Grey Matters, October 4, 2020; Volume 9, Number 2 

Hi Everyone,

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Cheers, 

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

 
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