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Grey Matters, September 25, 2017; Volume 6, Number 4

posted Sep 24, 2017, 9:43 AM by Andrew Shen

Hi Everyone,

I recently received a few messages from RJ Grey parents where I was addressed as “Dr. Shen” which means it’s time for my annual note to you all that while you’re more than welcome to continue bestowing that title upon me, it’s not one that I’ve earned from an accredited institution of learning!  As for what you might call me instead? I am happy to be addressed by my first name (Andrew), and also perfectly comfortable with Mr. Shen for those who prefer to maintain some formality.  There are four people on this Earth, all of whom I have known since my time in Andover’s West Middle School, who call me (and the only ones allowed to call me) Andy because they’ve never been able to shift from what I went by as a teenager - some habits die hard.  I would also like to use this moment to provide a gentle note of clarification about my last name -- Shen -- which has been one throughout my lifetime has often been confused for Chen (with a "Ch"), another Chinese-American surname that perhaps is a bit more common and familiar to many in this area.  I mention this not only as point of information about my name, but with the intention of bringing up our school’s commitment to pronouncing all of your names correctly. If and when we cross paths and introduce ourselves at this Thursday’s Back to School Night, I hope that you’ll provide me with some guidance if I don’t pronounce your name correctly and help me get it right.  My hope is that those interactions will be similar to the efforts that our teachers made at the start of this school year to learn the preferences, and the correct pronunciation, of your childrens’ names.  As a school we want to promote the idea that pronouncing names correctly can be an important part of helping each person feel welcome and seen, be it here at school or anywhere else.  To that end we are making it more of a habit to ask for a bit of guidance or confirmation about whether we pronounced a name correctly.  I will admit, however, that even if I succeed in correctly pronouncing the names of parents and guardians I meet on Thursday night, I may not remember all of your names after that evening and I ask in advance for a little forgiveness in that regard.  

As I noted above, Back to School Night is this Thursday evening at 7pm (6:40pm if your child takes the Band, Chorus or Drama electives and you want to meet their teachers).  Your children will bring home a schedule for you to follow.  Just in case your teenager is the first 13-year old to ever forget to share something with you, we’ll have a copy of each student’s schedule available in the Lobby, but I am sure none of you will have that issue.  If you did provide the PTSO an annual $40 donation this year, you can pick up your copy of the Student Directory at the PTSO table (in the Lobby).  For those who are still interested in contributing to the PTSO this year, you can still do so that evening.  Also, we have several 7th grade parents who have expressed an interest in serving on our School Council.  We will have paper ballots available in each of our homerooms (where families will begin the evening).  Please review the candidate profiles and vote for TWO of them.  Thank you in advance to all of the parents who are putting themselves out there and offering to serve.  

Here are some important reminders and notes for this week:

  • I hope all of you had an opportunity to read my email message regarding our plans to hold an ALICE drill this week.  You can review the content of that email message by clicking here.  Once the drill has been completed I will be sure to send a follow-up message to families.  

  • Our District Late Bus service is starting on Monday! If your child is planning on using the Late Bus, please remind him/her/them that they should have a clear understanding of their plan in terms of the drop off stop where they will disembark. As this is a new service there may be some hiccups during the first few days.  Thanks in advance for your patience as we work through any adjustments that might need to be made.  

  • Two calendar notes for the week of October 8:  There is no school on Monday, October 9 in observance of Indigenous People’s Day.  The School Committee voted last year to replace what had previously been observed as Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day on the District’s calendar.  The Junior High and High School also have our first Early Release day on that Thursday, October 12, and staff will then participate in professional learning for the remainder of the day.  Dismissal for students is at 10:40am at the Junior High and all standard bus routes will be available at that time.  Please note that the Late Bus will not be available that day.  I would encourage families to discuss and confirm with their child plans for this early release and expectations regarding transportation and post-release activities.  

  • Don’t forget to encourage your child to review the many after school clubs and activities that are offered at RJ Grey - we’ve got a new Book Club!  All of our active programs are listed here, and includes meeting times and locations, as well as the staff member who can answer additional questions.  

Starting this Monday and ending Tuesday, October 10, all of the schools and programs within Acton-Boxborough will be participating in a fundraising effort to support current Red Cross disaster relief efforts.  Initial planning for this fundraising effort was in direct response to Hurricane Harvey and the needs of those in southeast Texas.  We’ve now all witnessed several other communities in dire need of assistance due to Hurricanes Irma and Maria.  At the Junior High, our Student Council will be organizing a coin drive and collecting donations from students during Homeroom.  Donations from all of the schools and programs will be combined to provide one donation to the Red Cross on behalf of the District. Students and families may also drop off cash or check donations to the Main Office (checks can be made to ABRSD or directly to the Red Cross).  Many thanks to Debbie Ahl (Student Council advisor) and our Student Council officers and representatives for providing leadership for our school’s specific efforts.  Many thanks in advance to everyone for the contributions you may be able to make - be it through our District’s activities or through other channels.  

As a school community, we are continuing to place special emphasis on the conversations about the importance of sleep for adolescents.  Many of you are already aware that our District continues to look carefully at school start times and options for shifting start times within our District.  This is a topic that has gained traction both locally and across the country.  Last week the New York Times included a piece that tried to incorporate an economic argument into the school start time discussion, which you can read here.  You will all undoubtedly hear more about that initiative over the course of the year.  Along with our efforts around start times, we’ve also made a commitment to educating our students about this topic, and helping them develop a better understanding of how sleep affects their development and overall health.  To assist us in this process, we are fortunate that Dr. Kirsty Kerin, a Boxborough resident (and A-B parent) has continued to make herself available as a resource to our students and staff.  She returned to RJ Grey two weeks ago to deliver a presentation to our 7th grade students and covered a number of topics, two of which I wanted to pass on to you to give you a snapshot of her talk.   First, she highlighted the need to be mindful of the impact that caffeine has on having restful sleep (hint: it really disrupts an adolescent’s sleep when caffeine is in the body).  If caffeine is something you accept as part of your child’s diet, consider not consuming caffeine products after lunch so it has sufficient time to leave your system.  Second, being exposed to light and devices that project light have a significant impact on an individual’s ability to fall asleep.  Therefore, think about what it means to be starting into the screen of a digital device (phone, tablet, computer) late at night - and use apps that automatically eliminate “blue light” from screens after a certain time in the evening.  If I’ve piqued your interest on this topic, or if you’ve already been thinking about this issue, you can view the video recording of the presentation Dr. Kerin gave last year to our community as part of the Family Learning Series.  

Finally, a quick note about homework.  With a few weeks under our belt all of you are likely well aware that homework is assigned as part of your child’s different team classes.  Two years ago, our staff began an important and wide-ranging conversation about connections between homework and our curriculum, what makes for quality assignments, and the development of common expectations regarding workload.   We know that a balance must be struck between the benefits that quality homework assignments can provide and the necessity to manage a workload that is reasonable for students in these grades.  This is a multi-year effort, a work in progress, and something that we continue to pursue while keeping a purposeful eye on the many valuable curricular goals and aspirations that are important to preserve. Last June, the School Committee also voted and approved a District Homework Policy that applies to all of our schools and offers specific guidance for different grade levels.  You can view the Policy by clicking here.  The establishment of a District-wide policy that was voted on by the School Committee is a fairly significant stake in the ground regarding institutional expectations on this topic. As you’ll see within the language, the policy reflects and endorses a view that aligns with much of the Challenge Success work and aspirations that we’ve been exploring. On Tuesday, October 24 at 7pm there will be a Homework information session in the Junior High auditorium that will involve a panel that includes all eight school principals (and a few others).  I am looking forward to sharing the work of the Junior High at this October event.  This includes our efforts around communication to students and families, communication with each other (on teams), and individual educator practices that look at both quantity and type of assignment. Something that I would like to make sure all families are aware of are the team homework calendars. Starting this year, every team (in both grades) is maintaining a shared online homework calendar that can be viewed by students and their families.  For 7th grade teams, you can go here.  For 8th grade teams, you can go here. Our hope is that this additional resource can, first and foremost, support students as they develop the organizational and planning skills that will allow them to adjust to additional responsibilities.  Secondarily, this resource may also prove helpful to families who may still need to provide a bit of additional structure and guidance to their children as they work towards that level of independence that we all want them to develop.  A friendly reminder, though, that helping them get to that independence may require letting them stumble and fumble a bit on their own and to experience the natural consequences that accompanies some missed assignments or rushed work.  I am of course encouraging you to consider that approach while I am staring at my son’s unfinished Science homework and debating whether to comment on it to him.

Have a great week, everyone.  I hope to see you at this Thursday’s Back to School Night.