College and Career Readiness through Blended Learning

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Active Reading, Active Thinking Distinctions sharp and shaded

Distinctions sharp and shaded

by Eileen Wedegartner, Blended Learning SPECIALIST

I’m sitting in an ELL classroom.  Students are reading articles in our online curriculum and working through the meanings of unfamiliar words.  The teacher in this class has stressed the techniques of active reading: note-taking and annotating a text as you read, asking questions, summarizing and making connections.  The students are practicing these techniques as I observe.

We know that the techniques of active reading are good study skills.  They are recommended as best practices in Sheltered English Immersion (SEI) professional development programs.  But the usefulness of these techniques goes beyond SEI.  Annotating and note-taking are strategies that good readers and successful students of all descriptions use to fully understand what they are reading.

At the end of the class, one student comes up to talk about how excited he is to have figured out a phrase he encountered in his article.  The phrase was “not a sharp distinction between these two ideas.”  He did not know what it meant, and he proudly shows the teacher and me how he worked it out visually. He draws two boxes on a sheet of paper to represent the two ideas.  Then he draws a knife between them.  Then he shades over the knife because it is not supposed to be sharp. With that, he looks up at the teacher and me and explains that he was able to figure out that “not a sharp distinction” was the same as “not a clear difference” between the two ideas.

He was able to work out the meaning because he had taken the time to pause, reflect, ask questions and make connections within the terms of the text.

Active reading is a time-tested strategy that can be used in any classroom.  I am finding that the techniques can also be used with individualized online instruction to help students engage in thoughtful interactions with a text.

Practicing these techniques will enable this young man to expand his mastery of language: tone, mode, denotation and connotation, the shades of word choice.  These skills have relevance beyond the classroom.  The success of a democratic society relies on the thoughtfulness of its citizens and their ability to make sense of difficult texts, written and verbal.  Active reading, active listening and active thinking are the foundations of responsible political decision making.

After the class, I feel assured that this young man will approach his role in our democracy with the thoughtfulness it requires and deserves.  He will interrogate texts with his active inquiry skills.  He will figure out distinctions, sharp and shaded.  I am happy to have played a part in his development as a reader and a citizen.  Experiences like this make all the challenges of education worthwhile.

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JFYNet is my Dream Job

My dream Job! How I got here had many twists and turns.

by Cathie Maglio, Blended Learning SPECIALIST

From 5th grade on all I wanted was to be a math teacher. And I did that after graduating from college, but it turned out not to be a good experience for me, so I left the classroom and looked for other forms of instructing. I worked as a data technician, a technical illustrator and tech writer, and a marketing assistant. I got closer to teaching in the classroom when I worked in textbook publishing and got to influence how math concepts were taught in the classroom.

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Labor shortage continues. 99% of jobs go to college graduates

Labor Shortage Continues

99% of Jobs Go to College Graduates

by Gary Kaplan, JFYNetWorks Executive Director

“There are no jobs for high school diplomas.”

The May jobs report reiterates a theme we have been hearing with increasing urgency: the shortage of skilled labor. The current 4.3% unemployment rate is a 16-year low. That means there are very few unattached workers available at a time when job openings are near all-time highs. For employers who can’t find qualified workers it means foregoing opportunities for expansion. For the economy at large it means slower growth. But it’s not just a quantitative problem, it’s also qualitative: there aren’t enough workers with the specific skills employers need. The wide range and varied dimensions of the skills shortage are indicated by a survey of Saturday’s newspaper reports.

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JFYNetWorks Partner School Spotlight

Sometimes We Need to Be Reminded…
… that our schools are full of great kids, hard-working and creative teachers, overworked and underappreciated administrators, and effective programs.

Read more about some of these outstanding people, schools and communities in our series: Spotlighting JFYNetWorks Partner Schools… May 2017 addition.

East Boston High School: Class of ’70 Donates Piano to School

“We figured we could get the Class of ’70 together and ask our fellow classmates to donate $70 to help get a piano back at the high school,” said Debbi White, Class of ’70. “Some people sent in checks for $70, some sent in checks for a little more and we received donations from East Boston Savings Bank, the Rotary Club and the East Boston Foundation. Read more here.


Congrats! North Quincy High School Science Teacher Named Top Mass. Educator

North Quincy High School science teacher Cara Pekarcik has been named the 2018 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year.


Students’ fundraising yields $5,000 for Dr. Seuss Museum

The soon-to-open Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum benefited from the efforts of city students with a donation that, when matched from area businesses, yielded more than $5,000. Story found here.


Shawsheen students earn SkillsUSA medals

Twenty-eight members of Shawsheen Valley Regional Technical High School’s SkillsUSA chapter earned gold, silver or bronze medal at the 43rd annual SkillsUSA Leadership and Skills Conference held April 27 and 28 at Blackstone Valley Technical High School. Full story here.


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Video needs context

Testing for college readiness is here to stay, so let’s keep it in context.

by Greg Cunningham, JFYNetWorks Blended Learning Specialist

Video violence floods our feeds. Angry people raging, flight attendants mauling passengers, sports fans bellowing and berating, demonstrators denigrating and damning. Even the once-staid networks lead with the day’s most explosive visuals. The tsunami of video has not only engulfed reality, it has become our primary reality. We don’t see events– we see the video of events. Without the video, we wouldn’t know an event had occurred. Seeing may still be believing, but what we’re seeing is the virtual reality of cell phones, drones and real-time streaming.

What video does not provide is context. What happened before the recording started? Was there provocation? Was there a reason for violent reaction? Was it self-defense? This is not to justify violence or boorishness, but the lack of context around raw footage titillates our sensationalistic addiction and stimulates our craving without providing enough information to understand what actually happened. Sound bites and sight bites are not a balanced information diet. Context is everything in the quest for definitive knowledge, if indeed we want such knowledge.

In the world of education, students and teachers have been asked for decades to furnish definitive proof that students are ready to graduate from high school, and ready to take college courses. State tests were developed in the early 2000s to provide documented proof. But do the qualifying tests we require students to pass really provide a legitimate context? Or are test scores simply raw video exploiting our statistical addiction and avoiding a more complete and accurate contextual assessment of the student?

The score on any test– SAT, ACT or Accuplacer— is intended to demonstrate readiness for college-level work. The higher the score, the readier the student should be. But the score may not tell the whole story; context may be necessary in order to reach an accurate judgment about the student.

To be successful in college and after, students need the skills to read, write and compute at the necessary levels, engage in critical thinking, gather information and organize it in a clear and concise essay. A student can cram and pass a test, but that hardly demonstrates mastery of the subject. Months later, when the crammed information has been forgotten, the skills are not likely to be available for use in an academic or employment context.

Complex skills develop over time. They should be acquired, assessed and measured incrementally during that period of time. JFY’s blended learning model, which includes assessment, instruction, measurement and classroom support, enables a student to build skills incrementally and cumulatively. The objective is not just to pass a test, but to develop and practice the skills necessary for college and career success. Instructional software can differentiate lessons individually based on the student’s needs. Combined with coordinated teacher-led classroom instruction in the blended learning model, it is a proven winner for students and teachers. When students improve their skills and systematically build on those skills, they are assured not only of passing tests but of achieving higher levels of competence in college classes and in the workplace.

Like the videos that swamp our newsfeeds, testing is here to stay. But treating a test as an end in itself is the equivalent of raw video with no context. If students are fully engaged in the classroom with a teacher and software customized to their learning needs– the blended learning model– they are in the best position to build their skills and advance toward higher-level critical thinking, writing, communication and creative problem-solving. Test scores will follow, and we won’t need screaming video to prove it!

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by Gary Kaplan, JFYNetWorks Executive Director

The need for a higher-skilled workforce is real.

by Gary Kaplan, JFYNetWorks Executive Director

The March state employment report (released in late April) focuses on two concerns: weak job growth and a shortage of skilled workers. Job growth waxes and wanes from month to month, but the skilled worker shortage has been a constant refrain for years. The Federal Reserve regional summary (the Beige Book) for April seconds the call for more workers at every skill level.

It’s no news that Massachusetts—like the region and the entire country—needs to upskill its workforce. Weak population growth and accelerating baby boom retirements intensify the need for more and higher-skilled workers. But the number of college graduates—the statistical proxy for skilled workers—has been flat for years, and college enrollments are actually declining. The Department of Higher Education says that Massachusetts is producing 6000 too few post-secondary graduates each year to satisfy labor market demand. In order to keep the economy booming, we need to increase the number of college graduates.

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Early College initiative

‘Equitable Access’ a Priority

Earlier this month a Boston Globe editorial gave a good overview of the state’s new early college initiative.

As the editorial points out, the great challenge will be to include low-income students, whose rates of college completion lag far behind more affluent students. The resolution that created the program prioritizes “students underrepresented in higher education enrollment and completion.” This language includes the overlapping categories of minority and special needs students as well as low-income. It will be necessary to include all these groups if the goal of 16,000 early college students per year is to be met. To put that goal into perspective, the total number of public high school graduates entering the state public higher education system each year is about 20,000.

The “design principle” that spells out these priorities is headed “Equitable Access.” It recommends “student supports to prepare students for entry into the program” and “student supports to promote success.” These student supports will be necessary to broaden and deepen the early college pool; and they are exactly what JFYNet College and Career Readiness provides. Early College will require that students meet the goal of “college readiness” one, two or more years earlier than at present– a significant boost in high school performance standards. Raising the skills of “underrepresented” students to college level is not a trivial task. Remediation rates at community colleges, the best available gauge of the skills of this group, have hovered over 60% since the 1990s.

The success of this initiative will depend on a strong program of skill-focused academic supports to bring these students to college readiness. JFYNet is extending its instructional sequence, currently MCAS Prep and College Readiness (Accuplacer), to encompass early college supports. This move links our mission, expertise and experience in raising the skills of “underrepresented” students to the next stage of education reform. As a tested and proven method of achieving college readiness in high school, JFYNet can provide the academic support component that early college needs. College readiness is still the necessary pre-condition of college success—especially when college starts early.

Gary Kaplan
Executive Director

44 School Street, Suite 1010
Boston MA 02108
Phone 617-338-0815 x 224

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JFYNetWorks Partner School Spotlight

MARCH 2017 Edition JFYNet Partner School Spotlight

Sometimes We Need to Be Reminded…

… that our schools are full of great kids, hard-working and creative teachers, overworked and underappreciated administrators, and effective programs.

Read more about some of these outstanding people, schools and communities in our New Series: Spotlighting JFYNetWorks Partner Schools.

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FY Executive staff with Speaker DeLeo

JFYNetWorks board and staff enjoyed the company of House Speaker Robert DeLeo at a recent event in Boston. JFY Chairman Otis Gates and the Speaker shared reminiscences of their mutual alma mater,#BostonLatinSchool. Left to Right: Otis Gates, JFY Board Chairman; Susan Dunnigan, Board Secretary; House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo; Kevin Macdonald, Board Treasurer; Gary Kaplan, Executive Director.

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JFYNet Partner School Spotlight

JFYNet Partner School Spotlight

By Patti Parisella, JFYNetWorks Fiscal Director

Our #JFYNetPartnerSchool spotlight series features stories about our partner schools and the good work they do for students and their communities.

What do you think of when you hear the words “college and career readiness”?  Do you think of pathways to college and careers?  Maybe you think of remedial college courses, or closing the achievement gap, or finding success in the workforce?

It can be easy to forget what all these outcomes have in common: Schools.  Incredible schools.  Schools that keep their communities vital by working to help young people develop the skills to thrive in college or technical training and in careers.