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Grey Matters, December 4, 2017; Volume 6, Number 14

posted Dec 3, 2017, 7:25 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,

It was a busy weekend where some of our family’s plans didn’t go quite as intended, so instead we adjust and find joy in the imperfections.  The first thing that went awry is this year’s Shen Family Christmas tree that, for the fourth year in a row, is not standing upright and leaning at about a 15 to 20 degree angle, and (once again) secured by some string that we’ve attached between the tree and window behind it in an effort to avoid a repeat of the Ornament Massacre of 2014.  I remember writing about that incident in an edition of Grey Matters three years ago but at that time didn’t have the courage to include a photo of that tree in its sad state.  So in an effort to model and embrace vulnerability, here to the right is a photo I took this morning of our tilting tree that I’ll probably also forget to water until it’s too late. I took that photo after I went to try and wake up our oldest son who gave me specific and enthusiastic instructions yesterday to wake him up early so that he can make his mother breakfast in bed to celebrate her birthday, which is also today.  During my attempt to wake him I succeeded in getting a momentary acknowledgement that I was in the room and two full shakes of the head when I asked him if he was still up for making breakfast.  I’m still debating whether the phrase, “it’s the thought that counts” is applicable in this situation.  While these Shen family moments didn’t go quite as planned, what has gone incredibly well was this weekend’s impressive 5-show run of the RJ Grey production of Singin’ in the Rain.  I attended the opening-night performance on Thursday and as always it’s immensely enjoyable to watch a performance featuring our students as they showcase a whole different dimension of who they are, and the many talents they possess.  Along with the many parents, families and staff who attended the musical, I was again heartened to see a large contingent of current and former RJ Grey students in attendance and cheering loudly for their classmates and friends.  Planning and preparation for a production of this magnitude starts in the summer, and involves a high level of commitment and focus for the first three months of the school year - auditions, rehearsals, costume making, set building, and more rehearsals.  Congratulations and many thanks to the student cast and crew, RJ Grey staff and parent volunteers who were part of this year’s musical production.

Some reminders for this week, and then a note about Fall Trimester report cards coming home later this week (probably Friday).  

  • An important reminder that the towns of Acton and Boxborough will hold Special Town Meetings on Monday, December 4 (tomorrow) at 7pm and the first article to be voted on will be the potential allocation of funds for the new school building feasibility study.  Our school district has been accepted into the state’s school building funding program and would receive reimbursement for up to 50% of the project.  The vote on December 4 is to allocate funds for the feasibility study only. I would encourage you all to attend, participate, and cast your vote based on how you view this proposal.  

  • Similar to previous years, 7th grade students will again participate in an annual presentation by Meghan McCoy, from the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center (MARC) about cyberbullying and engaging in a discussion about the benefits and risks of maintaining a social media presence.  This presentation is scheduled for Friday, and we’re looking forward to welcoming Meghan back to RJ Grey, who has worked with our school for several years, and is very familiar with our student audience.  

  • The first of three parent-teacher conference days is scheduled for Thursday, December 14.  All (Junior High) students will have an early release day, and dismissed at 10:40am.  All bus routes will be available after school, and a friendly reminder to families to have a quick conversation with your child about plans and expectations for where they should be going once school is dismissed.  For those parents and guardians who have meetings scheduled on Thursday, please double check your assigned times.  You would have received that via an email message from either Katy Frey (7th grade) or Anne Spalding (8th grade).  

Here’s an important message from Marc Lewis, our Yearbook advisor: RJ Grey Yearbooks are now on sale and make great holiday gifts for your kid(s)! Our book this year consists of 70+ colored pages full of 7th and 8th graders participating in school activities, clubs, sports, and special events. The hardcover book will include survey responses, fun photos, student art and poetry, and everything in between. The cost of the book is $37 and can be ordered one of two ways: The preferred way is purchase the book online, by going to this link and entering our school ID: 13545.  When you get directed to our school’s page, click the “buy a yearbook” option on the left and then (1) put in the quantity and click “buy these items”; (2) click “buy these items for a student” and type in your child's name; you will then be prompted to select the student from our school's database; (3) pay by credit card and then save your email receipt for record purposes. If you prefer not to order online, students may also go the more traditional route and order a yearbook with cash or check made out to RJ Grey. They should bring payment to Mr. Lewis in Room 313 or to the Main Office. Important: Please make sure to include a note with the student’s name, grade, and homeroom teacher’s name. We know this is something your child will enjoy receiving in June. We hope also that years from now your child will look back at their RJ Grey experience with fond memories and know this yearbook will be a way for them to do just that!  

Now a message from me about yearbooks and other school-related costs.  If the cost of the yearbook presents a financial hardship for your family, please do not hesitate to contact us and we can have a discrete and simple conversation, and we always make things work.  I’d like to use the launch of yearbook orders to offer a general but important reminder to all families that we never want the cost of any school-related program or activity to prevent a student from fully accessing important school programs or experiences. It is inevitable that we will need to attach a fee to some programs, trips, or optional things that are “extra” and if there are moments when cost does present a dilemma for your family, I hope you’ll feel comfortable reaching out to your child’s counselor and/or Assistant Principal who will be happy to work with you on a solution.  

Fall Trimester report cards are going home with students later this week, likely Friday. Starting this year, we will also be emailing report cards directly to parents and guardians on the same day they are handed to students.  Once you have time to view the report cards, please use this as an opportunity to have a conversation with your child(ren).  For subjects where they experienced some success, what did they think was an important factor, and how can they build on that momentum?  For subjects where they might be hoping to improve, what goals or strategies might be worth trying over the next few months?  Asking students to self-assess and giving them a supportive venue to be honest with themselves is a critical first step to any adjustments that they (or you) might hope they make moving forward.  

I would imagine that amongst our student population, there may be a few whose report cards show some signs of difficulty in a few subjects.  They aren’t the first (nor will they be the last) middle schoolers whose report cards may result in a bit of angst and distress for themselves and their parents. What has become to me an important tradition during my time as Principal is where I confess to RJ Grey families about my own sordid middle school academic career, specifically the minor disaster that was my 7th grade winter report card, issued in 1989 by the Andover Public Schools. Like other RJ Grey parents before you, you can view a photo of said report card by clicking here. Please note that teachers’ names, and my parents’ home address, have been blurred to protect the innocent.  If you are tempted but unsure of whether to show my report card to your child, shed yourself of any reluctance you might have and go right ahead.  I’ve enjoyed many of the stories that parents have sent to me about the conversations they had with their children about their Principal’s report card.

On the day that my 7th grade report card was distributed, I spent a good hour devising an ingenious plan to save myself from what I expected to be a painful conversation with my parents.  My brilliant idea?  I folded up my report card, placed it in my pants pocket, and then purposely ran those pants through the washing machine - twice.  I convinced myself (truly) that a spin cycle or two would actually make the D+ I earned in Math fade a bit and that I could convince my mother that the unclear and fuzzy marking was a B+.  Shockingly, the plan didn’t work - I probably should have used hot water instead of cold.  On behalf of your kids, and the thirteen-year old version of me, please keep in mind that if you find yourself having a bewildering conversation about their report cards, they are not purposely trying to make you miserable and turn prematurely gray/bald.  The prefrontal cortex of thirteen and fourteen-year old brains is still developing, and this will often result in utterly nonsensical explanations and excuses.  This too shall pass, eventually.

For those whose kids may be coming home with “that other” report card that might look a bit like mine, when you have a conversation with your child about it, please remind yourself of what we all already know: that patience and encouragement (and some mercy) often go a long way in these situations. If you hope to have a productive conversation with them, they need to be convinced that your motivation for talking is not just rooted in judgment, but also driven by curiosity and a sincere interest in expressing empathy and support.  

Middle school is a time when a dozen things are happening and changing at the same time - to their brains, their bodies, how they relate to peers and adults, and they’re trying on different personalities to see what feels right.  With all this change, sometimes the academic part doesn’t go quite as planned and they may not be prepared to identify the reasons why.  A less-than-stellar middle school report card is not usually a preview of what your son or daughter will be like when they are adults (or even as high school students), nor is it really structured to offer insight about their continued development as kind, thoughtful, and creative individuals.  We (parents and educators) should definitely continue to have healthy academic goals and aspirations for all of our kids, and let’s remind ourselves that getting there can sometimes be a function of time and might also include, and indeed benefit from, a few detours and potholes along the way.  

Finally, we had another installment of Poetry Fridays to end our week.  Mr. Malloy chose to read the poem “Storage” by Mary Oliver.  Click here if you’d like read the piece.  

Have a great week, everyone.