Grey Matters
A weekly blog by RJ Grey's principal Andrew Shen

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Hi Everyone,


A few years ago I introduced to Grey Matters 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.  What I thought at the time was going to be a one-time reference to Parker’s love of the greasy breakfast meat evolved into a 6-month dialogue with families about all things bacon.  Apparently, there was and is a large contingent of families in the Acton and Boxborough communities who share my son’s fixation with bacon. Assuming that’s still the case, I wanted to pass along the news that Ohio State University has installed its first bacon vending machine, and has gained such popularity that it has to be restocked four or five times a day. Along with that quirky piece, I also came across a few other articles that I thought would be useful to pass along to families and perhaps a bit more relevant to school, learning, and parenting.  First, here is an opinion piece in the New York Times by psychologist Adam Grant called “What Straight-A Students Get Wrong” and offers a particular perspective about learning in school (primarily college), and what he sees as the gains and losses of a culture and system that is built around measuring achievement primarily through traditional grades.  Those of you who choose to read the article may or may not see application of those ideas in a middle school/high school setting, but at least perhaps offers some food for thought the day before Fall Trimester report cards are emailed home (more on that below).  Second, the Boston Globe just posted another article regarding the issue of vaping in schools.  While this article focused heavily on how a number of schools are installing sensors that are supposed to be able to detect vaping activity, it also offers additional data and stories about this issue in general.  Since the time a few weeks ago when I wrote a more elaborate message about this in Grey Matters, vaping activity at RJ Grey this year has still not (fortunately) emerged as a significant concern, though we are being cautious and avoiding being lulled into a false sense of quiet in this arena. Similarly, I would encourage parents and guardians to continue being somewhat vigilant about your child’s exposure to vaping. 


Finally, an article that I share more for fun and camaraderie than anything else, though I actually can see appropriate links to the first article I shared about measuring achievement primarily through grades and some of the unintended outcomes of that approach.  The Washington Post just published a piece about how common it is for adults to have dreams where they are back in college and realizing they have a final exam for a class that they never attended the whole semester - and the panic that it generates.  Until I came across this article, I believed that this exact dream that I have about two to three times a year was a creation unique to my overly neurotic brain.  Apparently it’s a much more common dream narrative, and so I wanted to pass this information along to all of you should you also connect to this particular brand of dreaming.  


Besides reading the articles that I shared above, I also attended Saturday evening’s performance of Annie and as always it’s immensely enjoyable to watch a performance featuring our students as they showcase a whole different dimension of who they are, and the many talents they possess. The moment shortly before the curtains rose when a parent told me about how great an experience the musical has been for his child was an added bonus for me.  Along with the many parents and guardians, families and staff who attended the musical, I was again heartened to see a large contingent of current and former RJ Grey students in attendance and cheering loudly for their classmates and friends.  Planning and preparation for a production of this magnitude starts in the summer, and involves a high level of commitment and focus for the first three months of the school year - auditions, rehearsals, costume making, set building, and more rehearsals.  Congratulations and many thanks to the student cast and crew, RJ Grey staff and parent volunteers who were part of this year’s musical production.


Some reminders for this week and next, as we head towards Winter Break:


Fall Trimester report cards are being sent to families Monday afternoon. Please remember that report cards are now emailed to directly to parents and guardians.  Any email address that is listed in a student’s Emergency Card as belonging to a parent or guardian will receive a copy of the report card.  If you experience any issues with receiving the report card let me know and we can generate another copy to email you.


The first of three parent-teacher conference days is scheduled for this Thursday, December 13.  All (Junior High) students will have an early release day, and dismissed at 11:06am.  All bus routes will be available after school, and a friendly reminder to families to have a quick conversation with your child about plans and expectations for where they should be going once school is dismissed.  For those parents and guardians who have meetings scheduled on Thursday, please double check your assigned times. You would have received that via an email message from either Katy Frey (7th grade) or Anne Spalding (8th grade).  


I want to provide a friendly reminder and plug for Rise to the Challenge, which is our way way of recognizing student involvement in community service.  We know that many students are already participating in service activities outside of school, and we hope to celebrate those efforts along with encouraging more students to become active in service opportunities.  Students who complete 10 hours of service within the school year will be recognized for their efforts. Please visit the community service page on our website that provides all the details for this program.  If you have any questions, please email Debbie Brookes at dbrookes@abschools.org.  


We are nearing the launch of our annual, and quite popular, Cooking Club at RJ Grey.  The tough part about Cooking Club is that it’s limited to 12 students to ensure an appropriate setting that prioritizes safety and supervision.  The good news is that this popular club will be offering two rounds/offerings of the Cooking Club which will allow 24 students to participate. This club is for students with all levels of cooking experience and will meet from 2:50-5:00 PM after school on the scheduled meeting dates in the Cafeteria Kitchen. Registration will be based on the order in which registration forms are turned in. Click here for the Cooking Club registration form (which also includes meeting dates and times).  Questions and forms can be directed to Deb Rimpas (Health Teacher) at drimpas@abschools.org.  


Finally, as we near the Winter Break, I also want to take a moment to include this annual reminder about guidelines for giving gifts to school staff members.  First and foremost, please know that no family should ever feel that gift giving is expected. My experience has been that simple expressions of thanks that are sent along to teachers by students and families are “gifts” that are greatly appreciated by our staff.  For families who choose to provide a gift to a member of the RJ Grey staff, I do need to direct your attention to state ethics laws that limit the gifts that teachers, coaches, and staff are permitted to receive. There’s actually a whole series of details about this (because it tends to get a little complicated at the elementary levels with class gifts, etc.), but to keep things simple for us: staff can not accept gifts from a single family that exceeds $50 in value for the entire school year. For those who send in homemade desserts and treats and want to know what monetary value is placed on those, the answer is of course priceless.  I share the above info about gift giving as a friendly reminder about important guidelines that we’re obligated to follow and to take this opportunity to thank all RJ Grey families for the many ways that each of you supports the school and our teachers throughout the year.  


Have a great week, everyone.


Cheers,

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Posted by ashen  On Dec 09, 2018 at 9:03 AM
  

Hi Everyone,


This week we’re looking at unique family traditions that you may not have had a role in creating, and instead have inherited and perhaps not in a position to end, alter, or adjust.  Like many others, our family typically shifts into “winter holiday” gear the weekend after Thanksgiving - so these past two days have been quite busy. A few years ago, Melisa’s side of the family added a few features and upgrades to our winter holiday traditions - some a bit easier than others to digest.  Now that my in-laws have six grandchildren by way of Melisa and her siblings who are all of a certain age, the first weekend in December has become an official postscript to the Thanksgiving festivities where we get together again - this time at a pizza place up in the North Shore that Melisa’s entire extended family used to frequent when she was growing up.  And once we finish stuffing ourselves with pizza, we all drive a few minutes to a place that sells Christmas trees and we all pick out trees for our respective homes. Everything I just described are things that I consider welcome additions to our family’s list of annual traditions and plans. As someone who didn’t have extended family who lived close to us and who we’d actually see more than once every few years, this has been a nice change of pace for me.  What I am having a slightly harder time with is the part where all three of my kids now expect to have, along with our family Christmas tree, their own individual mini-Christmas trees for their respective rooms. A few years ago, one of my kids excitedly commented to a certain grandfather who will remain nameless that it would be so amazing if he also had his own little tree to decorate in his room. Given the tendency for all of our kids’ grandparents to spoil them rotten and say “yes” a bit too quickly and consistently, I suppose I should be thankful that it was a mini-tree, and not a live reindeer, that our child was eyeing.  He and his siblings all got a mini-tree that year and each year since then, and it’s now heresy to suggest that this practice may be a bit overindulgent and unnecessary. I’ve always had trouble getting our shared family tree to stay upright (see: Ornament Massacre of 2014), now we have to set up four of them?


In terms of RJ Grey traditions that occur around this time of year, our annual school musical production always adds to the excitement between the Thanksgiving holiday and the Winter Break.  This year’s performances of Annie are at the end of this week and I know that the students and staff involved in the musical are excited and putting a bit of that nervous energy into final preparations. The five performances are scheduled for Thursday, December 6 (7pm), Friday, December 7 (7pm), Saturday, December 8 (2pm and 7pm), and Sunday, December 9 (2pm).  Tickets are $15 and are now available in the Junior High Main Office, and will also be sold at the door prior to each performance.  ABSAF holders are entitled to two free tickets and must pick up their tickets from the Main Office prior to the performance date.  If you and your family are eager to attend but the cost of the tickets proves to be a hardship, please don’t hesitate to contact Anne Spalding (aspalding@abschools.org) in the Main Office and we can make arrangements to provide tickets to one of the shows.  We want to make sure that any of our students and their families who wants to attend can do so without additional burden.   


Here are some reminders for this week, and then a note about Fall Trimester report cards coming home either Friday or next Monday.   

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

The
first of three parent-teacher conference days is scheduled for Thursday, December 13.  All (Junior High) students will have an early release day, and dismissed at 11:06am.  All bus routes will be available after school, and a friendly reminder to families to have a quick conversation with your child about plans and expectations for where they should be going once school is dismissed.  For those parents and guardians who have meetings scheduled on Thursday, please double check your assigned times. You would have received that via an email message from either Katy Frey (7th grade) or Anne Spalding (8th grade). 

Our last day of school before the Winter Break is Friday, December 21
.  Please note that this final day is a full day of school.  We often get inquiries about whether it’s a half-day or not (it’s not).  


As we enter December we have another R.J. Grey Artist of the Month.  Congratulations to Eli Jarsky (8 Red) who has been selected as this month’s Artist of the Month. When Eli was asked about some things that influence/inspire/inform the artwork he likes to make, he shared, “I like to draw things around me, and ordinary things you’d use every day. My style has changed drastically over the years, but I’ve recently been drawing drapery and things that I used to find really challenging.” Congratulations to Eli and you can click here to view his artwork (also on display in our school lobby).  


Fall Trimester report cards are going home with students either at the end of this week, or next Monday at the latest. Please remember that report cards are now emailed to directly to parents and guardians.  Any email address that is listed in a student’s Emergency Card as belonging to a parent or guardian will receive a copy of the report card. Once you have time to view the report cards, please use this as an opportunity to have a conversation with your child(ren).  For subjects where they experienced some success, what did they think was an important factor, and how can they build on that momentum?  For subjects where they might be hoping to improve, what goals or strategies might be worth trying over the next few months? Asking students to self-assess and giving them a supportive venue to be honest with themselves is a critical first step to any adjustments that they (or you) might hope they make moving forward.  


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


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


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


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


Three weeks until the Winter Break!


Have a great week, everyone.


Cheers,

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Posted by ashen  On Dec 02, 2018 at 1:48 PM
  

Hi Everyone,


I hope you all had a nice Thanksgiving Break.  Our family had a pretty relaxing and enjoyable few days, even with the time that we spent in the Emergency Room on Saturday night.  The visit to the ER was, fortunately, purely a precautionary measure for my wife who, from this day forward, will never again wear a certain pair of slippery socks while walking down our basement steps.  Although our stay at the ER sadly didn’t involve any contact with Dr. Benton, Dr. Carter or anyone else from Cook County Hospital (see photo to right), we did spend a good bit of time with, no joke, Nurse Jackie.  Not the one made famous by actress Edie Falco, but ours had quite a bit of character nonetheless.  I admittedly didn’t make the greatest first impression with Nurse Jackie when she initially entered the room to find Melisa standing (the pain in her lower back made standing more preferable), and yours truly kind of, maybe, possibly, lying on the gurney.  In my defense, Melisa didn’t want to lie or sit down, and we’d been waiting for a good bit of time when Nurse Jackie first appeared. If you found that to be a feeble excuse, Nurse Jackie agrees with you. It’s been many years since I have visited an ER, and so I found myself digesting quite a bit about the physical setting and trying to better understand what was (and wasn’t happening) based primarily on the time I spent in the 1990s watching episodes of ER on Thursday nights.  


What ended up being a three hour stay with long stretches of waiting did give me an opportunity to think about our surroundings and make some connections between hospitals and public schools, which isn’t too much of a stretch given that both are at their core committed to serving and supporting all walks of life.  For example, I noticed that in our room there was a blue phone that was a direct line to a service that provided language interpreters for patients and ER staff who require translation of information. While the situations we encounter at schools are typically not as urgent, our District has definitely been working on identifying more readily available translation and interpreter services for our families when it comes to meetings at school, and making sure everyone has access to the same information.  I immediately felt a bit jealous and wondered if a similar service was available to schools (and if so, fearing that the price tag is prohibitive). There were also a few moments during our stay where I felt a bit more vulnerable and more at the mercy of someone else than I might usually feel. I don’t think this was because the staff was unwelcoming (they were very kind), but simply due to being unfamiliar with the norms, protocols, and rules that governs and regulate what happens, by whom, in what order, and for what reasons.  Thinking about this a bit more, I started to wonder if and when there might be times that any of our families have felt similarly in relation to their experiences at RJ Grey, not because of anything we might have said or done, but because in our world there also exists -- often with good reason -- layers of rules, best practices, policies, and obligations that might guide our approach to different situations. It’s been on my mind since our visit to the ER, and was at the very least a helpful reminder that not everyone enters RJ Grey with a shared body of knowledge or understanding, and the importance of continuing to find ways to help all of our families navigate and engage with our school more comfortably and confidently.  My hope is that more often than not each of you feels like you’re provided information and guidance that’s helpful and useful, and that there’s at least one person at the Junior High you can reach out to when there is a question or concern.


Here’s a few updates for everyone as we prepare for the next few weeks of school before the Winter Break.  


A friendly reminder that our first round of Parent-Teacher conferences are scheduled for Thursday, December 13.  Families who requested conferences have begun hearing back from Katy Frey or Anne Chandler with confirmation of their conference schedule.  Those who requested a January conference time may or may not have heard yet from our Office, thanks for your patience as we first finalize conference times for December 13 and December 18.  A reminder to all families that for the December 13 and December 18 conferences, all students will be dismissed early at 11:06am.  The normal bus routes will run at that time and available to students.  Please keep these dates in mind when considering after school plans for your student(s).  


The Fall Trimester closes this Wednesday and report cards will be distributed on or around December 10.  A reminder that starting last year, report cards are emailed to families as a PDF document, and any email address that is listed in a student’s Emergency Card will receive a copy of the student’s report card.    


Starting this week thru December 7, RJ Grey will be collecting toys this holiday season to donate to local families.  Our teachers and students have coordinated this Toy Drive as an annual holiday effort, and it’s always been a wonderful opportunity to offer some holiday cheer to children in and around our community.  Toys must be new, unused (and unopened) and may be dropped off in the collection box in the main lobby. All toys will be donated to families in the Acton, Boxborough, and surrounding towns.  If you have any questions, you can email Gabrielle Berberian at gberberian@abschools.org.  


The annual RJ Grey musical is just around the corner! The students are working hard on this year’s production of Annie and we’re looking forward to another performance that showcases our students’ talents.  Five performances are scheduled for Thursday, December 6 (7pm), Friday, December 7 (7pm), Saturday, December 8 (2pm and 7pm), and Sunday, December 9 (2pm).  Tickets are $15 and are now available in the Junior High Main Office, and will also be sold at the door prior to each performance.  ABSAF holders are entitled to two free tickets and must pick up their tickets from the Main Office prior to the performance date.  This is always a great family-friendly event and we hope to see many A-B families there.  

Tryouts for our Winter Sports get under way this week.  Please review the Athletics Website for information and to review the tryout schedule for each program.  Please remember that the process for requesting a waiver for the athletics fee should be submitted to the Athletic Director’s office.  Please contact Assistant Principal David Lawrence (dlawrence@abschools.org) with any questions.  


Before everyone went their separate ways last week, we held our traditional Thanksgiving assembly, which is always the first all-school gathering of the year.  As usual, this assembly featured and was led by our students, starting with our Student Council officers (Jefferson Wu, Grace Lee, Eli Jarsky, and Anish Mudide).  Along with great performances (as usual) by students in our Band, Chorus and Strings programs, our assembly also featured speeches by three students who submitted entries for this year’s speech competition.  Many thanks to Sarang Bajwa, Ava Hjorth, and Meghan Lawson for their heartfelt words and reflections.  


Finally, I want to re-share one final time a message about the District’s continued work around a proposal to build a new elementary school. Here’s the information about a series of community forums scheduled for later this week:


As you know, the Acton-Boxborough Regional School District (ABRSD) has been conducting a feasibility study to evaluate a potential new elementary school.  The preferred option is one building that would house two elementary schools and the district preschool.

The School Building Committee is looking for input on the siting of the new schools and would like to invite members of the community to a public forum.  Three potential sites have been identified:

Gates property - Douglas, Gates and PreK

Douglas property - Douglas, Gates and PreK

Conant property - Douglas, Conant and PreK


Two community forums will be held in the RJ Grey Junior High library:


Tuesday, November 27 at 7:00 pm

Thursday, November 29 at 7:00 pm


If you have questions, please email abbuilding@abschools.org.  


Have a great week, everyone.  Welcome back.


Cheers,

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Posted by ashen  On Nov 25, 2018 at 6:55 PM
  

Hi Everyone,


With Thanksgiving on Thursday, we have a shortened week with an early release on Wednesday (dismissal is at 11:06 am).  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, string ensemble and chorus.  When I prepared for this assembly in my first year as Principal (seven 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 [side note: check out this recent article in the Washington Post that addresses five myths about preparing turkey on Thanksgiving].  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 2017 article, Thanksgiving Stuffing (or dressing) is the dish that best reflects America’s diversity”, 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.  


Here are some updates and reminder for this week, and to keep in mind when we return from the Thanksgiving Break:


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 stomach aches, vomiting, and diarrhea, students should stay home until symptoms have resolved for at least 12 hours.


On a related note - keep those tissue box donations coming!


Another reminder that the Fall Trimester closes on Wednesday, November 28th (right after Thanksgiving).  Report cards will likely be sent to families around December 10 -more on that when we get closer to that date.  


7 Red’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 by clicking here. Students who plan to try out for our winter sports need to make sure their Family ID account is completed, and updated physical form has been submitted and reviewed by our school nurse.  Tryouts for many (Girls Basketball) 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 Annie and we’re looking forward to another performance that showcases our students’ talents.  Five performances are scheduled for Thursday, December 6 (7pm), Friday, December 7 (7pm), Saturday, December 8 (2pm and 7pm), and Sunday, December 9 (2pm).  Tickets are $15 and are now available in the Junior High Main Office, and will also be sold at the door prior to each performance.  ABSAF holders are entitled to two free tickets and must pick up their tickets from the Main Office prior to the performance date.  This is always a great family-friendly event and we hope to see many A-B families there.  


I want to re-share a message you all should have recently received from the Superintendent’s Office regarding the District’s continued work around a proposal to build a new elementary school.  This endeavor is, to use New England slang, “ a wicked big deal” and I would encourage residents to participate in the process.  Here’s the info again:


As you know, the Acton-Boxborough Regional School District (ABRSD) has been conducting a feasibility study to evaluate a potential new elementary school.  The preferred option is one building that would house two elementary schools and the district preschool.

The School Building Committee is looking for input on the siting of the new schools and would like to invite members of the community to a public forum.  Three potential sites have been identified:

Gates property - Douglas, Gates and PreK

Douglas property - Douglas, Gates and PreK

Conant property - Douglas, Conant and PreK


Two community forums will be held in the RJ Grey Junior High library:


Tuesday, November 27 at 7:00 pm

Thursday, November 29 at 7:00 pm


If you have questions, please email abbuilding@abschools.org.  


Finally, for the Thanksgiving Break, I wanted to offer an important reminder to families that there will be no homework over the vacation period.  Instead, we hope students and families will use this upcoming holiday period 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 without the added stresses of school assignments.  We look forward to seeing everyone back next Monday.  


Have a great week, everyone.


Cheers,

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Posted by ashen  On Nov 18, 2018 at 2:26 PM
  

Hi Everyone,


Last December was the first time I shared with families information about vaping (also referred to as “Juuling” after the most popular brand) - which involves the use of electronic cigarettes. More on what that is in a moment.  By June, I felt compelled to revisit the topic because of the trends being reported in the news, as well as having had to address a handful of incidents that involved vaping at RJ Grey.  Since that time, we actually haven’t encountered the increase in vaping-at-school incidents that we were bracing for, and were a bit worried about. That’s certainly been a bit of a relief and we are well aware that the ease with which individuals can mask/hide use of e-cigarettes is a major feature of this growing problem and we don’t want to be naive to the possibility that there could indeed be students at RJ Grey who are exposed to and/or are using e-cigarettes and simply successful at not getting caught.  In the recent release by Emerson Hospital of the results from last year’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey which was taken last Spring by students in grades 6, 8, and 9-12 at A-B and other surrounding communities (11,000 students total), 28% of high school-age students reported having used e-cigarettes, along with 9% of middle school students in participating towns.  It is clear that our community isn’t immune to this national trend amongst young people, which the FDA recently declared an epidemic.  My motivation for returning to this topic via Grey Matters is not to incite panic amongst the parent population, but I also don’t think it would be an overreaction on my part to strongly encourage all of our families to more fully educate themselves on vaping/Juuling and to take that next step of having a conversation with their kids about this important health issue.


OK - so what are e-cigarettes and what is vaping/Juuling?  A really good 2017 Boston Globe article on this subject included the following: “Electronic cigarettes are devices that utilize stored electricity to heat a liquid into vapors, which are then inhaled by the user….the liquid can be anything from a flavored water-type mixture to liquid nicotine to THC, the principal active element of marijuana.”  As you can see in the above photo, most e-cigarettes look like a really long thumb drive, and are in fact often charged through a USB port. This new terrain is complicated by the fact that current technologies make them more readily available, usage is easier to mask, and marketing of the devices includes “fruit flavors” that offer the perception that vaping is a safe and risk-free endeavor.  That’s where a good bit of education and messaging to counter those beliefs can hopefully prove helpful amongst our students. To that end, our Health and Life Skills classes have updated their lessons on substance use and abuse to include information about e-cigarettes and vaping, and we devoted a portion of a recent staff meeting to providing our faculty and staff with a bit of a primer on this subject so they can also support our school’s efforts.  At home, the conversations you have with your children about your expectations can be influential, and at least your kids would then know that you’re aware of what’s going on despite your/our incredibly old age and surprise them given our tendency to be unfamiliar with all youth-oriented fads. And those conversations don’t have to be of the fire and brimstone variety. You might enter it by asking them what they’ve heard or know about it, and use what they share as entry points for including additional information and perspective about it.  Along with the above Boston Globe article, here are some resources that can help you with your conversations:


Teen Vaping: What You Need to Know by the ChildMind Institute

A Resource Page on Vaping by the Massachusetts Dept. of Public Health

A short piece on CNN (a YouTube video) about vaping and teen use

A Resource Page by the American Academy of Pediatrics


As we develop more familiarity with this topic, we’re thinking about additional opportunities to help families learn more about vaping and e-cigarettes.  Right now we’re considering a brief evening presentation in partnership with our School Resource Officer, or folding this topic into other conversations that might be planned around the release of the most recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey results.  We’ll keep you posted when those plans are more developed. In the meantime, I hope the above information is useful for all of you.


Here’s some updates and reminders for the next few weeks:


The Fall Trimester closes on Wednesday, November 28th (right after Thanksgiving).  There will likely be end-of-trimester assignments and assessments this week and next, so you might want to check in with your child(ren) about what is on their plates between now and the Thanksgiving Break.  


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


For the Thanksgiving Break, we have a half-day of school on Wednesday, November 21 with dismissal at 11:06, and then we return to school the following Monday, November 26.  


Winter sports will begin shortly after the Thanksgiving Break. Our winter sports program includes Boys and Girls Basketball teams (with separate teams for 7th and 8th grade), and Cheerleading. The tryout schedule will be posted on the RJ Grey Athletics page next week with start dates planned for shortly after the Thanksgiving Break. Starting this summer, we have shifted to an online signup for our athletic teams using a site called FamilyID.  This process has taken the place of the paper “Green Forms” but still requires submission of an updated physical. You can view the tryout schedule (when it’s up) and review the FamilyID process on the Athletics page of our website.


Last week all families should have received an email with instructions on how to sign up for the annual parent-teacher conferences.  You can also access the sign-up form through our website by clicking here.  As I mentioned last week, one of the three conferences will be scheduled in the evening (January 3 from 5-8pm) and those slots will be filled on a first come-first served basis.  We know that this means that not all families who prefer the evening conference can be scheduled for those options, and we hope that you’ll still be able to identify times that are possible for you.  A friendly reminder that parents/guardians are not required to participate in these conferences, and many families who have attended team meetings elect not to sign up. We appreciate everyone’s patience as our Main Office staff begin processing the many requests that are being submitted over the next few weeks.  


The annual RJ Grey musical is just around the corner! The students are working hard on this year’s production of Annie and we’re looking forward to another performance that showcases our students’ talents.  Five performances are scheduled for the week of December 3rd, specifically on Thursday, December 6 (7pm), Friday, December 7 (7pm), Saturday, December 8 (2pm and 7pm), and Sunday, December 9 (2pm).  Tickets are $15 and are will be available in the Junior High Main Office starting Monday, November 19.  ABSAF holders are entitled to two free tickets and must pick up their tickets from the Main Office.  This is always a great family-friendly event and we hope to see many A-B families there.  As we begin to prepare for our annual school musical, I want to again share a link to one of my favorite episodes of the radio show This American Life.  Entitled, “Fiasco!” this episode highlights a small-town production of Peter Pan that involved the use of flying apparatuses. Unlike our High School’s production of Mary Poppins a few years ago, their efforts involving the flying apparatus didn’t exactly go as planned, along with a few other mishaps that turned the show into a full-fledged fiasco.  If you’ve got twenty minutes to spare, I encourage you to listen to this piece that apparently required Ira Glass to turn off his microphone during recording because of how hard he was laughing/snorting.


The Lost & Found bin at RJ Grey is now overflowing with a whole array of clothing.  We’ve lined it up on a few tables to make it easier to sift through and we encourage families and students to take a quick look and see if there are any items that can make its way back to your home (ideally with the washing machine as the first stop).  Any items not claimed before the Thanksgiving Break will be donated to charity.


Finally, I don’t want to finish this edition of Grey Matters without acknowledging Veteran’s Day which is this Monday.  So I end with a thank you and a note of gratitude to members of our community who have or are still serving in our military, as well as their families who support them.  


Have a great week, everyone.


Cheers,

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Posted by ashen  On Nov 11, 2018 at 4:44 PM
  

Hi Everyone,


Last Wednesday was a pretty festive day for the Boston area, given that Halloween and the parade in Boston celebrating the World Series victory by the Red Sox both fell on that day.  I hope everyone had a safe and enjoyable time - both during the day, and later on that evening. We had many students who came in a variety of playful and clever costumes, and congratulations to 8th grade student Will Smith who won our friendly Halloween costume competition (photo to the right).  Having Halloween in the middle of the week tends to make for a long and tiring week, something I lamented last year in Grey Matters, where I also hinted at leading a future campaign to have Halloween always fall on the last Saturday of October. Well, this year the Halloween & Costume Association began a petition on Change.org to move Halloween to the last Saturday of the month, an effort on their part that was clearly inspired by someone sending them a copy of the edition of Grey Matters that suggested this switch.  It’s more likely that they were motivated by the idea of having a full day (Saturday) devoted to the holiday each year and the financial gains that might accompany that switch, but it’s more fun to pretend that I somehow inspired this campaign which has currently secured over 55,000 signatures.  Now that the effort to move Halloween to the weekend is in someone else’s hands, I can now turn my attention to another campaign that will hopefully lead to an important change - specifically, a petition to require all Major League Baseball playoff games to start no later than 7pm Eastern Standard Time.  I know a lot of this is about television market shares, and start times on the West Coast, so maybe the fact that ratings for this year’s World Series was down 23 percent from last year might lead to adjustments that offer relief for those of us who need to wake up at a reasonable hour the next day. On a related note, we have noticed a bit of an uptick in the number of students who are arriving to school right at, or shortly after, the 8:00am start to the day.  We appreciate that morning drop-offs still involve a good deal of maneuvering through traffic in and around the school campus, and I’d still like to offer some encouragement and a plea to help your students arrive to school before 8:00am so their day doesn’t start so rushed.  


For our families who observe Diwali, the festival of lights, I hope any plans you have for later this week proves to be full of joy and celebration with friends and family.  Two years ago I came across this article in the Washington Post, written by someone who uses her family’s celebration of Diwali to reflect on the dynamics that often accompany a bicultural upbringing and formation of identity.  I share it again knowing that the experience of straddling different worlds and cultures is familiar to many of you. Perhaps this piece also offers a voice and perspective that may resonate with those in the Indian community, as well as an opportunity for a bit learning by the rest of us. Please know that there will be no homework due Thursday, the day after Diwali, nor will there be any assessments scheduled for Thursday.  


Here’s some reminders that are important for families this week and beyond:


The Dr. Sharon Maxwell event is this Monday (tomorrow)!  She will be presenting “Who's Raising Our Kids? Nurturing Human Values in a Digital World”, focusing on the impact that “digital saturation” is having on how our children think about themselves, and how it’s changing the way children socialize and communicate. This districtwide event will be held in the RJ Grey Auditorium on Monday, November 5 from 7:00 to 9:00pm and is open to all members of the A-B community.

There is
no school for all students in the District this Tuesday, November 6.  Staff will be participating in professional learning during the day.  Tuesday is also Election Day and the RJ Grey gymnasium will continue to serve as a voting station for many Actonresidents.  


There is also no school for all students next Monday, November 12 as it’s Veteran’s Day.  Many thanks to those in our community who have served, and continue to serve, in our military.  


Last week I included some messaging for families of 8th grade students who may be applying to private schools.  If you haven’t already, please take a moment to review that message.  


Thanksgiving Break is coming up and I know that many are looking forward to that annual holiday and the opportunity to spend it with family and friends.  The end of the Fall Trimester is the Wednesday after we return from Thanksgiving Break.  I want families to be aware of this timing so they can keep that in mind as they continue to support their students in having a strong finish to this first marking period.   


For families with students who have attended our Open Gym basketball hours after school on Tuesdays and Thursdays, there are no more sessions this Fall.  With Winter Sports around the corner, we had already scheduled a pause on Open Gym in a few weeks, and we are stopping a bit earlier so we can revisit how we structure that activity. Prior to this year, Open Gym had on average only a handful of students in attendance.  So when 50 to 70 plus students began to consistently show up it admittedly caught us a bit flat-footed and without the supervision and set-up to ensure a safe and appropriate setting, and a format that would allow everyone a chance to play. Our hope is to use the time before the Spring season to design an option that meets this increased interest and ensures the right level of supervision given the physical activity involved with Open Gym.  

Thank you to the families who continue to drop off a box or ten boxes of Kleenex to the school so we can pass them along to classrooms and fight the good fight against the perpetual runny nose.  Keep them coming!


On Monday, I will be sending all families an email about the annual parent-teacher conference sessions that we offer during three dates in December and January.  That email will provide families with an overview of the conferences and some things to consider before signing up.  Starting last year, one of the three conferences will be scheduled in the evening (January 3 from 5-8pm). Our school recognizes that there are families within our community for whom mid-day conferences can present enough of a hardship and challenge that they would be unable to consider participating.  This may include parents/guardians who do not have as much flexibility with their respective work schedules, or have family responsibilities that are not easily adjusted. Our hope is that an evening conference will better accommodate and support the varied schedules that our families have to navigate. While there will not be an early release from school on the day of the evening conferences, there will be an early release for students and staff on the following day (January 4). This Wednesday, families will also receive an email from us that includes the link to the form that you should complete if you wish to schedule conferences with some (or all) of your child’s teachers.  


Here’s an initial and exciting Save the Date! announcement regarding our annual Junior High musical.  This year’s musical is Annie, and performances will be from December 6 through December 9.  Performances will be at 7pm each evening, with an additional 2pm show on Saturday, December 8. The RJ Grey musical is not only a great annual event for members of our school community, but is always a wonderful event from other members of our larger Acton-Boxborough community.  Next week I’ll be sharing additional information about purchasing tickets.



As we enter November we have another R.J. Grey Artist of the Month.  Congratulations to Calista Barnett (7 Blue) who has been selected as this month’s Artist of the Month. When Calista was asked about the first work of art that she made that she remembers being proud of, she replied: "The first artwork I remember making that I was really proud of was a collage I made out of leaves when I was in preschool. I decided to create a girl, and even though it wasn’t that good (It was very messy), I loved it!" Congratulations to Calista and you can click here to view her art work (also on display in our school lobby).  


Finally, the RJ Grey community's annual Coats For Families Drive will continue through the month of November. This is the 23rd year of the Coat Drive here and it is an annual fall RJ Grey tradition.  Thank you to 7 Red for serving this year as the stewards of this program. Good condition, wearable, winter coats and jackets for children and adults are dropped off in the box in the lobby. They will be taken to Anton's Cleaners by 7 Red where they will be cleaned free of charge. They are then delivered to agencies like the Salvation Army and Mass Coalition For The Homeless who get them to those who are in need of a good, warm winter coat. Please be a part of this very worthy cause. The box will be in the lobby during the month of November.


Have a great week, everyone.  


Cheers,

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Posted by ashen  On Nov 04, 2018 at 3:34 PM
  

Hi Everyone,


I had originally intended to begin this week’s edition of Grey Matters with a whole host of fun and playful Halloween and Red Sox-themed information and commentary.  Tempting as it was to stick to the original plan, I’m convinced it would have been fairly tone deaf, if not negligent, of me if I failed to prioritize the seemingly never-ending sequence of headlines from last week describing the latest and devastating series of hate-filled violence in our country.  It feels important to offer at least an acknowledgment about its impact on members of our community and a few thoughts about what our kids might think, wonder, know, or think they know about all of this.  


Maurice Stallard and Vickie Lee Jones, two African Americans, were shot and killed at a grocery store in Kentucky by an alleged gunman motivated by racial hatred.  Then there was the series of pipe bombs being sent by mail to prominent Democratic politicians and other outspoken public figures.  And then on Saturday, a man with known anti-Semitic beliefs entered a synagogue in Pittsburgh and killed 11 congregants and wounded several others. The one-after-the-other sequence of incidents of the past week are surely upsetting and heartbreaking to most of us, and I also want to recognize that there are those within our community for whom those incidents understandably land more directly, personally, and painfully, and where the result is a deepening feeling of vulnerability.  


I have little doubt that our kids are quite aware of these incidents, and many are likely exposed to all manner of storylines and competing theories (and conspiracies) propagated online and through social media. To believe otherwise would be naive on our part. To also hope that they can, on their own, make sense of the history, political posturing, and trauma that orbits these types of moments would, in my opinion, be a phenomenal mistake on the part of adults.  A hope that I do have, and that I’d like to think is a realistics one, is that members of our community share the belief that both parents and educators alike have the important responsibility of modeling for our children the behaviors that we hope they will adopt and practice. It’s crucial for them to hear messages of acceptance and pluralism in all different settings, including at home and in school. At school, we will continue to devote ourselves to the goal I shared with RJ Grey families a few years ago, which is helping students elevate beyond the notion of mere tolerance and develop an ability to exercise and model empathy, compassion, and sincere acceptance.  We pursue this work through our daily engagement with students and through the curriculum. Our 7th and 8th grade Social Studies curriculum is not the only arena where we advance this goal, but it certainly continues to serve as an anchor in this endeavor. This year, our efforts will, among other activities and lessons, include an assembly for 8th grade students that will feature speakers from the local Muslim community that will complement classroom discussions about Islam. We are also grateful that Janet Applefield, a Holocaust survivor, will again be visiting RJ Grey this year, and speaking to the entire 7th grade about her personal experiences and making direct connections to the themes and messages described above.  As part of this year’s anti-bullying mini-workshops, lessons about homophobia and homophobic language will be included thanks to the hard work and advocacy of students in our Common Ground student group.  While there is likely a diversity of opinions within our community when it comes to the many topics dominating the national and political landscape, I hope that the goals and expectations I have articulated above are ones that you accept and endorse as important for all of our students.  Thank you for the efforts you’ve already made towards this work, and for the ones that you will take moving forward.


Ok, deep breath. I’m going to make an abrupt pivot here and return to what one might consider “regularly scheduled programming” since there are still a number of updates that need to be shared.  I hope the transition isn’t too jarring or awkward for everyone. I’ll save the Red Sox and trick-or-treating-themed material for next week since I think they’ll still be relevant and timely, and that conversation may even benefit (hopefully) from a favorable conclusion to the World Series.


Halloween Dress Up Day is this Wednesday and we’re looking forward to the parade 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/or might be overly revealing or minimalist in nature, and no masks (we need to see your faces!).  It’s a great tradition, and we all look forward to a fun and spirited day.


The RJ Grey cafeteria staff is looking for input from our students. Jean Tibbetts, the Cafe Manager, and Kirsten Nelson, the Food Service Director, would like to partner with about 20 students, and meet monthly to discuss the lunch menu. They have set aside the following dates to meet with students: November 14th, December 12th, January 16th and February 13th at 2:40 in the small cafe. This is a chance for students to give input into what they like, to let them know if there is something they would like Food Services to offer, as well as the occasional taste testing session where new items may be introduced. If your child is interested in participating please email Knelson@abschools.org.  Your child can earn community service time for these sessions.  


Here are additional reminders and update for the next few weeks:


A friendly reminder that there is NO SCHOOL on Tuesday, November 6 for our District’s Professional Learning Day.  On the evening of November 6, Peter Light will be holding a forum for Junior High and High School parents/guardians where he hopes to provide an opportunity for you to offer ideas and perspective about our schools and priorities for the next few years.  This session is open to any Junior High and High School parent/guardian and will be held in the Junior High Library at 7pm.  


I shared a save-the-date in mid-September for an event with Dr. Sharon Maxwell who will be presenting “Who's Raising Our Kids? Nurturing Human Values in a Digital World”, focusing on the impact that “digital saturation” is having on how our children think about themselves, and how it’s changing the way children socialize and communicate. This districtwide event will be held in the RJ Grey Auditorium on Monday, November 5 from 7:00 to 9:00pm and is open to all members of the A-B community.


There is also NO SCHOOL on Monday, November 12 for Veteran’s Day.


Now that Winter is soon approaching, it is time to think about dusting off those skis and

snowboards. Ski and Board Club will start Tuesday, January 8, 2019. It will run for 6 weeks on Tuesdays. If your child would like to sign up for the club,​ have them ask for a Ski/Board Club packet at the main office.  Please direct any questions to the club advisor, Lana Paone (lpaone@abschools.org).  The deadline for registration is December 15.  


This week we are concluding the Fall season for our school sports programs.  Congratulations to our Field Hockey, Soccer, and Cross Country teams on a great season - both individually and collectively. We hope the students who participated in these programs found it to be a worthwhile experience.  As we prepare to enter the Winter season, I wanted to provide a few friendly reminders about extracurricular activities. First, our Winter sports program includes Boys and Girls Basketball teams (with separate teams for 7th and 8th grade), and Cheerleading. The tryout schedule will be posted within the next few weeks with start dates planned for shortly after the Thanksgiving Break. Starting this summer, we have shifted to an online signup for our athletic teams using a site called FamilyID.  This process has taken the place of the paper “Green Forms” but still requires submission of an updated physical. You can view the tryout schedule (when it’s up) and review the FamilyID process on the Athletics page of our website.  For students who participated in a Fall sport and might now have a bit more time after school, we encourage them to consider joining one of our extracurricular clubs and activities.  Students are welcome to join these programs throughout the year and can review the many options by visiting the Clubs and Activities page of our website.  


We have, unbelievably enough, already reached the point in the year where some of our RJ Grey students and families are exploring private schools as options for next year, and I’d like to re-send the following note that I share each year:  Our Counseling Office works with families on the application process, and they have created a number of documents and guides to assist families.  You can download the following information by clicking on the following links: (1) Private School Application Procedures; (2) Private School Tracking Form; (3) Consent for Release of Student Records; (4) Activity and Employment Record.  These documents will also be posted on our RJ Grey website shortly.  One aspect of the application process that I’d like to highlight is the writing of teacher/counselor recommendations.  Our teachers and counselors are happy to support students in their applications, and take seriously the crafting of a recommendation.  With that in mind, we ask that families honor the request that teachers be approached about letters of recommendation at least 4 weeks in advance of when those letters are due.  In many situations, parents initially reach out to teachers on behalf of their child, which is perfectly fine.  It’s also important for the student to speak in person with their teachers about their interest in private schools.  This is valuable for a few reasons. First, hearing a bit more about the student’s interest in the schools to which they are applying gives the teacher a better sense of what might be useful to include in the letter.  Secondly, having a teacher find recommendation forms on her desk without any prior explanation from a student or parent is never the ideal way to start the conversation about a recommendation. By no means are teachers and counselors expecting students to feel indebted to them for writing a letter, and forever genuflect whenever they enter the room. However, speaking directly to the teacher is, I think, central to showing an appropriate level of appreciation for this additional task the students are asking their teacher to complete on their behalf.  If you think your child may be a bit nervous with this task, you might encourage them to speak with the counselor, who can offer some tips and even help them practice. Your child’s counselor is also, in general, a great resource for various aspects of the application process.


Finally, Poetry Fridays took place at the end of last week.  Last week’s selection was “Waitingby American short story writer and poet Ray Carver.  Click here if you’d like to read the poem.  


Have a great week, everyone.  


Cheers,

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Posted by ashen  On Oct 28, 2018 at 7:31 PM
  

Hi Everyone,


Most of the time I had this weekend that wasn’t spent planning how I’ll spend my soon-to-be $1.6 billion Mega Millions lottery winnings (my lifelong irrational belief that I am destined to win the lottery is a subject for a different Grey Matters) was actually spent thinking about raising, and living with, teenage boys.  The mental headspace I devoted to this topic was mostly due to the teenage boy who currently resides in our house and the time spent this weekend watching him socializing with a few of his friends, all of whom are also 8th grade boys.  I took my son and four of his friends to Witch’s Woods at the Nashoba Ski area on Saturday night and I treated the car rides, the pizza dinner, and brief moments when they interacted with me in a public setting, as reconnaissance to gather more intelligence (and maybe become slightly more intelligent) about my son’s world as he currently sees it.  Given that they also attended a school dance the evening prior, I might have also been hoping to score a few nuggets of information about anything that might have transpired there. My earlier attempts to ask aggressively worded and confusing questions like, “so how was the dance?” didn’t get me very far. While I was able to confirm the tendency to still take exaggerated pleasure in foolish moments (which I really like about them), and unapologetic about bodily functions that involve noise and smell (don’t like as much about them), I wasn’t terribly successful with getting anything more substantive. Or perhaps I did witness something of importance but didn’t understand any of the coded language to know what was said in my presence.  And then there were the three hours I spent completely solo at Witch’s Woods, except for the briefest of moments later in the evening when my firstborn rushed up to me and breathlessly said “Dad, I love you need money.”  But I digress. Back to the subject at hand, my recent efforts to observe and engage in a bit of well-intentioned eavesdropping on my son and his friends reminded me of a few articles and pieces about adolescent development that I’ve shared with families in previous years and wanted to offer again for those whose curiosities about our kids overlap with mine.  First, here is this article in the Wall Street Journal entitled, “What Parents of Early Teen Boys Need to Know”.  This article spent time looking at which skills develop more slowly in boys, and where they may demonstrate certain strengths earlier on.  Additionally, it offered a bit of initial insight into ways parents can offer some guidance and modeling in areas related to language, attention, and empathy (including something called mentalizing).  And secondly, I am re-sharing an article in the Washington Post that I highlighted at the start of this year that offers suggestions for how parents (and guardians) can stay connected and engaged with their teenage sons.


The Wall Street Journal article has often reminded me of the work of Dr. Abigail Baird who visited Acton-Boxborough a few years ago.  Dr. Baird teaches at Vassar and conducts research on adolescent brain development. I really like Dr. Baird because she has a way of presenting information on adolescent brain development (and explaining behaviors) in a way that is accessible and relatable.  She’s also a diehard Red Sox fan so she must currently be enjoying the playoffs as much as the rest of us. By the way, thanks for the “congratulations” I received last week when my personal Red Sox playoff curse was broken.  I am hoping that we’ll be able to invite Dr. Baird back for a return visit, and in the meantime for those of you interested in this topic can watch this video of an interview that she did with Lisa Kudrow of “Friends” fame (and a Vassar alum). They spend time talking about the interplay between emotions and decision making and a whole host of other really interesting topics - including some important differences in how boys and girls develop during adolescence. The interview is a bit long (about an hour) but if you’ve got the time it’s one of those videos that I have personally viewed several times, and might watch again soon in an effort to decode some of this weekend’s observations.    

Ok, now for some reminders about the next few weeks:


School pictures will be distributed to students at the start of this week. We have 
scheduled a picture retake day for this Tuesday, October 23rd.  If your child ordered a photo package and you would like to retake the photo, please have your child bring in the original package on that day (and to come dressed for the re-take!).  If your student missed Picture Day earlier this year, this is also the time for him or her to have a photo taken.  Even if you don’t have plans to order a photo package, it is important to have everyone’s photo taken so they will be included in this year’s yearbook.  


Halloween is a week from Wednesday.  A friendly reminder that dressing in costume is optional and that not all students (nor staff) participate, so each individual should feel comfortable making the choice that’s right for that student.  If your student does choose to arrive in costume, please be sure to review the expectations that I shared with families in last week’s Grey Matters.


I shared a save-the-date in mid-September for an event with Dr. Sharon Maxwell who will be presenting “Who's Raising Our Kids? Nurturing Human Values in a Digital World”, focusing on the impact that “digital saturation” is having on how our children think about themselves, and how it’s changing the way children socialize and communicate. This districtwide event will be held in the RJ Grey Auditorium on Monday, November 5 from 7:00 to 9:00pm and is open to all members of the A-B community.  


A reminder for 8th grade families that tomorrow morning 8th grade students will be attending a presentation by the organization Minding Your Mind as an opportunity to remind and expand our students’ familiarity with signs and symptoms of depression and suicidal thinking, and reinforce the message that our students can help themselves or a friend by taking the simple step of taking to a responsible adult about their concerns.  


I wanted to take a moment to highlight (and thank) ABSAF,  a community-based organization that has a long-standing partnership with the schools, and have made efforts every year to raise funds that support extracurricular activities at both RJ Grey and the high school.  Without fail ABSAF has helped both schools with their ability to provide a wide-range of rich and meaningful programs that span athletics, performing arts, and student interest clubs. One of the main ways that families can and do support ABSAF is by purchasing an annual ABSAF Pass which entitles you and your immediate family to free admission to many extracurricular events that involve an entry fee.  Some examples of events where an ABSAF Pass gives you free admission are home athletic events (except postseason games), and the annual musical/theatrical productions at both RJ Grey and the high school.  They’ve recently completed their annual phone-a-thon (photo above), and recently posted a Fall update that you can view here.  To learn more about ABSAF and its history of support for our school, you can visit their site by clicking here.


Speaking of clubs and activities, I wanted to briefly profile and celebrate Creating Change, one of our new clubs this year that blends visual art with community service.  Their first project of the year included leaving little notes for anyone and everyone at RJ Grey to find.  The notes are meant to be a “source of happiness and a general mood lifter” and students or staff who came across a note were encouraged to take it as a little gift that hopefully added a bit of color to what might otherwise have been an ordinary Wednesday.  An important reminder, especially as we get closer to the conclusion of the Fall sports season, that students are welcome to join any of our clubs and activities throughout the year. New members are encouraged to attend an upcoming meeting of a club to see if it might be a match for their interests.  You can review the list of clubs and activities here.  


Several years ago, we began a small recognition program called “Everyday Leaders” as one way for us to celebrate and put a brighter spotlight on students who, in a variety of ways, demonstrates leadership through daily acts of kindness, enthusiasm, and being respectful towards peers and teachers. Twice a trimester, our teams (and each grade’s exploratory, elective, and physical education teachers) identify a student who they have observed modeling some element of good citizenship within their classes and team. Every year, the cohort of students who are identified by the teachers is incredibly diverse in terms of the qualities that are being celebrated.  Sitting next to students who are more comfortable with the spotlight, there are always many students whose kindness and contributions present themselves in less obvious and nuanced ways. This past Thursday, I met with our first group of Everyday Leaders for a small lunch in the main office - this lunch actually doubled as an opportunity for our new Superintendent to connect with current RJ Grey students and learn more about the Junior High from the perspective of a few students. Congratulations to the following students who were part of this first group: Jackson Chandler, AJ Korka, Josie Hanlon, Eduardo da Matta, Sophie Pearo, Taylor Lammey, Evan Couke, Nate Lubets, Zachary Parodos, Emma Harrington, and Bobby Elliott.  


Have a great week, everyone.


Cheers,

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Posted by ashen  On Oct 21, 2018 at 6:33 PM
  

Hi Everyone,


Those that know me well know that in most situations I tend to be a fairly risk-averse kind of person.  I’m not much of a gambler nor do I have the stomach to go all-in on high-risk/high-reward types of endeavors.  However, for reasons I can’t quite explain, I am going to throw caution to the wind this evening and attend Game 2 of the American League Championship Series between the Red Sox and the Houston Astros.  This is despite the now documented history of my personal losing streak related to attending Red Sox playoff games, and the fact that David Price is once again scheduled to pitch in the game I plan to attend tonight.  I mentioned my plans to Mrs. Frey (our Executive Director of Main Office Affairs) and let’s just say that if the Red Sox lose tonight, I’m in for a giant helping of “you’re a giant fool” looks from the Main Office staff on Monday morning.  My current thinking is that between Mr. Price and I, one of us is due for a change in luck since streaks like these are meant to be broken. Famous last words, I know.  If his and my streak are both extended by a loss on Sunday evening, it might inspire me to divert my energy and attention to the growing industry of esports, which is the term to describe organized competitive video gaming.  The photo to the right is actually from a competitive video gaming tournament where the stadium was filled to capacity with spectators who went to watch contestants play video games. Perhaps some of you are much more familiar with this growing sector (that of course also has a money-making element to it).  I hadn’t really read much about esports until a few weeks ago when I received an email from a company that was inviting local school principals to attend a presentation about creating/joining interscholastic esports leagues. Perhaps I shouldn’t be entirely surprised given my kids’ fixation on multiplayer video games, but the degree to which esports programs have found a home in colleges and secondary schools was a bit startling.  I started scouring the internet to learn a bit more and found numerous articles about public schools (mostly high schools) throughout the country joining state association-sanctioned leagues for esports, including 25 high schools in Massachusetts.  While I declined the invitation to attend the presentation about competitive gaming leagues, I do get the impression that I’ll need be prepared in the not-too-distant future to better understand this rapidly growing and evolving sector of youth-focused competitions.  Even if I gain a better understanding and even an appreciation for esports, it is more than likely that I’ll still reach a point each month where I look at my own childrens’ XBox console and picture what it would look like floating in the middle of the family pool.


Here are some reminders and notes for the next few weeks:


We have scheduled a picture re-take day for Tuesday, October 23.  If your child ordered a photo package and you would like for to re-take the photo, please have your child bring in the original package on that day (and to come dressed for the re-take!).  If your student missed Picture Day earlier this year, this is also the time for him or her to have a photo taken. Even if you don’t have plans to order a photo package, it is important to have everyone’s photo taken so they will be included in this year’s yearbook.  

We have recently received a few more
donations of tissue boxes from RJ Grey families, thank you!  As the weather gets a bit chillier and we have more and more runny noses at school, our need for tissues will likely increase.  If and when you’ve got an extra box or two lying around, we’d certainly welcome ongoing donations for our classrooms.  


It’s a few weeks away, but a friendly reminder that there is NO SCHOOL on Tuesday, November 6 for our District’s Professional Learning Day.  On the evening of November 6, Peter Light will be holding a forum for Junior High and High School parents/guardians where he hopes to provide an opportunity for you to offer ideas and perspective about our schools and priorities for the next few years.  This session is open to any Junior High and High School parent/guardian and will be held in the Junior High Library at 7pm.  


The District’s Late Bus program continues to provide a transportation option for those who participate in after school activities and we’re pleased that it’s been a helpful resource/option for a number of our families.  With the Winter season on the horizon, new activities, sports programs and other after-school opportunities might be on your child’s radar. If the Late Bus might be something you want to consider, you can click here for the original letter and list of stops that are part of the two Late Bus routes.  


Early next week, we will be emailing to families mid-trimester interims.  For those new to RJ Grey, a brief explanation.  “Interims” is the term that we use for what others might call “progress reports”, or “warnings”.  Teachers submit interims for any students who might be struggling in their class - this could be based on performances on tests and quizzes, consistency of homework, or other assessments and observations.  In addition, there are a number of teachers who provide interims as a way to update families, and this could also include feedback about how well a student is performing in a particular class. This is all to say that there are number of reasons why you might receive an interim from your child’s teachers (note: you may also not receive anything).  If and when you do receive one, please read the information and comments carefully and consider using it as a way to begin a dialogue with your child.  Please also keep in mind that a letter grade is attached to each interim from a teacher, but that letter grade may or may not represent a significant body of assessments and graded work.  I would encourage you to place greater focus on the narrative that the teacher provides and the areas of concern and suggestions for improvement that are offered. If there is information that you would like clarified, please contact the teacher and begin a dialogue with him or her.  The Fall Trimester does not close until the week of Thanksgiving, so there is plenty of time for students to use this feedback to make adjustments.


Beginning last year the Junior High and High School moved to electronic grading reports.  Interim reports are now sent by email to the parent/guardian contacts listed on your student’s Emergency Card on the parent portal. Given the sensitive nature of these transmissions, we strongly encourage you to review the email addresses you have provided in the parent portal and that the only email addresses listed are for parents/guardians with joint legal, physical, and/or shared custody and who should have access to these records.  For more detailed instructions on how to verify your email, please click here.  


Halloween is a little over two weeks away, and my guess is that many of your children are thinking about possible costumes not only for an evening of trick or treating, but also for our school’s annual Dress Up Day (which is always scheduled for the day of, or around, Halloween).  I’d like to include here my typical overview of our Dress Up Day to help families with any planning that is currently underway.  We have a tradition at RJ Grey where many students (and teachers) choose to attend school dressed up in costumes on the day of Halloween. Our Student Council officers also organize a fun and lighthearted contest where each homeroom nominates a student/costume and the staff will vote for a winner.  We want to emphasize our intention to keep this light-hearted and good-natured, and to showcase student creativity. We do not want anyone to invest money in this activity.  Please also note that not all students and staff --including yours truly--always dress up, which is perfectly fine.  There are always many students who do not come to school in costume.


We do have general guidelines that we expect all students to follow when considering their outfit for the day.  Student costumes must avoid props that mimic weapons (swords, firearms, knives, etc.), and clothing that includes profanity and/or might be overly revealing or minimalist in nature. In addition, we must see our students’ faces throughout the day, so wearing a face mask can not be a part of a costume.  We see a restriction on face masks as a reasonable limitation to address physical safety and the fact that lessons are still being taught! There’s nothing quite like watching a teacher, often dressed in costume as well, providing instruction to a room that includes Mario, Luigi, Harry Potter, a giant bunny rabbit, and Flo the Progressive Insurance spokesperson.  I am asking our parents and guardians to please have a conversation with their children about their costume plans, and to keep the above guidelines in mind.  

Halloween Dress Up Day has always been a fun opportunity for our students (and staff) to be playful and maybe showcase another side of their personality.  Our students have always been thoughtful about the event and it makes for one of the more colorful days of the school year. I’m looking forward to seeing the parade of costumes that enters RJ Grey that morning.  


Finally, we had another edition of Poetry Fridays at the end of last week.  Mr. Malloy read the classic piece by poet William Butler Yeats, “He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven” and offered the students a bit of the backstory behind that particular piece.  Click here to read the poem.  


Have a great week, everyone.


Cheers,

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Posted by ashen  On Oct 14, 2018 at 2:16 PM
  

Hi Everyone,


This past weekend the topic of losing, and losing streaks in particular, has been on my mind a bit for reasons that are mostly light-hearted and fun, but also includes one that generated some food for thought related to the world of youth sports.  Starting with the most silly reason I thought about losing streaks this weekend - every year I share through Grey Matters the announcement of that year’s winners of the annual MacArthur Genius Grant.  Here’s a list for this current year’s recipients and a description of their notable deeds and pursuits.  And every year I also tell myself and all of you (completely in jest if you had any doubts) that I was probably once again choice #26 for a prize awarded to 25 individuals and lamenting aloud what I could have done at and for RJ Grey with the no-strings $625,000 check that accompanies the prize.  Shifting to a losing streak that is actually real and a bit painful, but still not terribly important in the grand scheme of things, is my personal experience with attending postseason Red Sox games at Fenway. This past Saturday I had the good fortune to attend Game 2 of the ALDS series between the Red Sox and Yankees. This was the fourth postseason Red Sox game I’ve now attended and the Red Sox have now lost all four of those games (the first was in 2003 in the game where Pedro Martinez grabbed then 72-year old Don Zimmer by the face and threw him to the ground).  If the Red Sox make it through this series, I’ll actually have the chance to attend a game during the League Championship series and I am giving serious thought to staying home for the sake of Red Sox Nation.  Then again, my personal playoff losing streak doesn’t compare to Red Sox pitcher David Price’s now record-setting and more significant playoff woes, where the game I attended on Saturday was his 9th straight postseason loss.  Another, and my favorite, story of “loss” this weekend was about the recently auctioned off painting by anonymous street artist Banksy.  Immediately after one of his Girl with Balloon pieces was sold at a Sotheby’s auction for $1.4 million, the piece “self-destructed” in front of the entire room of bidders by way of a shredder that was apparently hidden within the frame (see above photo to the right).  When I read the news story, I immediately wondered if the anonymous buyer gets a refund. But as the New York Times notes, the shredding prank may actually serve to elevate the value of the piece itself, along with other future Bansky pieces.  So maybe not really a loss after all for the buyer.


And finally, a story that I’ve been following recently and wanted to share is about parents in St. Louis who sued their school district when their son did not make the school’s soccer team.  Unlike the previous playful items I’ve discussed above, I mention this story because I think it offers some opportunity for ongoing self-reflection about the world of youth sports - an arena in which many of us within the community are deeply invested and entrenched.  Case in point: I know that Melisa’s and my weekend of dividing and conquering eight youth sports matches/tournaments was likely very similar to how many of you spent your time. The decision by the parents in St. Louis to file a lawsuit over their son’s soccer tryouts can probably still be considered on the extreme end of parental responses to this kind of “loss”, and I wonder how many of us aren’t shocked by the story.  The arguments and feelings presented by all involved (the parents, the school, the coach) that are described within the article will, I predict, seem fairly familiar to many of us and speaks to the intensity and high-stakes nature that has been attached to youth sports and represents competing ideas about what’s in the best interest of kids. This a larger topic with a lot of layers and probably a longer conversation for another time, and I wanted to pass along the article as something you might consider discussing when sitting on the sidelines with other parents and guardians.  


Here’s a few reminders and updates to keep in mind for the next few weeks:


Interim reports for the Fall Trimester are scheduled to be sent around October 22 or 23.  I will include in next week’s Grey Matters a summary of the intent of interims and what families might expect as part of those forms.  


Halloween is Wednesday, October 31 and so I’ll include a note in an upcoming Grey Matters about our school’s Halloween Dress Up Day tradition.  This will include a reminder about how to help your students enjoy the event (should they choose to participate) while also being thoughtful in their choice of costume/outfit.


Remember that this week RJ Grey is serving as a drop-off location for bath towels and hand towels that you want to donate to Household Goods of Acton, an organization that provides a full range of donated furniture and household items, free of charge, to help people in need make a home. Household Goods is hoping that members of our community can help them collect enough towels to give to 2,500 families this year. Throughout this week you can bring gently used towels to RJ Grey and drop them off in the collection bins located in our front lobby.  For more information about Household Goods, you can visit them at 530 Main Street in Acton, or view their website at householdgoods.org.


Students from 8 Gold are sponsoring a bake sale this Friday, inspired by their "In the News" question last week. The bake sale will support UNICEF's tsunami relief efforts in Indonesia, including reuniting children with their families and providing food and water to those in need.  All items at Friday's bake sale will cost $1, and there will be gluten free and nut free options available.


A quick correction from last week’s Grey Matters.  Our current Artist of the Month is Mariana Maranga - I incorrectly listed Mariana’s first name.  Apologies and congrats (again), Mariana!


Tomorrow morning, parents and guardians of 8th grade students will be getting an email from me about an upcoming assembly on October 22 that is intended to strengthen our efforts in the area of suicide prevention and education.  Along with continuing the Signs of Suicide lesson and screening in 7th grade, we are planning to include this presentation by the organization Minding Your Mind as an opportunity to remind and expand our students’ familiarity with signs and symptoms of depression and suicidal thinking, and reinforce the message that our students can help themselves or a friend by taking the simple step of taking to a responsible adult about their concerns.  When you receive the email tomorrow (8th grade parents/guardians), I would appreciate your taking a few minutes to read and review.




Finally, I want to continue to highlight for families our ongoing work to provide meaningful outdoor spaces at RJ Grey for our students and staff.  Two years ago we converted one of our inner courtyards into a space that is now the site of eight raised beds where our students have helped us plant and harvest a variety of items ranging from arugula and cherry tomatoes, to kale and carrots.  We’re continuing to find ways that our students can be involved in the garden as part of their classroom and extracurricular experiences. In addition to the garden, we are thrilled that the inner courtyard now has a “Zen Garden” that was designed and built entirely by 8 Red Science teacher Andy Thompson. Andy and I admittedly took the “if you build it, they will come approach” and hoping that teachers will bring students to this space when being outside can offer a bit of extra inspiration, or just a bit of calm, while finishing a book, starting a journal entry, or sketching a design for an art class.  Many thanks to Mr. Thompson for his vision and physical labor this summer when it came to actually clearing the shrubs, digging the trenches, and building this newest addition to our school landscape.



Have a great week, everyone.


Cheers,

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Posted by ashen  On Oct 08, 2018 at 2:04 PM
  
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