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

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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
  

Hi Everyone, 


With Halloween falling on a Thursday this year, it feels like we are finishing up an extended and super-sized weekend.  That feeling has only been compounded by what seems to be an endless stream of end-of-fall activities, sports tournaments, and that thing that I hope eventually goes away -- Daylight Savings Time (a topic for a different Grey Matters).  Our family’s version of this never ending weekend has made me realize that I’m not as spry as I used to be, though it is also possible that the stream of candy and chocolate that I continue to borrow from my kids’ trick or treating stash has played a role in my not feeling terribly healthy.  Amongst all of our activities, I also took our two younger kids to get flu shots at a clinic being hosted by their pediatrician’s office on Saturday morning. When we reached the front of a very long line, the nurse asked me for Parker and Addie’s respective ages. I looked at her, I looked at them, I looked at her again, tilted my head, mumbled some total gibberish and then said, “uh, Addie, why don’t you answer that?”  This moment elicited a whole chorus of chuckles from the rest of the patients lined up behind us, and an older gentleman saying, “welcome to the club.” If you and your kids also participated in the Halloween festivities, I hope everyone had a safe and enjoyable time - both during the day, and later on that evening. We had many students who came in a variety of playful and clever costumes for our Dress Up Day, and congratulations to 8th grade student Meghan Frye who won our friendly Halloween costume competition (photo above).  


Now that Winter is soon approaching, it is time to think about dusting off those skis and snowboards. Ski and Board Club will start Tuesday, January 7, 2020. It will run for 6 weeks on Tuesdays. If your child would like to sign up for the club,​ you can sign up online and review/download all the necessary documents by going to our school website or clicking here.  Please direct any questions to the club advisor, Lana Paone (lpaone@abschools.org).  The deadline for registration is December 6th.  


Later this week, I will be sending all families an email about the annual parent-teacher conference sessions that we offer during three dates in December and January.  That email will provide families with an overview of the conferences and some things to consider before signing up.  Similar to the last two years, one of the three conferences will be scheduled in the evening (January 9 from 5-8pm).   Our school recognizes that there are families within our community for whom mid-day conferences can present enough of a hardship and challenge that they would be unable to consider participating.  This may include parents/guardians who do not have as much flexibility with their respective work schedules, or have family responsibilities that are not easily adjusted. Our hope is that an evening conference will better accommodate and support the varied schedules that our families have to navigate.  While there will not be an early release from school on the day of the evening conferences, there will be an early release for students and staff on the following day (January 10). Shortly after my letter about the conferences families will also receive an email from us that includes a link to the form that you should complete if you wish to schedule conferences with your child’s teachers.  


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

There is
no school for all students in the District this Tuesday, November 5.  Staff will be participating in professional learning during the day.

There is also
no school for all students next Monday, November 11 as it’s Veteran’s Day.  Many thanks to those in our community who have served, and continue to serve, in our military. 

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

Thanksgiving Break
is coming up and I know that many are looking forward to that annual holiday and the opportunity to spend it with family and friends.  The end of the Fall Trimester is Wednesday, November 20th - the week before the Thanksgiving Break.  I want families to be aware of this timing so they can keep that in mind as they continue to support their students in having a strong finish to this first marking period.   


Here’s an initial and exciting Save the Date! announcement regarding our annual Junior High musical.  This year’s musical is James and the Giant Peach, and performances will be from December 5th through December 8th. The RJ Grey musical is not only a great annual event for members of our school community, but is always a wonderful event from other members of our larger Acton-Boxborough community.  Next week I’ll be sharing additional information about purchasing tickets.  


As we enter November we have another R.J. Grey Artist of the Month.  Congratulations to Nina Abroff of 8 Gold who has been selected as this month’s Artist of the Month. When Nina was asked about how she thinks she will make space in her future for art, she replied: "I would like to go to an art college, like Mass Art. Maybe for a career, I would like to do Disney character design, or graphic design, or web design. But I also want to just continue making art and drawing a lot" Congratulations to Nina and you can click here to view her art work (also on display in our school lobby).  

Finally, we had our most recent edition of Poetry Fridays at the end of last week, with a reading by Mr. Malloy of Small Kindnesses by Danusha Lameris.  This is a poem that was recently highlighted by fellow poet Naomi Shihab Nye in the New York Times with a note about how the poem feels “utterly necessary for our time -- a poem celebrating minor, automatic graciousness within a community, which can shine a penetrating light.  It’s a catalog of small encouragements, unfolding as might a child’s palm filled with shiny stones. It almost feels like another hope we remember having.” If you have an extra minute or two, I’d encourage you to read the poem by clicking here.  


Have a great week, everyone.  


Cheers, 

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Posted by ashen  On Nov 03, 2019 at 11:20 AM
  

Hi Everyone, 


Every few weeks or so, I tend to use Grey Matters as a memo about articles and studies that I’ve read or still working through, that I think may be of interest to some or many of you and speak to subjects we’ve discussed in the past.  What I’ve included below represents a pretty broad continuum of topics and information, but what I consider even more impressive is that I’ve found recent articles that don’t actually include the phrase “quid pro quo” within the body of their texts.


For our families who observe Diwali, the festival of lights, I hope any plans you had this past weekend was full of joy and celebration with friends and family.  For the past few years I have included this article in the Washington Post, written by someone who uses her family’s celebration of Diwali to reflect on the dynamics that often accompany a bicultural upbringing and formation of identity.  I share it again knowing that the experience of straddling different worlds and cultures is familiar to many of you. I am also including this recent piece, also in the Washington Post, that attempts to provide those of us less familiar with the origins and aspects of the holiday with a general primer on how Diwali has various meanings and interpretations within and amongst those who observe the holiday.  

The topic of
school start times continues to evolve at both the local and national level.  The state of 

California recently passed a law that no high school in the state can start before 8:30am (and middle schools no earlier than 8:00am), and besides an exemption for some rural communities, has given school districts three years to make the adjustment.  Unsurprisingly, this new law has been met with mixed reactions.  Closer to home, communities throughout Massachusetts continue to wrestle with this topic, and the very real complications that usually come in the form of figuring out the transportation element.  Andover, the town where I grew up, is currently embroiled in some pretty passionate debate around start times, and possible solutions that include making elementary school start times earlier so that the middle and high school start times can be later.  

In a classic case of frequency illusion where we tend to see new information or ideas “everywhere” 
after it’s been the focus of our attention, I have recently felt like all I see are articles about talking to teenagers about internet pornography.  For those still recovering from my first mention of this topic, I’m not trying to overwhelm you! Frequency illusion aside, the ongoing research and statistics that I read on this subject suggests to me that this is a topic that is receiving more attention for a reason.  Here is one of those pieces I’ve recently come across, from the Child Mind Institute, that also offers guidance to families about how to enter a conversation with your kids on this topic.  


Here’s a piece from the
New York Times that I haven’t finished reading, called “Can You Really Be Addicted to Video Games?”, which I will probably put at the top of my reading pile after a certain member of our household took advantage of a tired parent who fell asleep a bit early last night before checking to see if the kids had ended their sessions on technology.  


This piece in
Scientific American, “Social Media Has Not Destroyed a Generation” is highlighting recent studies that are pushing back against reports and previous studies that have made claims about the damaging effects of digital devices and social media usage on younger generations.  They’re making the argument that earlier studies that suggest increased use of social media has led to a rise in mental health problems (and other issues) amongst adolescents, is a case of mistakenly arguing that it’s the chicken before the egg, and not the other way around.  That piece specifically cites a 2017 article in The Atlantic written by researcher Jean Twenge, “Has the Smartphone Destroyed a Generation”, which I included in an edition of Grey Matters that year.  I will freely admit that not only did I include Twenge’s article in 2017, but I have felt that many of her ideas have resonated with my own observations in recent years about shifts in behaviors, tendencies, and challenges within adolescents.  So this recent piece in Scientific American is giving me something to think about in terms of the conclusions that I’ve held on to.  

A piece that I haven’t finished, and has a title that makes you wonder where it’s going, here’s 
this recent piece from the Boston Globe, “Why kids today are so rude -- and why a little bad behavior might sometimes be a good thing”.  While I haven’t finished this piece, I did appreciate this important reminder from the author, and an introduction to a new term that might prove helpful moving forward: “Rude kids may be everywhere, but it’s also true that complaining about the younger generation is an age-old rite of passage.  David Finkelhor, a sociology professor at the University of New Hampshire, coined the term “juvenoia” -- “the exaggerated fear of the influence of social change on youth” -- to explain the phenomenon.  


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


Halloween Dress Up Day is this Thursday and we’re looking forward to the parade of costumes that will likely enter the building.  Please remember that participation is completely optional and the rate of student (and teacher) participation is typically around 50%, so no student should feel compelled to come in a costume.  During any costume planning, please continue to help your child keep in mind that we must avoid including props that mimic weapons (swords, firearms, knives, etc.), clothing that includes profanity, and no masks (we need to see your faces!).  It’s a great tradition, and we all look forward to a fun and spirited day.  


We have scheduled a picture retake day for this Friday, November 1.  If your child ordered a photo package and you would like to retake the photo, please have your child bring in the original package on that day (and to come dressed for the re-take!).  If your student missed Picture Day earlier this year, this is also the time for him or her to have a photo taken. Even if you don’t have plans to order a photo package, it is important to have everyone’s photo taken so they will be included in this year’s yearbook.  


A friendly reminder that there is NO SCHOOL on Tuesday, November 5 for our District’s Professional Learning Day. There is also NO SCHOOL on Monday, November 11 for Veteran’s Day


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


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


Have a great week, everyone.  


Cheers, 

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Posted by ashen  On Oct 27, 2019 at 12:30 PM
  

Hi Everyone, 


Some of the best parenting advice I ever got was to use car rides as opportunities to have conversations with my kids.  There is no necessity for eye contact, and the kids are a bit more of a captive audience during that time period. When I’ve kept the dialogue pretty casual, I’ve found that they are more willing to have a back and forth conversation, and they have even initiated a few conversations themselves.  During a car ride a few weeks ago, my daughter says to me, “Dad, did you know there’s this girl at my school who is Tik Tok famous?” To which I so eloquently replied, “uh… she’s what?”. If I’m not the only parent who is late to the Tik Tok party, here is an overview from CommonSense Media of what I now understand to be a social media app that is wildly popular amongst adolescents (and recently much younger elementary-aged kids).  The super quick explanation of Tik Tok is that it’s a free social media app that lets users watch, create, and share short videos that typically involve soundtracks and lip-synching to popular songs.  Since my initial conversation with Addie, there have been more articles about the popularity of the platform and its role in youth culture, and the ways its current use has expanded and evolved from its original intent.  The New York Times has published a series of pieces on Tik Tok, including this piece from last March that offers a pretty elaborate overview of the app and its use and popularity.  More recently, the Times has published two pieces that offer fairly favorable reviews of what Tik Tok contributes in terms of celebrating creativity.  First, this piece that asked five New York Times art critics to watch pieces from Tik Tok over a 48-hour period.  And then most recently, this story about how some schools and educators are embracing the Tik Tok world, and promoting Tik Tok school clubs as a way to channel and cultivate the creative energies of their students in positive ways that build community. My purpose in sharing these last two pieces isn’t to offer an endorsement of the Tik Tok app. My own kids don’t have the app, not because of any concerns specifically about Tik Tok (as noted above, I didn’t even know what it was until recently) but instead because we’ve made the decision to limit their access to social media apps in general and so they know they not to even ask.  Like most social media apps, there’s probably a lot of great features when used thoughtfully, and likely a range of potential problems and complications that exist when used with less-than-noble intentions. My reason for mentioning this app was mostly as an FYI from one semi-clueless dad to those of you who might appreciate a heads up about something that the Shen children have confirmed as something pretty entrenched in youth culture. When I asked my older two kids to educate me on it, they did so pretty willingly and some of you may also find it to be an interesting topic of conversation for you and your kids.  


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


Halloween is a week from Thursday.  A friendly reminder that dressing in costume is optional and that not all students (or staff) participate, so each individual should feel comfortable making the choice that’s right for that student.  If your student does choose to arrive in costume, please be sure to review the expectations that I shared with families in last week’s Grey Matters


We have scheduled a picture retake day for Friday, November 1. Photos taken on the original Picture Day have not yet arrived, but we expect that they will shortly (and certainly before the retake day).  If your child ordered a photo package and you would like to retake the photo, please have your child bring in the original package on that day (and to come dressed for the re-take!).  If your student missed Picture Day earlier this year, this is also the time for him or her to have a photo taken. Even if you don’t have plans to order a photo package, it is important to have everyone’s photo taken so they will be included in this year’s yearbook.  


There is NO SCHOOL on Tuesday, November 5.  This is a Professional Day for all staff in Acton-Boxborough, so this applies to students at all grade levels.  


Several years ago, we began a small recognition program called “Everyday Leaders” as one way for us to celebrate and put a brighter spotlight on students who, in a variety of ways, demonstrates leadership through daily acts of kindness, enthusiasm, and being respectful towards peers and teachers. Twice a trimester, our teams (and each grade’s exploratory, elective, and physical education teachers) identify a student who they have observed modeling some element of good citizenship within their classes and team. Every year, the cohort of students who are identified by the teachers is incredibly diverse in terms of the qualities that are being celebrated. There are always students whose kindness and contributions present themselves in less obvious and nuanced ways.  This past Thursday, I met with our first group of Everyday Leaders for a small lunch in the main office, and enjoyed some good conversation about the start of the current school year. Congratulations to the following students who were part of this first group: Olivia Baytarian, Hazel Burke, Andy Coffey, Mahathi Hariharan, Keziah Kuriakose, Brodie Muyskens, Theresa Nintzel, Molly Norris, Molly Rabin-Marquez, Reka Schneider, and Sam Yanagimachi.  


Finally, we had our most recent installment of Poetry Fridays at the end of last weekFor those new to RJ Grey, Poetry Fridays is an activity that began seven years ago where every other Friday, a staff member or a student recites a poem during morning announcements.  This activity is led by Tim Malloy, English teacher on 8 Red. Last Friday, 8th grade student Emily Stimac read an original poem that she had written and was graciously willing to share with our school as part of Poetry Fridays.  Many thanks to Emily!  Click here if you’d like to read the poem.  


Have a great week, everyone. 


Cheers, 

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Posted by ashen  On Oct 20, 2019 at 12:44 PM
  

Hi Everyone, 


Earlier this calendar year my family moved from our home in a town close by to Acton-Boxborough, to another neighboring town.  Our decision to move was almost entirely motivated by location. Specifically, being closer in proximity to extended family that includes a few aging parents who we want to see more often, along with the plus of a better commute to work and reducing travel time to other staple activities in our family life.  While not part of the equation when we first decided to move, I have recently started thinking about two other aspects of our new address. The first is around Halloween, which is coming up in a few weeks.  While I personally have never been really into costumes and spooky-related themes, I think it’s great that Halloween gives kids a chance to be creative and playful.  At the end of this Grey Matters, please review the information I share about our school’s annual Dress Up Day that takes place on the day of Halloween. In our former home, we would answer the door a lot over the course of the evening, probably because we lived in a neighborhood of interconnected streets that was ripe for trick or treating.  I think I did a good job and contributed to a good evening for the kids (my wife thinks I could do better), and there were times when the evening felt like it would never end.  So I am curious about whether the location of our current home will be a high volume area for trick or treating.  We’re on a pretty busy road, so we will see if that increases or decreases the foot traffic on that night. The other location-related thing I’ve been thinking about is how our close proximity to one of our town’s retail areas has changed some of my morning routines.  We are a stone’s throw from several stores, restaurants, and parks and it’s been great that our kids walk and bike a lot more frequently. It’s also been a blessing and a curse to be so close to Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts, as my visits to those establishments in the morning has increased and my wallet is now a lot lighter.  However, a new development in our school cafeteria may help curtail my visits to those establishments, now that our school’s breakfast service includes hot breakfast sandwiches as part of the menu. With this new addition starting tomorrow (Tuesday), I thought it might be helpful to provide all families with a more general overview of our breakfast options through our cafeteria, and also make sure that those who are eligible for free and reduced cost school meals have information that may prove helpful. 


During every school day, breakfast and lunch service are provided to all students. The one exception is when we have an early release, and then lunch is not served.  A breakfast meal has included a choice of muffin, bagel or cereal, and starting tomorrow now includes a hot breakfast sandwich (sausage, egg & cheese). The breakfast meal comes with a choice of milk or hot chocolate, and also includes choice of fruit.  Please note that if students would like a breakfast sandwich without the meat, that can also be arranged. The cost of a breakfast is $1.75, and breakfast service is available daily from 7:30am to 8:00am.  Students who are eligible for free meals are able to receive both a breakfast and a lunch each day at no cost, and we want to make sure students know that coming for breakfast does not preclude them from the lunch service later in the day.  Students eligible for reduced cost meals are eligible to receive breakfast at a reduced rate of $.30, and lunch at a reduced rate of $.40. We know that the school day can be long, especially for students who may not have eaten something before the start of school.  We hope that this expanded breakfast service can play a role in making sure more students are starting the day with food in their stomachs and the energy that comes with it. For any family who has had questions about Food Services at AB (for any of our schools), or interested in learning more about eligibility for Free and Reduced meals, you can visit the Food Services website here, or contact Food Services Director Kirsten Nelson at knelson@abschools.org.  


I’m pleased to share that the  R.J. Grey Artist of the Month program is continuing this year.  This program was launched in February 2017, and is the brainchild of 8th grade art teacher Mrs. Vlajinac.  The goal of this program is to provide 7th and 8th Graders and opportunities to have an authentic, juried art exhibition experience similar to the process in which professional artists participate.  Since this event is supposed to mimic a real world, professional artist experience, not all students that apply will become RJG Artists of the Month. However, Ms. Vlajinac offers this important reminder to students who may have an interest in participating: “If you are not selected to be RJG Artist of the Month, DON’T STOP MAKING ART!!  If you are not selected it only means that there were a handful of people that had work that was just a bit stronger than yours…  Not being selected doesn’t mean that you are terrible at art or that we don’t like you as a person.  Quite the opposite actually!  We appreciate that you took a chance and put yourself/artwork out there. Doing that is SUPER BRAVE and you should be proud for even trying! Congratulations to this month’s Artist, Eshaan Bansal of 7 Gold.  When asked about some things that inspire the artwork he likes to make, Eshaan shared, "One thing that influences my artwork are superheroes. I have always liked superheroes and I feel like I get really connected to the story when I draw them." To view Eshaan’s work, click here, and to learn more about the RJG Artist of the Month process click here.


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


It’s a few weeks away, but a friendly reminder that there is NO SCHOOL on Tuesday, November 5 for our District’s Professional Learning Day.   There is also no school the following Monday, November 11 for Veteran’s Day.  


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


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


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


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


We do have general guidelines that we expect all students to follow when considering their outfit for the day.  Student costumes must avoid props that mimic weapons (swords, firearms, knives, etc.), and clothing that includes profanity. In addition, we must see our students’ faces throughout the day, so wearing a face mask can not be a part of a costume.  We see a restriction on face masks as a reasonable limitation to address physical safety and the fact that lessons are still being taught! There’s nothing quite like watching a teacher, often dressed in costume as well, providing instruction to a room that includes Mario, Luigi, Harry Potter, a giant bunny rabbit, and Flo the Progressive Insurance spokesperson.  I am asking our parents and guardians to please have a conversation with their children about their costume plans, and to keep the above guidelines in mind.  Halloween Dress Up Day has always been a fun opportunity for our students (and staff) to be playful and maybe showcase another side of their personality. Our students have always been thoughtful about the event and it makes for one of the more colorful days of the school year.  I’m looking forward to seeing the parade of costumes that enters RJ Grey that morning.  


Have a great week, everyone. 


Cheers, 

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Posted by ashen  On Oct 14, 2019 at 9:26 AM
  

Hi Everyone, 


I have a very clear memory of the times as an adolescent when I asked my mother for a weekly allowance.  She would have an amused look on her face and reply, “You already get an allowance, we let you live in the house, don’t we?”  And then she would add, “and you get your own room where you sneak off with the handheld television I keep in the kitchen.” Ok, so she never said the last part, though I’m starting to wonder if she ever thought it.  Before diving too deep into this subject of allowances I should, out of respect for my parents who don’t get to send all of you a weekly newsletter rebuttal, first acknowledge that while I never received a weekly allowance, my needs -- and many wants -- were certainly addressed in ways that I as an adult now fully understand and appreciate as quite generous.  This memory resurfaced recently when I came across this article in the New York Times that summarized a recent survey reporting that two-thirds of parents give their children an allowance, and that the weekly average is now up to $30.  I’m a little curious about the demographic make-up of the families who were surveyed, and I also wonder how much that figure is influenced by the fact that 4% of parents surveyed indicated that they provide a weekly allowance to their children between the ages of 22 and 25.  The idea of a weekly allowance has never been heavily discussed with my wife and kids, though there are moments when it’s tempting to revisit the idea. Those moments usually take place shortly after one or more of them mistakes a “want” for a “need” , though I also appreciate that an allowance can provide an ongoing opportunity to talk meaningfully about making choices, saving money, and being an educated consumer.  While not giving our kids an allowance isn’t something that I’ve thought too much about, I have struggled with the fact that we’ve been inconsistent with our expectations around household chores, also a subject receiving some renewed attention.  There’s a decent amount of research that supports what many might view as obvious, which is that instilling at an earlier age a sense of responsibility extends into other dimensions of their lives and according to a study highlighted in this article, also leads to happier children.  Additionally, there’s been more encouragement lately to not underestimate the long-term benefits and lifelong skills that adolescents develop through household chores, especially in terms of establishing a work ethic and mindset that is a prerequisite to comfortably navigating the responsibilities inherent in adult life.  Julie Lythcott-Haims, formerly the Dean of Admissions at Stanford, has recently explored the issue of “overparenting” and raising kids to be self-sufficient in her book, How to Raise an Adult, which I enjoyed reading this past summer and would recommend to those who are looking for a pretty easy, but thought-provoking read.  Despite my agreement with Lythcott-Haims and others, the challenge that Melisa and I have perpetually faced is that we often succumb quickly to two powerful forces: (1) the incredible stalling tactics that come so naturally to Shen children - there’s some real talent there; and (2) that with so many frenetic moments in the day and week, it’s just easier and quicker if we do this chore, or that chore, ourselves. It’s been recommended to me that having the kids responsible for their laundry is a good place to start because they would quickly experience the natural consequence of not completing that chore with a lack of clean/preferred clothes to wear.  I don’t know if the laundry is where our family will start, but I know it will be important to start with something manageable and simple, and go from there.  


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


There is no school this Wednesday as it is Yom Kippur.  Wishes for an easy fast to those of you who observe that holiday.  There will be no homework or assessments scheduled for the following day (Thursday).    

There is also
no school the following Monday, October 14 as it is the Columbus Day long weekend.  

Interim reports
for the Fall Trimester are scheduled to be sent around October 16 or 17.  I will include in next week’s Grey Matters a summary of the intent of interims and what families might expect as part of those forms.  

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


It’s only been a week since I offered some potentially jarring information about internet pornography in last Monday’s Grey Matters, and you may not feel much closer or more prepared to considering a conversation with your kids on this topic.  But perhaps it created an opening for you and other parents, friends and neighbors to compare notes and ideas about the issue?  After I sent out last week’s newsletter, a colleague who is glad that the topic is being raised reminded me that the biennial Youth Risk Behavior Survey now includes questions around adolescent use of social media and viewing of pornography.  As a reminder, the Youth Risk Behavior Survey is administered every other year to 6th grade, 8th grade and high school students throughout the area (Concord, Carlisle, Littleton, Acton, Boxborough, Groton, etc.) to gather information regarding targets for health education and supports.  Because the last survey was administered in Spring of 2018, we’re actually scheduled to have 8th grade students take the survey later this Spring, and 8th grade families will receive a separate letter about that later in the Winter. In the meantime, you could review the 2018 data by clicking here, and below are the results for four of the questions that are directly or indirectly related to the subject of internet pornography and the responses given by students in Acton-Boxborough (pages 36-40 of the report).  


(YRBS Survey taken in Spring 2018 - AB Students)

8th Grade

9th Grade

10th grade

Has looked at pornographic material in past 30 days (electronic or any other format)

17%

26%

37%

Has sent or received sexually explicit messages or photos electronically in the past year

14%

14%

20%

Has social media account(s) parents/guardians don’t know about

17%

20%

31%

Percent of youth whose parents don’t monitor their social media use

36%

51%

69%


Finally, I’m predicting that in a few short months I’ll begin my annual public lament about the bitterly cold weather that makes itself at home in New England, and how the more temperate climate in San Francisco might be a better fit for my lifestyle.  But for now, I’m looking forward to the month of October given the crisp weather and the fall foliage. It’s also when the annual Head of the Charles Regatta takes place. Having had a rower as a roommate in college, and now being married to a former competitive rower, I developed a healthy appreciation for this sport and the many rewards that rowing offers.  Because this sport has historically been associated with mostly private schools at the secondary level, I was pleasantly surprised to learn a few years ago that middle and high school students at Acton-Boxborough have access to a local rowing program that includes a team for students from both Bromfield and Acton-Boxborough (click here to learn more) The athletic programs that we have at RJ Grey are a great fit and opportunity for a lot of our students, and for others the activity that really grabs their attention might be ones like rowing, and so I wanted to make sure to highlight this additional opportunity that’s available to our students at RJ Grey.  


Have a great week, everyone. 


Cheers, 

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Posted by ashen  On Oct 06, 2019 at 5:44 PM
  

Hi Everyone, 


I am going to describe something I used to do when I myself was a middle schooler and I am not 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 am offering this somewhat awkward personal story to all of you to break the ice and in service of a more challenging parenting topic that I think, despite the discomfort that is attached, is helpful and appropriate to introduce -- and that’s 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 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 few of my own school principal anecdotes from the past couple of 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.  With that 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.  


I was originally planning on raising this topic later in the school year once newer families know me a bit better. Since half of you have kids at RJ Grey who only four months ago were students in elementary school I was also a tad nervous about making your heads implode.  I accelerated the timing of when I would raise this issue mostly because of a recent article that I came across this past week by Kate Post in the Washington Post called, “A scared parent’s guide to those awkward (but necessary) conversations about Internet porn, and is the one I plan to use to help me prepare for the conversation I am committed to having with my own kids.  I haven’t had that talk yet, I am nervous about it, but I’m going to do it and I’ve got some ideas about when and where (see below). 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. Reading the piece reaffirmed for me the value of trying to introduce to RJ Grey families this issue with a bit of humor and vulnerability, along with direct and honest information about the internet content that is a more common part of the landscape in which our kids are learning and discovering.  While this edition of Grey Matters is my first foray into raising the issue of internet porn, it was a year ago this week 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.  Last year, the inspiration was the heavy media coverage of the nomination hearings for then-Supreme Court candidate 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 am inclined to believe that the conversations I have been having with my kids on those subjects might also offer natural opportunities to introduce messaging about internet pornography and how that material might collide and conflict with our family’s ideas around respectful and healthy relationships, and appropriate expectations.  Rather than turning to my kids one night and abruptly declaring, “ok, we’re gonna talk about internet pornography for five minutes and I need you to listen,” I’m predicting that I’ll find more success (and experience less humiliation) by adding that material to conversations already underway about relationships.  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 though this week’s Grey Matters may have thrown you for a loop or been a bit jarring in terms of the subject, I’m very much hoping that it’s received by all of you with a clear sense of the good intentions and goals that motivated me to write it.  And more importantly, that the Baywatch story won’t lead to my being on the receiving end of odd looks from all of you for the rest of the year.  

 

A few announcements and reminders for the next couple of weeks: 


You will recall that we had plans to conduct our first of two annual ALICE drills two weeks ago, and then we made the decision to postpone that drill because of other priorities that developed.  We have rescheduled the ALICE drill to take place at the end of this coming week. I will be sure to send out a note to families shortly after the exercise is completed.  


A reminder to 8th grade families that Minuteman Technical High School will be visiting RJ Grey this Tuesday and Wednesday to provide students with a brief overview of the school and the application process. Because the town of Boxborough is no longer a member of the Minuteman district, there is a different process for Boxborough students and families interested in a vocational route next year.  Attending the Minuteman presentation still makes sense for Boxborough students given that it could still be the right option for them, and please stay tuned for additional details about the process and options for exploring additional vocational programs.  For any families who want to know more about Minuteman Tech, I would encourage you to email your child's counselors.  

Two calendar reminders
for this Thursday and next Wednesday  The Junior High and High School have our first Early Release day this Thursday, October 3, and staff will then participate in professional learning for the remainder of the day.  Dismissal for students is at 11:10am at the Junior High and all standard bus routes will be available at that time.  Please note that the Late Bus will not be available that day.  I would encourage families to discuss and confirm with their child plans for this early release and expectations regarding transportation and post-release activities.  Next week there will be no school on Wednesday, October 9 for Yom Kippur.   


Finally, I hope those of you who attended last week’s Back to School Night found the evening to be informative and valuable.  Congratulations to parents Becki Norris and Jennifer Spadano-Gasbarro for their election to this year’s School Council.  The level of parent and family support that we have in Acton-Boxborough is no secret, and we know that partnering with all of you is central to a successful school year.  Along with connecting with teachers by email or phone, please remember that we have a “team meeting” option that is also available to families.  Teams have, about once a week, a period where parents/guardians can schedule a 20-minute meeting to connect with their child’s team teachers.  This is an opportunity for some families to share information and concerns, and ask questions, and for teachers (and the team counselor) to do the same.  The availability of appointments usually ebbs and flows over the course of the year, so during busy periods the next available appointment is a few weeks out.  If you are interested in scheduling an appointment, you can email our Registrar Lena Jarostchuk (ljarostchuk@abschools.org) or call her at extension x3330. 


Have a great week, everyone. 


Cheers,

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Posted by ashen  On Sep 30, 2019 at 12:38 PM
  

Hi Everyone,


Last school year was our first with a later start time in the morning, having shifted from 7:30am to 8:00am. I was excited for this change, and pleased that what started as a community conversation resulted in an actual change in practice that has been good for kids on a number of levels.  However, I also shared with families last February that with a later start time, our tardiness rates that first year went in the opposite direction of what I was predicting, nearly doubling what we had the previous year.  We never came to a definitive conclusion about why we experienced such a dramatic increase, whether it was a change in traffic patterns, more complications in family schedules, or a substantial change in sleep patterns.  My hope, naively or not, is that with one year of an 8:00am start time under our collective belts, any logistical challenges that contributed to student tardiness might be less of a factor. While it’s still too early in this school year to notice any concerning patterns, it’s not too late to ask our families to work with us to make sure students more often than not get to school ahead of the morning bell so they can begin the day more grounded.  Rest assured that we know there will be times throughout the year when morning routines have hiccups - planned and unplanned - where a student might arrive late to school, and that’s life and to be expected.  The challenge and concern is when those late arrivals becomes a bit more habitual and casual. We also know the occasional absence within a given school year is also to be expected for many students.  We certainly appreciate that, besides absences for sickness, there may be times when a family needs to make plans that takes their kids out of school but we still want to emphasize that keeping those absences to a minimum is in the best interest of the students.  On the issue of absences, I want to also mention that when absences do accumulate for an individual student, we are required to send home a letter with an update about total absences for the school year.  Specifically, when a student reaches 7 absences, excused and unexcused, a letter needs to be sent to parents/guardians (with the same happening at 14 days, 21 days, etc.).  Please know that even in circumstances where we are aware of contributing factors like a long-term illness, or a combination of other things, we still need to send those letters.  While these letters can simply be seen as part of a standard notification practice, it may also offer the opportunity to connect with us about any larger challenges that may exist.  If in your home there is an increase in tardiness or absences that you see as less about logistics and potentially related to struggles or concerns with/about school, please don’t hesitate to reach out to your child’s counselor to begin a conversation about how we can work together on those issues.  


Back to School Night is this Thursday evening at 7pm (6:35pm if your child takes the Band, Chorus or String Ensemble electives and you want to meet the teachers).  Each of you will have a schedule for that evening emailed to you. We have three 7th grade parents who so far have expressed interest in the two open School Council positions, and therefore we will have ballots that evening for each of you to fill out.  If you’d also like to submit your name for the School Council election, there’s still time since the deadline is tomorrow (Monday) at noon.  As a reminder, the role of the School Council is to review and discuss various aspects of the school's activities and goals, and offer advice and guidance about different topics that may emerge during the year. The Council will meet seven times this year, on Monday evenings at 6:30pm (the first will be October 7).  If you have any interest, please submit a short (4-6 sentences max) paragraph about yourself to me by the noon deadline.  We look forward to seeing many of you there!  


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


I want to thank everyone for their patience and support last Thursday after one of our school buses was in a traffic accident that resulted in the fatality of the motorcyclist involved. An incredibly difficult situation on so many levels, and numerous people were involved in responding. In particular, the families of the athletes who were traveling on the bus were instrumental at the accident itself, along with our efforts on Friday to make sure the students were properly supported.  Because our attention was redirected to this incident, we made the decision to postpone the ALICE drill that we had originally scheduled for last Friday.  Once we identify a new window of time for this drill, I will send out a quick update to families.  


Picture Day is this Friday, September 27.  Students have or will receive an order form to bring home to their parent/guardian.  Students who plan to order photos should bring the order form (and payment) on Friday.  If your child forgets the form, don’t panic - the forms can always be submitted afterwards. Regardless of whether students order a package of photos, all students will have their photos taken so they can be included in the yearbook.  If you have any questions, please contact David Lawrence at dlawrence@abschools.org.  


An important reminder that there is NO SCHOOL on Monday, September 30 for Rosh Hashanah.  Later that week the Junior High and High School will have our first Early Release day on Thursday, October 3, and staff will then participate in professional learning for the remainder of the day.  Dismissal for students is at 11:10am at the Junior High and all standard bus routes will be available at that time.  Please note that the Late Bus will not be available that day.  I would encourage families to discuss and confirm with their child plans for this early release and expectations regarding transportation and post-release activities.  On the following week, there will be no school on Wednesday, October 9 because it is Yom Kippur, and then no school on Monday, October 14 for Columbus Day Weekend.  


Finally, as Melisa and I prepare to attend another one of my childrens’ athletic events later today (the 8th one amongst the three kids this weekend, for those who might be counting, which is probably just me), and our Junior High athletic programs are now well under way, I wanted to offer encouragement to all of us to be continually mindful of how to be a supportive and thoughtful sports parent.  There is an intensity to youth sports today that can unfortunately dilute the many benefits that would typically be a part of the experience of being on a team and participating in lively competition. On that note, I wanted to share a recent Boston Globe article about the increasing physical risks and significant growth in “overuse injuries” that result in specializing in a single sport, and often playing that sport year-round.  I share that article not in an attempt to wag my finger at anyone, and instead with the goal of offering food for thought on a trend that many of us in the community probably have witnessed or ourselves experienced.  As for what the kids are hopefully getting out of their involvement with sports, I share every year an excerpt of a letter written by the father-in-law of a good friend to the players assigned to the Little League baseball team that he was assigned to coach in the Spring of 1977.  As we enter this Fall season of sports, and many of us are standing on the sidelines tempted to coach the kids, or object to a referee’s call, I wanted to again share a portion of it in case it might offer a reminder of what we might want to place the focus: “I do not care how many games you win or lose; I hope you win at least one game so that you and your teammates can experience the satisfaction of winning as a team, but I also hope you lose one so that you will experience the shared disappointment of a team loss...The purpose of the program is to give you and your teammates an opportunity to learn something about competition, sportsmanship and team play by actually playing on a baseball team, in the belief that, if well taught, the lessons learned on the baseball field will be valuable to you as you continue to grow up.”  


Have a great week, everyone.  


Cheers,

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Posted by ashen  On Sep 22, 2019 at 11:46 AM
  
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