The Highs and Lows of Working in Schools
by Cathie Maglio, Blended Learning Specialist
The schools I work in have been back in session since the beginning of September. I was excited to get back to see teachers I have worked with for years, to meet teachers who are new to the JFYNet program, and to see all the students, new and returning. I have also gone to new schools, giving presentations on the JFYNet blended learning program. I enjoy doing these demonstrations since it gives me a chance to meet other teachers and principals and to show them a program that I know helps raise students’ skills and scores on MCAS and college placement testing.
Since the beginning of school, two events have illustrated the range of experiences one encounters in the course of providing academic support to high schools.
The first event was tragic. A senior in one of my schools, who had been my JFYNet student as a sophomore, was killed in a car accident. This young girl played three sports and worked hard in all her classes. She was a positive presence in the school. It was a devastating loss that affected the whole school community.
It reminded me of the first time I encountered such a tragic event. When I was in the 5th grade, a girl named Cindy who was in my Girl Scout troop was hit by a car walking home one November night. She died a few days later. I clearly remember attending her funeral with the rest of my scout troop. Even after all these years, I have never forgotten her.
The recent tragedy and my reawakened memory made me think about how schools help students deal with the grief that follows a classmate’s death. Today, grief counselors are called in immediately. When I was in 5th grade, there were no grief counselors. We were pretty much on our own with our feelings. But even now, I wonder what happens when the grief counselors leave. Do teachers and guidance counselors continue to talk to students about how to deal with their grief in a healthy way? Students are left with constant reminders of the lost classmate: walking past her vacant locker, the empty desk where she once sat, the remembered sound of her laughter, the void of her absence. Just as I have never forgotten my lost friend, I am sure this girl’s schoolmates will never forget her.
On a much different and happier note, I was ecstatic to hear that one of my schools had logged a big increase in MCAS scores. The previous year, scores had gone down and everyone was worried about the decline. To reverse the slide, we had focused relentlessly all year on increasing time on task in our program, and the time had almost doubled. The increase in scores, both in ELA and math, showed that focus and discipline pay off. It was a triumph for the school and for JFY.
The geometry teachers created tasks in our math software that aligned with the curriculum standards that MCAS tests. (Tasks are multi-stage problems similar to MCAS open response questions.) Each geometry class was assigned one task per week. At the end of each week, I produced a report for the dean of math. From this report, he and the geometry teachers could see exactly which standards each student needed to work on. This individualized formative assessment enabled the teachers to effectively prepare their students for the MCAS test by focusing attention precisely where each student needed help.
On the English Language Arts side, teachers were held accountable for spending 80 minutes each week in the JFYNet online curriculum. Students were pushed to work towards a score of 75% or higher on the assigned reading comprehension activities, which also mimicked MCAS open response. As with math, I generated reports that informed teachers of the time their students were spending in the program and their scores. Teachers could then zero in on students who were not logging their 80 minutes or whose scores fell below the 75% target—usually the same students. This formative assessment regimen helped students become closer readers and better at understanding what they read. As a result, their Lexile scores—the standard measurement of reading proficiency—increased. The systematic focus on student effort and measured skill gains led to higher scores on the MCAS ELA tests. In both math and ELA, we’re continuing to push for more time on task this year.
These results reinforced my confidence that the JFYNet program works if it is implemented properly. Focusing instruction on the right content, maintaining the discipline of time on task, and monitoring individual student performance to spot weaknesses and respond with immediate curriculum adjustments will lead to higher skills and higher scores. I’ve seen it happen for many years in many schools, but I still get a thrill out of each year’s results. For each year’s group of students, it’s their first time. Maybe that’s why the thrill of triumph never wears off.