New Conversations – A Policy Brief

Students at the Saint Columbkille Partnership School in Brighton, MA.


We think it’s a new moment — and it’s full of new conversations.

Science is increasingly talking about how and why connecting kids to the right services helps them succeed.

We explore this conversation in more depth in our new policy brief, “Principles of Effective Practice for Integrated Student Support.”

We’ve known for decades that what happens to children outside school can help or hurt how well they do inside school. What’s new is that we’re talking about the complexities science has found. We know, for example, that:

• Every child is unique and that children’s development happens across a range of domains — academic, social-emotional, and health — and in a range of settings that include home, school, and communities.

• Strengths and risks act together. As we say in the policy brief, “There is a delicate dialogue between risks and strengths, where a child’s protective resources such as positive relationships, talents or interests may or may not help to mitigate the impacts of risk factors like deprivation, abuse, or anxiety,” and

• Development occurs over time and it can be disrupted by chronic adversity and trauma, also known as toxic stress. Development can also be helped by effective interventions that help a child get back on track.

These insights led City Connects to test our practices, and what we’re seeing is backed up by the evidence. We’ve found that:

• “Students attending City Connects elementary schools demonstrated improved effort, behavior, attendance and grades. When followed into 8th grade, they close half of the achievement gap in English and two-thirds of the achievement gap in math relative to the Massachusetts state average.”

• By 12th grade, high school dropout rates are cut nearly in half; and immigrants and English Language Learners also experience significant benefits.

• Economists at Columbia University “find that the cost of resource coordination and assignment produces $11 in benefits for every $1 in costs, and when the costs of all services – provided across area schools, nonprofits, government agencies, and programs – are included, the return on investment is $3 for every $1 invested.”

By applying scientific insights to effective practices, we’ve learned the four C’s: student support should be customized, comprehensive, coordinated, and continuous.

That’s why, each fall, “every teacher in a City Connects school has a one-hour conversation with a Master’s-level City Connects Coordinator, usually a social worker or school counselor, to discuss every child in their class.”

The Coordinator assesses each child’s challenges “on a continuum ranging from ‘no risk’ to ‘severe risk,’” and based on teachers’ feedback and consultations with family and school staff, every child receives an individualized support plan.

To meet children’s needs, “City Connects establishes partnerships with community providers in order to access resources outside of the four walls of the school. These partnerships collectively provide a range of prevention, early intervention, crisis intervention, and enrichment services.”

Continuity is the C that holds all these elements together because City Connects stays with children as they — and their circumstances — change over time.

Take the case of a child riding a school bus who was teased for living in a homeless shelter. When that child got off the bus crying, a City Connects coordinator stepped in. The coordinator stayed in close touch with the child, reached out to the child’s mother, and helped the family get needed food, clothes, and shoes.

Sustained support is crucial. That’s why City Connects isn’t just crisis intervention. It’s a system of “baked in” support that stabilizes children’s lives so they can succeed in school.

This system responds repeatedly, in methodical ways to every child in schools that City Connects serves. This allows the school and surrounding community to drive the right resources to the right child at the right time, over an extended period of time.

These principles of effective practice and the outcomes they produce are inspiring. They’re generating more and more excitement about how science, practice, and research can explain what it takes to help all children succeed.



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