Principal's Message

April 2018

Message from Principal Gavron

I am convinced that being a parent is the hardest job we will ever have. The push and pull of when to help our children and when to let them struggle is such a delicate balance. I was reminded of this in an unexpected way, not too long ago while attending a professional development session on writing. In the breakout workshop participants were tasked with writing from the heart about our earliest memories. We each recorded the details of our first recollection and discussed layers of meaning, noting how that first memory still might speak to us in some relevant way today.

I immediately conjured up a traumatic day at my grandmother’s farm in Ohio when I was three years old. And wondered why it is that the painful memories overshadow life’s joyous moments? On that day in 1973, I had just eaten a banana, and I was racing around my grandmother’s living room. The TV was on and the adults were chatting. As the only grandchild around, I was circling the coffee table performing for the relatives and demanding their attention. As Seuss might say, my actions screamed, “Look at me. Look at me. Look at me now!” Upon hitting top speed I caught my foot on the leg of the table and took a spill, smashing my chin on the corner as I landed. Blood spurted everywhere and stitches were a necessity. My mother rushed me to the car and sped off trying to apply pressure to the wound while driving to the hospital. Yes, this was back in the day when kids rode in the front seat – sans seatbelts.  I recall being whisked into the emergency room and having a blue cloth draped over my face, obscuring my vision, with only a small hole in the cloth to allow the stitching to occur. I recall the sense of terror as I thrashed and screamed hysterically, while a group of health care providers held me down, so the doctors could work. My mother was shut out, left to wait outside of the ER room.
The image of my mother alone in the waiting room that I’ve created with my mind’s eye is a vivid one based on years of retellings. In it, I see my mother desperate in her desire to be with me and comfort me because I was alone at the hands of strangers. Yet despite being a registered nurse, she is excluded from the scene and left to shed her own tears as she listened to my cries. The anguish of my mother and that maternal desire to protect is the piece of the story that resonates with me today. As a mother of a twenty-four year old, a fourteen year old, and an eleven year old, I too have felt that overwhelming, mother bear-esque desire to protect one’s cubs and ease their pain. There is nothing worse than when your child is in pain, physically or emotionally, and the desire to eliminate the hurt at the source can feel primal.

Perhaps what makes this memory such an intriguing one for me today, is an inherent contradiction with what one wants to do as a parent and with what one, at times, should do. Sometimes hurts should be soothed by a parent, leaving the child comforted and protected. Other times, however, a child needs to feel the pain and discover that she or he has the capacity to work through that distress and come out the other side stronger, despite some scars. Working through the hurt is where resiliency is born. Resiliency is a critical skill that allows one to become self-reliant and overcome the complex challenges life throws our way. Our children can’t learn how to get back up if we don’t allow them to fall or fail.

Middle school is a hotbed for physical and emotional struggles that perhaps parents should not always rush in to fix. There are plenty of valuable opportunities for disappointments - failing a test or project, not making a school team or musical group, coping with a friendship breakup, or experiencing a cruel comment. For example, your children may find that they are not placed in the cluster, homeroom, class, or cabin group they hoped to be in. As a parent the initial instinct may be to want to remove the hurt and fix the situation – just like my mother wanting to take away the pain and fear at my emergency room bedside. But often it’s facing the disappointment head on that allows one to grow. Our reactions to their disappointment can help them reframe an upset and grow their ability to see the situation as an opportunity or find the silver lining and build their inner resiliency. As parents we are not rendered completely useless. We can normalize disappointment. We can dry the tears, offer hugs, and help our children strategize. Assisting our children in figuring out how to study more effectively or rehearsing with them language to use in order to ask a teacher for extra help is a priceless gift. We can encourage our children to consult with a coach about what to work on, helping them continue to pursue their passions and work hard at what they love so they can try out for that team, performance, or group again next year. We can encourage our children to explore new friendships and take a break from social media, helping them realize their inner worth and beauty. Adult reactions that foster resiliency and clearly convey our belief in our children’s ability to recover and be stronger the next time around, may be a greater gift than immediately eliminating the hurt. As your child encounters the trials and tribulations of early adolescence, consider restraining the instinct to rush in to fix it and instead help them build the valuable skills to tackle life’s challenges.

Today, I have a half-inch scar on my chin. It’s not pretty, but it is part of me and my story. Despite my mother’s inability to make it all better in the moment, I got back up again and a few stitches certainly didn’t slow me down any.

March 2018

Message from Principal Gavron

This fall and winter the stories that dominate our headlines leave parents, educators, and students alike reeling.  A barrage of tales of sexual harassment in the workplace, which have been spotlighted through the #metoo movement, bring to center stage the intolerable conditions under which so many (predominantly women) have found themselves subjected to working for so long. Most recently, the school shootings in Florida leave us aghast at the way a disenfranchised young man chose to express his anger at feeling wronged. As a parent and a principal I worry about how we can keep our children safe in such a world. Politicians are quick to enter into debates about guns (access and ownership), and while this is an important conversation, they might be missing the mark on the underlying root cause of the problem. Both sexual harassment and school shootings lead me to think deeply about a workshop I attended this past December entitled “Gender on the Agenda: The Socialization of Girls and Boys in the Culture of Violence.” The keynote was delivered by Jackson Katz, an outspoken activist who founded Mentor in Violence Prevention (MVP), a program we introduce in 8th grade health classes and continue teaching at Wayland High School. Katz , who also produced the documentaries, Tough Guise and Tough Guise II , would argue that the heart of societal problems like sexual harassment, school shootings, and domestic violence emerge from a culture of violent masculinity and limiting gender roles. He also contends that this taught behavior can be changed and that societally we can do better than we are doing.

Katz argues that historically (some) men have been abusing women, children, and other men for thousands of years. He talked about phenomena ranging from ritualized hazing to gang culture. Katz contends that men are both the primary victims of and perpetrators of violent crimes including murder, attempted murder, and aggravated assault. Much of the problem stems from the way we’ve socialized our boys for generations. For example, Katz argued that the simple phrase “boys will be boys” is very counterproductive. It creates an excuse for bad behavior in boys and sends the implicit, unhelpful message that boys can’t control themselves. Katz talked about cycles of violence that often begin with violence experienced in the home and then are perpetuated outward. Katz argues that being a male victim of violence leads one to believe that he has in some way failed to protect himself, which implicitly calls into question his manhood. Katz claims that shame is at the heart of this vicious violence cycle. Katz offers that any discussion about violence is a discussion about power - both maintaining or getting power. If manhood is about power and control, then a school shooting is the ultimate revenge fantasy. Katz states that boys can rise to standards we have for them or can sink to the standards we have for them. We can infuse them with heart and begin to interrupt the cultural context of behaviors and belief systems in which violence occurs.

I believe that as parents and educators we have our work cut out for us in shaping a safer, more respectful culture for our children. Countering narrow messaging about maleness and femaleness and expanding the range of gender roles is one aspect of the work. Actively stopping and discussing behavior that leads to objectification or misogyny is another. Finally, modeling healthy, loving, respectful relationships in our own lives is the most powerful example to learn from and is completely within our control as we seek to raise confident, caring, well-adjusted children. As educators committed to cultivating an atmosphere governed by BERT -- Belonging, Empathy Respect and Trust -- it is our privilege to join you in working towards a safer tomorrow.

Helping kids imagine a wide range of acceptable ways of being often feels like an uphill battle. The images splashed across our magazines, web browsers, and televisions of what it means to be female and male are far too limited, frequently lacking complexity and nuance. Girls are sold “sexy” and at an early age are encouraged to aspire to unnatural standards of beauty by a barrage of images that have been photoshopped and filtered. On the flip side, the primary models for masculinity are about toughness, power, and a disconnection from an emotional center. The phrase “man up,” speaks volumes and can carry a hurtful aftermath. This onslaught of gendered imaging combined with comedians, movie plots, video games, song lyrics, and even pornography (which is only a click away on a smart phone) are laden with misogynistic comments and themes that showcase violence and send troubling messages to our youth.   However, avoidance of the media is not necessarily a desirable task, nor is it even possible .  Sure, as parents we can and should limit screen entertainment time and delay access to more graphic content, but we can’t avoid pop culture completely. What we can do, however, is teach our children to be active, critical consumers of what they see. We can point out limiting stereotypes and worrisome role definitions, opening minds to the fact boys can enjoy dancing and gymnastics as well as football and lacrosse, while girls can program computers and kickbox as well as bake and shop. We can discuss choices characters in favorite TV shows make, actively exploring alternative narratives. Most of all we can make kids aware that they are being sold a way of being and empower them with the knowledge that they have the ability to accept or deny any aspect of the sales pitch.

Empowering stories of fellow parents making a difference are hopeful and inspiring too. A couple of years ago one mother shared a story of having a group of teenage boys playing the “hot or not” game on their phones during a carpool she was driving. Yes, believe it or not, is a real domain, and the very existence of such a website leads kids to think it is acceptable to rate people. Some may think these activities are playful at first blush, but when one thinks more critically about them, it becomes apparent that they are dehumanizing, judgmental, and cruel. I was impressed that this mother, who was upset with what she was hearing, stopped the car and informed the riders that this game was unacceptable to play on her watch. She modeled for us that as parents we do not need to be bystanders but instead have the power and responsibility to stop this type of behavior and set much needed limits. We can ask our children, would you want your friends talking that way about your mother or your sister? How would it feel to read a rating about oneself? Children need help thinking through the impact of their actions. While they have the capacity to be empathic, they need the coaching to make the cognitive leaps and analyze how their behavior might make others feel. Don’t be afraid to challenge behaviors that objectify and lead towards a slippery slope of maintaining a culture in which violence is acceptable. In doing so you teach students that they can and should step away from this objectifying group behavior.

As parents the greatest power we have is not in what we say but in what we do. We live out our values and can model for our children that the way we treat one another matters. We can laugh and find humor in the world without it coming at the hurtful expense of others. We can bust open gender stereotypes through our activities, our work, and our play. We can open a dialog about limiting, binary gender roles. Modeling healthy relationships by being respectful to our partners, even in times of disagreement and frustration is a gift to our children. We can have conflict and resolve it without utilizing hateful language or engaging physical violence. Apologizing and forgiving others when disagreement occurs shows how we can repair and maintain healthy relationships. Our children are watching and listening. Demonstrating affection and mutuality in all our relationships can be a much-needed antidote to the messaging of pop culture that is awash in violence. None of us is perfect, and we all have bad days, but we can work to create the world we hope our girls and our boys will experience. My parents gave me this gift, and I encourage you to offer this same present to your children too. 

Parents are not alone in working towards a safer more inclusive world. At Wayland Middle School we are here to partner with you. Through wellness, social studies, TAG and in our day-to-day lives we will look for teachable moments to explore and expand definitions of maleness and femaleness and the importance of mutual respect. In wellness classes we directly teach our students about characteristics of mutual friendships and relationships and learn the warning signs of unhealthy relationships. The in-depth study of the women’s movement in examining activism through our social studies curriculum is just another example of these efforts. Finally, TAG - Teacher Advisory Group is another useful venue. I have seen groups of 7th grade students engaged in spirited dialog about whether they thought it was easier to be a boy or a girl growing up today, enabling real conversation about our gendered world. It’s powerful to explore justice and equity with our students at the age where identity development is at its peak. As a faculty we aspire to talk the talk and walk the walk to do our part in promoting healthy adolescent development.

Be inspired by Katz’s messages. Don’t let disturbing news stories, worry, or personal connections to violence leave you in a state of inaction. Through engaging in critical consumption of media with your middle schooler, interrupting hurtful stereotyping, and modeling respectful relationships you can make a difference in creating a safer environment for today’s youth. The time is now to raise and guide confident, secure boys and girls who are prepared to make good choices and develop healthy relationships. As Mahatma Gandhi offers, let’s “be the change we want to see in the world.”

February 2018

Message from Principal Gavron
Remarks from the Annual January House Block celebration in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.

When I was a little girl my mother would say, with some regularity, “You think the world revolves around you, Elizabeth Anne.” Yes, when she dragged out “Elizabeth Anne,” I knew she was serious. This was her way of expressing frustration when I was not paying attention to or caring about what other people might need. What I wanted to play, read, eat, watch, or listen to mattered most to me, and I was oblivious to others’ desires. It turns out that being absorbed in my own reality and assuming everyone saw the world as I did was a pretty typical developmental stage. As I got older and hit the preteen and teenage years very slowly I began to realize that, not only was I not the center of the universe, but that other people had very different wants, thoughts, ideas, and perspectives than I did. Over the last four and a half decades I have worked hard to better understand and come to treasure the beautiful way diverse opinions and experiences enrich our world.

The man we came to here to honor today, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was a fellow difference appreciator and he was a nationwide difference maker, who has helped shape my thinking about the importance of diversity. He inspired citizens with these famous words, 
“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” I take his words as a challenge, and I hope you will take on the challenge too, to look beyond ourselves to examine and care about the “broader concerns of all humanity.” Today, I’d like us to reflect on Dr. King’s words, celebrate how far we have come, and commit to embodying his ideals to move our community further. Today, I ask you to look to Dr. King for inspiration and consider the ways in which we might honor his legacy through appreciating the diverse gifts you and your classmates bring to the table each day.

Dr. King lived at a time when most people did not yet appreciate the diversity that now makes our Wayland Middle School community thrive. In fact King’s reality was quite the opposite. Dr. King’s time was one in which black men and women were denied the same Civil Rights as their white counterparts. In the 1950s and ‘60s, riding buses, lodging in hotels, using public restrooms, and voting were among the everyday activities that were not equally accessible to all citizens of our country. Schools too were segregated along racial lines, and attempts to integrate were often met with hatred, bigotry, and violence. Unable to accept the discriminatory societal conditions, Dr. King united Americans to demand the equality promised in our Constitution. King and like-minded activists risked their lives to challenge unjust laws and practices through peaceful protest. King’s life work was to promote love, hope, unity, and freedom in the face of hatred, and he was unwavering as he sought a peaceful means to realize the promise of these ideals to carry our country forward. He wanted us to learn together and celebrate diversity. 

Looking back on King’s struggle makes me appreciate the privilege of working in a more diverse school than those that were the norm in King’s day. Research shows that by talking and listening to people different from ourselves we expand and broaden our understanding. Multicultural classrooms allow teachers to work with you to confront biases and prejudices and incorporate varied perspectives as we explore the world and develop critical thinking skills together. A respectful curiosity about beliefs, values, and the ideas of others can open the world for us. Integrated classroom environments are important to helping you learn to collaborate and communicate across your variety of cultures and backgrounds, finding powerful common ground on which to build your futures. 
Together we seek to understand what King terms, “the broader concerns of all humanity.”  

Each day I arrive at a school to which students have found their way from literally all over the world. A glance at the flags raised around our cafeteria shows a history and a present of students and teachers who were born in 55 countries outside of the United States. Over the past two years alone we raised four new flags to recognize WMS students born in Romania, Venezuela, Cape Verde and Trinidad. Last World Language week, during our bilingual lunch, we celebrated the fact that approximately 120 Wayland Middle School students speak a language other than English at home. Perhaps what draws such rich diversity to our school is that we are created from not one but two communities. We are a METCO district, fortunate to have students from Wayland and Boston, and this year we celebrate 50 years of partnership.   

Our METCO program benefits 
all of Wayland Middle School, creating a richer, more racially diverse learning environment for everyone. In recognition of the 50 th anniversary of METCO I will take a moment to share with you a bit of its history. METCO, which is short for The Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity, is the voluntary busing program that transports students of color from Boston and Springfield to suburban school systems. It is one of the oldest most successful programs of its kind. The program was first conceptualized in Boston during the Civil Rights movement of King’s time. In the 1960’s a concerned group of African American parents united, in hope of creating strong, integrated schools for all students and lay the foundation for a diverse and just world. These parent activists organized a voluntary desegregation program called Operation Exodus, bussing 400 African American students to an under-enrolled white neighborhood school in the Back Bay. The success of the experiment led to a meeting between the Massachusetts Federation for Fair Housing and Equal Rights group and leaders from twelve suburban districts who agreed to voluntarily enroll students of color from Boston in their schools, and thus METCO was born. Wayland has been a proud member of METCO since 1968 and this year we celebrate our 50 th Anniversary as a METCO district. Tonight at 6:00 pm, I look forward to our annual MLK Dinner sponsored by our Boston Parent Council that encourages our WMS families of Wayland and Boston to come together for a meal, conversation, music, and celebration. I hope you will consider joining me.

Alongside the well-researched benefits I’ve discussed this morning, in diverse learning environments there are healthy challenges and struggles as well. Sometimes misunderstandings arise that grow out of cultural or racial differences. People say things that are hurtful, based on a lack of cultural awareness. We have begun to scratch the surface in addressing some of these challenges through our school-wide work around microaggressions – those “brief, everyday exchanges that send hurtful messages to certain individuals because of their group membership." The assumptions and stereotypes at the heart of microaggressions that underlie comments can be upsetting. Together we seek to understand microaggressions so we can prevent them and build strong, caring connections in their place.  

One important key to this work is to know one another as individuals and recognize the various facets of our identities. To create a community of learners students must understand and appreciate how we are similar and how we are different. It is right out of our school mission statement. Each one of us is a member of a race, an ethnicity, a religion, a gender, a sexual orientation, and a socio-economic group. Even if some of our group memberships are the same, our connection to each of these identities is unique. We all have different interests and preferences. We are complex. For example, I am a white, hetero-sexual, college-educated, Christian woman of Irish, English and French descent. I am a mother, a daughter, a sister, and a wife. I am a principal and a math teacher. I am a musician, a soccer player, and a yoga enthusiast. I am a reader, a puzzler, and a laugher. I am a Patriot’s fan who loves to sing along to the car radio and binge watch Grey’s Anatomy. I delight in playing cards and board games with my family, and Lake Winnipesaukee is my happy place.  

You and I have things in common and we have distinct differences that make each of us one of a kind. The fun part of getting to know one another and learning alongside each other is finding these things out. We develop camaraderie in how we are alike, and we expand our world by seeking to understand our differences and how they impact our world. We have the privilege to accept Dr.King’s challenge and explore the “broader concerns of all humanity” together.  It turns out my mother was right – she always is. The world does not revolve around me, and it is a much more interesting place because of that

December 2017

Message from Principal Gavron

One of my favorite things about Wayland Middle School is our commitment to learning in the field. Sometimes we mean this literally, such as when we pause in the spirit of Thoreau to enjoy the New England winter, celebrate wellness, and cross country-ski through fields with our sixth graders. And other times it simply means learning outside our building and taking in experiences that could not be replicated within our four walls. Regardless, every time we leave the school it is a deliberate move to connect student learning with the real world. As a homeroom teacher in the 8th grade Martin Luther King house I was able to travel with our 8th graders to the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate (EMK) for the first time last month and support our students as they participated in one of our newest field experiences. Becoming immersed in the roles of a United States senators allowed students to bring to life their classroom learning about the United States Constitution and how our government works. This field exercise connected directly with the big picture goals we have for our students of fostering citizenship and civility.
Each student received a tablet, which they were asked to quickly personalize with selfies. Students then read individualized profiles about “themselves.” Each tablet included unique information about his or her identity, which indicated the state each student represented, his or her party affiliation (Republican, Democrat or Independent), and an overview of the issues that mattered most to his or her party, the people whom they represented, and him or herself. For example, did a Senator prioritize civil liberties, regulation, national security and/or privacy? How did he or she feel about technology? Oil? Tourism? Or immigration? Throughout the day students would be expected to return to these key areas as they considered issues that emerged in their work.
Then our student senators passionately delivered their impressive prepared speeches - a tall ask in front of 100 peers. One group even had the task of filibustering the deliberations. At the conclusion of the speeches, in the final vote of the day, our student senators elected to renew the PATRIOT Act by a vote of 54 to 44 (with a few senators breaking from their party affiliations based on state priorities). More important than a legislative victory or defeat, our students were offered an engaging opportunity to simulate the experiences of our elected officials and to see firsthand how the laws of our nation are created. I hope students left inspired to let their voices be heard and commit to a lifetime of civic responsibility that includes engaging in informed voting and even civic activism. Additionally, I hope they saw how even highly contested issues and positions could be argued respectfully and with civility.  As parents and guardians, this experience provides a wonderful springboard for you to engage your student in discussions about the factors that shape your voting decisions and share your personal thoughts on civic responsibility. Who knows, this field experience may inspire one of our current eighth graders to someday follow in the footsteps of another former WMS student and WMS teacher, who just announced his Massachusetts campaign for a State Senate seat in 2018.

November 2017

Message from Principal Gavron

My mother is a wise woman who has taught me many lessons through the years. One of the most valuable that I try to keep at the forefront is the importance of striking balance in life. While growing up, the refrain, “Everything in moderation,” was the background music of our household. I wish I could say I have mastered this equation. As both a principal and a parent, I find it can be easy to get caught up in the culture of too much. However, results from our WMS Parent Survey (link) , and Our Metrowest Adolescent Health Behavior Survey (link) both highlight concerns about students stress that lead me to continue to worry about our ability to collectively to get it right, particularly when it comes to homework, afterschool activities, and messaging around achievement.

Six years ago the film The Race to Nowhere: The Dark Side of America’s Achievement Culture directed by Vicki H. Abeles made its debut, and many joined us for a community viewing at WHS. In her film, Abeles thrust the underbelly of high-performing, affluent, suburban school districts into the spotlight. She featured the stories of stressed out students, educators burnt out by the pressures of teaching to a test, and doctors lamenting about the health consequences of a high-pressure, achievement-driven culture. The quest for perfection, the need to begin building resumés as early as elementary school, the push for kids to enroll in accelerated courses at all costs, the over-scheduling of extracurricular activities, and the endless hours of homework were shown to create a recipe for migraines, sleeping problems, stomach pains, anxiety issues, and depression: all symptoms of children’s’ lives being out of balance. The overall emphasis on product over process and grades over learning was worrisome to say the least.

The question for me became: can we find a way for academic excellence and emotional well being to peacefully coexist? As a faculty we have been thinking hard about this ever since. Homework was identified as one piece of the puzzle within our control, where we could take action. While homework has not been eliminated in the wake of the film, we have taken pause and re-examined our practices as we considered some fundamental questions:

  • What is the role of homework in a student’s education?
  • What amount of homework is appropriate at each age?
  • Does a large homework load lead to gains in achievement?
  • Does too much homework tempt students to cheat to complete it, rather than think through it to learn?
  • Do we help students prioritize assignments and learn to put down the pencil when enough is enough? 
  • Do we build in enough homework-free time so families can enjoy low-stress togetherness?

I have asked teachers to make explicit efforts to monitor the quantity of work assigned and spend more time starting assignments in class so students leave class having begun an assignment (often the most difficult hurdle). We have also worked to help students build skills for “Setting the Table” (add lino Setting the Table Docs we shared with parents) so they can become more competent independent learners. Our relatively new commitment to Catch Up and Breathe - CUB weekends twice a month is one small way we have tried to have an effect in this arena.

Knowing that balance looks different for each learner we are challenged to differentiate to support the academic and emotional health of all our learners. A set of assignments might be too much for one student, just right for another, and not nearly enough for a third. Our survey of parent reflects this.

In June, 184 parents responded to our survey that, “The amount of time my child spends on homework each night is...
  • Too Much 28 15.22%
  • Too Little 35 19.02%
  • Just Right 91 49.46%
  • I'm Not Sure 30 16.30%

As parents, you play a critical role in the homework equation. We rely on you to provide us with feedback when the homework load gets out of balance. We urge you to monitor whether a course is providing an appropriate level of challenge or whether your child is in over his or her head. Be aware of signs of perfectionism and overworking that can easily take hold in middle school. Seek counsel with our teachers and guidance staff to find the unique recipe for balance for your individual child.

In addition to communicating with the school around homework, parents play a pivotal role in navigating the extracurricular terrain.   In survey of students last spring, 109 out of 584 students reported finding their extra-curricular activities to be stressful. Casual conversations with middle schoolers reveal rich after school opportunities, but students often have bags under their eyes and yawn their way through those conversations. Reports of going from private music lessons to club soccer and onto late night basketball practice are dizzying, and some students regularly report not having enough time to complete homework assignments.  It’s easy for after school activities to begin to take on a life of their own and thereby compromise a child’s emotional balance. The menu of options is overwhelming – year-round athletics, dramatic performing groups, dance classes, music lessons, religious education, scouts, club offerings, academic teams, tutoring, enrichment academic offerings, and the list goes on. Parents do not want their children to “miss out” on possibilities and opportunities. They don’t want their children to be left behind their peers and see the proverbial “keeping up with the Jones” may be seen as the only option. 
Two summers ago psychologist Dr. Rob Evans offered Wayland administrators some interesting insight about parental worries. He shared the fact that this is the first generation that parents are less certain that their children may be less well off and secure in their future than their parents. Competition for college feels tougher than ever for coveted spots, and even a college degree does not guarantee employment in a desired field. Years of college debt may loom large. In what feels like a competitive environment there can be a sense of unease that cutting back on activities might mean missing out and putting one’s child at a disadvantage. This leads to a culture of pressure around performance and our kids are feeling it. Even in homes that don’t over-emphasize success, students often feel the stress within their peer culture. 

No one can do it all, however. As parents you have to help your child place limits on his or her extracurricular undertakings. Avoid getting caught up in what other kids are doing and focus on what is best for your child. Then take the time to assess. 
  • Is this activity a good match for your child’s interests and skills?
  • Does your child find joy in his or her pursuit of it?
  • Does keeping up with extracurriculars still allow your family to maintain a sense of equilibrium?
  • Does your child’s schedule allow for adequate sleep and essential down time?
  • Is the activity creating unnecessary stress and interfering with student expectations?

These are important questions to ponder when seeking and maintaining after school balance.
Finally, I encourage you to consider the explicit and implicit messages we send our children around achievement. The following questions are worthy of consideration as it is easy to inadvertently contribute to a high-pressure environment.  How does your family define success and communicate messages about success? Do earning A’s and enrolling in honors classes matter most, or do kindness, honesty, and a balanced pursuit of one’s passions get equal billing? Can you help your children separate self worth from academic performance? Do you emphasize grades over rich learning, or does effort take precedence over outcomes? Is it okay at times for good to be good enough? With these questions in mind, please talk with your child about his or her experiences in school. Keep an eye out for signs of stress and anxiety, and seek guidance when issues are still small. When in doubt, choose calm and support over stress and competition.

As is often the case with a thought provoking film, the issues raised in The Race To Nowhere elicit more questions than answers that keep us thinking for years. As a learning community we have the power to continue to re-shape our norms and take small steps towards a healthier, more balanced existence for our students. Collectively, we can monitor our homework culture, examine the extra-curricular landscape, and be mindful of the language we use to communicate what we value in education. To effectively model balanced living for our students, as adults we too need to talk the talk and walk the walk. I encourage you to embrace, my mother’s wisdom, “Everything in moderation.” 

October 2017

Message from Principal Gavron
My guess is that like me, your experience of learning to write well looks very different from your child’s.  When I was in middle school (ok, it was “junior high” in the ‘80s), my English class looked nothing like the engaging classes I see at Wayland Middle School today.  I can clearly recall my 7th grade English teacher sitting at his desk in the front of the room and assigning us book-work from Warner’s English textbook.  We would obediently copy sentences, underlining the subject once and the predicate twice as we silently worked to identify direct and indirect objects.  It was dreary. While I learned to sniff out a split infinitive, these practices did not to teach me how to find my voice as a writer, select impactful evidence to support my arguments, or learn from my classmates’ wisdom by debating ideas.  Fortunately, the National Council of Teachers of English weighed in, and as early as 1985 declared that, “repetitive grammar drills and exercises"— like diagramming sentences — are "a deterrent to the improvement of students' speaking and writing.”  The good news is that since then, there has been an enormous body of research about how children grow as readers and writers, and our WMS teachers regularly implement best practices.

We follow a process model at Wayland Middle School that asks students to try their hands in a variety of genres to grow their skills as writers.  As resident expert, ELA curriculum leader Carrie Dirmeikis writes, “We believe that the use of short, powerful mentor texts--coupled with criteria charts--makes the complex task of writing transparent and accessible to writers at all levels. This kind of explicit instruction through short, focus-lessons affords us the time and space for what we know (and what research shows) moves writers most: one-on-one conferring.” Unfortunately, despite highly efficient lesson planning, regular conferring with every student in a class of 23 can be a Herculean task. This is why I am so excited about the advent of our new Writing Center to supplement conferring in the classroom.
Staffed by three veteran teachers Meeghan Peirce (ELA), Cori O’Keefe (ELA), and Matt McCormack (Social Studies), The Writing Center offers students an opportunity to build on high quality ELA instruction and writing instruction in the content areas. Students are invited to bring writing work from any discipline to the Writing Center . Armed with a pass from study hall, students find their way to the back of the library where our cozy writing center is housed. Once there, a student completes a quick entrance ticket to identify the assignment and her own goals for growing the piece. After initiating the conversation, the writer has about ten minutes of truly personalized learning, as the teacher and student focus on building one new skill. At the conclusion of the conference, the student leaves with written notes identifying concrete steps she can try independently.
Last week, as I looked through the conferencing forms of literally hundreds of visits, I saw a huge a range of foci across ELA, Social Studies, and Science writing pieces which included:
  • Details to build context and mood
  • Pacing
  • Sentence structure
  • Practice writing main idea statements
  • Outlining a multi-pronged argument
  • Examining model leads and selecting the best type for the topic
  • Strengthening active verbs to convey emotions
  • Organizing detail to theme
  • Thoughtshots to weave in backstory of main character
  • Line breaks
  • Cutting to the bone - eliminating extraneous language
  • Metaphorical expansion
  • Commas vs. semicolons
  • Transitions between time periods
  • Moving from graphic organizer to paragraphing
  • Brainstorming reasons to support thesis
  • Editing (verb tense and paragraphing)
One Writing Center teacher talked to me about wanting the student to leave the conference with a tool that would transfer to pieces across disciplines. For example, he described teaching a student to read the piece aloud to herself. In reading it aloud with him, she could hear and identify places where her word choice and sentence structures sounded repetitive and benefitted from revision to strengthen her argument.

Last week, I also had a conversation with an 8th grade student who is a frequent flier to the Writing Center, having logged six visits already this year.  She is a strong proponent of the benefits of the Writing Center, explaining that, “my regular teacher does not always have the extra time to conference with me. I come to the Writing Center as often as I can to work on my fictional launchpad, my op-ed piece, and my social studies writing about justice. It is is really helpful to go part way through the writing to tweak it and make it better.” Some areas she has focused on through her conferences include:
  • Centering the mood of the description.
  • Working on specificity of language choices,
  • Zooming in on a key moment, and
  • Weaving in a personal experience to expand on the explanation of fairness.  

After a writing center visit, the teacher logs the visit and emails the teacher who assigned the original piece of writing to communicate the key points of the conference. This provides an opportunity for greater double teaming and follow-up by the classroom teacher on the teaching points of the conference.  
All ELA classes have visited the Writing Center, and teachers regularly stop into study halls to remind students about this valuable resource.  While 8th graders have made the most visits as writing demands have increased, in the younger grades word of mouth about the conferring value has spread; 6th and 7th graders too are taking advantage of this amazing resource.  If you would like to encourage your child to utilize this wonderful opportunity, but you can’t seem to get him there on his own, please don’t hesitate to contact your child’s classroom teacher who can give your student a pass and a little nudge to attend. Thank you for partnering with us. Together we can grow one writer at a time, one skill at at a time.

September 2017
Message from Principal Gavron
Happy New Year! Today is the day Mr. Benzie and I have been waiting for all summer. It has been wonderful to rejoice in the bustle of middle-schoolers returning to our hallways. We welcomed taller 7th and 8th graders, heard some deeper voices, and relished in our newly acclimated 6th graders beginning to navigate the middle school hallways. Squeals and hugs marked the joy of reuniting with friends. We also said hello to 29 new students, who have just moved to Wayland from across the globe. It was a recipe for the perfect day to say Happy BERThday to BERT 2.0:
While our globe-like BERT image has served us well at WMS over the past 10 years, it was time for an update. Our amazing art teacher, Pete Curran, walked interested teams of students through a design process of identifying what BERT - Belonging, Empathy Respect And Trust - symbolized and how they might match imagery to that meaning. Cristina Brown and Sophie Simmons, who are now 8th graders, created BERT 2.0 having identified the need for a simpler, more “modern” logo that was easy to read, recognizable, and more “mature” for a middle school audience.
Their image, which was selected last year by staff and students, blends a playful typeface with the colors/shapes of an autumn tree, complete with Wayland colors. The girls determined that the tenets of BERT establish a foundation from which they, as young adults, will take root, grow and thrive. To further their concept, the students also verbalized a strong connection with our WMS house mentors: Thoreau, Carson and King, all of whom espouse caring for the world and its inhabitants. I am so grateful for their creative efforts. We have installed a large BERT display in our front lobby, and smaller ones in each wing as visual reminders for what is most important in our community. You student will also receive a nifty new BERT luggage tag for his or her chromebook later this week.

At WMS we are committed to working hard to make the tenets of BERT our shared reality in our learning community. I spoke with students today about the promise of BERT. While we have seen hate and intolerance on the rise in the world around us, it has no place in Wayland Middle School, where we pledge that:

At Wayland Middle School we welcome civil discourse, vigorous debate of ideas and aim to help students deeply explore multiple perspectives and viewpoints so that they become active, engaged citizens. Racist or religious epithets, homophobic remarks, and sexist put downs can't and won't be tolerated, for they undermine the safety we work so hard to establish. Safety is essential for all students to learn at their best.

We thank you for your partnership in the coming year ahead as we embark on this exciting journey together with your middle-schooler. It is an experience that is sure to be marked with highs and lows and opportunities to build resiliency as your child immerses himself or herself in academic and social opportunities that abound at WMS. Please don't hesitate to reach out to me or Mr. Benzie with questions or concerns throughout the year. We look forward to supporting you and your student.

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