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

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Hi Everyone,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

Have a great week, everyone. 



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

Hi Everyone,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Each year I mention how members of our Main Office staff intentionally and playfully address me as “Dr. Chen” which combines two very common mistakes that are made about my name and/or how to address me in conversation and emails. You are all more than welcome to continue bestowing the title of “Dr.” upon me, but please know that it’s not one that I’ve earned through any accredited program. As for what you might call me instead? I am happy to be addressed by my first name (Andrew), and also perfectly comfortable with Mr. Shen for those who prefer to maintain some formality.  I would also like to use this moment to provide a gentle note of clarification about my last name -- Shen -- which has throughout my lifetime often been confused for Chen (with a "Ch"), another Chinese-American surname that perhaps is a bit more common and familiar to many in this area.  I bring this up annually not only as a point of information about my name, but with the intention of bringing up our school’s commitment to pronouncing all of your names correctly. If and when we cross paths and introduce ourselves (appropriately distanced, of course), I hope that you’ll provide me with some guidance if I don’t pronounce your name correctly and help me get it right.  My hope is that those interactions will be similar to the efforts that our teachers make to learn the preferences, and the correct pronunciation, of your childrens’ names.  As a school we want to promote the idea that pronouncing names correctly can be an important part of helping each person feel welcome and seen, be it here at school or anywhere else.  Last year I was sent an op-ed in TeenVogue on this very topic by artist N’Jameh Camara who encourages us to shift our language around names less familiar to us from “hard” or “difficult” to “unpracticed”.  I particularly liked this portion of her essay:  

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

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

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



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

Hi Everyone, 

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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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



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

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


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


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


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


Have a great week, everyone. 



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

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.  

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


Tryout Dates




3/25, 3/26, 3/27

2:45 - 4:30

Meet in the gym dressed to play.


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

2:45 - 4:30

Meet in the gym lobby dressed to play.


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 ([email protected]) 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. 



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 ([email protected]) 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. 



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 ([email protected]) 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. 



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 [email protected].  

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 ([email protected]) 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. 



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.  



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 [email protected]).  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.  



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 [email protected].  

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 ([email protected]) 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. 



Posted by ashen  On Dec 01, 2019 at 6:34 AM
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