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Good afternoon,


Tomorrow is Pajama Day at RJ Grey, so if your child leaves the house in their PJs, it is in fact okay! In the nine years I’ve been here, I’ve never dressed for Pajama Day. But I do think a long-sleeved t-shirt and sweatpants might feel good tomorrow...in the name of school spirit! 


Tomorrow is also a pivotal day for our main office staff. I had previously mentioned that Mrs. Frey is vacating our main office support position to move across the street for a new position. Tomorrow will be her last official day with us - though we’ll rely on her to train our new hire whenever that person comes on board. In the meantime, we are getting by with the help of a lot of important people - Anne Chandler, Lena Jarostchuk, Debbie Brookes, and Sandy Carter - all women who work very hard behind the scenes to keep us moving forward. I’m incredibly grateful for their commitment to us and making it seem like we’re operating at 100%! We’re in the process of reviewing applications and doing interviews for this position. When we have a resolution, we’ll share that info with our families.


We’re also losing another member of our team tomorrow. Mr. Anthony Zeese has been at RJ Grey for four years. Since mid-August, he has been acting as an Interim Assistant Principal for our 8th graders. When we hired Mr. Zeese for this short-term position, we knew we were getting a hardworking, intelligent, competent person who likes kids. It turns out that we hit the jackpot when we brought Anthony onto our admin team for these 8 weeks. He has a future in school leadership whenever he wants to take the plunge. Starting Monday, he’ll be back in his position as the 7 Red Social Studies teacher. I think he’s ready to rejoin the somewhat more predictable routine of being a teacher. Huge thanks to Anthony for being an excellent school leader this fall. We are very fortunate to welcome back Cathy Boege to the 8th grade AP position starting on Monday. Cathy has been away on maternity leave since June. She joined us on Tuesday to get caught up on our ongoing work - she’s excited to be joining us again and we’re happy to have her back with us!


Our district continues to look for applicants for positions in many areas, but specifically, Transportation and Food Services. The district has increased salaries and has offered retention bonuses, too for these departments. Please see the flyers linked above for details - also reach out to me if you’d like more information. If you are interested, or if you know someone who is, please share these resources with them. We’re eager to increase our staffing in these two specific departments in the near future!


Our photo packages from our school picture days have arrived. If your family ordered prints, your student will be bringing home any purchased photo packages this week. Our photo retake day is scheduled for the morning of November 1. Throughout the morning, we’ll call down students to have their pics re-taken, or taken for the first time if they didn’t have a picture taken in September. Contact info and ordering info can be found on this flyer from Lifetouch.


Here are some upcoming dates at RJ Grey:

-Friday, October 15: Pajama Day;

-Monday, October 18: Early Release at 1 pm;

-Monday, October 25: Last day of PE/Health Rotation #1;

-Friday, October 29: Halloween Dress-up Day;

-Monday, November 1: School Picture Retake Day;

-Monday, November 1: Early Release at 1 pm;

-Tuesday, November 2: No School - Professional Learning Day

-Thursday, November 11: No School - Veterans’ Day


Have a great night,

Jim Marcotte


Posted by jmarcotte  On Oct 14, 2021 at 5:07 PM
  

Good afternoon,


In college, I was a Resident Assistant (RA) for a few years. When I tell people who know me that fact, they usually respond by saying, “yeah, obviously!” If you attended a college in the US, you’ll recognize the term as the person who gets a reduced-rate for housing in order to keep the shenanigans under control in the residence halls. You’ll remember that I was an assistant principal for 13 years. Being an assistant principal and an RA are pretty similar! An RA is also the person who promotes community in the residence hall and brings people together, too. That’s kind of what I’m trying to do in this new role. As an RA and a college student, we were always told to divide our year into short chunks...thinking about making it to Thanksgiving or the end of the semester was sometimes daunting. Making it from late August to Columbus Day was a much more realistic milestone to arrive at! The same holds true for educators - we’ve made it to (what we now call) Indigenous Peoples Day. While there have been other days off this fall, this one is always a marker for me that the year is proceeding. From our point of view, it’s proceeding well. I hope your experience thus far indicates the same. 


Since we’re now into the hard work of the year, I wanted to point out a resource that you may or may not be aware of. Each of our teams maintains a homework document, outlining the nightly homework, assessments, and when appropriate, the longer-term projects. You can find your child’s team homework doc by checking out our website (grade 7 / grade 8). You might choose to bookmark the specific doc for your child’s team. This doc will help you have a handle on two things: 1 - were they telling you the truth when they said there was no homework? And 2 - you can have a general sense of what might be happening in class when the answer to your question “what did you learn about today?” is “nothing.” 


Next Friday, October 15th, is the due date for our teachers to submit “interim reports.” We’ll then collate those reports and email them to families the following week. At RJ Grey, not every student will get an interim. Interims will come to families as a heads up for a few reasons: low grades, poor homework completion, classroom behavior, or other reasons that our teachers want to make you aware of. Receiving an interim is not the end of the world. All it should do is alert a family and student that something could be going differently before our trimester ends in late November. We ask our teachers to include a narrative as part of the interim and we hope they are able to offer suggestions to improve whatever the situation might be. Whenever you have a question about what’s on an interim report, or if you want to check in about something specific, I ask you to reach out directly to the teacher.


Switching gears, but still focusing on communication, I hope some of us will connect over the Apple TV show, Ted Lasso. Tomorrow, the final episode of season 2 comes out - I’m hoping for some resolution to a few plot points! (the picture on the right is of the sign in my office). I’ve been talking about this show since last year when I sent this message to our staff as part of a weekly update: If you have access to Apple TV, watch Ted Lasso. It’s a great show about a football coach who ends up coaching soccer in the Premier League in England. He’s a happy guy with a quick wit, who has a tagline that I started to pick up on: “I appreciate you.” He uses it a ton to random people he encounters, but when you get to know him, you know he means it. I mean it - I appreciate you and I hope you have a good weekend.”


Last year I was writing that particular message (in March) to our hardworking staff who were making the best of a really challenging year. We’ve carried our own internal momentum into this year and I’m not quite sure if I’d say this year is any easier than last year. If I could pass on a request to you, it would be to reach out to some of your child’s teachers telling them that you appreciate them. It may not be now, and it doesn’t have to be a long message, but if you appreciate your child’s teachers this year...they’d love to hear it. 


Here is a preview of things to come at RJ Grey:


-Monday, October 11: No School - Indigenous Peoples Day;

-Friday, October 15: Pajama Day;

-Monday, October 18: Early Release at 1 pm;

-Monday, October 25: Last day of PE/Health Rotation #1;

-Friday, October 29: Halloween Dress-up Day;

-Monday, November 1: School Picture Re-take Day;

-Monday, November 1: Early Release at 1 pm;

-Tuesday, November 2: No School - Professional Learning Day


As we head into this milestone-worthy long weekend, I hope you get a chance to relax with your friends and families. 


Take care,
Jim Marcotte

Posted by jmarcotte  On Oct 07, 2021 at 5:06 PM
  

Good afternoon,


A few weeks ago, as one of our daily community questions (via the morning announcements), I asked students what their favorite month was. I stopped into the ASC that day to learn that many students love October! Some loved it for Halloween or because it was a birthday month for one of them. I have to agree that October is pretty great. My wife is an English teacher and a lover of anything related to Anne of Green Gables. A famous quote by the author of those stories (L.M. Montgomery) speaks to this well, “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” I tend to agree with Ms. Montgomery. If you are like me, you are extremely grateful that the humidity of this past summer and fall are behind us until next year. Bring on October!


As the weather turns a bit cooler, I did want to point out that we will still allow students to eat outside for much of this month. Rain does keep us indoors, but I’m hoping that not much else will keep us inside this month! This week the bees were a bit of a problem, but we’ll keep an eye on that. So please encourage your children to dress for the weather - including outdoor lunch. It might also tend to get a bit brisk in our classrooms at times until the heat is turned on later this fall. One of our Covid mitigation strategies is to have as much ventilation as possible. So even when it’s chilly outside, we’ll have our windows cracked to allow for greater airflow. Asking your student if they have a sweatshirt or another layer before they leave the house in the morning would be helpful for us all.


Thank you to everyone who participated in our School Council election last week. I am grateful to the parents and guardians who put their name out there to be considered for a place on the council. We ended up electing some great new members. This year’s parent reps on the School Council will be Cathy Brooks (grade 8 returning), Kate Nelson (grade 8 new), Brian Andrew Smith (grade 7 new) and Kerry Lewis (grade 7 new). While these are members who will show up each meeting, I want to invite any interested parent or guardian to join our School Council meetings. We’ll start the year by meeting via Zoom, and as things progress this year, we may move to in-person meetings. The planned dates for our School Council meetings are below (all at 7pm), and I will be updating our RJG website with this info as well:

Monday, October 4, 2021

Monday, November 15, 2021

Monday, January 3, 2022

Monday, February 7, 2022

Monday, March 14, 2022

Monday, April 11, 2022

Monday, May 16, 2022


Zoom address: https://abschools.zoom.us/j/6927495552


If you receive our daily announcements (and I hope you do), you’ll have noticed that many of our clubs have started up over the past two weeks. We have updated our list of clubs and activities on our school website. If your child is looking for some way to become involved at RJ Grey, I’d recommend taking a look at this link for some ideas.


Lastly, I shared with our staff today that Mrs. Frey, who works in our main office, is moving on to a position in the central office this month. If you know Katy Frey, you know that she is a breath of fresh air and a huge asset to our school and admin team. We wish Katy the best of luck in her new position, but we will temporarily grieve her loss! We will be looking to replace Mrs. Frey in the main office soon. The position interacts a ton with students, with families, and with teachers. If you know someone who likes kids, is calm and patient under pressure, can communicate clearly, and can be a pleasure to work with, please encourage them to consider applying. The posting will be available on our
district site soon.


Here is a preview of things to come at RJ Grey:


-Monday, October 4: 8th graders will have a virtual visit from the staff at Minuteman High School to explain the Minuteman offerings and admissions process;

-Monday, October 11: No School - Indigenous Peoples’ Day;

-Monday, October 18: Early Release at 1 pm;

-Friday, October 29: Halloween Dress-up Day;

-Tuesday, November 2: No School - Professional Learning Day and Election Day


Take care,

Jim Marcotte


Posted by jmarcotte  On Oct 01, 2021 at 5:35 AM
  

Good afternoon,


I had really high hopes that this would be the week where we’d have five full days of school without significant interruption. An early release due to a power outage was not on my radar for the week, however! Thank you to all our families for their flexibility and patience yesterday. I am sorry that families did not hear from the district until about 15 minutes before our students were actually released. That was not the plan. Turns out that communication gets complicated when we don’t have power, and so our colleagues in the Central Office were delayed in getting out the message about the early release. We know that it wasn’t an ideal situation, but I certainly appreciate the flexibility that you showed us yesterday. I’m hoping for smooth sailing the rest of this week into next week.


As we continue to transition back to school this year, one topic has cropped up a few times this week from our staff: proper mask-wearing. By and large, our students are awesome at wearing their masks. The issue we currently face is that some students think it’s okay to wear their mask just below their nose. As part of the morning announcements yesterday, I reminded everyone that we are working to build a community here at RJ Grey. I went on to say that being part of a community means that we all pull our weight, and that includes wearing our masks to cover our mouth and nose because it helps protect all members of our community. I pointed out that “if we can see your nose, you’re wearing it wrong.”


When I say “the issue we currently face...,” I’m talking about approximately 20-30 students. This is not the typical behavior of most of our students. Our message to teachers when a student isn’t wearing their mask correctly is that they should remind the student to wear it correctly. If we need to continue to talk about it, the teacher or another adult will contact the student’s family to help reinforce that message. So if you get a call or email from a staff member here, this is the context whereby that call might be made.


The context of mask-wearing becomes important when we consider that RJ Grey has had two positive cases over the past week. While we are in much better shape with vaccinations than other areas of our state, and certainly our country, we know that mask-wearing, ventilation, and hand hygiene are all good mitigation strategies to keep the virus from spreading. 


There has been a shift in how we communicate with families when their child is considered a close contact. Starting last fall, when we would identify close contacts, our nurses would make calls to any family whose child was considered a close contact. Starting this past week, as a practice across the district, we will send an email to families whose children are considered a close contact. If a child is a close contact and then needs to quarantine or do additional testing at school, the family would also receive a text message that would alert them to the email. This practice, we hope, will keep the job of contact tracing manageable and will allow for our messages to be translated appropriately for families. We will always let families know who to contact if there are follow-up questions. For RJ Grey, that’s likely me, and I’d defer to our awesome nurses for medical-related questions. While we do hope for a small number of positive cases at RJ Grey, I wanted you to be aware that this is our protocol this year. The total case numbers for the district can be viewed at this site


And while I continue to share info on this topic, I’ll reiterate that having your child vaccinated is one of the best ways we’ve seen to keep your kids and our community safe. 85% of our current student body is at varied stages of vaccination (either one or two shots). If you are looking for resources to get your child vaccinated, I’ll direct you to this site. And if you have questions about vaccinations that we can answer, I direct you to our nurses, Erin Doherty or Joanne Chadwick. We are very fortunate to have really great school nurses at RJ Grey. Please reach out to them if you have questions related to your child’s health.


The last thing I wanted to share is that your children have likely already started, or soon will start, the iReady diagnostic assessments in their math and English classes. The Junior High is entering its second year of using iReady, which is an online program for reading and math that will help our teachers determine your student’s needs, personalize their learning, and monitor progress throughout the year. The goal is to help us identify areas of need for some of our students to then direct instructional practices to help improve those areas. We’ll do our iReady assessments three times this year in order to track progress. The students are not given a grade on these assessments - results won’t be calculated into term averages - but they will provide our staff with data and areas of focus as they continue to provide strong instruction.


Here is a preview of things to come:

-Monday, September 27: Early Release at 1 pm for staff professional learning

-Thursday, October 7: Back to School Night virtual resources shared with families

-Monday, October 11: No School for Indigenous Peoples’ Day

-Monday, October 18: Early Release at 1 pm for staff professional learning 


That’s it for this week - I hope your families are well and that you enjoy a nice September weekend.


Take care,

Jim Marcotte


Posted by jmarcotte  On Sep 23, 2021 at 3:34 PM
  

Good morning,


I hope you are all having a good week, and if you are observing Yom Kippur, I hope you have an easy fast. This has been another good week at RJ Grey. On Monday, our students were released at 1 pm to allow for staff professional learning. We ran about 10 technology sessions (taught by our teachers) and allowed the rest of our staff to choose which session to attend based on their own proficiency level and interest. Our hope is that our staff was able to find ways to increase their own technology prowess so as to create some engaging learning experiences for their students. We also spent quite a bit of time unpacking the draft of our school improvement plan. More on that in the next few weeks!


Jim in 8th grade

I wanted to highlight a few things going on here and appeal for some help from you, too.


--School Picture Day is coming up next week. 8th graders will be photographed on Monday, September 20th and 7th graders will be photographed on Tuesday, September 21st. School picture day is a fun thing for us to observe - students who usually wear a hat or come to school with not completely styled hair look just a bit more spiffy on this day! We welcome these changes and encourage you to remind your student about the picture day. I shared my own 8th grade picture with our students at the start of the year as a reminder that we’ve all been in 7th or 8th grade once! I pulled down my mask during that assembly to show them that I still have big cheeks, the same smile, and a rather large forehead that in this pic is covered by my then-stylish bowl cut 


--This is an appeal to anyone who might be interested in becoming a more active part of our school community. We are in need of adding some daily substitutes to our pool! If you are interested in coming to work with us on a temporary basis, we’d welcome you to fill out an application to become a substitute teacher at RJ Grey or any of the other AB schools. Our staff has a very good attendance record, so this is not to say we’re in dire straits. However, we can always beef up our pool of adults who are willing to come in and sub throughout the year. If I can answer any specifics about being a sub, please let me know - we are a pretty great place to work! We are also looking for a teaching assistant in our Academic Support Center. If you or someone you know is interested in working up to 19 hours in our ASC, please reach out to me!

--And finally, I wanted to highlight a pop culture trend that I fear has made its way to RJ Grey, at least for a day! Yesterday I got several texts and emails from teachers who were alerting me to a tiktok trend where students were purposely stealing items from bathrooms in their schools. I normally think we’re above the tiktok national trends, but this does fit with our experience yesterday where in about 6 (boys) bathrooms, one or more individuals had removed the bag of soap from the soap dispensers and put them in the toilets. Lots of things are wrong with this situation. While we’re in the middle of a pandemic, removing soap from the bathroom is a problem on its own. It was quickly replaced! And it’s a problem for our custodians who have to respond and fix the situation. And it’s a stand-alone problem that affects our community here at RJ Grey. We’re in the middle of tracking down yesterday’s responsible parties by use of our hallway video cameras. So while we’ll certainly work with our students on their understanding of what’s appropriate here at school, I thank you for talking with your own kids about the disruptive nature of these behaviors and how they damage the community that we’re attempting to build here at RJ Grey! I’ll get off my soapbox for now, but thank you for your help!


Here’s a preview of some upcoming dates:
--
Monday, September 20: School Picture Day for 8th graders --Tuesday, September 21: School Picture Day for 7th graders --Monday, September 27: Early Release at 1 pm --Thursday, October 7: Virtual Back to School Night resources shared with families

That’s it for this week’s version of Eye on the Junior High. I hope you have a good weekend,


Jim




Posted by jmarcotte  On Sep 16, 2021 at 10:06 AM
  

Good afternoon,


I hope you all had a chance to enjoy some downtime over this recent long weekend. I always embrace an anticipated long weekend! This was a good one for my family - we spent the day at the beach on Saturday and hosted our families on Monday for a combo birthday party for two of my daughters (5 and 3). When the long weekend ends, though, you realize that the same amount of stuff now fits into 3 or 4 days when it’s ideally designed to fit into 5! This is one of those weeks where it feels busy and feels far removed from the slower pace of summer. I hope your students are still feeling good about their experiences at RJ Grey this week even as the pace picks up.


I wanted to highlight a few events that have happened this week, and I’ll preview a few upcoming events, too.


On Wednesday, we had our first fire drill and evacuation drill to the Parker Damon Building. We’ll have 4 fire drills this year - the first happened on a nice sunny day - we’ll hope for the rest to be the same. In a fire drill, we exit the building, line up in our front parking lot, take attendance and in most cases, return to the building immediately. On Wednesday, we continued the drill to the Parker Damon Building (across Charter Road) where we again took attendance. We would only ever use this plan if we needed to leave RJ Grey for an extended period of time, or if we needed to escape inclement weather. Our drill was a success and we were able to get back to our routine a short while later.


Last week, I zoomed into each homeroom to talk to students about other safety protocols, including our ALICE procedures. ALICE procedures are designed to keep people safe during dangerous situations involving an armed intruder. The ALICE protocol is widely accepted in schools across the country, and is used at schools in Acton-Boxborough. Next week, we’ll have our first ALICE drill at RJ Grey. While this drill can seem shocking to some, we emphasize that practicing and preparing for situations like these makes it far more likely that we’ll respond appropriately if ever faced with an emergency situation. You’ll see another email from me (to all RJ Grey families) shortly about this upcoming drill.


Lastly, and on a more positive note, we hosted a brief social this afternoon for our students who are new to our district. I mentioned last week that there are areas where staff have recognized that we could do better. And today we did better! The brainchild of Elizabeth Broadwater, an assistant principal here, this was an easy, low-stakes opportunity to get our new students together again after about 6 days of classes. We had some easy snacks and the space for kids to talk to each other, and with us, about how they’re adjusting to RJ Grey. In talking to a few tables, I learned that our cafeteria food is pretty good (true), that everyone has been helpful in giving directions to classes (true), everyone has been welcoming (happy to hear), and that our teachers are really nice (also true)! If you are the parent or guardian of one of our newest students to AB, thank you for sending your child to our school, and please let us know if there’s anything we can do to help with the adjustment. And if you’re the parent or guardian of a student who has been at AB for several years, thanks for raising children who are welcoming to newcomers! 


Here are some upcoming dates to be aware of:

  • Monday, September 13: Early Release at 1 pm

  • Thursday, September 16: No School for Yom Kippur

  • Monday, September 20: School Picture Day for 8th graders

  • Tuesday, September 21: School Picture Day for 7th graders

  • Monday, September 27: Early Release at 1 pm


Take care,

Jim Marcotte


Posted by jmarcotte  On Sep 09, 2021 at 4:45 PM
  

Good afternoon,


Thank you for signing up for weekly communications from me - the principal of RJ Grey Junior High School. If you’re still on this list because your child used to be a member of RJ Grey, or if you signed up without knowing it, I will not have hurt feelings if you choose to unsubscribe by following the directions at the bottom of this email. If you are in the right place, welcome! Please stay and read on about the recent happenings at RJ Grey Junior High School.



My name is Jim Marcotte and I am the Interim Principal of RJ Grey this year. Our former principal, Andrew Shen, was (is) an excellent writer and communicator -- something I can only hope to be! His weekly message series as the RJ Grey principal was called Grey Matters. In no way do I want to be compared in wit, intelligence, or writing quality to Andrew, so I purposely changed the name of this weekly message series to Eye on the Junior High. In these messages, I hope to focus on some of the things that are happening every week, give a bit of a preview of what’s to come, and highlight how our ongoing work connects to our school and district goals. 


We’ve had quite an excellent first week at RJ Grey. For the first time since March, 2020, our hallways and classrooms are full and we feel the positive energy in the building that only comes from having lots of kids here with us! The staff and I are very impressed by your children and we have strong feelings that this will be a great year. We welcomed our 7th graders on Monday. Despite the heat and humidity, we had a great day and our students had a chance to explore our space without all of our 8th graders. On Tuesday we welcomed our 8th graders - over 75 of them were in our remote sections last year, so for them, this was the first time that they’ve experienced in-person learning at RJ Grey. I have gotten some positive feedback from our students; they report that they’re happy to be back in-person, every day. I hope your own children have been happy with t
heir first few days with us.


I had the chance to speak to all of our students on Monday and Tuesday over the course of four assemblies. Instead of having a single assembly for an entire grade, we invited two teams at a time and kicked off the year with a focus on our school’s work this year: Building a joyful, inclusive community of engaged learners. I started by asking our students why we chose to say “Building...” and not “We are a…” Several students in each assembly volunteered the correct answers…”it’s because it’s a work in progress.” They were right! As I talked with each of them about those three elements: joy, inclusive community, and engaged learning, I named the areas where our staff recognizes we have room to grow. I asked our students for their support in these three areas and I challenged them to consider how they’ll help contribute to a joyful, inclusive community of engaged learners. I bet many of them have some awesome ideas about this and I look forward to hearing from them and seeing those ideas in action.


For now, we’re heading into a long weekend. We won’t be back in school again until next Wednesday (9/8) after we get some time off to celebrate Labor Day and Rosh Hashanah. The choppiness will continue throughout September, so please take a look at this brief preview of upcoming important dates:

  • Friday, September 3 - No School

  • Monday, September 6 - No School - Labor Day

  • Tuesday, September 7 - No School - Rosh Hashanah

  • Monday, September 13 - Early Release at 1 pm

  • Thursday, September 16 - No School - Yom Kippur

  • Monday, September 20 - School Picture Day - details to come

  • Monday, September 27 - Early Release at 1 pm


We ended our assemblies this week by reciting a poem together. I remember coming across it a few years ago, but it ended up in my twitter feed this past weekend and I stopped cold when seeing it.  I think it perfectly describes what we’re building here at RJ Grey. I asked all of our students to recite it with me (and they did!), and so I wanted to share it with you.


May This Be a House of Joy

By Lucille Clifton


May this be a House of Joy.

May we be open here to dreams,

and to each other.

May all who enter in these magic walls

feel love and feel respect

for learning and each other.

May we be always friends to life.

May we walk in that friendship.

May learning live in this house.

May it never leave.


I hope your family has experienced a smooth transition to RJ Grey Junior High School! And if it takes a few extra days of adjustments for your child, that’s also fine. If you think there’s something more  to consider regarding the transition with your child, I invite you to reach out to our teachers and counselors and share some of your child’s experiences so that we can help.


I look forward to working with your kids, and you, this year. I wish the best for a relaxing and enjoyable last weekend of summer!


Take care,

Jim Marcotte


Posted by jmarcotte  On Sep 03, 2021 at 7:27 AM
  

Hi Everyone,

During the first week of our return to school I was definitely wondering how the lunch periods would look and feel given the new arrangements we had to utilize with individual desks spaced several feet apart from each other, and all facing the same direction.  I think I’ve previously mentioned that it was one of the more dystopian parts of our safety measures - and the silence and low energy that permeated the cafeteria those first few days made me a bit queasy.  I immediately reached out to our District’s tech team to ask about installing a projection system in the cafeteria with the idea that we might show episodes of popular shows or Pixar shorts as a way to soften the edges a bit and offer some entertainment.  While I am still working on installing a projection system, it’s been a relief to see and hear evidence of greater  comfort by the students during lunch.  Never thought I’d be wishing for louder lunches! There’s a noticeable increase in the chatter amongst students as they use the time to relax a bit and socialize.  We know that there are all sorts of ways that this year’s changes make it hard to connect with teachers and peers, and there continue to be plenty of moments each day where everyone is adapting and finding ways to cultivate new relationships.  I’m grateful for every day that we can include an in-person option and engage with the 325 students who join us at RJ Grey each day.  We also know that the fully remote option is one that many families feel has been the right choice for them, and we hope that the sense of community that our teachers are trying to build in an online setting has allowed those students and their families to feel included.  If there comes a point later this year where we have to shift the entire school to a fully remote model we will have benefited from both the connections we’ve made in person, and the routines and community-building that have evolved in the fully remote classes.  


Here are a few timely reminders before I make a very abrupt pivot to a posting I wrote last Fall that I’d like to re-share with new families.  


An important reminder to families who drive their children to school in the morning - we are adjusting 

our drop-off procedures starting tomorrow, Monday, October 26Please review this document to familiarize yourself with our plans.  


Here’s an announcement for 8th grade families interested in Minuteman High SchoolAre you the parent of a student who might want to attend Minuteman High School? Learn about our 19 career and technical education majors -- ranging from Automotive Technology and Electrical Wiring to Engineering and Biotechnology to Horticulture and Health Assisting. By joining a virtual parent info session, you will hear from some of our current parents and the experience they and their children have had while attending Minuteman. Join our virtual parent information session on the following dates to learn more: Thursday, November 5 at 7 pm (https://zoom.us/j/92754102549), or Wednesday, November 18, at 7:00 PM (https://zoom.us/j/92373137761

We have five parents/guardians of 7th grade students who are interested in serving on our School 

Council.  We have created an online ballot using a Google Form, and votes will be cast anonymously.  The form has the bios submitted by each of the candidates. Once you have reviewed the candidate bios, please select TWO of the candidates and submit your ballot. Please, only one ballot per parent/guardian.  The Form is open and will accept submissions through 5pm tomorrow (Monday).  Many thanks to the five parents/guardians who are putting themselves out there and volunteering to serve.  CLICK HERE FOR THE BALLOT 

 

Halloween Dress Up Day is this Thursday and Friday and we’re looking forward to the range of costumes that will likely enter the building.  Please remember that participation is completely optional and the rate of student (and teacher) participation is typically around 50%, so no student should feel compelled to come in a costume.  During any costume planning, please continue to help your child keep in mind that we must avoid including props that mimic weapons (swords, firearms, knives, etc.), clothing that includes profanity, and no masks besides their COVID-related mask!  It’s a great tradition, and we all look forward to a fun and spirited day.  We also encourage our fully remote students to participate online if it interests them.  


Ok - time for the abrupt pivot.  What I am including below is an updated version of something I sent to families last year about the prevalence of online pornography in the lives of adolescents.  For those of you whose oldest child is now in 7th grade, this may feel like throwing you into the deep end of the pool. However, the conversations that I had with several parents and community members after I sent it out last year affirmed for me the value of introducing this topic annually, even in a year where we clearly have plenty of other things to be managing. 

 

To enter this inherently uncomfortable topic, I am going to describe something I used to do when I myself was a middle schooler and never quite sure where it will land on the embarrassment scale.  In the home where I grew up, we didn’t have cable television until my late high school years.  Through my early teen years, along with the one family television in the living room, my mom had a small handheld black & white television that she kept in the kitchen.  Whenever I thought I could get away with it, I would swipe the handheld television and bring it to my room so I could watch, among other shows, episodes of Baywatch, the timeless television series about a team of lifeguards dedicated to saving lives while perpetually dressed in undersized swimwear.  This was before broadband so I had to figure out how to use some aluminum foil on the antennae to improve the reception in my room, though I don’t share this story as evidence of my ingenuity and problem-solving skills.  And to be clear, my interest in Baywatch as a 13-year old was not because I had become a loyal fan of American acting legend David Hasselhoff from his days on Knight Rider.  I offer this awkward personal story to all of you to break the ice and introduce the subject of internet pornography.  As my too-much-information Baywatch story speaks to, fascination with and curiosity about sex is certainly not a new aspect of adolescence.  For many teens it’s often one of the newer and interesting subjects to learn more about either on their own or with peers. Pornography is also not a new dimension of modern society, but what is fundamentally different is that access to it used to require at least some modicum of effort.  Now, anyone at any age with a smartphone can readily call it up at any time of the day for free. Please know that I continue to raise the issue of internet porn not with an interest in offering moral or legal commentary. While opinions about pornography in general may vary, I would be surprised if any of us thinks that guidance about sex and relationships for young adolescents should come courtesy of internet pornography.  And yet there is more evidence (including a growing collection of my own school principal anecdotes from recent years) that a portion of the informal education young people are receiving on this subject comes in the form of sexually explicit online material.  This exposure could skew not only their understanding of sexual activity, but also of the language and rituals involved with the things that are newer to them like flirtation, courtship, and dating. The material is sometimes stuff they discover on their own - either by accident or on purpose, or that’s shared with them by peers.  Even the most innocuous Google searches nowadays have the potential to generate results that include sites that are far from what an innocent 12-year old may have been intending.  Many studies find that adolescents encounter some form of online pornography around age 11, and move have seen it by the time they turn 18.  With this in mind, I want to suggest that though the idea of talking with our kids about things associated with sex can already be an uncomfortable one for many of us, you might need to strongly consider how you will also fold information about internet porn into those conversations.  


Last year, I was planning to wait until later in the year to share this posting so new families would get to know more about me before I potentially traumatized them.  I accelerated the timing mostly because an article that I had recently come across by Kate Rope in the Washington Post called, “A scared parent’s guide to those awkward (but necessary) conversations about Internet porn, and is the one I have used to help me prepare for the conversation I have attempted to have with my own kids. The author of this article does a really nice job framing the issue in easy-to-access language, and offers practical suggestions for how to approach a conversation with your kids.  She reminds us that the conversation doesn’t have to be perfect, nor particularly lengthy, to be effective and provide entry points for future conversations. While this particular piece was my first foray into raising the issue of internet porn, it was two years ago that I brought up the growing complexity around the broader conversations we need to consider having with our kids about romance, sex, consent and healthy relationships.  Two years ago, the inspiration was the heavy media coverage of the nomination hearings for then-Supreme Court candidate Brett Kavanaugh.  At that time, I noted that the larger public discourse could be viewed as an opportunity for families to provide direct guidance about the power and impact of certain words and behaviors, and clear explanations about what ethical, kind, and respectful behavior looks like.  I’ve heard from some parents and guardians that the conversations they’ve had on those subjects sometimes offer natural opportunites to introduce messaging about internet pornography and how that material might collide and conflict with their family’s ideas around respectful and healthy relationships, and appropriate expectations.  To assist families who were interested last year in these conversations, I introduced them to the organization Making Caring Common, an initiative based at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education that is dedicated to “helping educators, parents and communities raise children who are caring and responsible to their communities.”  As part of that introduction I included this brief article by Dr. Richard Weissbourd.  Focusing specifically on sexual harassment and misogyny this piece offers parents strategies for inviting their children into a conversation that can be tricky to initiate.  Making Caring Common also has a resource page entitled, “Teens and Ethical Romantic Relationships” that includes several resources, handouts and guides for parents and schools who want to help adolescents develop comfort and skill in establishing healthy relationships with peers, romantic or otherwise.  To be sure, not all of what is included may fully resonate with you, but perhaps it offers you some materials that are useful. Even if this week’s Grey Matters has thrown you for a loop or been a bit jarring in terms of the subject, I hope that it continues to be received by all of you with a clear sense of the good intentions and goals that motivated me to write it.  


Have a great week, everyone. 


Cheers, 

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Posted by ashen  On Oct 25, 2020 at 3:03 PM
  

Hi Everyone,

Our family wasn’t really up for an apple picking adventure this year, but that doesn’t mean we weren’t interested in apple cider donuts.  So my son Parker and I decided to make what we imagined would be a brief trip to one of the local orchards to pick up some donuts, and maybe a pumpkin and caramel apple.  I should have realized ahead of time that the perfect weather meant that going to the orchard at 2pm meant that many others would have the same idea.  We still managed to get what we came for, but had to wait in a fairly long line.  That line for cider donuts was the first time in a while I had been in such a public setting, other than school, and I noticed the wide range of behaviors and choices that individuals were making in terms of distancing, mask wearing, and general interactions.  Since the line was long, I had plenty of time to make observations and also think about how things are going inside RJ Grey, and feeling quite good about our students’ responsiveness to the protocols and guidelines that they are being asked to follow each day.  It may or may not be a surprise to some, our students have been extremely cooperative and respectful of the safety measures in place at school. There is an understanding about the need to keep masks on and nary an attempt to flout the rules.  We’re all social beings, and so there of course are moments in the day where a student is excited to see a friend and might briefly sidle up to them to say hello. But overall, we’re impressed with how students have adjusted and are responsive to our reminders.  Seeing rows of students sitting at individual desks for lunch is definitely a bit dystopian, and the kids have taken it in stride and making the best of a less than ideal set of circumstances.  Many thanks to the messaging that many parents and guardians have given, and continue to provide, around the importance of these safety measures. 


As each of us continues to try and get a handle on all of the information about COVID, its impact on communities, effective strategies to mitigate exposure, and the trajectory of efforts to find a vaccine, I wanted to share one resource that I have found pretty helpful.  COVID-EXPLAINED is a team of researchers with different areas of expertise who are collaborating to process information and share explanation and guidance in ways that provide context to readers.  I learned about COVID-EXPLAINED because of Emily Oster’s involvement in the group.  Emily Oster is an Economist at Brown University who I started to follow a few months ago, and have taken a liking to her postings.  Some of you might already know about Emily Oster based on her publications around pregnancy and early childhood parenting.  She has written a few books that use her training as an economist to explore common parenting questions like co-sleeping and potty training.  Since COVID, she’s shifted a lot of her attention to providing an analysis of the ongoing firehose of COVID-related data that gets thrown at all of us, and she does it in a way that I find easier to digest, partially due to an appropriate dose of humor and humility in her writing.  She writes a twice-weekly newsletter that is making me feel guilty given my shift to every other week.  If you’re someone who might be interested in hearing another voice around parenting in a COVID environment, you may want to see if Dr. Oster’s approach is helpful for you.  


Here’s a few updates and reminders to keep in mind: 


There is no school this Friday (October 9) for Professional Learning, and no school the following Monday (October 12) for Indigenous People’s Day.  For this week’s schedule, that means that Wednesday is now a Gold Cohort Day.  You can always review calendar information for the year by going to this part of our Transition website.  


I want to remind all families that we will continue to have Parent-Team Meeting times available throughout the year.  Parent-Team meetings are 20-minute sessions where parents/guardians can meet with all of their child’s team teachers and counselor to hear updates, discuss questions and observations, and address concerns.  At times the team may reach out and request a team meeting with a child’s parent/guardian.  Also, the parent/guardian can request a team meeting.  If you want to request a team meeting, please call Lena Jarostchuk in the Counseling Office (978-264-4700, x3330).  All meetings this year will be online using Zoom.  


Now that we’ve entered October, it’s probably not too early to mention Halloween.  I don’t know what guidance the town will provide around trick or treating plans. At RJ Grey, we are interested in finding ways to continue the tradition of students coming to school in costume (if they want to).  For those new to RJ Grey, the annual Dress Up Day is solely about costumes and no “trick or treating” - and we’re pretty sure we can allow for this while still honoring safety protocols.  We also think this is something where fully remote students can also attend class in costume and be part of the festivities and the friendly costume competition that we hold.  In a week or two I’ll send more specific details about our plans.  


Finally, this year’s every-other-week plan for Grey Matters has me re-adjusting when I include topics and messaging that have become annual traditions - either as reminders for returning families, or introductions for new families.  Below is something I’ve included over the past few years around pronunciation of names, and that I would have normally pushed out much closer to the start of the school year - but still an important message to share despite being the first week in October.  


Each year I mention how members of our Main Office staff intentionally and playfully address me as “Dr. Chen” which combines two very common mistakes that are made about my name and/or how to address me in conversation and emails. You are all more than welcome to continue bestowing the title of “Dr.” upon me, but please know that it’s not one that I’ve earned through any accredited program. 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.  I would also like to use this moment to provide a gentle note of clarification about my last name -- Shen -- which has throughout my lifetime 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 bring this up annually not only as a 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 (appropriately distanced, of course), 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 make 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.  Last year I was sent an op-ed in TeenVogue on this very topic by artist N’Jameh Camara who encourages us to shift our language around names less familiar to us from “hard” or “difficult” to “unpracticed”.  I particularly liked this portion of her essay:  


I know my name isn’t fully practiced in the U.S, so I have no problem teaching it. I, too, have struggled to learn names that are unpracticed to me. But as a person who was taught to respect and say Tchaikovsky, Brecht, Chekhov, Stanislavski and Hammerstein, I know my name can be learned too. What matters most is that we see ourselves as people whose vulnerability and mistake-making hold the potential to bring us closer.


To that end our hope at RJ Grey is to normalize the act of asking for a bit of guidance or confirmation about whether we pronounced a name correctly, and that students might also adopt that same practice. 


Have a great week, everyone.  Remember, no school this Friday (October 9) or the following Monday (October 12).  


Cheers, 

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Posted by ashen  On Oct 04, 2020 at 8:40 AM
  

Hi Everyone, 

Welcome to this year’s first edition of Grey Matters. I hope that this past week was a good experience for your family in general, and for your children in particular.  It was a busy week, and one where everyone was adjusting to the new dynamics of this school year, so I am also hoping that your family was able to use this past weekend as a chance to unwind and take stock of what’s to come.  I myself used this weekend as a chance to recover from what I’ve learned is not an uncommon feature of aging - specifically, the removal of a recently cracked tooth.  I recently shared with the staff that in addition to the now-semi-infamous root canal I had a few weeks ago, I experienced an unexpected splitting of another tooth -- Tooth #5.  According to an article in the New York Times earlier this month, I am part of a larger pandemic trend of people whose increased grinding and clenching has resulted in an epidemic of cracked teeth.  This being my first tooth extraction, I learned that I can’t actually get an implant for four months. It would normally be five to six months, but the oral surgeon said we could do it sooner because I have a really hard head - thus also confirming something that many family members and colleagues had concluded years ago.  While I was adjusting to the reality of being toothless, I was moderately comforted by the reality that at least during the 4 month waiting period we all have to wear a facemask.  While Tooth #5 is fortunately not at the front of one’s smile, the empty space still feels a bit odd and so the mask wearing in public softens the edges of the experience.  Add this as one of the silver linings to the current situation.  

 

On the subject of silver linings, I also mentioned to the staff my interest in having conversations this year about the changes we have made that might be worth keeping around when conditions are not as restrictive. To be sure, there will be plenty of moments this year where we lament the things we could not include, or the challenges that our safety protocols create in terms of the social dimension of school. I look forward to when it will be safe to eliminate those measures that require distancing between each other.  Nevertheless, I also am curious about the parts of what we’ve built this year that we may eventually decide is worth keeping around.  There are a lot of changes this year that would have never been available to try out under more traditional circumstances and may inspire us to reinvent certain parts of the Junior High experience.  Throughout the year I would welcome feedback from students and families about what might have continued value and benefit beyond this current school year.  

 

One change that likely won’t be permanent but I think makes sense for this year, is that Grey Matters will be published once every two weeks, instead of every week.  Given that I will be sending a weekly email to all families with information and updates, what’s usually included in Grey Matters can fit in a twice-a-month schedule.  You’ll likely be managing a whole constant stream of school-related emails from all of your childrens’ schools, and from the District, so streamlining things a bit probably makes sense.  Besides, there really isn’t much to discuss in 2020 about the world around us, and the challenges of parenting have really faded away this year, no?  At this point last year, I was perseverating on my plans to discuss with families the messy and somewhat uncomfortable topic of online pornography, and the importance of addressing our kids’ easy access (and possible exposure to) pornography.  Oh how I miss those simpler days.  Side note: for those new to RJ Grey, I actually plan to return to this topic later in the Fall as it’s become clearer the importance for caregivers to consider this issue despite the inherent discomfort.  

 

Here’s a few reminders and updates that, while also included in the weekly update to all families, is still useful to mention again: 

 

  • Please remind your children that on asynchronous days they need to complete the Asynchronous Attendance Form and survey by 7pm that evening. 

  • Back to School Night has been postponed to mid-October.  We’re currently thinking about the best way to provide families an opportunity to learn more about their childrens’ classrooms and teachers in a virtual setting.  Stay tuned for more details. 

  • The annual School Picture day(s) has been postponed to early October.  We will also be identifying options for Fully Remote students to participate in the school picture option and will send out details when they are finalized.  

 

  • There is NO SCHOOL next Monday, September 28 for Yom Kippur.  This means that we will have an adjusted cohort schedule for that week. The Blue Cohort would come to school on Wednesday, and the Fully Remote students would have their synchronous classes on Wednesday.  There will be no Remote Wednesday schedule (with the early release) that week.  Please see below for an illustration of that week’s schedule: 

 

 

  • Later this week I will be publishing a list of the after school clubs and activities that we will be offering - all of them virtual. 

  • Later this week I will also be providing an update about our plans for tutoring drop-in sessions for students during their asynchronous days, which will be staffed by AB graduates who are current Junior and Seniors in college.  

 

This year I’ll also certainly continue to highlight articles and resources that offer food for thought on different aspects of parenting and working with young adolescents.  Here, for example, is a link to the Character Lab, a page hosted by researcher Angela Duckworth that offers short “tips of the week” that tries to translate scientific research and studies into digestible insight and advice around supporting kids.  

 

Additionally, I plan to use Grey Matters this year as a vehicle to visit and revisit our school’s and District’s work related to diversity, equity and inclusion. Along with our efforts to provide for a physically safe return to school, AB has made a firm commitment to a more intentional and explicit approach to our evolution as an actively anti-racist school district.  Here is a copy of the letter that the District’s leadership team sent to the AB community last June that offered an introduction to our goals for this year and beyond.  Here also is a link to Ibram Kendi’s website. Dr. Kendi’s work, particularly his book How to be an Anti-Racist, is being used as an anchor for our work in this area and the community will likely hear references to his research and scholarship throughout the year.  Given that this work naturally involves moments of difficult conversations, inevitable discomfort, and potentially revisiting long-held traditions, it will be important to provide ongoing communication to families about additions to our curriculum, adjustments to our school policies, and partnerships with community organizations.  In a few weeks I’ll put a spotlight on the Social Studies curriculum, and what will be included in both 7th and 8th grade this year in terms of African American history and lessons pertaining to the recent protests and calls for social change.  

 

Finally, my goal this year it to continue including in each edition of Grey Matters links to stories that keep us from narrowing our horizons and remind us that life isn’t entirely about COVID, social distancing, or the stories that have emerged each week of 2020 that seems to add some form of insult to injury (including, but not limited to, last month’s report - now clarified- that an asteroid was scheduled to hit Earth the day before the presidential election). To that end, I end this week’s Grey Matters with one of the articles I enjoyed most this summer.  This is a piece in the New York Times from July about an octogenarian couple in Taiwan (where my parents grew up before moving to the U.S. in the 70s) who have become international Instagram celebrities for modeling the clothes that customers have abandoned at their family-owned laundromat.  As the article notes, the couple have no interest in monetizing their newfound social media celebrity; however, they would be very happy if “the hundreds of people who have forgotten to pick up their laundry would return to pay their bills.”  

 

Have a great week, everyone. 


Cheers, 

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Posted by ashen  On Sep 20, 2020 at 1:11 PM
  
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