How City Connects Keeps Learning

Graduate student researchers Despina Petsagourakis and Agnes Chung

City Connects is constantly learning. We learn from the experiences of our City Connects coordinators and the national array of schools and communities in which we work. And because City Connects is based in Boston College’s Lynch School of Education, we are also learning from different scientific fields about how we can make City Connects better. Once we have this knowledge, we go out and share it.

This cycle of learning was on display last week when Agnes Chung and Romita Mitra – both graduate students at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education – went to a Harvard Graduate School of Education conference to share two research posters about City Connects. The theme of the conference was “Spanning the Divide: Building Bridges through Research.”

Chung — who speaks English, Spanish, and Korean — has worked as a teacher, a research assistant, and a school counseling intern. In addition to being a graduate student, she is a counseling psychology doctoral intern at the Brookline Community Mental Health Center.

Chung’s poster, “Family and Teacher Perceptions of Barriers to Learning,” looks at whether teachers and families have different perceptions about two barriers: socioemotional issues and lack of access to community resources.

The findings? Parents and teachers agreed that these two factors can hurt student achievement, but they differed on which factor had the most impact.

Teachers said socioemotional issues were the biggest barrier for students. Parents said that lack of access to community services were.

Given “the evidence that student support efforts are most effective when home, school, and community environments work collaboratively, it is critical to identify and address discrepancies in teacher and family perceptions,” the poster explains.

The other poster was shared by Mitra. She is interested in international affairs, and her past work includes the monitoring and evaluation of programs and policies in education, poverty alleviation, and the environment. After she graduates, she would like to evaluate literacy-related programs and policies in developing countries.

Mitra’s poster has a long name — “Preliminary findings from a literature review on the conception, measurement, and outcomes of fidelity systems to support the development and validation of the City Connects Fidelity System” – but a simple goal. It presents the results of a literature review of research on how to assess whether the City Connects model is being faithfully implemented.

This research on the research can help improve the ways that City Connects monitors and supports implementation in schools and identify areas for improvement. Mitra’s work also has implications for the field of implementation science and how scientists and practitioners can know whether an intervention is being put on the ground as intended.

Mitra’s research produced several results. It looked at different types of research on fidelity and found that researchers used terms inconsistently. To address this inconsistent usage, Mitra and her colleagues recommend general definitions to guide future research. They define:

• Implementation or Process Fidelity, which: “Broadly refers to the procedure of how closely an intervention is carried out with respect to the intended model,” and

• Treatment or Intervention Fidelity, which: “Refers to the actual methodological components of delivery of an intervention.”

“At the organizational level, there is value in confirming that the fidelity process is valid and reliable and that data are rigorous and generalizable,” the poster says. “The wider implications include contributing to evaluation science, fidelity tool development and the importance of validating tools.”

And, of course, in schools, greater fidelity to the City Connects model means maximizing students’ success.

“Part of what makes City Connects so effective is our ability to constantly learn and improve,” says Mary Walsh, executive director of City Connects and a professor at the Boston College Lynch School of Education. “The work of BC doctoral students like Romita and Agnes helps the City Connects team learn from the academic sciences and from implementation in schools and communities– and these lessons make a positive difference for children.”

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