City Connects Coordinator Shannon Underwood needed a way to boost students’ morale in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Her students were back at Immaculate Conception Parish School in Revere, Mass., in person and full time. They were wearing masks, using hand sanitizer, and sitting behind plexiglass shields that had been attached to each of their desks. Afterschool programs had been cancelled because of Covid. And work with the school’s community partners had been curtailed.
So Underwood implemented the idea of naming a “Tiger of the Week,” a student who demonstrated excellence through service to others. Students get a certificate and a small trophy. A tiger is the school’s mascot.
“I wanted to incentivize random acts of kindness,” Underwood says.
Last month in Minneapolis, it was about 43 degrees, but the City Connects Coordinators there were still planning for summer.
In a summer fair held on Zoom, the coordinators met with community organizations to learn about programs that they can refer students to for academics, enrichment, and fun. This is especially important now, following the past year of pandemic-related social distancing and disruption.
Sharing information about these programs with families is a core part of the City Connects model. We know that to do well in school, students have to be well outside of school. That’s why we connect students to homework help and food assistance. It’s also why we connect them to arts and sports programs: enrichment outside of school, can help them thrive during school.
Community organizations are essential in this effort. We connect these organizations with kids. And the organizations provide creative activities with unique elements for all children and for children with special needs. Among the Minnesota summer options coordinators are sharing:
“As we all know, for many young people, this past year has been the hardest of their lives.”
Students have endured everything from losing in-person contact with friends to falling into — or falling deeper into — poverty to the loss of loved ones who have died from Covid.
“So much has changed since all students were last in school full-time,” the Rennie Center adds. “Eight million people have slipped into poverty, and 14 percent of households with children are struggling with food insecurity. Meanwhile, mental health-related emergency department visits are up 24 percent for children and 31 percent for adolescents. We will be learning about the impact of COVID-19 on children for years to come. But what we know right now is that they need extra support.”
Even though the pandemic has engulfed the nation, creating unprecedented challenges, City Connects is working with its funders and community partners to meet students’ and families’ needs. One example is in Minnesota.
“This year, because of the pandemic, the needs of students and families have shifted,” Laurie Acker, Minnesota’s City Connects Program Manager, says. “A lot of these needs – food, housing, computers, and mental health services – we have the resources to meet. But it’s hard to find resources for families who want to stay in their homes when they can’t pay the rent because they’re unemployed or underemployed.”
“Fortunately, the GHR Foundation contacted me. They knew that families needed help with rent.”
While there is a moratorium on evictions for unpaid rents, evictions for other reasons are still allowed. And as Acker points out, some unemployed parents have no way to plug the holes in their earnings and come up with back rent.