It’s a Thursday morning at the John Winthrop Elementary School in Dorchester and Jaymie Silverman is multitasking. She’s on the phone, and she’s talking to a parent who just came in, checking in with a student, and preparing for an upcoming meeting. As the school’s City Connects Coordinator, Silverman is responsible for connecting all of the school’s 330 students to the tailored services they need to be successful inside and outside of school.
“We were identified as a school in which 60-90 percent of our students live in neighborhoods with exceptionally high levels of poverty and crime,” she explains.
Indeed, in 2013, Winthrop was declared a Level 4 school, the state’s designation for schools that are struggling based on “an analysis of four-year trends in absolute achievement, student growth, and academic improvement trends.”
More than 80 percent of Winthrop’s students come from low-income families. Many children grapple with hunger, homelessness, and exposure to domestic and community violence. Others move frequently, shifting into and out of multiple schools.
Nonetheless, Silverman says of her school, “the spirit of this school is really remarkable.”
The children are resilient. “The teachers are so dedicated to working through the extra layers of support that the kids need.”
And as a City Connects Coordinator, Silverman is woven into the fabric of the school. Every fall, she sits down with each of Winthrop’s teachers for about an hour and conducts a whole class review, an in-depth look at the strengths and needs of every child. Doing this work annually gives teachers and site coordinators in all City Connects schools an opportunity to reflect on students’ progress and keep track of their changing lives and needs.
“I appreciate the whole class review process because it provides an opportunity to identify the strengths and needs of every student,” Silverman says. This differs from models that only focus on the children with the most severe and complex needs. “To have the opportunity to sit down and talk about every single student is unique.”
“It also forces us to highlight the strengths of every student. And oftentimes it’s just easy, especially with some of our most challenging students, to get bogged down in the things that aren’t working well and the challenges that teachers encounter on a daily basis.”
Instead, Silverman works with teachers to find students’ strengths and acknowledge the progress they’re making, no matter how small.
The goal is to provide every child with the right services at the right time to improve their lives. To do this, City Connects relies on a wide array of community partners and programs, including:
• City Year AmeriCorps members who provide support in the classroom and run an afterschool program for grades 3-5
• counseling services provided by Dimock Community Health Center and South Bay Community Services
• a YMCA after-school program
• mentoring programs such as Girl Scouts and Strong Women Strong Girls
• dental exams from Smart Smiles
• vision screenings and comprehensive eye exams from New England Eye, an affiliate of the New England College of Optometry, and
• Cradles to Crayons, which provides gently used or new clothing as well as shoes, books, and other supplies
During the 2014-15 school year, Winthrop had 10 community partners. City Connects partnered with the school in the middle of that year, and by the end of the 2015-16 year, the school had 43 partners. Last year, 100 percent of Winthrop’s students received three or more services, which added up to a total of 2,756 delivered services.
Teachers say the whole class review process helps them better understand their students. Children tell us all about their City Connects experiences. And parents have forged stronger partnerships with their children’s teachers and schools.
As Jaymie Silverman explains:
“One of the most valuable parts of the work is the relationships that I’ve built with the students and the families and the teachers, everyone. The core of this work is relationship building.”