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Rising to the Challenge

Rising to the Challenge - How JFY’s dedicated staff helped teachers and students beat the shutdown

by Gary Kaplan

How JFY’s dedicated staff helped teachers and students beat the shutdown

When schools closed in March of last year, it was unclear whether or how classes could continue. No one had anticipated the need for a transition to full-time online instruction. (Why would they?) But teachers in our partner schools were able to continue their classes remotely using the same JFYNet resources they had been using all year in the classroom. Students were able to access their software curricula without interruption during the spring and summer. The transition from in-person to remote was not without its rough spots, but teachers and students were able to continue their classes. Our staff maintained their practice of working closely with teachers via email, text and video conference to track and support students’ learning throughout the shutdown. Working together, we kept school in session.

In September of last year it became clear that remote learning was going to continue for the foreseeable future. As teachers settled in to the new conditions, more schools requested our services. The most important priority was, and continues to be, keeping students engaged in their class work and moving ahead in the acquisition of grade-level skills from pre-high school to 10th grade MCAS and on to college and career readiness.

We have been able to help students meet those goals because our staff rose to the occasion. Immediately after schools closed in March we began having daily Zoom staff meetings. They analyzed the situation and determined that schools would need online math and ELA curricula that meet the state standards at every grade level. If and when MCAS was administered, schools would need MCAS-focused alignments. Students would still want to go to college, so college readiness and placement test preparation would be needed. Learning models were in flux, so teachers would need the tools necessary for all models, remote, hybrid or in-person.

To say our staff rose to the occasion is a gross understatement. To meet the new needs of remote instruction, they expanded our supplemental high school ELA and math programs into full grade-level curricula for grades 6 through 12. Then they created powerpoints and training videos to show teachers how to use these materials. They held regular webinars for groups of teachers and individual teachers to guide them through the new online instructional landscape. Considering the breadth and depth of disrupted instruction, they created a library of online materials to support science and social studies. Within a few months, these tools included the following:

  • Comprehensive online curricula in ELA and math with integrated assessments covering all standards prescribed by the state or district;
  • A library of supplemental online resources in ELA, math, science and social studies;
  • A deep portfolio of resources and strategies to individualize instruction and address the needs of low income, special needs and English Learner students;
  • Increased support for teachers, provided online and through videoconference, in the use of JFYNet’s online methods, materials and practices.

Because our curriculum has always been online, teachers and students could transition easily between home and school. This seamlessness provided a stabilizing foundation in the midst of disruption. The efficiency of including instruction, assessments and student work in a single, easily accessible online location made continuity possible. The stability of the JFYNet online platform anchored learning and accountability across operational models even as circumstances changed. The continuous training and support for teachers helped maintain consistency and equity.

Despite the heroic efforts of teachers and students across the Commonwealth, the past year and a half of disruption has exacted an as-yet undetermined cost in learning loss. The magnitude of that loss will become clear when students return to the classroom in September and normal assessment processes resume. It will take a massive effort to restore lost learning and close achievement gaps. Teachers will need the full range of online tools to assess and then customize instruction to individual student needs. Because of our staff’s work over the past two years, JFY can provide those tools

In addition to recovering baseline skills at every grade level, there will be a strong demand for college readiness. Students who postponed college during the pandemic will be anxious to recover and prepare. Community College enrollment this year was down 20%, creating a large cohort of delayed students who will be determined to catch up to college readiness and early college.

JFY is uniquely positioned to support the statewide effort of recovery and acceleration that begins now and will continue for several years. As we head into the coming year, when all the pandemic bills will be coming due, teachers and students will need our online methods and materials, and our support, more than they ever have. Our online system will no longer be an optional support: it will be the necessary core structure for regaining lost learning and closing achievement gaps.

JFY began working with online instruction in the late 1990s, long before the full implications of the technology were understood. Thanks to that early start, we have the experience and the expertise to support the schools that have counted on us in past years, and the new schools that will need our support in the critical coming years. The economic and social stakes of our educational challenge could not be higher. Thanks to the talent, skill and dedication of our staff, JFYNetWorks can help schools, teachers, students and parents rise to the challenge of post-pandemic success.

Gary Kaplan is executive director of JFYNetWorks.

Other posts authored by Gary can be found here.

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