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Grey Matters, February 5, 2018; Volume 6, Number 22

posted Feb 4, 2018, 6:05 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,

Welcome to the Super Bowl edition of Grey Matters.  During my tenure as Principal of RJ Grey, there have already been four instances where I crafted an edition of Grey Matters before the Patriots competed in that year’s Super Bowl.  Our children have no idea what it was like to be a fan of New England-based teams prior to the 2001 season and the moments of anguish that seemed to pile up year after year, where vying for a championship, let alone winning it all was not really something to which we were accustomed.  And now? Now we have a student at Northeastern University who, ahead of tonight’s game, has already had a new tattoo inked on his back that commemorates a sixth Super Bowl victory for the home team. All this hype about the game has reminded of the first Super Bowl that I watched with great interest, Super Bowl XX in 1986, where the Chicago Bears annihilated the Patriots and William “The Refrigerator” Perry added insult to injury by scoring a touchdown in the third quarter.  Anticipating that a good number of you will be distracted later this evening, I am sending out this week’s Grey Matters earlier in the day.  Win or lose tonight, school will start at our regular time and we can celebrate or mourn together that morning.  While one superintendent in the Commonwealth has already announced a 3-hour delayed opening for Monday, a move perhaps even more bold than the tattoo, our District will resist tempting fate.  

Here’s a couple of updates and reminders for the next few weeks:

  • We have our next early release scheduled for this Thursday, February 8.  This will be a professional learning session for staff, and students will be dismissed at 10:40am.  Please plan accordingly.  

  • A reminder to families of 8th grade students that the High School is hosting an information session regarding the upcoming transition to the High School.  I know, it felt like yesterday that they were in elementary school.  Once you’ve recovered from that time warp, remember that the event will be from 7pm to 8:30pm (at the High School) and is intended for parents/guardians only.  

  • February Vacation starts at the end of the school day on Friday, February 16.  Please note that February 16 is a full day and will end with our annual Blue & Gold Assembly (more on that next week).  If your family has travel plans that will involve taking your kids out before this date, please take a moment to inform the Main Office ( and your child’s teachers.  

  • We are now in our second week of #GreyGoesGreen and incorporating composting into our lunchtime sustainability practices.  I want to offer a quick nod to our RJ Grey students who are also members of Girl Scout Troop # 85221 who have worked closely with our Green Team to make all of this possible.  

I’m pleased to share news of a new initiative at the Junior High that is the brainchild of 8th grade Art teacher Holly Vlajinac.  R.J. Grey Artist of the Month is an opportunity for 7th and 8th Graders to have an authentic, juried art exhibition experience similar to the process in which professional artists participate.  Congratulations to Iffah Liyakath who has been selected as February’s Artist of the Month. Since this event is supposed to mimic a real world, professional artist experience, not all students that apply will become RJG Artists of the Month. However, Ms. Vlajinac offers this important reminder to students who may have an interest in participating: “If you are not selected to be RJG AofM, DON’T STOP MAKING ART!!  If you are not selected it only means that there were a handful of people that had work that was just a bit stronger than yours…  Not being selected doesn’t mean that you are terrible at art or that we don’t like you as a person.  Quite the opposite actually!  We appreciate that you took a chance and put yourself/artwork out there. Doing that is SUPER BRAVE and you should be proud for even trying! To learn more about the RJG Artist of the Month process click here.

Next year we will be starting school thirty minutes later, going from 7:30am to 8:00am.  This will hopefully help families develop schedules and routines that increase the amount of sleep students get each night.  While the current 7:30am start time may be a bit tough, we need to ask families to please help us with reducing a pattern of tardiness that has been developing over the course of this year.  We now have a significant number of cars pulling up to the front entrance around the time of the opening bell. I don’t know if it’s in an effort to avoid the congestion of morning traffic, or the natural outcome of a lot students running a bit late.  If it’s the former, this effort to avoid the morning traffic (which I understand) has now created its own pocket of messy congestion that adds to students arriving late for class. Our encouragement and request that families help their students get to school on time is delivered knowing that families often need to juggle a lot of things each weekday morning.  From a traffic and safety standpoint, if you find yourself in that crush of cars at the front circle outside of the school, please have your student wait until you are stopped along the curb before they exit the vehicle.  

Over the course of each school year different topics and themes - both light-hearted and more serious -- organically emerge within multiple editions of Grey Matters.  Sometimes this happens in response to a topic that has generated a lot of discussion and debate, like adolescent sleep and school start times.  And there are other times when a topic surprisingly captures the hearts and minds of RJ Grey families and takes on a life of its own.  Three years ago, I introduced to readers my youngest son’s love of bacon, his request for a “box of bacon” for Christmas, and all the bacon-inspired presents he did receive from relatives, including the infamous Bacon Bowl.  At the time, I thought it was going to be a one-time reference to Parker’s love of the greasy breakfast meat.  Instead, it was the beginning of a 6-month dialogue and moderately intense love affair with families about all things bacon.  

This year it feels like the topic that has a bit more of a gravitational pull is screen time and social media use (and misuse) by adolescents.  This is certainly not the first year where this subject has been the focus of intense discussion.  I remember writing to families six years ago about the challenges and unintended outcomes of giving adolescents devices that make permanent any decisions and reactions they might make in a moment where their teenage impulsivity may have played a role.  The concerns haven’t changed, and it’s now receiving more sustained attention.  This might be because a first wave of studies that have examined the impact of “screen time” on adolescent development are releasing initial findings and contributing more questions, concerns, and theories about this changing landscape.  You might have read earlier this month how two substantial investors in Apple have urged the tech company to channel its powers of innovation to address the “psychological and neurological fallout of too much screen time, and that social media is anything but social.” [my emphasis] The National Institutes of Health just launched a landmark study of adolescent brain development where they will be following and documenting the biological and behavioral development of 10,000 adolescents for the next ten years and looking at a variety of factors including “screen time.”  This month’s edition of AB’s Challenge Success newsletter offers some food for thought on this subject, including possible strategies that parents and families might want to consider.  

Speaking with my parent hat on, my struggles with managing use of technology by my own kids has many layers, so let’s start with three of them.  First, I’ll openly admit that technology and screen time has softened the edges of different parenting challenges in terms of “boredom.”  While the educator and semi-intelligent adult knows that “boredom” can in fact be an opportunity and not a problem, that nugget of truth doesn’t really have staying power when we’re squeezed together on a plane for a four hour flight, or even the 30 minute car ride to a soccer tournament.  It also allows us the ability to reach out kids with greater ease, and communicate a change in plans or confirming this, that, or the other thing.  Instant, if not superficial, relief for frazzled parents.  That’s why I read with some enjoyment (and guilt) this Wall Street Journal piece Screen Time for Kids is Awful and I Can’t Live Without It, a tongue-in-cheek reflection by another dad who succumbs to the same temptation that technology offers (warning: it’s a bit on the snarky side).  Secondly, a good portion of the “psychological and neurological fallout” referenced above doesn’t occur within a short time span.  Instead the impact is more gradual and akin to a slow boil where the effects aren’t as apparent in the moment, and so it offers someone like me the ability to ignore the issue and continually push off hard decisions or shifts on our kids’ access to screen time.  There are always plenty of other immediate problems or dilemmas that demand our attention.  

And third, once I’ve gotten accustomed to one social media platform, twenty new ones become the next craze and present an infinite number of ways that teenagers might use them, both innocently and for less-than-noble reasons.  I curently face this challenge more frequently in my role as a Principal than as a Dad.  Let me offer just one recent example of this continually shifting landscape with the goal of encouraging all of you to engage in some active monitoring of what your kids have on their devices.  There is a free social media app called Sarahah that was originally designed as a workplace tool that encourages/allows employees to offer anonymous feedback to colleagues and employers.  Let’s all set aside for the moment questions about whether its intended purpose is actually a good idea and promotes a productive workplace environment.  Teenagers are now using this very easy to use app to send anonymous digital notes to each other, which unfortunately means that it’s a convenient and accessible tool for impulsive behaviors that could include actions that would be considered cyberbullying and harassment. While I don’t plan on getting into the business of telling parents and guardians what apps to permit on their child’s devices, and which ones to forbid, I would encourage you to consider the benefits and risks of any social media platforms that are available to them and making some decisions about what is allowed.  In case it wasn’t pretty evident, I am not a fan of Sarahah and wouldn’t mind if it disappeared, and in three months it will be replaced by something else. Because of this, I know that ongoing conversations, as opposed to a “one and done” lecture, with my kids about responsible use of devices is a commitment I need to make and at times I will likely need to make unilateral decisions (“because I said so, that’s why”) about access to certain apps that my children will see as evidence that I don’t understand what it’s like to be a kid, and that I’m ruining their social lives and from which they will never recover.  If what I’ve just shared has complicated your thinking a bit, and you’re looking for more opportunities to discuss, don’t forget the March 29 community screening of the documentary film Screenagers, which will be at 7pm in the Junior High auditorium.  

Finally, we had our latest installment of Poetry Fridays at the end of last week.  In an effort to offer acknowledgment to Black History Month, Mr. Malloy offered us a reading of the poem “Booker T and W.E.B.” by Dudley Randall.  This poem highlights the competing views of two prominent African American leaders and their visions for how best to achieve social and economic gains for and within the black community.  Click here if you’d like to read the poem as well.  

Have a great week, everyone.