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preparation for life

Giving thanks in a socially distanced year

by Gary Kaplan

This will be a Thanksgiving like no other.

Our customary rituals of gathering and sharing will be at best constrained, at worst cancelled. The very idea of social distancing is antithetical to the spirit of the season.

But thanks has many dimensions. Even in our current global health crisis, we can find occasion for thanks. Consider the selflessness and dedication of our health workers who put their own lives at risk to help save the lives of others. Just as much as the “greatest generation” who answered the call to World War II, these doctors, nurses, medical technicians, ambulance drivers, maintenance crew members and countless others are demonstrating every day and every night what service to others means. In the fractured, antagonistic state of our polarized society, their selfless behavior demonstrates that the bonds of social cohesion can still be activated.

The rapid emergence of a Covid 19 vaccine is another cause for thanks. Readers who remember the polio epidemic of the early 1950s and the miraculous deliverance of the Salk vaccine are experiencing déjà vu. Once again, faced with an existential threat, human creativity has risen to the challenge. Human creativity has always risen to the existential challenge. QED: Here we still are. Existential challenges are accumulating and gathering increasing gravity. This current scientific triumph gives hope that the power of human creativity will prove equal to the scale of our other looming challenges.

In the field of education, the Covid shutdown has pushed us to find new ways of teaching and learning. Technology, a constant example of human creativity, has provided the tools that are being used by teachers, students, parents and all strata of the education enterprise to invent new ways of communicating in the expanded online classroom. Though not as immediately lifesaving as medical care and vaccination, education can claim existential status as the fundamental culture-defining and socially unifying process. Education establishes norms and values as well as imparting practical skills. In this time of social fragmentation, now aggravated by enforced social distancing, online education performs a convening and bonding function that may be even more crucial for our post-virus recovery than academic skills. Digital cohesion may offer an antidote to the alienation of social distancing.

In these fragmented times, we are more appreciative than ever of the creativity and commitment of the extended community of educators, to whom we give our heartfelt thanks.

Gary Kaplan is the executive director of JFYNetWorks


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Stress and Pressure: Helping Students Navigate

We need to help them manage expectations effectively.


by Eileen Wedegartner, Blended Learning Specialist

Growing up, I remember there were high school students around me who had either attempted to take their own life or had done so. As a teen, it shook me to think that anyone felt that alone. It was sad, but it was also an anomaly.

In the last few years, a community near mine experienced a spike in suicides among high school students. It was enough of a crisis that the Boston Globe wrote about it in the article “After suicides in Acton and Boxborough, A Communion of Sorrow.”

Philosophy in a Traffic Jam; Pondering Uncultured, Aggressive, Rude Behavior

Acrimony and outlandish behavior the new norm?

by Greg Cunningham, Blended Learning Specialist

Adults are not always on their best behavior. One need only drive on the Expressway during rush hour to confirm this truth. We do the best we can, especially around children, but sometimes we’re forced to explain the behavior of other adults who should absolutely know better.

How to explain bad behavior to students

How to explain bad behavior to students

by Greg Cunningham, Blended Learning Specialist

These are difficult times for teachers. With MCAS looming, budgets due (and most likely cut from last year), and antsy students counting the hours to year-end, teachers have a small mountain of things on their plate. Add the storm of controversies in pop culture (which students pay more attention to than Algebra) and the classroom can be a complex and complicated storm center. Students who grew up listening to R. Kelly are going to have many questions even before getting to the recent revelations about Michael Jackson. And now English teachers have to confront the news that Charles Dickens tried to have his wife committed to an insane asylum so he could be with another woman. (Divorce was apparently too much trouble.) Throw in John Wayne’s recently rediscovered racist rants and Joe Biden’s hair fetish and your head spins like a scene from The Exorcist.

Words and Meanings - The teachers’ job, Ask Questions

The teachers’ job

by Eileen Wedegartner, Blended Learning Specialist

The job of the English teacher is to ensure that students can read a complex text with comprehension and formulate ideas about it orally and in writing. Teachers often walk a fine line between imparting their own views and facilitating an environment where students can formulate their own judgements based on their own knowledge, values, ethics and beliefs.

Education and Inequality, trying its level best, the “Great Equalizer” needs a lift

Education and Inequality

The “great equalizer” of education can only nudge the scales so far.

By Greg Cunningham, Blended Learning Specialist

In his FY20 budget proposal, Governor Charlie Baker has waded into the discussion of fair funding for school districts in Massachusetts. He has proposed large increases for districts that have been clearly underfunded for years. While presenting the proposed changes and recognizing the fight many districts have been waging for years, some even threatening legal action against the state, Baker proclaimed the adage we have heard many times: “Education is the great equalizer.”

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.

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.

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.”

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.