Grey Matters‎ > ‎

Grey Matters, November 20, 2017; Volume 6, Number 12

posted Nov 19, 2017, 9:27 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,

I will freely admit that when it comes to coping with an illness, my wife Melisa is much more capable than I am at soldiering on with life, the needs of our kids, and the fact that groceries won’t buy themselves (though perhaps Amazon is working on that as their next service).  She can have a persistent headache and she’ll still find a way to do what needs to be done - for her teaching job, for herself, and the rest of our family.  Melisa’s ability to power through sickness reminds me of the scene in the comedy Monty Python and the Holy Grail when the Black Knight, upon having his arm chopped off by King Arthur, looks down dismissively and says, “just a flesh wound.”  Yours truly, on the other hand, devolves into a useless mess when the sick bug invades my body.   I was felled this weekend by what I am hoping is just a 48-hour case of something, and my recovery was once again aided by a patient partner who picked up the slack.  While I lucked out with what is hopefully just a brief illness, there have been several RJ Grey teachers who have had to battle more persistent and fiercer bouts of sickness, including a number of cases of pneumonia.  Many of you have kids whose teachers have been absent for a week or more these past two months, and the students have been patient and adjusted to a slight change in plans, which is much appreciated.  We’re also fortunate that we have a few substitute teachers who have worked at RJ Grey for many years, including some retirees, and their ongoing availability has allowed us to maintain some consistency and continuity in a number of these cases.  Over these past several weeks, many students have also been victims of a sick bug and I am hoping that some time apart later this week will help with clearing out some of the germs that have been traveling back and forth within our community.   If your child does become ill, please keep in mind the District’s guidelines about returning to school:  students should stay home if they have a temperature of 100 Fahrenheit or above, and should not return to school until their temperature has been normal for at least 24 hours (without assistance of Tylenol/Advil).  For stomachaches, vomiting, and diarrhea, students should stay home until symptoms have resolved for at least 12 hours.

Here’s some reminders for this shortened week:

  • Another reminder that the Fall Trimester closes on Tuesday, November 28th (right after Thanksgiving).  Report cards will likely be sent to families around December 8 -more on that when we get closer to that date.  

  • Ski and Board Club will start Tuesday, January 2nd, 2018. It will run for 6 weeks on Tuesdays (1/2, 1/9, 1/16, 1/23, 1/30, 2/6). If your child would like to sign up for the club,​ have them ask for a Ski/Board Club packet at the main office for necessary documents and instructions, or use the documents listed here. You can also download the contents of the packet from our school website, which you can get to by clicking here.  Please direct any questions to the club advisor, Lynne Kondracki (

  • 7 Green’s annual Coat Drive continues, so if you have any coats (for adults or children), they can be dropped off in our Lobby.  

The tryout schedule for Winter Sports (basketball and cheerleading) has been finalized and is available for viewing (and printing) by clicking here. Students who plan to try out for our winter sports need to make sure their "Green Form" is completed and reviewed by our school nurse.  Tryouts for many start the Monday we return from Thanksgiving Break so please be sure to have all of your documentation (and pick up arrangements) set in advance.  

The annual RJ Grey musical is just around the corner! The students are working hard on this year’s production of Singin’ in the Rain and we’re looking forward to another performance that showcases our students’ talents.  Five performances are scheduled for the week after we return from Thanksgiving Break, on Thursday, November 30 (7pm), Friday, December 1 (7pm), Saturday, December 2 (2pm and 7pm), and Sunday, December 3 (2pm).  Tickets are $15 and are now available i

n the Junior High Main Office.  ABSAF holders are entitled to two free tickets and must pick up their tickets from the Main Office.  Tickets are also currently available for purchase at Donelan’s in Acton, and Red, White and Brew in West Acton, and also directly from cast members.  This is always a great family-friendly event and we hope to see many A-B families there.

With the Thanksgiving Break starting later this week, I wanted to remind families that there will be no homework over the vacation period.  This has been a practice at the Junior High for the past three years, and is now a district wide expectation that is part of the recently approved Homework Policy.  At the heart of this policy is a belief that school vacations can and should provide students and families an opportunity to rest and focus on time with each other, free from any school-related obligations. The commitment we (parents and the school) have to academics will be ever-present, and yet I think we would be remiss if we ignored what psychologist and author Madeline Levine identified as the need for "honoring the importance of downtime, playtime, and family time." This is not to suggest that addressing those needs can only take place during vacations (that would be problematic as well).  Instead, we hope students and families will see these vacation periods as an additional opportunity to cultivate other parts of their family's life, be it in the form of leisure and social activities, or simply quality time with each other.  For me, some of that quality time next week will be spent helping my parents pick out a new washer and dryer.  My father recently came to the conclusion that after only twenty-eight years, their current washer and dryer deserve to also be retired and replaced.

With Thanksgiving on Thursday, we have a shortened week with an early release on Wednesday (dismissal is at 10:40am).  On that day, we will have our annual Thanksgiving Assembly.  This assembly traditionally includes a few speeches by students, and performances by the school band and chorus.  When I prepared for this assembly in my first year as Principal (six years ago), it brought back all sorts of memories of my own Thanksgiving experiences as a middle school-aged student and I shared some of those memories in that year’s pre-Thanksgiving edition of Grey Matters.  I have since re-posted it every year because Thanksgiving is, after all, a time for creating and maintaining certain traditions.  Given the continuing and ever-growing diversity that has evolved in our two communities, I hope some of what I share resonates with many of you in one way or another.    

When I was younger, Thanksgiving had very little to do with extended family, as most of our relatives were a few thousand miles away.  For my sister and I, Thanksgiving dinner was an event celebrated with just our parents, so it often felt like a lot of work for just another Thursday night dinner.  Having grown up in Taiwan, my parents didn’t experience Thanksgiving until they moved here for graduate school, and along with preparing the “traditional” turkey and sides, my parents wanted to include items more familiar to them.  As a result, we had many a Thanksgiving where, next to the mashed potatoes, sat a plate full of pork dumplings; and next to the canned cranberry sauce, there was a bowl filled with a rice dish prepared by my dad.

When I was thirteen, having soy sauce and turkey gravy on the same table really bothered me, mostly because it was different from what I understood and assumed to be the proper and traditional way to celebrate this holiday.  For me, it meant we weren’t fitting in and continued to make us different at a time when I wanted to be anything but. This narrow obsession of mine also probably contributed to an inexplicable lifelong craving for Stouffer’s Stove Top stuffing and a preference for canned cranberry sauce.  Once that adolescent desire to fit in faded, I began to appreciate those dinners through a different lens - one that focused on the reality that the food my parents made was really good, that we had much for which to be thankful, and that every family has different twists on how celebrate Thanksgiving- and it’s those unique variations that are at the heart of any tradition. This lifelong obsession with stuffing and the idea that there isn’t a single way to properly celebrate Thanksgiving is why this recent article, Thanksgiving Stuffing (or dressing) is the dish that best reflects America’s diversity”, in the Washington Post caught my eye.  

As I got older, I also came to discover that our approach to Thanksgiving was definitely more manageable than some of the other family “traditions” I have now heard about from friends and colleagues, and have myself witnessed when spending time with my wife’s extended family (most of whom live near or around Rt. 128).  Little did I realize how fortunate the Shen family was to not have to wrestle with deciding which relative slept in what room during the holiday, who was in charge of making sure the loose cannon uncle didn’t upset guests with his boorish political commentary, and preparing for however much criticism advice one was to receive from his or her in-laws for the entire day.  

Whatever twist you and your family have planned for your Thanksgiving Break, and whatever you plan to eat, I hope you all find some opportunity for a little rest and some good company.  We look forward to seeing everyone back next Monday.  

Have a great week, everyone.