College and Career Readiness through Blended Learning

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Curiosity and Courage
Curiosity and Courage in the Classroom

by Eileen Wedegartner, Blended Learning Specialist

WGBH, one of our Boston NPR stations, recently ran a three-part series titled, “Teaching the Future: Climate Change Education on Cape Cod.” The series explores the challenges for teachers who are trying to teach about climate change when they have not had deep training on the subject.

It’s an interesting look at how teachers are tackling the issue, from the challenge of bringing the science down to the cognitive level of the students to the issues of funding real-life exploration around solving real-world issues.

While listening to the broadcast I thought back to JFK’s speech on September 12, 1962, at Rice University which contained one of his most famous quotes: “William Bradford, speaking in 1630 of the founding of the Plymouth Bay Colony, said that all great and honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties, and both must be enterprised and overcome with answerable courage.” This speech kicked off the investment in science education that would see its fruition on July 20, 1969, when the United States completed its first mission to the moon.

When leaders take the reins and seize the opportunity to ensure that the United States is leading the way in the world, we are capable of incredible feats. Sadly, that is not always the case.

Climate change is real. Some may quibble whether human activity has caused the rapid changes, but I would rather follow the lead that urges we stop arguing about causation and start acting on what we can do for mitigation.

Public K-12 systems are not always where leaders focus their efforts to solve imminent crises. Fortunately, in a group of schools noted on the program, there are teachers who are driven by something greater than fame or funding: they are driven by curiosity. This reminded me of Hobbes’s remark in Leviathan that “Anxiety for the future time disposeth men to enquire into the causes of things: because the knowledge of them maketh men the better able to order the present to their best advantage.” If only we had more anxiety.

The reality is that climate change is happening. We need to engage students in the search for solutions. The GBH program suggests that this sort of problem-solving should not be left exclusively to the science classes. Issues of this global magnitude require the collaboration of all the core subjects, because it will take all the expertise of all our experts in training to confront the challenges of the next generation.

Teaching to the Real Tests, Curiosity and Courage

As an educator, I can’t think of a better way to make school relevant for students than to identify a real issue in their lives. As problem-solvers, students need to be able to look at the scientific facts, the mathematical realities, the social and historical causes, and then evaluate the arguments for and against taking action. And what form that action might take.

Climate change is not the only issue on which this sort of approach would work. There are any number of real-life concerns that encompass all core subjects to encourage our future leaders to solve: energy resources, pollution, health care, disease control, food management, water resources and social justice, to name just a few.

In the moon speech, Kennedy said “If this capsule history of our progress teaches us anything, it is that man, in his quest for knowledge and progress, is determined and cannot be deterred. The exploration of space will go ahead, whether we join in it or not, and it is one of the great adventures of all time, and no nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in the race for space.”

The program notes that “A 2016 study from the National Center for Science Education found that about 75 percent of science teachers do teach about climate change in their classes, but most of them spend only a few hours on it a year.”

It is inspiring to learn about communities that are modeling the sort of determination we need to head off this approaching crisis. This is the curiosity that can foster inquiry-based education that bridges all subject areas and readies today’s students to be the leaders of tomorrow.

As a nation, we need to encourage students be problem solvers. The teachers mentioned in the WGBH program demonstrate the kind of inquisitive courage we, as a nation, need to nurture in order to confront the issues of our time. The program is worth listening to for anyone interested in innovation and relevance in education.

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Strategies for MCAS Next Gen ELA
MCAS Next Gen 2.0 ELA – Expect greater emphasis on text comparison.

by Joan Reissman, MCAS Maven

The biggest change in the MCAS Next Gen 2.0 ELA test, coming to 10th grade next month, is a greater emphasis on text comparison. Although people read every day, much of the reading students do on the phone or computer is recreational. Nobody is going to quiz you on detailed comprehension after you read something on social media. There is ongoing debate over whether students comprehend better on paper or screen. But it’s academic to us, because Next Gen MCAS is coming on a screen.

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JFY Partner School Spotlight - January 2019

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… January 2019 edition.

At Revere High, Students Ace AP Calculus Exam

Erin Cronin said her approach to teaching calculus is collaborative.

“We don’t lower our expectations here”.

State figures show 62 percent of Revere High students don’t speak English as a first language and 47 percent are economically disadvantaged, but they outperform peers across the state on Advanced Placement calculus tests. Read more on this worthy achievement.

Source:, digital subscription required after free article offer.

Holyoke High School Wrestling Team Holds Fundraiser

Local veterans benefit

A high school wrestling match in Holyoke doubled as a fundraiser for veterans in need.

Proceeds from the fundraiser will go to Vet-Air, a non-profit organization that provides veterans with transportation to and from medical appointments. Read more.

Source: 22NEWS

Visions of Youth at Greater Lowell Tech and more

High school artists inspire

24 exceptional young artists from six area schools took part in the first annual Greater Lowell Student Art Show.

Young artists submitted work from Innovation Academy, Chelmsford High, Greater Lowell Tech, Lowell Catholic High and Tyngsboro High; each school choosing four student artists. Learn more about these talented artists.


Gov. Baker Delivers $3.3 Million in School Grants

Greater Lowell Tech received $68,504 to fund a new computer lab with training stations for computer networking, security and cyber operations. Both students at the school and adult learners will be able to use the lab to build skills in information technology, programming and web development. Learn more about the $3.3 million in school grants.


Sunday Fun Day at Quincy Library All Year Long

With the Patriots playing on the television at home and her Spanish homework hanging over her, one student headed out for a place where she knew she would find peace and quiet on a Sunday. Her local library.

Quincy’s Thomas Crane Public Library is one of 8 South Shore towns with Sunday hours. More on these SoShore libraries.


Holyoke, Amherst Schools Receive $300K Bilingual Education Grant

Amherst and Holyoke public schools will share a $300,000 bilingual education grant.

“Holyoke, home to the first Dual Language Program in Western Massachusetts, will utilize the funds in support of their efforts to expand their program to ensure their vision of a pathway for every student and provide students with the opportunity to earn the Seal of Biliteracy.” Read the entire article here.


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MCAS 2.0: Standards-based assessments support data-driven, student-centered instruction

How standards-based assessments support data-driven, student-centered instruction

by Cathie Maglio, Blended Learning Specialist

The JFYNet program creates opportunity by using technology in the form of student-centered blended learning to help young people develop the skills to thrive in school and ultimately in the world of work. This is accomplished by working in schools to help students improve their reading, writing and math skills. There are a few ways to measure the skill development of each student: MCAS scores, quizzes embedded in the software programs, scores on SAT and Accuplacer, and finally placements directly into college-level classes without remediation.

MCAS, the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, is the state benchmark assessment that measures skills and governs the issuance of high school diplomas. By the end of 12th grade, all students must achieve a passing score in math, reading and a science subject. The JFYNet program provides preparation for the math and English tests. By using online math and reading comprehension programs, we help students develop their skills to the levels needed to reach the state performance standards. JFYNet creates MCAS-aligned assignments and tasks that enable students to practice the skills and master the content needed for the MCAS.

The MCAS is derived directly from the state curriculum standards that were developed in the 1990s and are constantly updated by hundreds of teachers. Each question on the MCAS refers to a specific curriculum standard. There is a longstanding critique of “teaching to the test.” This critique misses the point that the test is a subset of the state standards. With 70,000 tenth graders, it would be impossible to gauge each student’s skills without some form of assessment. “Standardized” testing actually means testing on the standards. The test tells the teacher where the student needs help. If we want to base instruction on data, we need to collect data. MCAS and other “standardized” tests give us data that enable us to adjust instruction to the actual needs of the student. This is data-driven student-centered instruction.

The JFYNet methodology produces measurable results. One of the schools I support, East Boston High, has an intensive MCAS program for 9th and 10th graders. These students use the JFYNet reading comprehension program 80 minutes a week, two 40- minute periods, to work on reading and writing skills. They read nonfiction articles that are relevant to what is happening in our world today and articles that correlate to skills being taught in the classroom. They answer questions and write responses based on the readings. Thanks to the dedicated teachers who used this program with their students, the school’s Proficient and Advanced MCAS percentages in ELA rose 8 points from 2017 to 2018. This is a significant one-year increase.

9th and 10th grade math classes at East Boston High also use a JFYNet math program two 40-minute periods a week to strengthen math skills. The curriculum is tightly aligned to the curriculum standards on which MCAS is based. The 10th grade students who used this program last year achieved a 9-point increase in Proficient and Advanced percentages, beating the ELA gain.

JFYNet is now preparing the students at East Boston High to take the new NextGen MCAS 2.0 test in spring 2019. 9th and 10th graders in the ELA classes are well on their way to covering the material they will need for the new test in March. These classes have increased their average score on the embedded reading comprehension assignments to 72%, a big improvement over the 65% that was measured on the same internal assessment system a few years ago.

9th and 10th grade math classes are working on assignments based on the Massachusetts Math Frameworks. Students practice one or two standards per week. This preparation will help them on the MCAS 2.0 math test in May.

East Boston High is not the only school that employs the JFYNet program to prepare their students for MCAS by making sure they demonstrate proficiency on the curriculum standards that underly the test. More than 40 schools, mostly high schools but some middle schools too, have used JFYNet since 2000. More than 70,000 students have augmented their skills and improved their chances of entering college at the credit-earning level, or finding employment. The new MCAS 2.0 creates a new set of challenges for schools and students. JFYNet is ready and willing to help them, as we have been since the advent of statewide standards and assessment.

Related content found here.

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Words Matter, Language and liability in a sensitive time

What did he say and When did he say it? And what did he mean?

By Greg Cunningham, Blended Learning Specialist

When I read recently that UMass Amherst football coach Mark Whipple had been suspended for using the word “rape” in a press conference, a burst of memory went off in my mind. I flashed back to the high school cafeteria line where a classmate blurted “I just got raped by that calculus test.” No one blinked. My first thought was not about his choice of words, but my GPA. His grades in calculus were usually higher than mine; if he had done poorly, my grade would probably be zero.

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Meet the new MCAS with confidence and success

by Eileen Wedegartner, Blended Learning Specialist

I started teaching in 1998. My first year I filled in for a teacher in a Boston exurb. The school was my alma mater, so English department staff took me under their wings to help me do the best one could hope for a first-year teacher. They gave me lesson plans, coached me on practice and helped me develop some good curriculum. By all measures, I had a great year in my first year of teaching.

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Thank you for your continued support

Dear friend of JFYNetWorks,

You may remember a young man named Joey whom we have featured before. Joey was a pleasant, affable high school student with a winning smile and a low opinion of himself. “I want to go to college,” he said, “but I’m not sure I can do it. There’s too much to learn. How am I ever going to make it?” We have recounted how we helped Joey work his way through our College Readiness course by showing him the periodic reports that documented how much he had achieved and how much closer he was to the goal. Our blended learning specialist, Melissa, even counted the number of software modules he had to complete and checked them off as he did them. By the end of the year, he had learned enough to pass the college placement test. In the fall, he was admitted to community college without having to take any remedial courses. We’ll never forget his charmingly modest expression of triumph to Melissa: “I got this, Miss.”

Every year, we ask you to help us prepare disadvantaged young people like Joey for college and careers. But does everyone have to go to college? Aren’t there jobs that don’t require a degree? Is college really worth the cost? We hear these questions often. As college costs rise, we hear them more often. With unemployment at historic lows, it’s a seller’s market for job-seekers. So why bother with college?

If the economy were a static system, it would make sense to count on current conditions continuing. But the economy is not static. It’s as changeable as the weather—or oil prices. Today’s sunny labor market could cloud over in one bad quarter, or one oil shock, or one revolution halfway around the globe. Or it could implode as it did barely a decade ago.

Even if nothing undermines our full-employment labor market, technological advance is changing the content of every job in that market. New technology drives new processes, and new processes require new skills. American workers will have to learn new skills throughout their careers.

This tech-driven need for re-skilling has changed employers’ ideas. When they describe the skill set they are looking for now, they list critical thinking, problem-solving, communication skills, teamwork, ability to find and use information—a profile commonly dubbed “21st Century Skills.”

These skills sound a lot like the skills needed for college and, in fact, they are the very same. The education goal of “College and Career Readiness” adopted a decade ago signaled the recognition of the new labor market in which skills are the primary raw material and innovation the primary product.

College used to be the province of the few and fortunate who could afford to spend four years inside ivy-covered walls. Now we use the term “post-secondary training” to include a range of options from technical certificates to coding camps to associate degrees and including bachelor’s and advanced degrees. The new post-secondary training doesn’t necessarily happen in one concentrated chunk immediately after high school. It can be modularized over time as the learner’s career develops and requires new skills. The old static concept of college is morphing into a new paradigm of flexible lifelong learning that adapts to the evolving life and career needs of the learner.

Does everyone have to go to college? The answer is no—not in the old sheepskin and mortar board sense. But does everyone need the skills to handle college? Yes, because the skills required for college and for careers are now identical. The 21st Century workplace is every bit as cognitively challenging as any college classroom. 21st Century skills rest on a strong academic foundation but go far beyond classroom theory into the applied world of work. And there’s no final exam—this course never ends.

JFY helps young people build the foundational skills that underly every academic and career endeavor. Last year we helped 4500 high school students develop those skills through blended learning programs that prepared them for high school and college benchmark assessments. This year we are on track to reach even more. We’re the largest College and Career academic support program in the state, and we work hard to be the best.

Your charitable contributions help us support and guide young people like Joey toward a productive future. Whether they go on to further education or training, or go into the workforce or the military, the skills we help them develop give them the foundation to keep up with the changing demands of the workplace. And it’s not just they who benefit: their productivity keeps our economy thriving for all of us.

As we approach the holidays, we thank you for the support you have given us and ask you to renew it. With your continued help, we will continue to help build a skilled, competitive workforce one young person, like Joey, at a time.

With deepest appreciation and best wishes,

Gary Kaplan


Gary Kaplan
Executive Director


Donate to Help a Student Today

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New twists and how not to get tangled up

by Joan Reissman, Blended Learning Specialist

There has been a lot of discussion about the new MCAS 2.0 test. Parents and teachers are wondering how they can help students build the skills they need to succeed. The biggest difference is that the test will no longer be on paper. It’s online. Although students use technology every day, that doesn’t mean they will automatically know how to navigate the test. The first step in preparation is to make sure that students understand how to navigate through the test and answer all questions.

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Tragedy and Triumph, The Highs and Lows of Working in Schools

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.

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What educators can learn from the Red Sox, Good of the Student

Humans do not always perform according to algorithm

by Greg Cunningham, Blended Learning Specialist

The Red Sox won the World Series this fall for the fourth time in fourteen years. If any of my friends had told me in 2003 that the Red Sox would collect four World Series championships in the next decade and a half, I would have told them they were crazy. (Disclosure: I strongly believe most of my friends to be crazy anyway.)

Championships do not happen by fluke. The cosmic forces of the universe have to align to create just one instance when a team is permitted to accomplish such a feat. Okay, having great talent helps: but the team with the most talented players does not always win– and often does not. It takes a myriad of little things to make a championship happen. A former boss of mine used to preach to the staff: “Worry about the little things. Big things take care of themselves.” For the Red Sox, those little things began on the very first day of Spring Training. For us fans in the world of education, there are lessons to be learned here.


From the very first day, manager Alex Cora made his philosophies and strategies clear to his players. Much of it had to do with rest. He was preparing the team not just for the 162-game season but for a deep playoff run as well. He made this clear to the players and communicated days in advance when a player was to have a scheduled day off. When Xander Bogaerts received such a text during the first week of the regular season he replied, “You really weren’t kidding about those days off?”

Communication is vital to the success of any endeavor. When an administrator issues a blanket policy to teachers without explanation or any type of logic, it can cause a backlash among the staff. The same thing goes for a teacher to students: if students do not understand why the classroom is run the way it is, or why they are doing an assignment, they may not fully buy in. Complete buy-in was essential for the Red Sox. Alex Cora’s players would run through walls for their manager by mid-season. Many were at that point much earlier. He gained their trust and he had a plan. Which, it turned out, worked exactly the way he intended.

For the good of students, it takes a team

Right vs Wrong

Cora could seemingly do no wrong during the playoffs. His moves were inscrutable. Brock Holt was the first player ever to hit for the cycle in the playoffs. He was pulled from the lineup the next night. Eduardo Nunez pinch-hitting for Rafael Devers? Three-run home run! But there were times during the season, and even once in the playoffs, when Cora admitted a mistake. “The game got a little bit ahead of me,” was a line he used more than once during the season. He frankly admitted leaving Eduardo Rodriguez in for one batter too many in World Series Game 4, resulting in a three-run homer. Shades of Grady Little.

A manager admitting a mistake was unusual and refreshing. It earned him respect from fans and the media alike. Administrators and teachers are much like managers and coaches: we hate to admit when we’ve made a mistake. But teachers will have great respect for an administrator who concedes that an idea of his wasn’t exactly what the school needed; and students will respect a teacher who admits that “The class got a little bit ahead of me. ” It is usually abundantly obvious to both teachers and students when mistakes are made. Not admitting them demonstrates a lack of humility and can even project a sense of arrogance. No one is buying in when arrogance rears its ugly head.

Trust Instincts

Cora and the crew who crunch numbers for the team did an outstanding job behind the scenes. Cora had a wealth of information about his own players and the opponents for each game. But every once in a while, he played a hunch rather than going strictly by the numbers. There is a quirky human factor in the game of baseball, and sometimes things happen that make absolutely no statistical sense.

In education, the wealth of standardized testing delivers ample data for teachers and administrators. But as professional educators, we know our students. Teachers and even administrators are human, and humans do not always perform according to algorithm. The people in the trenches and on the front lines know their students best, and know when to let instinct trump statistics. The hunch played in a classroom can result in an academic grand slam for a student.


Early in the season, J.D. Martinez made the unprecedented request to have his batting practice sessions videotaped so he could analyze them. It did not take long for all the players to request the same thing and suddenly the team had a new resource to improve hitting.

Administrators may find that the best ideas come from teachers, and teachers can discover a new idea or method of presenting material by listening to students. If the staff and students have truly bought in to the goals set for the school, everyone has a stake in the game and everyone will find a way to contribute.

Best for the Team

One of the best moments of the World Series came in the middle of the ninth inning. For the entire playoff run, the pitching staff threw their concerns about protecting their arms out the window. Players who threw over 100 pitches one day were volunteering to pitch the next. Immediately after the 18 inning Game 3 marathon, Alex Cora had no less than four pitchers in his office volunteering to start game 4. One of them was Nathan Eovaldi who had just finished throwing 97 pitches in more than six innings of relief.

In the ninth inning of Game 5, Chris Sale, the originally announced starter, began warming up in the bullpen. As the bottom of the ninth began, the bullpen door opened and all the pitchers lined up and applauded Sale as he entered the game. It was a sight even veteran baseball fans had never seen. Most players want the ball, and while they may never admit it, they get a bit jealous when another pitcher gets the call. This group were all about what was best for the team. They checked their egos at the bullpen door.

Our focus as educators always has to be on the good of the students. It can be hard to focus on the task in front of us and not stew about the colleague who has an easier schedule or has students who are more focused and teachable. Borrowing a page from the Patriots playbook, everyone on the 2018 Red Sox did their job and showed no qualms about the assignments handed to other teammates. The result was another duck boat parade.

It takes an entire organization to shepherd a team to success. From the very top down, everyone must find a way to buy in, trust each other, and always focus on the common good. It isn’t easy. It takes a very special type of leadership to foster such trust and commitment—even when it takes until 3:30 a.m. to see the results. The more students find ways to make great plays, the more teachers can celebrate, and administrators can plan for the duck boat parade.