Sunday, December 11, 2016

To Be "Well"

ABRHS Weekly Wellness board in the Fitness Center

I've been thinking a lot about what it means to be "well." In a rapidly changing world, how do we preserve mindfulness, wellness, and health? Our adolescents face a barrage of images, ideas, and opinions through social media each day. How do we reconcile the pace of the global information age with helping our students to be in the moment?

We began our professional learning focus on mental health, wellness, and learning in the fall of 2013. Our initial work was centered on a school-wide guiding question: How do we put our students' wellbeing at the center of our community while maintaining our academic standards? While we have evolved this work over time, our students' wellness remains at the center. 

In response to students' voices through a combination of our own survey data and information we gleaned from Harvard's Making Caring Common survey and now Stanford's Challenge Success, our high school's Wellness and Advisory committee continues to evolve and improve our extended Advisory Community Building and Anti-Bullying curriculum. We will begin these lessons in Advisory after the new year. One lesson is dedicated solely to mindfulness. We now have the therapy dogs into school once each month, due to the overwhelming response that students and staff find the dogs to be helpful in encouraging relaxation and stress management. (I can attest to this having a chocolate lab at home.)

Cassius, honorary therapy dog

I recently asked our K-12 Physical Education and Health department leader, David James, to share with me his department's perspective on student wellness. In both a required 9th grade class and in a choice upper level elective class, students learn about self-esteem, time management, stress management, nutrition, understanding sleep cycles and the importance of sleep, and education about healthy teen relationships and the dangers of teen dating violence.

Lessons also include yoga and meditation, progressive muscle relaxation techniques (PMR), and mindfulness activities with positive affirmations and visualization of goals. If you work out in our fitness center, then you see a board titled "Weekly Wellness" on one of the walls. The board was started with student support, and it includes monthly health topics, articles, and local road races and volunteer opportunities to encourage lifetime wellness. 

This year, I charged both our faculty Wellness Committee and our student-led Wellness Club (new this year and co-advised by associate principal Beth Baker and science teacher Katelyn Saaristo) with this to consider: How do we infuse wellness strategies into the school day? If someone walked into the doors of A-B, how would s/he know that we value wellness here? What would that look and feel like? There are of course the structures (schedule, homework and assessment practices) that we are considering through our Challenge Success partnership. But I also think about the physical look of our school spaces and the larger culture, including the ways we relate to each other everyday. I'm asking for their good thinking, staff and students alike, as we continue to put our students' wellness at the center of our work together.

Challenge Success Update
Our district's PK-12 monthly Challenge Success newsletter, titled Expanding Our Notion of Success focuses on fostering resilience in our students. According to the Harvard Center on the Developing Child, "the essence of resilience is a positive, adaptive response in the face of significant adversity." I hope you will take a few moments to explore the articles and resources contained in this newsletter. We will keep you updated on the high school's progress to expanding our notion of success in the coming weeks.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

A Season of Thanks

ABRHS Ambassadors visiting 9th Grade Advisory Students

As I reflect on the challenging fall we've had at the high school this year, I also feel many reasons to be deeply grateful. 

This morning, our Ambassadors visited 9th grade Advisories to build connections and community and to facilitate conversations about their experiences at A-B. The 9th grade class has been especially on my heart these past few weeks. While their feedback during our Advisory "check in" activity tended to be less about the experience of our student deaths and more about understanding the high school (Why can't we play wall ball outside during lunch? Why don't 9th graders have free periods?), I am sensitive to their possible wonders about what their high school experience will be like going forward. We continue to look for ways both formally and informally to connect with them and help them to feel at home in our school community.  

Tomorrow marks the first "official" senior activity of the year: Senior Dress Up Day. Staff volunteers decorate the upper gym, put together a breakfast for seniors, and judge the annual costume contest. I had one senior ask me recently, "Is it okay that we are having a fun event after what happened this fall?" The answer from me, and from the clinicians with whom we have consulted along the way, is yes. Our seniors do need to be able to have happy moments together and to feel a sense of unity as a class. We hope for a spirited, uplifting event, and we are grateful for the leaders in the senior class who have helped in large and small ways to bring the class together.

We did take some time last week to connect back with students during Advisory and answer some of the frequently asked questions as a result of our check-in activity. Particularly for 12th and 11th graders, there remained questions and comments about workload, why we didn't hold assemblies, and how decisions are made during a crisis. We also shared with students ways in which their voices can be heard regarding school-wide policies, practices, and events, and we hope they will take advantage of those ways to positively contribute to our larger school culture.

Our last few weeks also brought some wonderful events to our community, including a truly magical production of Mary Poppins, another remarkable Cabaret performance, and a successful fall athletic season.  We are grateful to ABRHS teachers, coaches, parents, and students who collaborate to make our fall events successful and bring us together.

I wish for all of you a relaxing, healthy, and happy holiday week with those you love. Thank you to the many community members who continue to show your support and care for our staff, students, and families. Looking forward to seeing those of you who will be at the game Thursday morning. Go Colonials!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

A-B Students Honor Our Veterans and Your Role in Expanding our Notion of Success

A-B Students Honor Our Veterans

It was a privilege to see approximately 160 of our A-B students honoring area veterans on Friday at the annual Veteran's Day Breakfast at the Boxborough Holiday Inn. Students not only served breakfast, sang, and performed music, but most importantly, they talked with veterans about their lives and experiences. This has become one of our most meaningful traditions at A-B, with diverse groups of students coming together for a memorable morning.

We are grateful to Social Studies teacher and National Honor Society co-advisor Mary Price Maddox, who leads the event each year. It is a rich experience of learning, caring, and honoring for all involved.

Your Role in Expanding our Notion of Success
Recently, there has been a considerable amount of discussion in the community about stress and academic pressure at A-B. Last week, we had an opportunity to come together for a community learning experience about the roles we all play in helping our students to have healthier, more balanced lives. 

Dr. Denise Pope, Challenge Success

Dr. Denise Pope from Stanford University's Challenge Success met with our entire PK-12 staff on November 8th. She shared current research and school reform efforts geared toward helping high-achieving schools and districts to have healthier schedules, homework and assessment practices, and learning environments. Our district is currently focusing on three areas: school day schedule (including start time), homework and assessment practices, and family education and engagement.

Dr. Pope affirmed the work we have been doing at ABRHS for four years now in the areas of mental health, wellness, and learning. Following two years of cross-departmental work led by Associate Principal Larry Dorey, we plan to review alternative schedule models with our staff in the spring of 2017 with a projected high school schedule change for the fall of 2018. A schedule change at the high school will include professional learning for staff and community education for families. Dr. Brand is currently leading the district's efforts in the area of school start times.

We continue to review our homework practices at the high school (begun in 2013-2014) and as an extension, we are also focusing on assessment, which students consistently share with us as being stressful for them. Homework and assessment are linked, and a change in one area necessitates a change in the other. We are currently examining the purpose, frequency, form, and relevancy of our assessments in all subject areas. One result of our work so far is that we will pilot an assessment calendar during the two weeks prior to midyear week, a result of feedback we received about how challenging that period was for many students last year. Challenge Success assists schools with alternative assessment practices, and we will benefit from their expertise in enacting this kind of instructional evolution in a large school such as A-B.

Dr. Pope then presented to about 200 parents/guardians on the evening of November 8th. She again shared current research and included recommendations for parents to be partners in the work of helping our adolescents to live healthier and more balanced lives. Dr. Pope has specific recommendations for parents regarding technology use, sleep, choosing students' courses and overall course loads, the problem of students being over-scheduled in general, approach to the college entrance process, and suggestions for having conversations with your adolescent about academic integrity. 

For those who were unable to attend Dr. Pope's presentation, we are fortunate that Danny's Place Youth Services has generously purchased the link to her presentation "The Well-Balanced Student." I strongly recommend that you take the time to watch her presentation to gain an understanding of the expectations we will have for community partnership in our efforts. You received instructions to access Dr. Pope's presentation via email on Wednesday, November 9th. Here is what you will learn in viewing the presentation:

The Well-Balanced Student
Today’s high-pressure, fast-paced culture can interfere with healthy child development. When we are too focused on test scores, performance, and grades, we may deny kids the time and energy they need to effectively tackle the demanding work of growing up. This workshop examines the tensions that can occur between students, parents, and educators over issues such as homework, grades, and the culture of competition. We’ll offer parents research-based strategies to create healthier home and school environments. 

In this presentation, you will learn:
  • How students today are coping- or not- with the academic pressure they face
  • Ways you can reduce academic stress without sacrificing achievement or engagement in school
  • Strategies to increase resilience, creativity, and well-being for your child

The video link will be active for six weeks and expires on Tuesday, December 20th.  Once you apply the promo code and start the video, you have ONE WEEK to finish viewing the workshop.  

Meaningful and lasting change for our students at A-B will require an open, supportive partnership between our schools and our community. I'd like to see our community unify around this work on behalf of our students. Please take some time to view Dr. Pope's presentation and stay informed about the work we are doing at the high school, including as embedded in our School Improvement Plan, to challenge and expand our notion of success.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

A Sweet Surprise and Community Learning

Our students continue to inspire us as we make our way forward together as a school community. Yesterday morning, our school day started with a "pop up" surprise treat for staff and students. Our Peer Leaders and their faculty advisors, Susan Bohmiller and Erica Cohen, provided hot chocolate and donuts as students came into school. It was lovely to see and experience some lightness and fun as students mingled before class. We are grateful to all who helped to make it possible.

On Tuesday during Advisory, we asked our students to check in with us and to share how they are feeling, what questions and/or concerns they may have, and what they might need at this time. As expected, we received a range of questions and responses as students experience the grieving process in a variety of ways, including those who feel comfortable and supported and those who continue to have questions or need more support. We'll be responding to students' questions during our next Advisory, and their feedback will continue to be helpful as we work to support them in the coming weeks.

Two Community Learning Opportunities
A reminder that Dr. Rob Evans will be with us this evening for a parent/guardian presentation titled Mental Health: Keeping Our Kids Safe. We hope that many of you will be able to join us at RJ Grey Junior High School at 7pm.

The ABRSD would also like to share the November "Expanding Our Notion of Success" Newsletter. The district's monthly communication presents an opportunity for our community to learn how to best partner in our PK-12 Challenge Success work. This month's message focuses on homework and includes the following:

In the spring of 2016, our district entered into a partnership with Challenge Success, out of Stanford University.  Challenge Success aims to "provide schools and families with the information and strategies they need to create a more balanced and academically fulfilling life for their kids."  The team at Challenge Success collaborates with educators, parents, and students to implement best practices and policies in areas such as assessment, homework, and schedule.

Our district is currently engaged in a number of important conversations about homework. We are focused on expanding the conversation from quantity and achievement to quality and engagement. Please take a moment to read our November Expanding Our Notion of Success family newsletter, which focuses on homework.  

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Seniors Speak and Thoughts on Questions in the Community

Dr. Campbell (bottom row, L) with her Principal's
Advisory Group

Last Tuesday, I met with my Principal's Advisory group for the first time this year. Each year, I ask counselors and administrators to recommend a group of seniors with diverse perspectives and experiences who meet with me monthly.  My PAG is my sounding board and a way for me to stay connected to the senior class. Our meeting came at the perfect time. I needed to hear their thoughts and voices and to have a sense of the their perspectives.

I asked them to respond anonymously in writing to the prompt, "I am feeling..." with anything they'd be willing to share about how they are doing. As to be expected, they expressed a range of feelings. Some wrote about stress leading up to the November 1st college application deadline, sadness about the loss of two members of the senior class, the need for more communication, feeling overwhelmed by school work, sports, and other activities. They also wrote about hope that our community would come together during this difficult time and the desire to be part of that effort. And they felt many of these things all at once:

I am feeling stressed about getting into college and empowered to make A-B better.
I am feeling a lot of different emotions at different times.

Similarly, in the hours and days following Thomas Zarola's death, I began receiving a range of feedback, questions, and suggestions from members of the parent/guardian community. Due to the volume of these emails and our need to continue our focus on supporting students and staff in the coming weeks, I thought I'd share some information here to address the themes that emerged.

Supporting our Students
Our Counseling Department currently provides ongoing education and support for students at various grade levels related to mental health and suicide prevention. With the recent events at the high school, our Counseling Department Chair Todd Chicko and Chairperson of Psychological Services Susan Root have partnered with Dr. Larry Berkowitz, Director at Riverside Trauma Center, to adapt an existing curriculum. In the coming weeks, members of our counseling department staff will visit classes to do a presentation and talk with students in all grade levels about mental health including signs of depression, how to ask for supports, and how to help a friend who is struggling.

In Advisory this coming week, we have asked Advisory leaders to do a check-in activity with students to gauge their current needs and to have a sense of their questions and concerns so that we can continue to be responsive to them.

Dean of Students Maurin O'Grady and I met with a group of senior leaders on Friday and will continue to partner with students to be responsive while maintaining the routine at school that many students need to feel supported.  In partnership with student leaders, we are putting into place some additional ways for students to have voice in a constructive, empowered way.

Student leaders continue to step up and will be leading positive, community-building activities both in Advisory and informally over the coming weeks. They are remarkable in their desire to have a positive impact and help us all to feel more connected during this time.

For our Community
I hope you have seen Dr. Brand's recent email regarding upcoming presentations for adults in our community, and we hope that you will participate in these opportunities to learn together.

Thursday 11/3  7-8pm      Dr. Robert Evans, Mental Health: Keeping our Kids Safe Details Here

Tuesday 11/8  7-8:30pm    Dr. Denise Pope The Well-Balanced Student  Details Here

Monday 11/14 7-8:15pm   Maria Trozzi Five to Thrive: A Conversation about the Stresses of                                                         Parenting Kids Today Details Here

Tuesday 11/15  1pm          Danny's Place Youth Services Talk Saves Lives program by the
                                            American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Details Here

On November 8th, our entire district will come together for a day of Professional Learning related to our Challenge Success partnership, which continues to be our priority this year in helping our students to have healthier, more balanced lives. For more information on the district's Wellness Committee update on school start times and other aspects of student wellness, click here.

Thank you to the members of the community who have sent messages in support of our staff during this time. Your kind words have been sincerely appreciated.

I was struck by the response of one of my Principal's Advisory seniors who wrote, I am feeling more fine than I think I should be feeling. And I have heard this sentiment expressed by other students as well. Completely as to be expected, our students are in a wide range of places emotionally, and it is important for them to feel validated and supported. We will continue to put our focus on the wellbeing of our students and staff in the coming weeks. Thank you for your continued support as we work together to do so.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

AB Families Learning Together

It seems truer than ever that it does take a village to raise a child. Families are navigating through the complexities of social media, adolescent development, health and wellbeing, relationships, school, and the balance of other activities in our students' lives.

We continue to look for ways for our community to learn together. Last year, our district developed the Family Learning Series. The series was created by Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning Deborah Bookis in partnership with district and school leaders and with generous support from community organizations including ABRSD PTOs, PTF, PTSO, AB Special Education Parent Advisory Council, Danny's Place Youth Services, and AB United Way (essential members of our "village"). This year, the series is designed to support our district's work in the areas of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL), health and wellness.

Upcoming topics include Dr. Denise Pope's "The Well-Balanced Student" (November 8th), as well as Pamela Katz Ressner on Mindfulness (January 25th), and Chris Herren on Substance Abuse (February 13th). A complete schedule can be found here. I hope that you are able to take the opportunity to attend one or more of these events.

As we further our Challenge Success partnership across the district in helping our students to have more balanced, healthy lives, the Family Learning Series presents another opportunity to learn and grow together in our efforts.

Monday, October 10, 2016

How Do We Expand Our Notion of Success?

In the course of the last few weeks, I and other members of the district and high school leadership teams have received questions in different forms from members of our community centered on two distinct areas of interest:
What is the high school doing about mental health issues? 
What is the high school doing about student stress and academic pressure?

While the tone of the discourse related to these topics has varied widely, I am encouraged by the interest in having a better understanding of the work we have already begun at both the district and school levels, as well as a willingness to partner with us on the work going forward.

Beginning in 2013, ABRHS began a 3-year Professional Learning plan centered on Mental Health, Wellness, and Learning. During the 2013-2014 school year, we focused on mental health and wellness. We trained our staff on the impact of depression, anxiety, and trauma on learning. We strengthened our Student Support Team (SST) to include a case-study model that increases collaboration among administrators, counselors, psychologists, nurses, and other staff to support our students. We trained staff on Signs of Suicide (SOS) and partnered with key community organizations to bring the William James College (MSPP)  mental health referral and support services to families in Acton and Boxborough. Each year, our new staff members will be trained in the above areas to maintain common understandings and build capacity as we welcome new staff to the high school.

During the 2014-2015 school year, we transitioned to looking at learning and specifically examined practices related to homework and workload. We used a year-long, cross-disciplinary model similar to one used by Newton South High School to articulate individual department purposes for homework, pilot 30 minute "in class" homework assignments, review current practices, survey our students, and read and learn together as a staff. Some of the results of that year included the pilot of our midyear week and a better understanding of what is most stressful for our students as reflected in the survey: Assessment.

Given our students' feedback, we decided to look more closely at our assessment practices and the relationship between assessment and instruction during the 2015-2016 school year before making decisions about any potential revisions to our homework policies. A committee with cross-disciplinary representation is currently leading the high school as we learn together. We plan to pilot an assessment calendar this year as well as to continue to look more closely at our school day schedule and the impact it has on student learning and overall workload. The high school will also continue to examine Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) at the secondary level, including models and practices.

As you are well aware by now, our district decided in the spring of 2016 to partner with Dr. Denise Pope's organization Challenge Success based out of Stanford University. This partnership complements the work already begun a the high school and across our entire district and offers great potential to partner with the parent/guardian community in advancing this work with a PK-12 lens.

I strongly encourage those who have posed the questions I shared above and who are interested in helping us all to expand a notion of success for our students that more fully encourages wellness, balance, and overall health to remain informed about this partnership. Dr. Pope will be with us on November 8th for an evening community presentation. I hope that many of you will attend her presentation.

To encourage ongoing connection with you in the course of our Challenge Success work, our district leaders will provide monthly updates and resources. Below is the October communication with a link to the newsletter. Please take a few minutes to read and browse the videos and other resources. Our ability to expand our notion of success for our students will be directly determined by our willingness to partner in making it possible. Thank you, as always, for your support in our work together.

Expanding Our Notion of Success- October
A few years ago, the district began work to support health and well-being, including social emotional learning (SEL), for all members of our learning community.  Please take a few minutes to read the October installment of the AB Expanding Our Notion of Success newsletter at:, where you will find a variety of resources, including websites and short video clips, to support our continued efforts to develop engaged, well-balanced learners.  

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

A Few Updates for This Week and Back to School Night

We are looking forward to welcoming our high school parents and guardians to our annual Back to School Night this Thursday evening, September 29th. Our Back to School Night is one of my favorite events of the year as it is filled with positive energy, opportunities to meet and get to know one another, and even sometimes finding ourselves temporarily lost in the halls, all of which are what make it a fun and memorable evening. It feels particularly timely this year that we have the opportunity to be together and to connect as a community.

Just a few things to keep in mind: parking is definitely at a premium for this event. So far, it looks to be a lovely evening weather-wise for a bit of a walk in case you need to park in one of the other lots on campus. We will follow Day D on the schedule cycle. During free periods on your child's schedule, please feel free to visit the Counseling Center, the Library, the School Store, and the Commons area where we will serve light refreshments.

The evening begins with my brief opening remarks at 6:50pm, which are geared toward parents/guardians of 9th graders and those new to the school this year. However, all are certainly welcome to attend.

A reminder that the purpose of Back to School Night is to get to know your child's teachers and gain an understanding of the goals and content of our courses. Our teachers spend considerable time preparing for Back to School Night to give you sense of your child's experience in the course. Our teachers are happy to communicate with parents/guardians via email, phone, or a meeting regarding the progress of individual students or specific concerns.

And just a reminder that our counselors and psychologists remain present and committed to supporting our students this week. You may recall that we have brought therapy dogs into school in the past, and the dogs have been a wonderful source of comfort for many. In our continued efforts to support our students, we will have therapy dogs with us for part of the day on Thursday in the upper gym.

We hope to see many of you on Thursday evening~

Sunday, September 25, 2016

When Students Lead from the Heart

We were witness to something remarkable this past week at the high school in the wake of tremendous sadness and loss.

Our school community experienced the death of one of our seniors, Matthew Pierce. Our students, staff, and families felt a range of feelings and reactions to Matthew's death. Fear, anger, confusion, sadness, frustration, isolation. All of them normal, all of them expected, all of them heard.

In the hours and days following Matthew's death, I was profoundly impacted by two things: the way the Pierce family walked with grace this difficult road, and the way our students modeled for us how a reaction to tragedy can bring a community together.

On Wednesday evening, as news of Matthew's death was becoming public, I received an email from one of our Ambassadors, a student group that helps to lead our 9th graders' first day at the beginning of the school year. He wrote, "I am reaching out to you regarding an event that is taking place within students of all grades. As leaders of the Ambassador program, we felt it was right for the school to come together in light of the passing of a classmate. Tomorrow, students will be wearing AB uniforms, ambassador shirts, and anything blue and gold. I was wondering if there is a way you could get that message to the faculty as to see the school come together as one would be remarkable and help students understand that together we are stronger."

If you walked the halls of the high school on Thursday, you saw a sea of blue and gold. Staff and students alike, students of all grades and friend groups, staff across all of our departments, those who knew Matthew well, and those who did not.

In addition to wearing blue and gold, Ambassadors joined our administrative team in greeting students at all of our entrances on Thursday morning. It was this gesture that stood out to me. In the wake of sad news, and with the range of emotions that adolescents have in response to death, these students asked, What can I do to make others feel welcome today? It was a seemingly small gesture but with great impact.

The stories of these small kindnesses surfaced throughout the day. Two students invited a classmate who appeared sad in class and who they did not know well to walk with them after class and have lunch together. When the teacher checked back in with the student after lunch, she was feeling better. Without hesitating, these girls had considered what can we do to help? A small gesture of kindness. But to one person, a huge impact.

A group of students in our Senior Seminar class who wondered how they could help decided to create signs to put up around the building. The signs encourage us to support each other, to make others feel valued, and they remind us all that we are not alone. A short time ago, I learned that a group of students would like to bring bouquets of flowers they have picked to school, the idea being to give them to someone you don't know, or to bring them home to someone who might need a small gesture of kindness.

Scott Pierce offered "A Father's Perspective" at Matthew's memorial service on Saturday. With his blessing, I will use some of his words to help me convey some of my own thoughts today. I was moved by his description of Matthew's life, most especially his reflection that Matthew's impact was "more at the micro level than at the macro level." He talked about the small things that Matthew did, the kind gestures, the smiles, and the quiet, understated way he connected with people.

It made me think of the small things I have seen our students do in response to Matthew's death and the impact they could have on our school community.

Beneath the many expressions of emotion I have heard from parents in the last week, one feeling underscores most of them: Fear. It is a universal and undeniable feeling as a parent. What if this happens to our family? Why did this happen? How can we prevent it? Why aren't we doing something about it?

On Wednesday evening while I was preparing dinner, I saw my husband tenderly but fervently hug our son and say, "Promise me you'll always talk to us if you are sad. Promise, okay?" Our son is four, so naturally his reaction was to look with confusion at my husband and say, "Hey Dad...I thought you said we were going to build a Lego police station?"

But I heard the fear in my husband's voice, and I hear yours, too. As parents, finding the words to talk about depression and suicide can be difficult. While sharing his perspective on Saturday, Matthew's father spoke eloquently and directly to our teens about both. He reminded them that depression is not a weakness, encouraged them to talk to adults about their feelings, and urged them to seek medical attention from those who can help.

I began my principalship at A-B four years ago, the fall after the Newton High Schools had experienced three suicides the previous year. My teaching career started at Newton North, I still have many friends there, and I was devastated for the school community. That same fall, we began a three-year professional learning focus on mental health, wellness, and learning at ABRHS. We educated our staff about how depression, anxiety, and trauma impact learning. We reviewed and strengthened the programs and services that we currently have in place to support students and families, and we partnered with community organizations to bring the William James College Interface Referral Service to Acton and Boxborough. Interface provides free, confidential mental health services for children, adults, and families.

And yet, we lost Matthew. And we have lost alums, too. I was greatly comforted by something that Matthew's mother, Cynthia, said shortly after Matthew's death. She thanked us for the "village of support," in her words, that had surrounded Matthew during his time at A-B. We remain committed to strengthening that village, to partnering with families in supporting our students who struggle with mental illness, and to reaching out to those who may feel alone in our community.

I and other members of my administrative team have received many notes of support from the parent community over the last week as we have worked to honor the Pierce family's wishes with time, space, and privacy; to support our staff and students in the wide range of ways they experience death; and to share information to support the wider parent community as well, while following the Boston Medical Center's Good Grief protocol for schools. I have tried to respond to each message individually, but please know the immense gratitude we feel for your ongoing support. We will need your partnership even more in the coming weeks. I hope that many of you will consider attending Ms. Trozzi's presentation Monday evening at 7pm at the high school auditorium. Dr. Brand has sent an invitation to all parents/guardians of students in grades 7-12.

We have heard from students in the past few days, too, who have quietly shared their stories with us about how adults at A-B have made a difference to them, and we are grateful that they took the time to tell us.

What I will always be most grateful for during this time is the grace, trust, and courage that the Pierce family has shown to us. They have modeled the utmost kindness in a time of intense pain, and in every interaction I have had with them over the past week, they have asked, What can we do to help others?

Matthew's father asked if we would please honor Matthew's memory by "following his example of kindness, patience, and love." At the micro level, where the greatest impacts can be made and where our community can heal and become stronger together.

When I think about standing next to our Ambassadors last Thursday morning as together we welcomed all of our students into our school, I believe it is possible. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Meet our New to A-B Teachers!

As the 2016-2017 school year is underway, we have some new faces among the ABRHS teaching staff. We asked our new teachers to share with you a bit about their backgrounds and interests as well as what they have liked most so far about being at A-B.

Katherine Greene, Performing Arts Department
Katherine received her Master's in Education and BA in Music from the University of New Hampshire. Prior to working at ABRHS, she taught in Wellesley for four years. After taking a year off to be with her boys (now 1 and 3), making music with junior high and high school students was such a pleasant and rewarding welcome back to work. When not making music, Katherine can be found doing a variety of races, taking ballet classes, waterskiing, or surfing.

So Hyun Kong, Visual Arts Department
So received her BFA from the Kunkuck University in Seoul, Korea and her Masters in Studio teaching from Boston University. She is also an artist and taught in Belmont and at Wilmington High School. She loves crafts, traveling, hiking, and yoga. She enjoys A-B students' enthusiasm and the positive energy they bring to the classroom.

Kelly Antonuccio, Science Department
Kelly received her Bachelor's in Environmental Soil Science from the University of Missouri and her Master's in Teaching from Simmons College in Boston. Prior to working at ABRHS, she taught at the Advanced Math and Science Academy teaching Physics for six years. The best part of the school year for Kelly so far has been how great the kids have been and how welcoming the staff has been.

lauren doscher.JPG
Lauren Doscher, English Department
After moving from the Seattle area last year, Boston quickly became home for Lauren. She received a Bachelor's degree in English Literature from Gonzaga University and a Master's in Education from Boston College with the hope of ending up at a school like A-B where the sense of community and camaraderie among students and staff is strong. So far, Lauren has most enjoyed learning about the various ways students contribute to the life of our school through their passions for sports, leadership, and other activities. Outside of her work here, she is excited to run her first marathon next year and explore the East coast.

David Brusie, English Department
David received his Master of Arts in Teaching from Simmons College and a Bachelor of Arts in English from Bates College. He is an ABRHS alumnus (Class of 1998). Last year, David was a student teacher at Belmont High School. In his spare time, he likes running, playing guitar, listening to music, writing, and playing with his two daughters. The best part of the school year for David has simply been getting to know all of his students. He asked each of them to fill out a survey during their first week together, and the answers were eye-opening. The number of activities, interests, and learning styles that each of his students wrote about was another reminder of how being an adolescent is a lot of work and that thinking of students as having lives outside of the classroom will better inform his rapport with them (and vice versa!) as the year progresses.

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Annemarie Gaebel, Math Department
Annemarie received her Bachelor's in Math from North Adams State and her Master's in Education from Cambridge College. Prior to teaching at ABRHS, she spent fifteen years teaching math at RJ Grey Junior High in Acton and five years teaching math in Taunton. Annemarie is enjoying getting to know the kids and teachers here at the high school.

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Jennifer Cohn, STAR Academic Services
Having just moved to Acton over the summer, Jennifer is thrilled to be joining the ABRHS community! She received her BA from Gettysburg College and her Ed.M. from Boston University. Jennifer has worked in higher education for most of her career in both admissions and student services roles. Jennifer is originally from Carlisle and has long respected the excellent reputation of this district and has always hoped to work in a school like A-B. So far, she has most appreciated the warm welcome from everyone and how passionate all of the staff are about supporting students to grow and thrive. Outside of work, Jennifer loves to run, hike, read, and garden. 

We welcome our newest members to the ABRHS community and wish them an excellent first year with our students!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

AB Reads

Why Reading Matters
If you follow us on Twitter @OneABRHS, you may have seen that the high school celebrated International Literacy Day 2016 last Thursday, September 7th. Many of our staff members and students participated in a voluntary Advisory activity earlier in the week. They filled out sticky notes completing phrases related to books and reading, and we displayed them in the main entrance hallways on posters titled "AB Reads" and "Reading Matters."

Here is just a sample of our students' voices:

Reading matters because....
"I don't think about anything else while I'm reading."
"It makes me a better writer."
"When I am reading a book, I am transported to different places, and there is no limit to my imagination."
"It gives people a voice through writing."
"It helps me to keep an open mind. It allows me to be free."
"It expands my vocabulary and helps my English become stronger."
"I like escaping into fantastical worlds."
"It helps me understand someone else's world."

A book that matters to me....
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Eleanor & Park
The Phantom Tollbooth
Legend Trilogy
Skippy John Jones
Have Spacesuit, Will Travel
"The Harry Potter series because it sparked my love of reading."
"The Glass Castle because it was the first book I actually read in English class."

We currently have two cohorts of teachers advancing disciplinary literacy collaboration at the high school. Led by Associate Principal Beth Baker, they use an inquiry-based model that includes observing each other in the classroom, reading and learning together, and implementing strategies to increase our students' literacy skills at all levels and across disciplines.

I was recently quite moved when I read New York Times best-selling author of young adult and picture books Matt de la Peña's 2016 Newbury Medal acceptance speech. The way he broadens literacy to include "reading the world" reminded me of how even our reluctant students at the high school are "reading," whether we realize it or not. And it also reminded me that children of all ages need to see themselves reflected in what they read.

As I shared with my staff earlier this week, my 4 1/2 year old son's sticky note poster contribution for "books that matter" would no doubt be any of The Berenstain Bears books. Thank goodness for Stan and Jan, who helped to explain "stranger danger" in a way that was direct but not scary. As he told me in the car this past weekend, out of the blue: "Not all strangers are bad, Mommy. But some are. Like a barrel of apples. So you just have to be careful."

And there it was....a reminder of why reading matters.

Friday, September 9, 2016

A Challenge Success Update....

Many of you might recall a letter that was sent last Spring to all staff and families in the District (click here if you want to see the letter).  It mentioned some of the challenges that exist in our community due in part to an increasingly narrow definition of success and the intensity of expectations that are seemingly more common and ever-present in high-performing school districts.  Our school district decided to partner with Challenge Success, an organization based out of Stanford University, to help us better coordinate efforts already underway and provide new resources and trainings for strategies that we plan to explore.  As part of this partnership with Challenge Success, all of our students in grades 6 through 12 completed the Stanford Adolescent Experience Survey last April, which covers 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 current A-B students and offer a starting point for wrestling with some complicated topics.  The district’s leadership teams spent the summer analyzing the results and planning opportunities for staff and families to also engage with the data this Fall.  As part of these efforts, Dr. Brand’s office will share messages with families across the district that include recommended readings, some results from the student survey, and timely reminders about upcoming community programs and workshops. This month, that information is coming in the form of a short newsletter  focused on the importance and value of what Dr. Denise Pope of Challenge Success calls “PDF:” Playtime, Downtime, and Family time.

In addition to the district-wide communications to keep you all informed about our Challenge Success work, I will use this blog and my weekly communications to staff at the high school to share resources and updates as we partner together in expanding our notion of "success" for our high school students.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

A Welcome to Our Parent and Guardian Community

Welcome to the 2016-2017 school year!

We are excited to meet our 9th graders and all of our students who are new to ABRHS this week, as well as to welcome back our returning students. It has been a busy and productive summer at the high school preparing for the new school year, and we have a few things to share with you.

Wellness and Learning
Our focus at the high school remains the support of health and wellness within a high-achieving academic environment. For the past three years, we have focused our professional learning as a staff on mental health, wellness, and learning in order to better meet the needs of our students and families. Schools all over the country are engaging in similar conversations about how to help our students to feel and be successful in the midst of tremendous pressures while living healthy, balanced lives.

As our superintendent Dr. Glenn Brand shared in his opening letter to parents/guardians, we will continue this work with the support of a PK-12 partnership with Stanford University's Challenge Success organization. We look forward to partnering with you as well as we challenge the increasingly narrow definition of success and create a healthier learning experience for all of our students.

Alongside our partnership with Challenge Success, we are committed to increasing our capacity to strengthen our students' Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) skills at the high school. To learn more about SEL, click here. With the knowledge that social and emotional competencies have a strong relationship with academic outcomes, we are committed to incorporating practices that will strengthen both teaching and learning and ensure equity, access, and agency for all of our students.

In response to our students' spring 2016 Challenge Success survey data, our (annual) senior survey and faculty survey data, midyear week survey, and other feedback we gathered throughout the 2015-2016 school year, our Leadership Team crafted the question that will guide our work this year as a whole school:
How do we support health and well-being within a rich learning environment that provides opportunities for all students to experience success?

Thank you for your continued partnership and support in this work. Dr. Denise Pope, one of the founders of Challenge Success, will be here on the evening of November 8th for a community presentation, and I hope that many of you will consider attending.

Safety and Security
After careful consideration and input from our district and school safety committees and our school resources officers, we will be instituting a locked door policy during our school day. I recognize that this will be a change from our current practice of keeping all of our doors unlocked during the day. However, our goal is to increase the safety and security of our students and staff. 

Beginning October 4th, all exterior doors except the front door will be locked during the school day. Students will have a keypad code linked to their lunch ID for access to the entrances below during the school day.
  • Southwest Stair Tower (outside Room 168W)
  • West Patio Entrance (outside Room 276W)
  • Gazebo Entrance (outside wood shop)
  • Tennis Court Entrance (below room 104E)
  • Flag Pole Entrance (outside room 124E)

We will share this information with our students during Advisory and continue to send reminders to be prepared for the change on October 4th. Again, thank you for your cooperation and support.

Coming soon, you will be able to subscribe to the ABRHS Principal Thoughts blog to receive updates via email when I post new entries. My hope is that you will feel connected to our work at the high school on behalf of our students. They benefit greatly when the parent-guardian community and our schools work in partnership, and I look forward to working with you this year.

Wishing you and your families a happy and successful start to the school year!