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

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Hi Everyone, 


It seems that there are quite a few among us in the New England area who are closely monitoring every breath that Tom Brady takes, whether his clothing on a certain day suggests his plans for next season, and making predictions about if the GOAT returns to the Patriots.  Count me as someone who is completely disinterested in that daily (and fruitless) exercise. Instead, you can include me in what I would speculate is the larger cohort of us who are paying attention to updates and analysis regarding the coronavirus and trying my best to sift through the countless stories that are emerging each hour, and making my best effort to discern what information is useful and what precautions are appropriate, versus what might be overly dramatized commentary or speculation.  And for the sake of my immediate health, I’ve stopped conducting a daily online check of my parents’ retirement investment accounts. As for how our school district is processing the mountains of information that keep arriving, I am grateful to Superintendent Light and Assistant Superintendent Bentley for their ongoing updates to the staff and community about the guidance we are receiving from state health and education agencies.  If you haven’t already, you can read their latest updates by going to this site on the District’s website, and also return to that site as the situation evolves.  I’m also appreciative of how their communication efforts continue to include explicit reminders about how coronavirus does not target specific populations, ethnicities or races, and the stigma that many Asian American families and communities are facing as it relates to beliefs and worries related to coronavirus.  On this note, Chinatowns across the country have faced a devastating economic impact over the past two months because of this stigma and I’ll be interested to see what the foot traffic is like in Boston’s Chinatown when I go there for my haircut next week.  For the past twenty-three years, the hair on my head has been cut by only one man who I’ve loyally followed from one salon to another throughout Chinatown. Now that he is retired, this gentleman cuts my hair in the little living room of his apartment across from the Chinatown YMCA.  I actually wrote a short memoir piece about the relationship I have with this barber, my own identity development as an Asian American through the story of my hair, and bringing my oldest son to eat dim sum before many of my haircut appointments. The details are best saved for another Grey Matters, but suffice it to say that my own feeling of connection to Chinatown has strengthened over the course of my lifetime. To be sure, my visits to Chinatown with my family in the 1980s were filled with much more trepidation than any fear that some might feel I should be feeling about my visit next week given that visiting Chinatown in the 80s would often require us to walk through the (now non-existent) Combat Zone and the many adult entertainment stores and their neon signs that left little to the imagination.  For those at RJ Grey who marvel at how fast my normal walking stride is in the hallways, you can attribute some of that to the many childhood visits to Chinatown that developed in me a natural propensity for speed walking.  


Below are useful updates regarding Spring sports, reminders about High School course registration for 8th grade students, and a brief preview of this Spring’s MCAS calendar.  

The Winter Trimester ended last Friday, and grades will be entered this week, and 
Winter Trimester report cards are scheduled to be emailed to families on or around March 18th.  Please remember that report cards will be sent to all email addresses listed on a student’s Emergency Card.  

Our
tryout and meeting schedule for Spring interscholastic sports - baseball, softball, and girls volleyball has now been set, and can be viewed below.   Students interested in the Spring Track program should plan to attend a meeting on Monday, March 30 at 2:55pm in the Junior High auditorium.  At this meeting the coaches will provide an overview of the season, distribute important paperwork, and review expectations attached to the two levels of participation that I outlined in last week’s Grey Matters.  Please remember that families must register on FamilyID for EVERY SEASON that their student plans to participate in a sport. If your child already participated in a Fall or Winter sport and wishes to participate in a Spring sport, they must still register for their Spring sport on FamilyID. Additionally, all payments for spring athletic fees must be paid by CHECK and submitted to the team coach. The Athletics Department  will not be accepting electronic payments during the spring season due to technical difficulties. All information related to Athletics can be found on our school website here


Sport

Tryout Dates

Times

Location

Volleyball

3/25, 3/26, 3/27

2:45 - 4:30

Meet in the gym dressed to play.

Baseball

3/30, 3/31, 4/1, 4/2, 4/3

2:45 - 4:30

Meet in the gym lobby dressed to play.

Softball

4/1, 4/3

2:45 - 4:30

Meet in the gym lobby dressed to play.

Track & Field

Mandatory Intro Meeting: 3/30

2:55 - 4:00

JH Auditorium


A final and important reminder that the R.J. Grey Junior High yearbook is offering you the chance to send your love, pride and congratulations to the graduating 8th grade R.J. Grey student in your life.  You can purchase one of two advertisement formats to relay a message that your 8th grade student will cherish forever. Ads must be submitted by this Wednesday, March 11. Please click the link for submissions guidelines and instructions. Please contact Marc Lewis (mlewis@abschools.org) with any questions.  


I mentioned last week that on Thursday, March 19 the portal for current 8th grade students to register for high school courses will be open. Before that time, students will have met with their current teachers to discuss course recommendations for next year.  As you prepare to work with your 8th grade student on his/her/their choices for next year, please be sure to review the materials that have been made available to you and them.  Families should review all of the following documents: (1) the High School Program of Studies, which includes details about course requirements and guidelines; (2) the list of 9th grade electives for 2020-2021; and (3) directions for electronic course selections.  I would strongly recommend that all 8th grade families review the entirety of the directions - there is information about the process for override requests that must be followed should you wish to pursue that route. Please note that families who might need assistance with accessing the portal should use the high school contact information that is listed at the top of the instruction sheet.  

Finally, assuming that we don’t get any surprise snowstorms in April, we begin our MCAS testing this year on Tuesday, April 7.  Last year both 7th and 8th grade MCAS assessments were computer-based.  Rest assured that we will again be providing our students in both grades some training on how to engage with the computer-based testing platform prior to April 8.  When we get closer to the MCAS testing dates, I will be sharing more information about how we organize the testing days (and constant reminders to make sure your kids eat a good breakfast), along with some thoughts about the role MCAS should, and shouldn't, play in the academic lives of our students.  In the meantime, here is a link to the MCAS schedule for the Junior High.   If your child is absent for one of his/her testing dates, there are a number of make-up dates that we have already scheduled, and we will coordinate those make-ups with students. 


Have a great week, everyone. 


Cheers, 

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Posted by ashen  On Mar 08, 2020 at 1:23 PM
  

Hi Everyone, 


Over the February Break our family came across some bistro chairs at Marshalls/Home Goods that we thought would look good around our kitchen island. The problem was that they only had three of them left, and we needed four. So I spent the rest of the afternoon driving around Middlesex County to a number of other Home Goods, Marshalls and TJ Maxx locations to find one more of those bistro chairs - and I experienced success in Natick! The adrenaline from that victory was short-lived since we realized shortly after I got home with the chairs that we should have first measured the height of our island countertops and then would have realized that these chairs were too tall.  So the search is still on for new chairs for the kitchen. Rest assured I will not be making that same mistake when it comes to upcoming furniture purchases we have planned for RJ Grey. As part of our District’s multi-year capital improvement plan, we’re looking forward to updating student furniture in our classrooms, starting with the chairs that they sit in. Our hope is to identify chairs that offer more comfort and flexibility for students, including those students who might benefit from chairs that have a bit more give and movement for the fidgety amongst us (count me as one of them). In addition, we received helpful feedback about the importance of finding chairs that have wire baskets underneath the seat as a place to store Chromebooks when they aren’t in use.  We’ve gotten a few samples, including the two in the above photo, and ordering a few more. My hope is to find a way to get our students involved in providing feedback about each of the chairs - maybe placing them in a common space like the Library or Cafeteria and asking them to share their impressions on which ones they prefer. We are operating on a budget, so a few of the more space-age models that I have come across are fun to dream about but aren’t really available to us. Nevertheless, I still think we’ll find ourselves with chairs that improve our classroom spaces. We will probably purchase around 250-300 chairs this summer, and then continue with this effort over the next few years. For those of you who have also seen the two large screen monitors in our main lobby area where we have a running slide show of school activities and student work, we’re excited to also be installing more of those monitors in different areas of the building so we can continue to expand our ability to showcase and celebrate our students throughout the day.  


Here are a few updates and reminders about the next few weeks.  


The Winter Trimester closes on Friday, March 6 and report cards will be emailed to families on or around March 19.   


Last week the Superintendent’s Office sent all families a letter to provide an overview of the information we have regarding the coronavirus and how the situation is being monitored.  You can review that letter by clicking here


Don’t forget that the R.J. Grey Junior High yearbook is offering you the chance to send your love, pride and congratulations to the graduating 8th grade R.J. Grey student in your life.  You can purchase one of two advertisement formats to relay a message that your 8th grade student will cherish forever. Ads must be submitted by Wednesday, March 11. Please click the link for submissions guidelines and instructions. Please contact Marc Lewis (mlewis@abschools.org) with any questions.  

 

This year, we will be celebrating National World Language Week during the first week of March.  The goal is to bring awareness to the importance of foreign language study through the celebration of languages and cultures.  At RJ Grey, we will be observing NWLW on a small scale. During morning announcements students will be greeting the RJ Grey community in a variety of languages, and at the end of the week, students will read a poem for Poetry Friday. Monday through Thursday, these students will also read a trivia question and students who would like to answer the trivia questions can pick up ballots from the World Language teacher on their respective teams, and can enter their completed responses in the ballot box that will be located on the table by the main office by 1:30 (Grey Block) each day. The student with the first correct response drawn randomly from the box will win a pulsera (bracelet) that was handmade in Central America. Many thanks to the World Language Department for organizing these efforts.  


Our Spring sports season is around the corner.  We need a little bit more time to finalize the schedule for tryouts and sign ups for our Spring sports programs - Baseball, Softball, Volleyball and Track. There are still tryouts for baseball and softball, tryouts for the girls volleyball program, and track continues to be a “no-cut sport.”  In other words, any student interested in participating on the Track team is welcome to join. Those tryouts and meeting times will be up on the website in the next few weeks and we’ll include mention of it in our daily announcements. In the meantime, please note that families must register on FamilyID for EVERY SEASON that their student plans to participate in a sport. If your child already participated in a Fall or Winter sport and wishes to participate in a Spring sport, they must still register for their Spring sport on FamilyID. Also, this season payments will be made via check to your coach, as there will not be an online option to pay this Spring.  


In terms of participation in the track program, we plan to continue providing an option for students (and families) who are interested in the track program, but not prepared to commit to the full practice and meet schedule.  Not attending each practice or meet, as you can imagine, can create some challenges given the need to organize and schedule things like relays teams, practice plans, and logistics for away meets.  With this in mind, we offer students the choice to sign up for one of two options: (1) students who can commit to at least three practices per week, including all home meets, should sign up for the Blue TeamPlease note that the two non-practice days for students on the Blue Team needs to be the same from week to week.  (2) Students who wish to travel to away meets (in addition to home meets) and be eligible for relay teams and field events can sign up for the Gold Team.  Gold Team members are expected to attend all practices and all meets, without exception (unless the student is sick and absent from school).  It is entirely up to the student (and his/her family) to choose the best option that makes the most sense for him or her.  Please note that the participation fee is the same for either option. The above options will be explained to everyone at the first Track meeting (date forthcoming) so they can make an informed decision.  Remember that all important information about Spring sports can be found at our school’s Athletics page.  


As we enter March we have another RJ Grey Artist of the Month.  Congratulations to Kirthivarsha Sivakumar of 8 Red. When asked “What are some things that influence/inspire/inform the artwork you like to make?” she replied, “What inspires me to make art is nature. I like to express it’s beauty from my hand and onto the paper to show others how nature can be very beautiful. Congratulations to Kirthivarsha and you can click here to view her art work (also on display in our school lobby).  


Finally, a friendly and important reminder to 8th grade families that I sent all of them a letter last Thursday that provides a detailed overview of the 9th grade registration process.  I would encourage you to review the materials linked to the letter, and initiate a conversation with your child about plans for next year. You can access the text of the letter by clicking here


Have a great week, everyone. 


Cheers, 

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Posted by ashen  On Mar 05, 2020 at 2:46 PM
  

Hi Everyone, 


Welcome back from February Break - I hope your time last week included opportunities for a bit of rest as well as some fun activities. The Shen family didn’t do any traveling and focused on day activities locally, and found opportunities to spend time with friends.  We also had the previously-mentioned birthday sleepover that, out of respect for our daughter, will not be described in any great detail in this newsletter. While we avoided air travel during this particular vacation week, our three kids will be flying on their own out to California later this Spring to visit my sister.  Given all the recent drama around competing viewpoints regarding what is appropriate etiquette when it comes to reclining your seat on a flight, I feel a sense of illogical pressure to figure out what guidance to provide our kids for their trip to California lest they should draw the ire of the person sitting behind them.  Full disclosure, they may draw the ire of the person(s) sitting around them for other reasons and mindless habits they may bring to the 6-hour flight, especially since it will be their first time flying without either Melisa or me.  For those of you who did engage in a bit of air travel this past week, I am curious what the dialogue and/or behavior was on your respective flights given the intense spotlight that was placed upon this particular issue over the past two weeks. 


In the Grey Matters that I sent before February Vacation, I made mention of our Blue & Gold Day assembly plans for that Friday before the break, and the traditions that have become a part of the event, including performances by our students and some form of competition amongst teachers. While we were able to enjoy performances from our Band, Chorus, String Ensemble, and Cheerleading squad, the timing of the assembly went a bit sideways for a few different reasons that ultimately led us to running out of time.  This unfortunately meant that our Band and Cheerleading squad weren’t able to perform all of the pieces and routines they had practiced for this event, and for which we feel badly. Along with figuring out ways to adjust our future assemblies to avoid these timing hiccups, our hope is that there will be other opportunities for these groups to showcase their talents. A big thank you to our Student Council officers, and members of our Band, Chorus, String Ensemble, and Cheerleading squad for their performances and contributions to the event.  


Along with the annual Blue & Gold Day assembly tradition, there are two other annual events that I want to mention and preview changes that we are planning for this year: the annual Variety Show, and the End-of-Year field trips, both of which take place during the last week of each school year.  With new advisors taking on the annual Variety Show, we have decided to use this year as an opportunity to reimagine the event with an eye towards expanding participation, and incorporating some of the technology platforms that can assist us with that goal, and towards which students tend to gravitate.  Within the next few weeks, the advisors will be providing information to students about how the Variety Show will highlight short videos that students can create during the Spring and submit to the advisors for the event.  These short (and of course, school appropriate) videos can showcase a particular talent or skill, or potentially highlight a celebratory performance that a group of friends choreograph together (as just two examples).  While we hope and anticipate that the Variety Show will feature several short videos submitted by students from throughout the school, the advisors are also planning to incorporate a few live performances as well. Students should stay tuned for upcoming announcements and detailed instructions from the advisors (Mr. Lewis, Ms. Berberian and Ms. Giannetto).  


As for the End of Year field trip, the recent tradition has been that 7th grade students go to Kimball Farm, and 8th grade students go to Canobie Lake amusement park.  This year, for reasons I’ll briefly explain in a moment, our plan is for all students (7th and 8th grade) to go to Canobie Lake as a whole school.  While we have always enjoyed the options available at Kimball Farm, we’ve found that bringing 400+ students there while the facility is still open to the general public can sometimes lead to a less than ideal experience for both the students and the general public - whether it’s the lines at mini golf, or the moments of chaos at the driving range (and increased potential for injury).  I make this statement not with the intention of laying blame or criticism, but simply noting why an alternative approach may be appropriate, especially since the relatively close proximity of Kimball Farms makes it fairly accessible to many of our families on other days of the year. Canobie Lake amusement park is sized and organized in a way that can easily handle our school population, and we feel comfortable that our experiences in previous years will allow us to supervise both grades at this location.  Longer term, there is some interest from a few staff to completely reimagine this day and explore other options that might highlight a community building activity or series of events, and so I may be sharing news about that at this same time next year.  


Here’s some reminders and updates as we prepare to enter the month of March: 


The Winter Trimester closes on Friday, March 6 and report cards will be emailed to families on or around March 19.   


Don’t forget that the R.J. Grey Junior High yearbook is offering you the chance to send your love, pride and congratulations to the graduating 8th grade R.J. Grey student in your life.  You can purchase one of two advertisement formats to relay a message that your 8th grade student will cherish forever. Ads must be submitted by Wednesday, March 11. Please click the link for submissions guidelines and instructions. Please contact Marc Lewis (mlewis@abschools.org) with any questions.  


We have no scheduled early dismissals or days off of school until Thursday, April 2 when we have our next and final early release for staff professional learning.  

In the coming weeks we’ll be sharing with students and families the sign up and/or 
tryout schedule for our Spring sports programs (likely to start in late March/early April).  We will continue to have teams for baseball, softball, girls volleyball and Spring track.  Stay tuned for more information.  


Before the February Break I shared with families our plans to launch a pilot program where we schedule a few teachers to be available after school to staff a center that offers both writing support and math support.  Starting this Tuesday, we will have one writing-based teacher and one math-based teacher available on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons from 2:50pm to 3:50pm, and will take place in our school library [this means the first two sessions are on February 25 and 27]. This Tuesday, Ms. Macey (8 Green Math) and Ms. Ahl (8 Green English) will be available in the Library for students.  It is important to continue noting that this new resource is and will remain different and separate from the individual extra help that teachers offer during the week, and the teachers who staff this service would be available to any students who visit (as opposed to just their own students).   Over the first few weeks we will see if any adjustments may need to be made if we think it will improve and increase the value of this service. 


Finally, as we return from the February Break, families of our 8th grade students will soon be asked to turn their attention to plans for next year where a bit of preparation now can help make for a smooth transition later in the Fall.  During the next few weeks our 8th grade students and families will begin the process of learning about 9th grade courses at the high school. Before the February break, the High School held an orientation meeting for families of current 8th grade students, and provided an outline of the course registration process.  8th grade teachers will also begin individual conversations with students to discuss their recommendations for course and level placement. The actual registration process takes place via the Parent Portal when the portal opens in late March.  In an upcoming Grey Matters I will provide more detail and information about the above process, and offer some perspective specifically on the conversation that teachers will have with students about course and level recommendations.  For current 7th grade families whose children will be returning to RJ Grey next year for 8th grade, you’ll also be receiving information in March about course enrollment (regarding options involving Math placement, Grey Block choices, etc.) which starting last year was managed through the online Parent Portal.  Rest assured instructions will again be provided for successfully navigating that platform.  


Have a great week, everyone.  Welcome back. 


Cheers,

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Posted by ashen  On Feb 23, 2020 at 8:46 AM
  

Hi Everyone, 


Sometimes it feels like the universe has a keen sense of what’s on your mind, or a challenging or vexing situation coming up in one’s life that may require a bit of guidance and reflection, and then steers you to stories and articles that offer a bit of perspective on it.  For some, it may be a tough financial decision, a question about a career choice, a difficult family dilemma, or maybe how best to approach a hard conversation. For me, the articles that have recently been falling into my lap are all in service of a helping me brace and prepare for a complicated event that Melisa and I will be managing in about two weeks. Specifically, hosting a birthday party for our daughter that involves no fewer than a dozen 12 and 13-year old girls sleeping over our house, and where sugary items will be plentiful.  Along with ordering a Kevlar vest, aviation ground support-quality headphones, and another bottle of Tylenol, we have begun some preliminary discussions with Addie about our goasl for her and her friends to have a lot of fun and how there will be some established parameters and expectations to ensure our house doesn’t burn to the ground. As we were working through a few preparations and focusing not as much on the whole purpose of the sleepover, this piece in the New York Times appeared, a summary of finding by Lydia Denworth who wrote a book about friendships.  Entitled, How Monkeys Taught Me to Appreciate Teen Sleepovers, I was most struck by the following excerpt and the links she made to her shift in how she views requests for sleepovers: 


“after spending the last few years researching and writing a book about the science of friendship, I am looking with fresh eyes at sleepovers, video games and many of the other ways children and teenagers like to spend their time together. I’ve realized that the critical thing is exactly that: that they spend time together. One of our chief jobs as parents is to encourage them to make and maintain strong friendships. It is one of the skills they will need most in life…. What I’m really doing is giving more weight to the friendship factor in my parental decisions. Having and being a good friend counts for as much or more than the many other achievements we push our kids toward in the classroom, on the basketball court or in the orchestra. Friendship is where kids build social skills — companionship, trust, loyalty, reciprocity and reconciliation — that they can only learn from peer relationships. These are muscles they need to strengthen for adulthood.” 


If this idea of how childhood friendships serve as an important protective and developmental feature in an adolescent’s life (which, granted, may sound obvious), here’s another piece by Lydia Denworth that just appeared in The Atlantic, entitled, “The Outsize Influence of Your Middle School Friends” that examines the power and impact of friendships, or the lack thereof, at this stage of a person’s life.  So in a few weeks when the decibel level at the Shen home pushes the limits of the sound barrier, I’ll be re-centering myself with the help of what I read in these articles.  My efforts to view sleepovers with additional enthusiasm notwithstanding, I am also thinking carefully about this 2018 piece in the Washington Post, “Why Cellphones and Sleepovers are Such a Bad Mix” that offers an important caution about how cell phones at sleepovers can be an invitation to unwanted and unintended social messiness given that “sleep deprivation can lead to diminished inhibition” and letting families and kids know ahead of time that cell phones will be collected and stored together at a certain point in the evening -- specific time currently being negotiated between daughter and yours truly.  


Here are a few updates and reminders for the next few weeks: 


February Vacation begins after school this Friday, February 14. Friday is a full-day of school.  If you already know that your child will be absent on that day, please be sure to let our Main Office know so we can manage the attendance process successfully.  You can email Katy Frey at kfrey@abschools.org.  


The Winter Trimester closes on Friday, March 6 and report cards will be emailed to families about two weeks after that.  Additionally, 8th grade students and their families will begin to discuss course registration and recommendations with teachers in early/mid-March.  I’ll be sure to provide additional details about that entire process when we return from February Vacation.


Don’t forget that the R.J. Grey Junior High yearbook is offering you the chance to send your love, pride and congratulations to the graduating 8th grade R.J. Grey student in your life.  You can purchase one of two advertisement formats to relay a message that your 8th grade student will cherish forever. Ads must be submitted by Wednesday, March 11. Please click the link for submissions guidelines and instructions. Please contact Marc Lewis (mlewis@abschools.org) with any questions.  



I am pleased to share that this month’s R.J. Grey Artist of the Month is Sarthak Chitari from 8 Blue.  When Sarthak was asked why he wanted to be RJ Grey Artist of the Month, he replied: I want to be Artist of the Month because I want people to see my artwork. I want to not only get their feedback on how I can improve but if possible would like to inspire some non-artists to do art. I believe that you don’t need to have the skill to make art. You just need the vision and motivation to be able to produce art. Congratulations to Sarthak  and you can click here to view her art work (also on display in our school lobby). 


On Friday, we will enter the break by having our annual Blue & Gold Day assembly, which has traditionally served as a celebration of school spirit, and where we gather as a whole school (which only really happens a few times a year).  As usual we’ll be sure to post the best photos of the event on our Twitter feed, and it will make for a great start to the February Break.  An important reminder that there will be no homework assigned for vacation period.  We hope that everyone uses this time as an opportunity to disconnect from school and devote time to other interests.  Safe travels to those who are using the break as a chance to get away.  


Have a great week, a great February Break, everyone. 


Cheers, 

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Posted by ashen  On Feb 08, 2020 at 8:07 PM
  

Hi Everyone, 


Welcome back from Winter Break, and welcome to 2020 and another decade and perhaps one where, dare I suggest it, our kids will have to experience a sporting world where we can’t assume total domination by the local professional football franchise?  I’m not telling you what I think is going to happen, just making an innocent observation. Our family made a quick trip over the break to New York City where we saw the Broadway version of the Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief story, as well as having the good fortune of seeing Freestyle Love Supreme, which I’m not sure how best to accurately describe. It’s a show co-created by Lin Manuel Miranda of Hamilton fame that features audience participation and improvisation by the performers primarily in the form of hip hop and a whole mish-mosh of other musical and performance techniques. For a better explanation, you can read the New York Times’ story about it here.  Besides this quick trip to New York City, our family took advantage of this somewhat longer Winter Break and enjoyed a series of smaller moments and activities at home, where both Melisa and I found opportunities to connect and spend time with our kids (full disclosure: this was often in between, around, and at times in the perpetual presence of technology).  The photo to the right captures one brief moment where Addie and I bonded (I think I can use that word for this) by way of a brief boxing match that took place in our kitchen with some mock boxing gloves our kids received as a gift that I am pretty sure was a nod to their tendency to wrestle and tackle each other at various moments of the day. While I am not trying to suggest that choreographed moments of physical jousting with your child is the optimal strategy for connecting with your kids, it was one in a series of interactions that allowed Melisa and I to engage playfully with our kids this break.  If you’re leaning towards recommendations of a different kind for how to connect and communicate with your children more or differently this coming year, here is a recent article in the New York Times that offers a collection of pieces from this past year that provide a few different angles and approaches to this subject - and likely don’t involve any risk of an accidental black eyes (I think). 


An important note about next week’s two sets of parent/guardian-teacher conferences that is the result of an earlier snow day. Our set of conferences that were originally slated for December 17 is now scheduled for the afternoon of Thursday, January 9, with the same times that were originally planned for December 17. This may be a little confusing because we already had (and still have) a set of evening conferences scheduled for that same day, from 5pm to 8pm.  Those evening conferences are still on for that date and time. Because of this, I want to provide a reminder of what this means for our school schedule on Thursday and Friday.  


  1. Thursday, January 9 is now an early release day for students, where they are dismissed at 11:10am.  Parent-teacher conferences re-scheduled from December 17 will then begin shortly thereafter.  

  2. That evening of January 9, the originally-scheduled evening conferences will take place from 5pm to 8pm.  That means teachers will have a brief respite in between where we’ll be sure to feed them and give them a bit of a break!

  3. The following day, Friday, January 10, is an early release day for all students and staff.  School will be from 8:00am to 11:10am, and buses will be available for their “regular routes.”  

Here’s additional updates and reminders for the first few weeks of January, and then a bit of important information about our annual Signs of Suicide (SOS) program for 7th grade students.  


There is no school for all Acton-Boxborough students on Monday, January 20 for the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.  


The RJG Winter Band Concert is scheduled for the evening of Wednesday, January 15, and the Winter Chorus and String Ensemble Concert is scheduled for the evening of Wednesday, January 22.  Both events begin at 7pm and taking place in the RJ Grey auditorium.  


The very popular Ski and Board Club has its first session next Tuesday, January 7.  Please remember that ski and board gear can not be brought on AB buses in the morning, and that means on Tuesdays Ski and Board Club members are dropped off in the morning with quite a bit of gear.  For those of you planning to drop off kids and gear in the lower parking lot, it would be immensely helpful if the gear was organized in a way that supported a speedy drop-off.  The best case scenario is if you have those ski bags that package everything up all nice and are easy to carry. I’ll do my best to help kids with getting gear out of the trunk, and anything that you can do in advance would be much appreciated.  There are also some families who choose to drop off their child’s ski/boarding gear later in the day and bring it to the auditorium where it is stored.  


We had our latest round of Everyday Leaders take place right before Winter Break. It was great to spend some time with a number of our students and see how the year is going, and to also get some of their initial feedback on different parts of the RJ Grey experience.  Congratulations to this group of Everyday Leaders: Owen Wang - 7 Blue; Ella Nannene - 7 Gold; Jacob Tucker - 7 Green; Jonnie Lin - 7 Red; Sebastian Grad - 8 Blue; Oliver Aubain - 8 Gold; Sarah Fernandes - 8 Green; Sam Keller - 8 Red; Matthew Smarlarz - 7 Red; Greg Michaelidis - 8 Red; Sebastien Stouch - 8 Blue. 


I want to provide families with another preview of a letter that families of 7th grade students will be receiving this week by email as well as US Postal Mail, that discusses our school’s implementation of the Signs of Suicide (SOS) lesson and mental health screening tool.  Before the Winter Break, I provided an overview of our annual Signs of Suicide lesson and the Brief Screening for Adolescent Depression to students in 7th and 9th grade. The Signs of Suicide Prevention Program is a universal program for middle and high school students that has proven effective in helping students who are concerned about themselves or a friend.  It is the only school-based suicide-prevention curriculum listed by the Substance Abuse and Medical Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) in its National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices that addresses suicide risk and depression.  At RJ Grey, the program is scheduled this year to take place in 7th grade team classes during the week of January 20 and January 27, with two teams scheduled per week.  For parents and guardians who would like to preview the Signs of Suicide lesson and the video used during the lesson, we are hosting an information session on Tuesday, January 7 at 6pm in the Junior High Library.  Joining us that evening will be a program coordinator from the Riverside Trauma Center.  At that session we typically provide an overview of the program and answer questions that parents/guardians might have. Families of 7th grade students will be receiving an email letter tomorrow (Wednesday) about the SOS lesson and mental health screening tool, along with a consent form that we need parents and guardians to return by Friday, January 10th.  Families will also receive a copy of the letter via US Postal Mail on Thursday or Friday.  The consent form allows you to select your child’s level of participation in the program. 


Have a great week, everyone.  Welcome back.  


Cheers, 

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Posted by ashen  On Jan 01, 2020 at 11:30 AM
  

Hi Everyone, 


During the first set of parent/guardian-teacher conferences last week, more than a few teachers were asked for advice about how to ask their kids about school and to hear more about their day to day experiences.  Even though we are about to enter the Winter Break, I thought I’d pass along a series of questions that a colleague shared with me that others have found to be (occasionally) effective in eliciting more than an incoherent grunt.  I’ve also adapted a few of them to be phrased in ways where you might ask them over the Winter Break and more about how things went during the first few months of school. I also reiterate my suggestion that using car rides can increase the odds of experiencing a dialogue that includes some worthwhile substance.  The original document I received had more than 25 questions - I’ll list around eleven of them below. If you find a few of these questions a bit more successful than others (there are questions that may totally flop), please send them my way and I’ll re-share with everyone the ones that tended to generate some extended conversation.  And please also send your own questions that you’ve found helpful!


In order to foster empathy, curiosity, and imagination rather than achievement at school, try to get your child to talk about their experiences during the day rather than tasks completed or grades received.  Here are some suggestions for conversation starters.

What was the best thing that happened at school today (this year)? (What was the worst thing that happened at school today?)

Tell me something that made you laugh today.

Where is the coolest place at the school

How did you help somebody today (sometime this year)?

Tell me one thing that you learned today (recently/this year) that made you stop and wonder.

When were you the happiest today/this year?

Tell me something good that happened today/this year.

What word did your teacher say most today?

Who in your class do you think you could be nicer to (for the rest of the year)?

Where do you feel the most relaxed at school?

Who is the funniest person in your class? Why is that person so funny?

If you got to be the teacher tomorrow, what would you do?

We have this final week of school before the start of the Winter Break.  Here are several reminders and updates:  


The next set of parent-teacher conferences is this Tuesday, December 17.  That means that all students will again be dismissed at 11:10am.  Please be sure to confirm with your child plans and expectations for after school as they will not be able to remain in the school building


We have a full day of school on Friday, December 20, and then the Winter Break begins!  If you and your family are beginning your break a bit before that (or a lot before that), please be sure to let our front office know so we can take accurate attendance (email Katy Frey at kfrey@abschools.org).  It would also be important to have your child speak to each of their respective teachers about missed work and assignments. 


School resumes after Winter Break on Thursday, January 2 (translation: don’t send your kids to school on Wednesday, January 1 - we won’t be there! We have our final set of parent-teacher conferences scheduled for the evening of Thursday, January 9.  There will be a full day of school on that Thursday of conferences, and then a half-day of school the following day (Friday) where students are dismissed at 11:10am.  


Save the Date: The Winter Band Concert is the evening of Wednesday, January 15, and the Winter Chorus and String Ensemble Concert is the evening of Wednesday, January 22.  


We have many students participating in the Ski and Board Club when we return from the Break.  Please remember that ski and board gear can not be brought on AB buses in the morning, and that means on Tuesdays Ski and Board Club members are dropped off in the morning with quite a bit of gear.  The first session of Ski and Board Club is Tuesday, January 7. For those of you planning to drop off kids and gear in the lower parking lot, it would be immensely helpful if the gear was organized in a way that supported a speedy drop-off.  The best case scenario is if you have those ski bags that package everything up all nice and are easy to carry. Believe it or not, some of our 13-year olds throw their equipment all over the trunk before leaving the house (I know, hard to imagine), and then everyone in the parking lot gets to watch them and me get tangled up in boots, poles, and helmets.  I’ll do my best to help kids with getting gear out of the trunk, and anything that you can do in advance would be much appreciated. There are also some families who choose to drop off their child’s ski/boarding gear later in the day and bring it to the auditorium where it is stored.  


Finally, I want to provide 7th grade families with a preview of the Signs of Suicide (SOS) lesson and mental health screening tool that we now conduct annually to students in 7th and 9th grade.  Because that program is scheduled to take place in mid-January, families of 7th grade families will receive notification about it when we return from the Winter Break, and so may be helpful to provide a brief preview for all of you at this time.  The Signs of Suicide Prevention Program is a universal program for middle and high school students that has proven effective in helping students who are concerned about themselves or a friend.  It is the only school-based suicide-prevention curriculum listed by the Substance Abuse and Medical Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) in its National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices that addresses suicide risk and depression.  At RJ Grey, the program is scheduled this year to take place in 7th grade team classes during the week of January 20 and January 27, with two teams scheduled per week.  For parents and guardians who would like to preview the Signs of Suicide lesson and the video used during the lesson, we are hosting an information session on Tuesday, January 7 at 6pm in the Junior High Library.  Joining us that evening will be a staff member from the Riverside Trauma Center.  At that session we will provide an overview of the program and answer questions that parents/guardians might have. Families of 7th grade students will be receiving a letter about the SOS lesson and mental health screening tool, along with a consent form that we will need parents and guardians to return by Friday, January 10th. The consent form allows you to select your child’s level of participation in the program.  Thank you in advance for your assistance with our continued implementation of this important program.  


Have a great week, everyone.  Happy holidays and a happy new year.  


Cheers,

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Posted by ashen  On Dec 15, 2019 at 5:02 AM
  

Hi Everyone, 


I hope you all had a nice Thanksgiving Break. Our family’s plans were pretty low key with family who are close by so driving wasn’t too bad over the last few days.  In between a very filling meal and dessert on Thursday, a few of us played the updated version of the board game Life, where Melisa and I discovered that in the board game version of your life, you actually get rewarded with money when you have more children.  While we have always felt that having children has enriched our lives, our actual experiences with kids and the size of our bank account has been a bit different than what the board game has offered.  Whether it was in the form of a board game, or a different activity, or maybe just some rest and relaxation, I hope everyone is returning to work and school a bit more refreshed and ready for December.  Based on current weather reports, our return to school tomorrow (Monday) may be affected and/or delayed - and Tuesday’s up in the air too. An important and friendly reminder that any changes in the school schedule, such as a delayed start or a snow day, will be communicated via an automated phone call to home and/or cell phones (and also posted on news sites).  


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 12.  Families who requested conferences have received an email 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 12 and December 17.  A reminder to all families that for the December 12 and December 17 conferences, all students will be dismissed early at 11:10am.  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).  


Every year, the PTSO organizes a staff appreciation luncheon that is held during the second set of parent-teacher conferences (which is on December 17).  Many thanks to the PTSO organizers and the volunteers who contribute to this event with food, drink and supply donations, as well as volunteering to staff the event. Stay tuned for more details and messaging from the PTSO.  


Starting this week thru December 13, 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 the toys will be donated to families in Acton, Boxborough, and other surrounding towns.  If you have any questions, you can email Gabrielle Berberian at gberberian@abschools.org.  


James and the Giant Peach is here! Five performances are scheduled for Thursday, December 5 (7pm), Friday, December 6 (7pm), Saturday, December 7 (2pm and 7pm), and Sunday, December 8 (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 (Ryan Leo, William Wu, Josie Hanlon, Advikar Ananthkumar, and Miller Lillie).  Along with great performances (as usual) by students in our Band, Chorus and Strings programs, our assembly also featured speeches by two students who submitted entries for this year’s speech competition.  Many thanks to Seth Rosenman and Vaishnavi Murthy for their heartfelt words and reflections.  


Fall Trimester report cards will be emailed to parents and guardians at the end of this week. 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 card, 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 01, 2019 at 6:34 AM
  

Hi Everyone, 


With Thanksgiving on Thursday, we have a shortened week with an early release on Wednesday (dismissal is at 11:10 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 (eight 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 2018 article in the Washington Post that addresses five myths about preparing turkey on Thanksgiving, and this New York Times article from last week about the recent trend of Chinese barbecue-style turkeys that are keeping shops and restaurants in Chinatowns across the country busy in November].  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: 


The Fall Trimester closed last Wednesday, November 20th.  Report cards will likely be sent to families around December 6 -more on that when we return from 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.  


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 and updated physical form has been submitted and reviewed by our school nurse.  


Five performances of James and the Giant Peach are scheduled for the week of December 3rd, specifically on Thursday, December 5 (7pm), Friday, December 6 (7pm), Saturday, December 7 (2pm and 7pm), and Sunday, December 8 (2pm).  Tickets are $15 and available in the Junior High Main Office.  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. 


We hope all of you are able to use this upcoming holiday period as an opportunity to enjoy time with family and friends, be it in the form of leisure and social activities, or simply quality time with each other.  We look forward to seeing everyone back next Monday.  


Have a great week and a great Thanksgiving, everyone. 


Cheers,

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Posted by ashen  On Nov 24, 2019 at 9:28 AM
  

Hi Everyone, 


By December of each year, my outfit for managing morning drop-offs in the lower parking lot typically includes heavy duty boots and snowpants to accompany the hat and gloves that have already made an appearance in November.  Last week’s blast of cold air probably warranted a clothing timeline adjustment on my part, but I felt like I should hold out purely on principle, and probably fell victim to choosing fashion over function. Those windy mornings last week were not that enjoyable. So I empathize, though still don’t necessarily agree, with our students who are still wanting to come to school in just shorts and/or a t-shirt!  Small correction - our students and all three of my own children who were, until a recent and unpopular Shen family summit, amongst the worst offenders. And yet, even with clarification of what constitutes appropriate winter attire fresh in their minds, I found myself having to explain to one of them last night why leaving the house in sandals and no socks was not an option.  While I have an inkling that children under 18 have access to a self-generating source of body heat that goes away with aging, I still have a hard time seeing kids enter the school in shorts and t-shirts. I know we all have to pick and choose what battles we fight, and with afternoon temps still a bit higher that might give each of us a psychological escape hatch to not fight about this issue with them quite yet.  However, as we inch closer to more consistent winter weather, and temperatures that go even lower, please consider exercising your parental veto powers in terms of what layers of clothing are worn to school each day.  Since I’ve recently tried to pay a bit more attention to clothing choices this past week, I’ve also noticed that ripped jeans seems to be making a return to wardrobes and serving as a reminder of how fashion trends often reappear 20-30 years later.  So don’t be shocked when I start coming to RJ Grey in all of the oversized flannel shirts that I bought in 1993.  


Here are some updates and reminder for this week: 


Another reminder that the Fall Trimester closes this Wednesday, November 20th.  Report cards will likely be sent to families around December 6 -more on that when we get closer to that date.  


Thanksgiving is November 28th this year.  We will have school on Wednesday the 27th with an early release at 11:10am.  


A note to 8th grade families that I will be sending them an email tomorrow (Monday) introducing an upcoming assembly with Minding Your Mind, a national organization that provides mental health education to adolescents, parents, and educators.  


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 and updated physical form has been submitted and reviewed by our school nurse.  


The annual RJ Grey musical is just around the corner! The students are working hard on this year’s production of James and the Giant Peach 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 5 (7pm), Friday, December 6 (7pm), Saturday, December 7 (2pm and 7pm), and Sunday, December 8 (2pm).  Tickets are $15 and will be available in the Junior High Main Office starting Monday, November 18ABSAF 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. 


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


Have a great week, everyone. 


Cheers,

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Posted by ashen  On Nov 17, 2019 at 7:36 AM
  

Hi Everyone, 


I had a great meeting last Thursday after school with about twenty of our teachers who are participating in a discussion group focusing on “The Behavior Code”, a book by Jessica Minahan.  Jessica is a board-certified behavior analyst (BCBA) and consultant who specializes in training educators to work more effectively with students who struggle with a continuum of challenges, including anxiety disorders and a range of other social and emotional needs.  Recent studies have found that 30% of kids ages 13 to 18 have been diagnosed with anxiety disorders, and 11% suffer from depression. These statistics are not surprising to those of us in Acton Boxborough given the shifts and trends we have observed within our own student population.  Our teachers are facing new and more frequent situations where anxiety is a significant factor in the learning profiles and needs of students in their classrooms, and where more traditional behavioral and motivational strategies are not effective. With that in mind, the Junior High is dedicating almost half of its professional learning time this year to training that improves our shared understanding around the different ways anxiety can shape a student’s school experience, and develop teaching strategies that can improve engagement, comfort, and improved learning in all of our classrooms.  It’s an ambitious and important goal that we’ve set, and will require our attention and commitment beyond this year. What is exciting about our work this year is that it’s aided by Jessica Minahan herself. We’ve arranged for Jessica to work with our entire staff (teachers, classroom assistants, administrators, counselors, etc.) in both the Fall and Spring, and with a smaller group of specialized staff over the course of the year. I already see ways that conversations amongst teachers and teams are gradually shifting, and looking forward to our school’s collective skill set in this area evolving over time.  I wanted to highlight this feature of our school’s professional learning goals because I know many families, including my own, also find themselves at home devoting a fair bit of energy and planning to supporting their kids around anxiety and its impact on different facets of their daily living. For those who might be attending a team meeting this year, you may hear ideas and questions that reflect these efforts, and strategies that we’re working on. While The Behavior Code is written with an educator audience in mind, parents and guardians who are invested in the topic may find it interesting.  However, please don’t feel like you need order this text right away - while I’m excited that she’s working with us, I’m not trying to peddle her book.  Instead, there are several articles, blog entries from the Huffington Post, and audio recordings of Jessica Minahan from radio interviews that you can access from her website.  I’ve read several of them, and they offer plenty of ideas and strategies to consider, and the language and concepts that we’re learning at RJ Grey.  These articles can offer you a snapshot of the conversations we are having at RJ Grey, and ideas for you to consider at home.   


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


The Fall Trimester closes on Wednesday, November 20th.  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 27 with dismissal at 11:10, and then we return to school the following Monday, December 2nd. 


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 is NOW POSTED on the RJ Grey Athletics page with start dates planned for shortly after the Thanksgiving Break. You can view the tryout schedule and review the registration process on the Athletics page of our website. 


The Green Team Club is hosting a Terracycle recycling program for used hygiene products such as deodorant, floss and mouthwash containers, toothpaste tubes and toothbrushes.  The recycling box will be located outside the 7th grade office starting on November 12.  Would  you please help us keep these plastics out of landfills and oceans?  For more info and more products you can bring and drop of, check the Green Team website.  


FYI - our Food Services Department is running a friendly competition this Wednesday.  Students who purchase a school lunch will be able to submit a guess for how many steps it takes to burn off a hamburger?  A Fitbit Alta HR will be awarded to the student with the winning answer.  


Last week all families should have received an email with instructions on how to sign up for the annual parent-teacher conferences.  As I mentioned last week, one of the three conferences will be scheduled in the evening (January 9 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 James and the Giant Peach 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 5 (7pm), Friday, 

December 6 (7pm), Saturday, December 7 (2pm and 7pm), and Sunday, December 8 (2pm).  Tickets are $15 and will be available in the Junior High Main Office starting Monday, November 18ABSAF 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.


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, 2019 at 6:55 AM
  
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