student offered a greeting to the school in a different language.  Thank you to Aryan Ranade (Hindi), Nicole Wei (Mandarin Chinese), Yusef Khan (Portuguese), Alisa Khomiakova (Russian), and Amna Aboushhiwa (Arabic) for making each morning a little more special with their messages of welcome.  We also ended the week with a special Foreign Language Week version of Poetry Friday, starring student Nathan Ramondeau who read “Le Cancre” by French poet Jacques Prevert.  

Have a great week, everyone.