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

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Hi Everyone,


Who knew that when I was a kid and my parents would often sing to me Burt Bacharach’s “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” it was to prepare me for these past few weeks, and apparently there’s more rain on the way though with slightly warmer temperatures.  While the rain has certainly been helpful for the garden and grass at our house, it wouldn’t hurt to have the sun make a guest appearance once in awhile.  I would imagine that for those families whose kids participate in an outdoor sport or activity the precipitation has been a challenge, and perhaps on occasion a bit of a gift on those days when you’re admittedly not psyched about driving to this practice, game or tournament.  This week’s Grey Matters is going to be a bit on the shorter side, though not in protest of the weather.  I’ve been working on a letter to families that is a follow up to what I shared with everyone last week after the graffiti was found in one of our bathrooms.  I admittedly don’t have enough words in my brain to produce two separate pieces this weekend. My hope is to send that note out to families early this week to provide everyone a bit of additional thinking around the work that we’re doing and what I hope families will do in support of those efforts.  One additional important note: this week is Teacher Appreciation Week. If you’re able to carve out a few minutes this week, please consider sending a note to any teachers who have developed a positive connection with your child this year, and let them know!  Thanks in advance for considering.


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


We are about to enter the final week of MCAS testing (insert cheers, streamers, and noisemakers here).  On Monday and Tuesday, 8th grade students will be completing the Math portion of the MCAS, and then 8th grade students will also be taking the Science/Technology portion of the MCAS on Wednesday.  7th grade students will then start the Math MCAS on Thursday and Friday. Students who are absent on the days they are scheduled for MCAS will be scheduled to complete those portions during a make up session the following week.  

Interim reports
for this current Spring Trimester were sent via email last Friday.  If your child received an interim from a teacher please take a moment to review the comments and feedback.  If you have any questions about those interims, please start a dialogue with your child’s teacher.

Come see RJ Grey
StageWorks’ Spring One-Act Plays, "10 Ways to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse" and "Bad Auditions by Bad Actors." Performances are Thursday, May 9th and Friday, May 10th at 7pm. Join us for a fun evening of zombie attacks, purposely bad acting, and lots of laughs. Tickets are $5 for RJ Grey Students and $8 for adults and will be sold only at the door.

A friendly reminder for families whose children participate in our
Band, Strings and Chorus programs.  The Spring concerts are coming upon us.  The Band’s Spring concert is scheduled for Wednesday, May 15 at 7pm, and the Chorus and Strings Spring concert is scheduled for Tuesday, May 22 at 7pm.  Families of Band members hopefully received clarification from Mr. Arsenault about the date of the concert.  Please stay tuned for any additional updates from your kids and/or Mr. Arsenault (band), Ms. Green (Strings) or Mr. Charig (chorus) about details for those evening festivities.  

On Friday, May 17 we will be taking the
annual 8th Grade class photo.  This is a panoramic photo that we take outside on the hill by the football field.  Order forms will be distributed to 8th grade within the next week or so. If you have any questions or need any sort of financial assistance, please contact David Lawrence at dlawrence@abschools.org.  Please know that we are very committed to never letting
finances interfere with any student’s ability to fully participate in these types of school events or “keepsakes”, and want everyone to enjoy these moments without having to think twice about potential financial impact.  

And a hearty congratulations to Ethan Li who was named Artist of the Month for this May. As a reminder, this is a  program created by RJ Grey art teacher Holly Vlajinac as an opportunity for 7th and 8th Graders to have an authentic, juried art exhibition experience similar to the process in which professional artists participate.  Ethan and his artwork were chosen for the month of May and he is posing with one of his pieces in the photo to the left.  You can view more of Ethan’s work by clicking here.  



Have a great week, everyone.


Cheers,

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Posted by ashen  On May 19, 2019 at 1:08 PM
  

Hi Everyone,


The newly released Avengers: Endgame film grossed a record-breaking $1.2 billion this past weekend, and my wife Melisa and two of our kids participated in the hype last Thursday night.  Reports from Melisa are that our youngest son had a smile plastered to his face for 95% of the movie which is unsurprising given how much of his time (and our money) he has devoted to the Avengers franchise.  I have enough of a familiarity with the storyline to understand the “big picture”, but was very appreciative of this recent Washington Post piece that provided a guide to the sequence of events that were portrayed in the previous 21 Marvel films, and the role that the many characters played at different points in time.  Knowing quite a while ago the date of this film’s release, we made sure to reserve seats at a nearby theatre a few weeks in advance. While probably a bit different in feel and flavor, that feeling of anticipation that our son Parker had for this weekend’s movie release might be comparable to some of the growing excitement that students and families are having for the Spring and the end of the school year.  As temperatures increase (hopefully soon, and above this recent stretch of wet and raw weather), and we enter the month of May, the conclusion of the school year -- and Summer vacation -- definitely starts to feel like it’s within arm’s reach. That’s especially the case this year given that we only had one snow day (hallelujah).  Our last day of school is scheduled for Wednesday, June 19 and prior to that date we still have some important teaching and learning planned, and then we will be hosting a series of annual events and activities for students to mark the conclusion of another school year.  For 8th grade families, a very brief “save the date” for the annual End-of-Year Celebration for 8th grade students.  It will be held the evening of Friday, June 14th, so mark it on your calendars.  Within the next few weeks I’ll share a bit more about the event, and also the role that families play in making it a great event to finish off the year (and one’s time at RJ Grey).  I also want to provide 7th grade families with their own “save the date” for a 7th grade social/dance that we are planning for Friday, May 31st.  Stay tuned for more details later this month.   


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


Interim reports for this current Spring Trimester will likely be sent via email towards the end of this upcoming week, or at the very beginning of the following week.  If your child receives one or more from his/her teachers and you have any questions about those interims, please start a dialogue with your child’s teacher.  


A friendly reminder for families whose children participate in our Band, Strings and Chorus programs.  The Spring concerts are coming upon us.  The Band’s Spring concert is scheduled for Wednesday, May 15 at 7pm, and the Chorus and Strings Spring concert is scheduled for Tuesday, May 21 at 7pm.  Please stay tuned for updates from your kids and/or Mr. Arsenault (band), Ms. Green (Strings) or Mr. Charig (chorus) about details for those evening festivities.  


This week we continue to take a pause on MCAS testing and then the following week we move to the Mathematics portion with 8th grade scheduled for that Monday and Tuesday, and then taking the 8th grade Science and Technology portion on Wednesday.  7th grade students will take the Math portion of the MCAS between that following Thursday and Friday. Students who are absent on days where they are scheduled to participate in MCAS testing will be scheduled for make-ups during the following week.  Here again is the MCAS schedule.  A friendly reminder to please help your child get some nourishment in the morning before they leave for school.  


I want to be sure to also acknowledge the upcoming start of Ramadan, which for our Muslim classmates, neighbors and friends will begin this year on the evening of May 5 and continue through early-June.  Thank you to the students and families who continue to find opportunities to share with us their experiences and what, for them, serves as the most important and impactful aspects of Ramadan. In previous years a number of our students who were fasting during Ramadan had conversations with teachers about options and choices for their daily lunch period.  There will be some students who are fasting who may still want to be in the cafeteria so they can spend some downtime with their friends. For students who would prefer to be in a space other than the cafeteria, our teams have started to identify some supervised rooms that can be available during lunch.


For both 7th and 8th grade students, the last part of MCAS testing falls within the first week of Ramadan (Wednesday, May 6 through May 10).  During the MCAS testing window, we often send reminders to families about the benefits of students having something to eat before they arrive to school and we also make small snacks (granola bar, etc.) available to students who might need something when they first arrive to class.  For our students who will be observing Ramadan during this time, I wanted to acknowledge that this particular testing schedule could feel a bit harder for them if they are fasting. If your student plans to fast during that week, I wanted to offer a friendly reminder and suggestion to, if possible, plan a pre-dawn meal (I believe it’s called sehri) for your child on those days in particular so they may have a bit of food in their stomachs as they begin MCAS testing later that morning.  We will continue to work with each of our teams to offer messages to our students about the choices that are available and the standing invitation to speak to us about anything they’d like us to keep in mind as they and their families continue to observe Ramadan this month.  


Starting three years ago the English Department began sponsoring a friendly contest for students who had an interest in reading an original poem during our end-of-year assembly.  We’re pleased to be including that feature again this year as part of our annual send-off event. Called, “The Final Verse”, current 8th grade students are invited to submit an original poem that speaks to one of a few possible themes (such as life lessons, memories, endings/beginnings).  One of the submitted poems will be selected and the student author will be invited to read it as part of the year-end celebration. 8th grade English teachers will share more information directly with students, and students who submit a piece must make sure to give it to their English teacher by May 21.  


Finally, this past week I met with our fifth group of Everyday Leaders, who joined me for some pizza and conversation, as the students caught me up on how the school year has gone.  Congratulations to the following students whose teachers included them in this cohort of Everyday Leaders: Kaelyn Greene, Maddy Primiano, Tanvi Sistu, Vaishnavi Murthy, Fiona Fagans, Lila Stanton, Mihir Nagarkatti, Katharine deBethencourt, Jialin Chen, and Griffin Bentley.   


Have a great week, everyone.  


Cheers,

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Posted by ashen  On Apr 28, 2019 at 1:55 PM
  

Hi Everyone,


I hope everyone had a pleasant and re-energizing April Vacation, and returning with the energy and enthusiasm to finish the school year strong.  Our family stuck around for the break and took care of a few items that we’ve been pushing off for way too long (translation: three trips to Home Depot), folded in a couple of family activities and trips to the movie theatre, and had other moments where we gave ourselves permission to do nothing at all.  Then, of course, there were the two days where xxxxxdaesaerasdfadfadfasd and asdfafadfasf alongside xcxvxcvxvasfas except for when my son turned to asdfdsfasdfasand unfortunately when he said asdfasdfasdaf, I obviously had to asdfaksdfaksdfakl. before anything else happened.  Does the visual appearance of the last sentence look all-too familiar?  I don’t include the above (fake) redactions with the goal of offering any political commentary nor to make light of a divisive issue.  Instead, it’s a quick nod to how the visual appearance of online texts that have chunks of blacked out lines and excerpts has become a bit of a shared experience for all of us, and a more commonplace aspect of American popular culture and discourse.  To be sure, the parts of a certain report that was released last week that weren’t redacted already offer plenty to consider and debate, so the blacked out portions of that document simply add to the existing drama in a way that reminds me of the scene from an episode of the Simpson’s when Chief Wiggum says with some exasperation, “what is the fascination with my forbidden closet of mystery?”  Here’s some good news, though - most articles that were published last week don’t have redacted portions, and many of them are worth reading and discussing! Here’s a couple that I came across that I thought might be worth passing along to all of you in case the subject matter resonates.  For Harry Potter aficionados, perhaps you have long been aware of how Quidditch is (and has been since 2005) a real-world game and many US colleges and universities sport competitive teams. Here’s an article about the intensity found within the Quidditch at the University of Maryland, and a separate NPR article about how the intensity and fierce competition that’s evolved on the field has led to more significant injuries - which some might argue is inevitable in a game that involves “bludgers”.  On the subject of athletics, here’s a more serious article in The Atlantic entitled, “Why Are So Many Teen Athletes Struggling with Depression?” We often (appropriately) associate athletic activities and exercise as a positive contributor to overall health and even mental health, so I read with great interest new reports suggesting that the “professionalization” of youth sports and specializing in a single sport (or even single position) at younger ages is often leading to an increased susceptibility to negative emotions, stress, and anxiety.  On the subject of anxiety, here are two separate articles, one from the Philadelphia Inquirer, and one from NPR, that both highlight recent work at Yale University that focuses on providing training to parents of children with anxiety as the key strategy to developing effective supports for the children themselves.  As one reported noted, it’s one of those “so old it’s new” ideas that acknowledges the central importance of how parents respond when their child’s anxiety presents itself, and practicing strategies that shift from approaches that might provide immediate comfort, to ones that help their children develop over time the skills to overcome challenging situations.  Finally, here’s a piece from the Washington Post that offers families some suggestions for helping their students develop more effective study skills.  Most of you likely won’t be surprised that emphasizing routines that can lead to the development of specific habits is central to a lot of the suggestions that are made.  While none of the suggestions are particularly earth-shattering, they provide some general ideas that might reinforce some goals and strategies that you’re trying to establish at home.  


Here’s some calendar-related reminders for you to keep in mind as we return from the Break:


All families in Acton-Boxborough recently received a note from the District about the rise of vaping and use of electronic cigarettes by adolescents, and the efforts both locally and nationally to provide important education to parents and guardians about this trend. One goal of that note was to provide an update about statewide efforts to address this concern, as well as invite families to attend an event in our community featuring Mary Cole, Program Coordinator for the Greater Boston Tobacco-Free Community Partnership.  This presentation will be held on Tuesday, April 30th at 7:00pm in the Junior High auditorium.  In addition Kimberly Manning, Program Coordinator at Boston Children's Hospital, will be available before the presentation with a variety of helpful vaping resources for families.


This Spring we will again be a drop-off site for the annual Spring clothing drive that benefits Open Table Food Pantry, which helps provide over 200 families each week with groceries, along with serving 200 meals and feeding 75 children each week.  The clothing drive runs from April 13 through May 13 and the donation box is stationed in the school lobby. Drop off locations for this drive can also be found at other town sites including, but limited to, the local town hall, the Acton and Boxborough town libraries, and other schools in our District.


An important reminder to families about the upcoming Challenge Success student survey that is scheduled for this coming Tuesday, April 23.  All families received a communication from the District before the break with information about the survey, including the scope and purpose.  Please also keep on your radar our District’s plans to send a separate (and related) survey to parents and guardians, also developed by Challenge Success, in an effort to capture perspectives and insights from the parent/guardian community.  Once the surveys are completed, the results will be shared with families through a variety of forms and forums, and will hopefully serve as a springboard to ongoing community-based conversations that bring together educators, parents and guardians, and other community members invested in the well-being of our students.


This week is a busy one in terms of our engagement with current 6th grade families whose children plan to join us at RJ Grey in September.  We have our Information Night scheduled for this Wednesday evening, and then we have a day (Thursday) where we offer tours to parents and guardians; and then on the following Monday, the PTSO is hosting an event where families can engage directly with current parents to discuss the transition process and the strategies, advice, and reassurances that our parents are most equipped to offer to incoming families.  If you have friends and/or neighbors who are joining the RJ Grey community for the first time this Fall, please encourage them to attend some of these programs, as we look forward to welcoming them (and their children) to our school.  


Finally, I want to acknowledge that Passover is taking place this weekend for those of you who observe that holiday, as well as a Happy Easter to families who may be gathering and/or observing that holiday.  I hope whatever activities and gatherings were part of your celebration were enjoyable and meaningful.  


Have a great week, everyone. Welcome back.


Cheers,

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Posted by ashen  On Apr 21, 2019 at 3:25 PM
  

Hi Everyone,


About six years ago a friend of mine started including me in her tradition of attending the Banff Mountain Film Festival, an event that comes to the Somerville Theatre every February.  The Banff Mountain Film Festival is an international film competition which involves an annual presentation of short films and documentaries about mountain culture, sports, and the environment and typically involves activities that lead most of us to say, “you’re doing what?!” This year, one of my favorite selections was a 6-minute film that documented 97-year old runner George Etzweiler’s annual participation in the Mount Washington Road Race, a 7.6 mile race up almost 4,700 feet, where he continually breaks his own record each year for oldest finisher.  Called, “For the Love of Mary” (click to watch), my favorite line from the film is when George notes, “I don’t keep track of my heart rate, I have a pacemaker that takes care of that.” And then there’s yours truly who yesterday decided to scrap a planned morning 4-mile run because I felt that it was a bit too windy for my liking.  With the Boston Marathon taking place a week from tomorrow, I wanted to cheer on any of our members of our community who may be preparing to run that race, and to share Mr. Etzweiler’s story as a bit of inspiration and encouragement.  


On the complete other end of things (at least from my perspective), I am highlighting here a series of recently posted articles that offered competing views of the growing world of e-sports and video gaming - a subject that we’ve explored in the past and is likely a topic of interest for a number of our families.  Here’s an op-ed piece in the New York Times by a columnist/parent who has bought into the Fortnite phenomenon, and a recent Washington Post piece that provides an update about a competitive esports league, in the Sports section, similar to the kinds of news and notes that many of us read regarding the latest updates on the Red Sox and Celtics. While still a very new phenomenon for many of us, this is a world that is becoming more commonplace and the norm for a growing population. Offering a very different perspective, this piece in the Boston Globe highlights a number of stories that suggest that Fortnite has had a damaging impact on the lives of many young people and their families - socially, physically, and emotionally.  Along with therapists and pediatricians in the area who were quoted in the Globe, a new voice that has emerged in this debate belongs to England’s very own Prince Harry who recently declared that the game should be banned.  Jus


This year’s MCAS testing begins tomorrow with 8th grade students taking the English/Language Arts portion.   We hope you will encourage your kids to get a good night’s sleep before they are scheduled for an MCAS test day.  We of course hope you encourage a good night’s sleep every night, but maybe place additional emphasis on it knowing they’ll be taking some assessments that are longer than what they typically experience.  A good breakfast always helps! If your child is absent for one of the testing dates, there are a number of make-up dates that we have already scheduled, and we will coordinate those make-ups with students.  


All families in Acton-Boxborough recently received a note from the District about the rise of vaping and use of electronic cigarettes by adolescents, and the efforts both locally and nationally to provide important education to parents and guardians about this trend. One goal of that note was to provide an update about statewide efforts to address this concern, as well as invite families to attend an event in our community featuring Mary Cole, Program Coordinator for the Greater Boston Tobacco-Free Community Partnership.  This presentation will be held on Tuesday, April 30th at 7:00pm in the Junior High auditorium.  In addition Kimberly Manning, Program Coordinator at Boston Children's Hospital, will be available before the presentation with a variety of helpful vaping resources for families.

We hope that the 8th graders who attended last Friday’s dance had a fun evening together.  Many thanks to the PTSO volunteers who made sure that everyone had plenty to eat and drink throughout the event: Tracey Estabrook, Mindy Fox, Fabienne Woolfolk, Donna McEnery, Sheila Bauer, and Mai Nguyen.  Each year when we host this school dance in April I use it as an opportunity to encourage parents and guardians to spend ten minutes listening to one of my favorite episodes of the NPR program This American Life.  First aired in October of 2011, “Middle School” includes a number of stories about this particular stage of adolescence and schooling, including a hysterical look at middle school dances. This examination was not exactly a scientific study but certainly hit on some themes and concepts that ring true for many who remember those complicated adolescent years, and certainly for those who for some reason decided to make it the setting of their professional careers.  For me the best part of the section focusing on middle school dances is when two students were describing the rules and expectations that their school articulated to them in advance of a dance, some of which were shared as written guidelines that included, “No Petting.” To which the students expressed serious confusion wondering out loud, “do people sit at dances and pet other people? That’s weird.”  If you are interested in listening to this episode, click here

Finally, April Vacation is next week
.  Please note that Friday is a full day of school.  If your travel plans involve your child missing some school we would appreciate your letting us know ahead of time so we can manage the attendance process a bit more easily.  Secondly, I wanted to continue offering a reminder and encouragement to use the vacation period to prioritize “playtime” and/or downtime for your kids. Remember, there’s no homework assigned over the vacation periods, and that’s so families can comfortably attend to other activities and interests.  


Have a great week and a nice April Vacation, everyone.


Cheers,

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Posted by ashen  On Apr 07, 2019 at 1:22 PM
  


Hi Everyone,


In 2016, Acton-Boxborough entered a partnership with Challenge Success, an organization based out of Stanford University.  Challenge Success (www.challengesuccess.org) is an organization based out of Stanford University that aims to reduce unhealthy pressures on youth and to champion a shift in how success is defined and measured in our schools and communities. They provide consultation, resources, and trainings to schools and communities who wish to pursue strategies for “creating environments that are necessary for children to mature into resilient, caring, and purposeful individuals.”  As part of this partnership with Challenge Success, all of our students in grades 6 through 12 completed the Stanford Adolescent Experience Survey in April 2016, which covered topics such as stress, homework, sleep, parental expectations, academic goals and integrity, and extracurricular commitments. The survey results provide a data set of close to 3,000 (then) current AB students and offered a starting point for wrestling with some complicated topics.  The data from that survey contributed to subsequent conversations and policy proposals about school start times and homework/workload expectations, and inspired parent/family presentations on topics such as technology and social media, resilience, and anxiety. Three years later, our District is still deeply invested in the aspects of the student experience that were highlighted in the survey, and eager to collect updated information from our students and families about the topics and issues highlighted in the survey.  With that in mind, our school district is planning to re-administer the same survey to students currently in grades 6 thru 12. This time around, the District is also planning to send a separate (but related) survey to parents and guardians, also developed by Challenge Success, in an effort to capture perspectives and insight from our parent/guardian community.  Right now plans for pushing out the survey are scheduled for the week of April 22 - which is the week after April Vacation.  Before that time, families will receive a more formal letter from Acton-Boxborough that provides families specific information about the scope and purpose of the survey, and the voluntary nature of the activity.  In advance of that more detailed letter, please know that both surveys (student and parent/guardian) are completed anonymously and you and your child’s privacy will be maintained throughout the process. Once the surveys are completed, the results will be shared with families through a variety of forms and forums, and will hopefully serve as a springboard to ongoing community-based conversations that bring together educators, parents and guardians, and other community members invested in the well-being of our students.


As we enter this Spring sports season, both at school and through community and club programs, I would encourage all of us (me included) 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.  Starting a few years ago, I have shared at the start of the Spring season 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 next season of sports, I wanted to again share a portion of it in case it might resonate with you: “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.”  


Here’s another really important reminder for current 7th grade families about the scheduling/registration process for your child’s 8th grade year.  All 7th grade families received an email that provided an overview of the online registration process, as well as a Registration Worksheet that provides instructions for how to navigate each step.  Students were also provided a paper copy of this form. Families must complete the online course registration process by this Wednesday, April 3, 2019.  Having all of this information by that deadline is necessary so we can begin the initial steps of ensuring that we have the information needed to assign the appropriate number of sections for different courses.


Here’s some updates and reminders for all of you:


Don’t forget that this Thursday, April 4 is the Junior High’s last early release day, where students are dismissed at 11:06am and staff remain to participate in professional learning.  Students will not be able to remain in the building so we ask families to plan accordingly.


Tickets are on sale in 8th grade homerooms for the upcoming spring dance which takes place this Friday April 5th from 7:00 - 9:00 PM in the gym. Tickets are $5.00 each and will not be sold at the door.  Tickets will be sold through this Thursday, April 4th.


As we still have about nine weeks of school remaining, I want to remind everyone of the Junior High’s Rise to the Challenge program, which is our way of recognizing student involvement in community service.  Students who complete 10 hours of service within the school year will be recognized for their efforts, and it’s definitely not too late to submit that information.  Please visit the community service page on our website that provides all the details for this program.  If you have any questions, please email Debbie Brookes at dbrookes@abschools.org.  

A friendly reminder to our Acton families that
Acton Town Meeting starts tomorrow - Monday, April 1 at 7pm in the High School auditorium.  Boxborough’s town meeting is scheduled for mid-May.  

Congratulations to Vaishnavi Murthy of 7 Red who was named Artist of the Month for this April. Vaishnavi and her artwork were chosen for the month of April and she is posing with one of her pieces in the photo to the right.  You can view more of Vaishnavi’s work by clicking here.  

One more week until we enter the season of MCAS testing.  This year we begin the 8th Grade English/Language Arts portion of the MCAS state assessments on Monday, April 8. Here again is a link to the RJ Grey-specific schedule for MCAS testing for April and May, and for both grades.  If your child is absent for one of the assigned testing dates, there are a number of make-up dates that we have already scheduled, and we will coordinate those make-ups with students.  As I mentioned in an earlier Grey Matters, MCAS this year will be computer-based for both 7th and 8th graders and we will continue to help students be prepared for that testing platform.


Have a great week, everyone.


Cheers,

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Posted by ashen  On Mar 31, 2019 at 1:59 PM
  

Hi Everyone,


If you dropped off your child at school last Friday morning in the lower parking lot around 7:37am, you might have been one of the innocent bystanders who witnessed a scene that would be disorienting to most anyone, one of those, “is this really happening or did someone put something in my morning coffee?”  I turned 42 this past Saturday, and as part of our Main Office’s tradition of celebrating birthdays with a bit of dramatic flare, they decided that this year would be the right time to visit me during my morning traffic duties by pulling up to the drop-off area and creating a commotion that involved balloons and streamers, some very strange music, the window-sized laminated photo shown to the right taped to both sides of the car (in color no less!), and capped off with Katy Frey and two counselors leaping out of the back of the car waving all sorts of things including, but not limited to, what I think was a cow bell - I can’t be entirely sure, I’m still trying to process everything.  For the handful who had front row seats, and for those who perhaps heard about it secondhand from your child, I wanted to offer reassurances that it is not a sign of the apocalypse or the end of days. Instead, it was another performance hatched by a great group of colleagues who share the belief that there’s no better way to celebrate a birthday than a public spectacle with a heavy dose of laughter. Through your own moments of interaction with the office staff most of you already know how great and helpful each of them are, and now you know a bit more about their humor and mischief, and one of the reasons I feel so fortunate to work at RJ Grey. That penchant for humor and mischief, however, never interferes with their ability to make the trains run on time at RJ Grey, and they are the primary reasons we’re able to operate so smoothly.  From scheduling parent conferences, to the daily attendance and dismissals, there’s an attention to detail and deadlines that, selfishly, certainly make my job infinitely easier. Right now, a good deal of their attention and energy is focused on the course registration process for our students since deadlines are coming up for 8th graders (tomorrow), and 7th graders (April 3), and I want to provide some important reminders.  Families of current 8th grade students should have completed the registration process for 9th grade courses at the High School.  Please remember that the portal closes tomorrow, March 25th at 3:30pm.  If your family is still reviewing the course recommendations, please carve out some time this evening to finalize those plans.  Families who are considering override requests should also review the additional steps and paperwork associated with that process.  


For current 7th grade families, there is still a bit of time before the registration window is closed for 8th grade, though please keep in mind that these deadlines often creep up on you pretty stealthily.  All 7th grade families received an email last week that provided an overview of the online registration process, as well as a Registration Worksheet that provides instructions for how to navigate each step.  Students were also provided a paper copy of this form. Families must complete the online course registration process by April 3, 2019.  Having all of this information by that deadline is necessary so we can begin the initial steps of ensuring that we have the information needed to assign the appropriate number of sections for different courses.  


As “veterans” now of the Junior High, I know that you appreciate how our team placement process focuses on creating teams that strive for balance and diversity in different academic and social areas, equitable class sizes, accounting for math level and world language choices, as well as scheduling for a range of services that students may require (to name a few of the dozens of variables).  While we are not able to build teams based on individual requests, we do understand that there may at times be information worth considering during the placement process. Should that be the case, you may pick up a Parent/Guardian Information Form at the Junior High main office anytime or download a copy of the form by clicking here. The Parent/Guardian Information Form for current 7th grade students is due back to the Junior High main office by April 9, 2019.  Please remember that filling out this form is not necessary nor is it expected.


I’ve got some timely updates and reminders to put in front of you, and then I spend some time reviewing the upcoming arrival of MCAS testing, which begins April 8.  


Don’t forget that Thursday, April 4 is the Junior High’s last early release day, where students are dismissed at 11:06am and staff remain to participate in professional learning.  

Our 
tryout and meeting schedule for Spring interscholastic sports - baseball, softball, and girls volleyball be viewed below. Students interested in the Spring Track program should plan to attend a meeting tomorrow - Monday, March 25 at 3:00pm in the Junior High auditorium.  At this meeting overview of the season, distribute important paperwork, and review expectations attached to the two levels of participation that are options for students.  Please remember that families must register on FamilyID for EVERY SEASONthat 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.





A friendly and important reminder that we have students at RJ Grey who have organized a drive to support Cradles to Crayons with donations of gently used or new clothing and shoes to support programs that assist families that are homeless.  They are collecting donations in the main lobby from Monday, March 25th to Friday, April 5th. Clothing should be youth sizes 0-20 or adult small and medium. Shoes, boots, sandals, and sneakers should be infant/child sizes 0-13 and adult sizes 0-10. Socks and pajamas must be brand new.


MCAS! I am sharing with everyone some thoughts about MCAS, and a good portion of it is reused from the past few years, since my/our thoughts on it haven’t really changed, along with our suggestions for how families and students should view MCAS testing relative to other aspects of the educational process.  


This year we begin the 8th Grade English/Language Arts portion of the MCAS state assessments on Monday, April 8. Here again is a link to the RJ Grey-specific schedule for MCAS testing for April and May, and for both grades.  If your child is absent for one of the testing dates, there are a number of make-up dates that we have already scheduled, and we will coordinate those make-ups with students.  As I mentioned in an earlier Grey Matters, MCAS will again be computer-based for both 7th and 8th graders and we will continue to help students be prepared for that testing platform.


At RJ Grey, we are interested in continuing to express and balance two messages to students about MCAS.  First, we hope that students take their participation in MCAS seriously, where they try their best and respond to the questions thoughtfully and to the best of their ability.  At the same time, we want students to know that how they perform on these tests does not define them as individuals, nor as students.  It’s one type of measure (given at one point in the year), and like any single assessment, can not truly capture all that there is to know (and needs to be known) about a student’s growth as a student, and all of their other talents and strengths.  


MCAS results are provided to individual families to be reviewed; and as a school, we are responsible for addressing areas of concern that the state may identify based on our results.  So we certainly pay attention to, and we prepare students for the MCAS, along with our other assessments. However, we never want students to experience anxiety or distress over the MCAS, and to know that there is much (so much) more to one’s development as a thoughtful individual than is reflected in this particular set of assessments.  Each year, I include a link to a 2014 New York Times article entitled,  “How to Get a Job at Google” (click here) that highlights Google’s approach and philosophy to recruitment and hiring, noting a de-emphasis on test scores and GPAs as a predictor for the qualities that they seek, and instead “cares about a lot of soft skills— leadership, humility, collaboration, adaptability and loving to learn and relearn. This will be true no matter where you go to work.” In a February 2015 article in the Boston Globe Magazine, a Williams College psychologist presented her ideas about how our schools’ efforts might benefit from a re-orientation of our standardized assessments around skills and qualities that, interestingly, have much overlap with the Google article.  While the author didn’t specifically make reference to Google, it was hard not to see the similarities found in her “7 Things Every Kid Should Master” (and should therefore be the focus of assessments) as she emphasized reading, collaboration, conversation, flexible thinking and use of evidence, inquiry, and well-being.  Just some food for thought as we enter this season of state assessments.  


In an effort to support students during these testing days, we hope to work with families on establishing some routines that will deliver that dual message that I describe above. We begin MCAS testing about 15 minutes after homeroom so we can provide some time to make sure that all students are in their assigned testing location.  If you have time at home, please think about making sure your child has a good breakfast before leaving home-- taking a 2 hour test on an empty stomach can be tough for some (count me as one of them).  


Have a great week, everyone.


Cheers,

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Posted by ashen  On Mar 24, 2019 at 1:17 PM
  

Hi Everyone,


A happy St. Patrick’s Day to those who celebrate the holiday in some way, shape or form.  Although our family has some healthy Irish roots by way of Melisa’s mother’s side of the family, our annual acknowledgment of the holiday tends to be fairly low-key with the occasional helping of corned beef and cabbage.  Besides our kids getting St. Patrick’s Day cards from their grandparents, the primary way any of us added a bit of green to this past weekend was when we made our first visit to the new ice cream shop in West Acton Village and I ordered a good-sized serving of pistachio ice cream.  In the interest of full disclosure, I didn’t order pistachio ice cream because of St. Patrick’s Day, it’s because it’s one of my favorite flavors.  Furthermore, this most recent order of pistachio didn’t have any green food coloring in it (which I prefer) but I had to find something that I could use to show my allegiance to this part of my wife’s family lineage and even if the pistachio part isn’t convincing, all of my in-laws are big fans of ice cream so at the very least that part of my efforts will be applauded.  In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, NPR posted this piece that summarized “seven stories of good luck” that ranged from moments of avoiding tragedy, to lottery winnings, to discovering lost treasures.  While we don’t count on luck and good fortune to play a prominent role in our scheduling process for students each year, we did find ourselves in a situation this year where the students who participated in the new Grey Block elective rotation were able to be enrolled in their first or second choices for each trimester.  While we certainly hope that this will be the case every year, a lot depends on the combination of choices that our students make each year and there may be instances where preferred choices can’t be granted. I make mention of this now because for current 7th grade students we are beginning the scheduling and registration process for the 2019-2020 school year.  This year the registration process for 7th grade families will also migrate to an online platform and be completed by families through the Parent Portal.  This Wednesday I will be sending 7th grade families an email that will outline this process and include an “RJ Grey JHS Registration Worksheet” that provides instructions and guidance for successfully navigating each step.  Paper copies of the Worksheet will also be provided to students.  Please note that families must complete the course registration on the Parent Portal by April 3, 2019.  


As part of the registration process, students will automatically be enrolled in the standard 8th grade courses (English, Science, Social Studies, Exploratory, etc.).  Where individual student choice enters this process is for your child’s aforementioned Grey Block preferences.  All students have the Grey Block period every other day and this is when students participate in either a full-year music elective (Band, Chorus, or String Orchestra) or the Grey Block Elective Rotation. Students who select Band, Chorus or String Orchestra are guaranteed a space in the program they select and they will be assigned to this course next year.  For students who choose the Grey Block Elective Rotation, they will participate in a rotation where they are enrolled in a different elective during each trimester (approximately 25 class meetings).  For each trimester, students who opt for the Elective Rotation will be presented with four (4) possible electives.  As part of the registration process, those students are asked to indicate their preferences for the electives listed within each trimester.  Similar to last year, our hope is that with three chances in a year, we will have the opportunity to schedule students into at least one of their more preferred choices.  That goal notwithstanding, students need to be prepared for the likelihood that at some point in the year they will be enrolled in an elective that was lower on their list of preferences.  We view the Grey Block electives as an opportunity for students to experience something different and new in a low-stakes and short-term setting (all classes are Pass/Fail).  For this, and other logistical reasons, please know that we cannot accommodate student/family requests for changes to elective assignments.  This includes the year-long commitment students make for Band, Chorus and Strings. We ask parents/guardians to join us in reinforcing this important message to our students.  A full description of the music electives and the Elective Rotation options will be included with Wednesday’s email letter.   


Here’s some updates and reminders for you:

IMPORTANT REMINDER FOR 8th GRADE FAMILIES
:  The Parent Portal is scheduled to open tomorrow (Monday) for families to review recommendations and submit course selections for 9th grade at the High School.  Please refer to the registration materials for additional contact and troubleshooting information.  

Report cards for the Winter Trimester
were emailed to families last Friday.  If you haven’t seen the report card, please let me know and we can produce another copy for you.  You can also try and access it through the Parent Portal.

Our 
tryout and meeting schedule for Spring interscholastic sports - baseball, softball, and girls volleyball has now been set, and can be viewed on the Athletics website.  We continue to operate under the assumption outdoor fields won’t be ready in time for the start of Spring sports - and if they are, then great. 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.


This year, our Project 351 service representatives - Biz Brooks and Marion Stuntz - will be hosting another clothing drive for Cradles to Crayons, and they’ve asked me to pass along this introduction about the upcoming drive: “Every child should be cared for and have access to clothes and all of their basic needs. Cradles to Crayons is an organization that helps accomplish this goal. You can help the over 180,000 Massachusetts children living in poverty by donating new, like new, or gently used children’s clothing, coats, and footwear. We are collecting donations in the main lobby from Monday, March 25th to Friday, April 5th. Clothing should be youth sizes 0-20 or adult small and medium. Shoes, boots, sandals, and sneakers should be infant/child sizes 0-13 and adult sizes 0-10. Socks and pajamas must be brand new. Thank you for your generosity.”


Many thanks to the World Language Department for organizing World Language week and included a reading of the poem “Bilingual” by Alma Flor Ada on Friday by 8th grade students Mariella Laria and Elisa Rivero as a special edition of Poetry Friday.  You can read the original Spanish version of the poem, as well as the English translation, by clicking here.  


Finally, I had lunch with our latest round of Everyday Leaders last Thursday and I had great conversations with both the 7th and 8th grade lunch groups. Always grateful for the chance to break bread (in this case, pizza) with them and spending a little time learning about the school through their eyes.  Congratulations to the following students who were part of this round’s Everyday Leaders group: Shannon Patrick, Jenna O’Connell, Kaitlyn Vittum, Ben Perkins, Gus Cook, William Liu, Nandini Lal, Ameryllis Porter, Paige Pittorino, and Isha Agarwal.


Have a great week, everyone.


Cheers,

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Posted by ashen  On Mar 17, 2019 at 2:59 PM
  

Hi Everyone,


The task of Springing forward and moving our clocks forward by an hour earlier today, and the subsequent “loss” of an hour this morning reminded me of a series of articles I read two years ago about some efforts to eliminate daylight savings and permanently move to the Atlantic Standard Time zone.  Here’s an article from that time about a state panel in Massachusetts that endorsed this move, and another that offered a brief history of how daylight savings came into existence.  After re-reading these articles I started to wonder if this issue has gained any momentum, and it appears that there’s a growing movement across the nation to do away with daylight savings.  Here’s an article from this past Saturday’s New York Times that highlights legislation in both California and New Hampshire on this issue, and here’s a piece in National Geographic that not only provides a great overview of the topic (accompanied by useful graphics), but also introduces us to the term “daylight savings time activist”.  Apparently there’s some folks out there that really care about this topic who consider it more than just a mere nuisance.  All this talk of calendars and schedules is quite fitting for this week’s Grey Matters given that the rest of this week’s newsletter is chock full of updates and announcements regarding upcoming events, deadlines, and programs.  Below are useful updates regarding Spring sports, High School course registration for 8th grade students, and a brief preview of this Spring’s MCAS calendar.  


First, a quick note that with our first snow day of the year (and what I personally hope is our only snow day of the year) our last day of school is, as of today, now scheduled for Wednesday, June 19.

Winter Trimester report cards
may be sent out this Friday, but may also get changed to Monday because of our snow day and depending on a few variables.  Thanks for your patience.


Our tryout and meeting schedule for Spring interscholastic sports - baseball, softball, and girls volleyball has now been set, and can be viewed below.  We are operating under the assumption that outdoor fields won’t be ready in time for the start of Spring sports - and if they are, then great.  I can confirm that students interested in the Spring Track program should plan to attend a meeting on Monday, March 25 at 3:00pm 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.



The annual March Madness basketball tournament was last Friday, and was a good deal of fun for the many students who attended. Many thanks to the parent volunteers who staffed the event and continually replenished the snack table: Tracey Estabrook, Mai Nguyen, Lisa Thermidor, Cindy Richardson, Maria Parodos, Karen Finkelman, Hope Rupley, and Kelly Sturniolo.    


Don’t forget that the RJ Grey Junior High yearbook is offering you the chance to send your love, pride and congratulations to the graduating 8th grade RJ 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 13. Please click the link for submissions guidelines and instructions. Please contact Marc Lewis (mlewis@abschools.org) with any questions.  


This year, our Project 351 service representatives - Biz Brooks and Marion Stuntz - will be hosting another clothing drive for Cradles to Crayons, and they’ve asked me to pass along this introduction about the upcoming drive: “Every child should be cared for and have access to clothes and all of their basic needs. Cradles to Crayons is an organization that helps accomplish this goal. You can help the over 180,000 Massachusetts children living in poverty by donating new, like new, or gently used children’s clothing, coats, and footwear. We are collecting donations in the main lobby from Monday, March 25th to Friday, April 5th. Clothing should be youth sizes 0-20 or adult small and medium. Shoes, boots, sandals, and sneakers should be infant/child sizes 0-13 and adult sizes 0-10. Socks and pajamas must be brand new. Thank you for your generosity.”


I mentioned last week that on Monday, March 18 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 2019-2020; 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.  


This year, we will be celebrating National World Language Week during the next five days of school (March 11 through March 15).  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 National World Language Week through morning announcements where students will be greeting the RJ Grey community in a variety of languages. At the end of the week, one 8th grade student will read a poem in English and Spanish for Poetry Friday. Monday through Thursday, students will also read a world language-oriented trivia question during morning announcements and students who would like to answer the trivia questions can pick up ballots from the World Languages teacher on their respective teams, and can enter their completed responses in the Trivia ballot box.

 


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


Have a great week, everyone.


Cheers,

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Posted by ashen  On Mar 10, 2019 at 11:31 AM
  

Hi Everyone,


Welcome to March and all that snow that didn’t really appear for most of this Winter.  Hopefully this trend won’t continue for very long and have an impact on our Spring sports season (more on that below).  Reports about tonight’s expected snowstorm suggest that there could be an impact on tomorrow’s commute and possible delays or cancellations of school.  Please note that I am not making any declarations of what could or should happen tomorrow, that’s fortunately a decision that is entirely in the hands of the Superintendent and one that none of us envy.  If the kids do have a snow day tomorrow, and you might have the opportunity or need to join them at home for the day, I wanted to offer up a few items that you may be interested in reading at some point during the day.  There’s no theme that runs through all of the pieces, it’s really a smorgasbord of things that I read and saw over the past few days, ranging from light-hearted popular culture to something that encourages healthy self-reflection by our community.  First, as we continue to (appropriately) think about the importance of sleep - for all of us at all ages - there are many ideas about how to carve out more time for sleep, and here is a Washington Post article about a recent study that argues that “catch up sleep” on weekends doesn’t repair or address the lack of sleep one might experience during the week.  For those who might be a child of the ‘80s, perhaps you’ve heard about how the 1982 hit song “Gloria” has experienced a small revival thanks to the St. Louis Blues hockey team that plays the song after each victory.  I took special note of this development given that my sister Gloria was born the year before the song came out so there were many friends and neighbors who liked to sing the song in her presence over and over (and over) again.  If you’re not familiar with the song, you can listen/watch it here.  In early February, our new Superintendent Peter Light shared his Report of Entry Findings, which includes a summary of initial impressions and questions that he’s developed about the strengths and challenges of our District based on conversations with members of our community.  I recently sent the report to members of our School Council so we can discuss it at our next meeting, and I am (re)sharing it what all of you as well. Finally, my favorite article from this past week also comes from the Washington Post about an elementary school Principal in Texas who, often in an adult-sized onesie, reads stories on Facebook Live at 7:30pm on “Tucked in Tuesdays” so her students can tune in and have another option for a bedtime story.  I immediately shared a link to the story with Conant Principal Damian Sugrue who I think is a perfect candidate for that role here at A-B.   


Here are a few updates and reminders about the next few weeks.  Please note that the second half of this week’s Grey Matters is focused on High School course registration for current 8th grade students.  I am re-printing an email that I sent to 8th grade families last Friday to make sure everyone has had a chance to review the information and links to additional resources.


The Winter Trimester closes this Tuesday. It’s likely that Winter Trimester report cards will be emailed to families on or around March 15. Please remember that report cards will be emailed to any email address currently listed in your student’s Emergency Card in the Parent Portal.   

On Friday, March 8 from 2:30 - 4:00 in the gym the student council will sponsor the sixth 
annual March Madness basketball tournament.  Students interested in forming a team needed to submit forms last week. There will also be food, music, and limbo at the event and students not competing in the tournament are welcome to attend and cheer for their classmates.  


Don’t forget that the RJ Grey Junior High yearbook is offering you the chance to send your love, pride and congratulations to the graduating 8th grade RJ 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 13. Please click the link for submissions guidelines and instructions. Please contact Marc Lewis (mlewis@abschools.org) with any questions.  


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 Team.  Please 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 Natalie Stoval of 8 Blue who has been selected as this month’s Artist of the Month. When asked about her long-term interests and how art may be involved, she replied: "When I grow up, I want to become a costume designer. I would like to work for a big movie making industry, maybe Disney. I really love fashion and drawing and think I might have a future doing that." Congratulations to Natalie and you can click here to view her art work (also on display in our school lobby).  


Ok - the focus of Grey Matters from this point on will be High School Course Registration for 8th Grade Students, and a reprint of the email letter that was sent to 8th grade families last Friday.  


Through the end of next week, our Junior High counselors will be giving presentations to 8th grade classes about course offerings and requirements at the High School, and team teachers will be making course recommendations for students.  If you’d like to review the slides that were/will be part of the presentation to your child, you can view that by clicking here (note: Slide 16 of that presentation includes a list of important dates and deadlines).  Prior to the February Break, the High School hosted an Orientation session for 8th grade families to provide an overview of the transition process, including an introduction to the new schedule that will be implemented next year.  You can view and download the materials provided at that session by clicking here.  Additionally, here is an FAQ that the High School has posted regarding the new schedule.  


Along with the above mentioned resources, 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 2019-2020; 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.  


On Monday, March 18, the portal for current 8th grade students to register for high school courses will be open.  By then, all students will have had conversations with their current 8th grade teachers about course and level recommendations.  During the conversations that takes place with a student, teachers will explain some of their observations about the student’s strengths and areas for growth, and what level placement may be most appropriate for next year.  In many of these conversations, students also share with teachers their thoughts on next year, their level of interest in the subject, and their own reflections on the progress they’ve made this year. To be sure, a teacher’s recommendation is influenced by a student’s performance thus far (trimester grades being just one measure), along with a variety of other observations about a student’s approach to the subject.  There are certainly variations that come with different areas of study. For example, English and Social Studies teachers are asked by the high school to give particular weight to writing, reading comprehension, and critical thinking. To that end, a teacher in one of those disciplines may place emphasis on a student’s growth on certain types of writing assignments, along with other factors.


In all of the subjects, teacher will often review with a student their observations about specific student skills, such as time management and self-discipline, and consistency of work.  In addition, teachers are asked to consider level placement with the hope that students will both enjoy the class and have the time to pursue other interests, including extracurricular activities. During this process, it’s important to remind ourselves that these recommendations aren’t meant to serve as a final verdict or prediction for how a student will perform for the rest of their academic lives. It’s feedback based on what a student has demonstrated this year, and using that as a guide to thinking about what a student would be prepared to take on next year.   Some students may have hit their stride this year, and for others it may be their sophomore year when all of a sudden they develop a passion for a certain subject or they figure out that whole time management puzzle.  I am confident that the high school also recognizes that things can and do change over time for adolescents and that there’s always a path for students to take that suit their interests and strengths.


For many of you, the recommendations made by the teachers may align with your own leanings, and even your child’s. If there are situations where you feel you would benefit from additional feedback from the teacher or counselor, please ask.  In addition, it’s very useful to discuss with your child what all of you might view as a healthy and appropriate course load for next year.  For example, while a student may have the ability to be successful in a number of accelerated courses, it may not be in one’s best interest to be taking them all at the same time (on top of participating in sports, and/or the school musical, and community service).  Finally, in those instances where you and your student would like to enroll in a course level that is different from the teacher recommendation, there is an “override” application process that is managed by the high school. Within the registration instructions, there is a description of the steps that the high school would like you to take to pursue those requests.  I hope this information is helpful to all of you as you navigate this process.

Have a great week, everyone.


Cheers,

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Posted by ashen  On Mar 03, 2019 at 2:40 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.  For the past few years, our family has used the February Break as an opportunity to disconnect, removing ourselves from work and school and having the good fortune to get away and enjoy warmer weather.  This year we went in a very different direction and decided to spend this entire last week moving our family from the home we’ve lived in for the past fifteen years to a new house that we recently bought in another Metrowest community.  Prior to living in the house we just left, Melisa and I were childless and living in a small apartment in Cambridge, so my previous experience with moving mostly involved a rented U-Haul and cramming sheets and bedding into the trunks of our cars.  Three kids and fifteen years of accumulating many things that I no longer remember why we needed in the first place later, this move was a bit more taxing. Fortunately, we had great movers who braved the snow and sleet on Monday (because of course it snowed on moving day), and also benefited from having a member of our family who was born for these types of projects.  During our 18 years as a couple, I’ve become a bit more accustomed to my better half’s need for items in the refrigerator to have their labels be front facing, though her need to always reload the dishwasher after I’ve done a perfectly adequate job of loading it a few minutes earlier has at times been a source of….disagreement.  However, I will be the first to acknowledge that when it comes to moving out of one home and into another one, her obsession with attention to detail and disdain for messiness was an invaluable asset.  While certainly a very different kind of move and one that is happening only after two years (at RJ Grey), 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 next week’s 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 this year will also now be online through the Parent Portal.  We’re testing things out right now and looking forward to providing everyone with instructions that will guide you through the process.  


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


The Winter Trimester closes on Tuesday, March 5 and report cards will be emailed to families on or around March 15.   


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 13. Please click the link for submissions guidelines and instructions. Please contact Marc Lewis (mlewis@abschools.org) with any questions.  


We have no scheduled early dismissals or days off of school until Thursday, April 4 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.


We recently received information from both the Town of Acton and Town of Boxborough about an essay contest sponsored by the Massachusetts Municipal Association for 8th grade students, with a focus on local government issues and civic engagement.  For information about the essay contest, click here.   


Given this week’s theme about transitions and planning for next year, I thought it would make sense to also provide families with a brief preview of RJ Grey’s plans to establish a 1:1 Chromebook environment at our school starting in September.  First, a little bit about the “what” and then a brief overview of the “why”, with plans for considerably more information throughout this Spring.  In terms of the “what” - our plans for a 1:1 Chromebook environment is one where a school-owned Chromebook is assigned to each of our students, and would travel with the students during the school day, but does not ever leave the building.  In this model, students would pick up the device in the morning during homeroom, and then would return it to the charging station at the end of the day.  As part of this approach, students are not asked to purchase the device, nor do they take them home after school. In some ways, it’s similar to the more familiar practice of assigning students a science textbook to use for the duration of the year, except of course that a science textbook can probably survive being dropped a bit more easily than a Chromebook.  While a student doesn't pay for and "own" the device, we certainly want students to treat and care for them in an appropriate manner and we’re working to develop routines and habits that assist with the safe travels of the Chromebooks throughout the school day.  To that end, I am partnering with 7 Red teachers later this Spring to pilot a few ideas for how to effectively manage the travel of these devices throughout the building, and as just one example, the mechanics of where to have students place their devices when they go to Gym or the Cafeteria.  For those of you who have kids on 7 Red, stay tuned for a separate communication from me and the team teachers when we get closer to the time when those plans are implemented.


As for a small bit of the “why,” we now have many RJ Grey teachers who are infusing technology into their classrooms in ways that enable them to enhance and adapt their instruction, and where they serve as a resource for students in ways that go well beyond mere word processing. There is an enthusiasm for the role that Chromebooks have played, and can play, that we want to cultivate and support, but is currently limited by our current model where teachers can’t reliably count on having access to Chromebooks.  Instead, they have to compete for access to the Chromebook carts that are shared amongst team teachers. Our shift to a 1:1 environment isn’t done with the expectation or goal of having students use Chromebooks in every class, throughout the day, every day of the school year. Instead, the intent is to have that particular tool more readily available if and when there is an appropriate role that it can serve in the classroom. And while we do believe there are many of those moments where technology can and will improve the student experience, there are and will still be plenty of moments within each class where Chromebooks are not in use and things like pen, paper, lab equipment and face-to-face discussions are at the heart of a lesson or activity, as they should be.  


I am predicting that within our parent/guardian community, there might be some diversity of opinion and enthusiasm about this plan and about the thinking I just shared above.  I already know that there are many of you who, upon hearing this news, will be thinking, “it’s about time.” There are also others who carry certain reservations about the role of technology in the classroom and perhaps skeptical of its overall value and benefits.  My hope is that over the course of the Spring I’ll be able to expand on our plans and reasons for this shift by providing snapshots and highlights of the ways that Chromebooks are being utilized in the classroom right now, along with updates about our preparation for next year.  


Finally, in the Grey Matters that I sent before February Vacation, I made mention of our Blue & Gold Day assembly plans for that Friday, and some of the traditions that have become a part of the event, including some form of competition amongst teachers which this year took the form of a rather lively and energetic version of musical chairs.  Congratulations to 7 Red Social Studies teacher Mr. Zeese who was victorious in his first-ever staff competition.  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.  


Have a great week, everyone.  Welcome back.


Cheers,

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Posted by ashen  On Feb 24, 2019 at 3:57 PM
  
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