Grey Matters, October 25, 2020; Volume 9, Number 3 

Hi Everyone,

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


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


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

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


Here’s an announcement for 8th grade families interested in Minuteman High SchoolAre you the parent of a student who might want to attend Minuteman High School? Learn about our 19 career and technical education majors -- ranging from Automotive Technology and Electrical Wiring to Engineering and Biotechnology to Horticulture and Health Assisting. By joining a virtual parent info session, you will hear from some of our current parents and the experience they and their children have had while attending Minuteman. Join our virtual parent information session on the following dates to learn more: Thursday, November 5 at 7 pm (https://zoom.us/j/92754102549), or Wednesday, November 18, at 7:00 PM (https://zoom.us/j/92373137761

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

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

 

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


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

 

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


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


Have a great week, everyone. 


Cheers, 

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

 
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