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.

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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!