Accelerating success: City Connects in Hartford

Girl Scouts Bridge Celebration. Photo: Courtesy of Charlene Diaz

 

In the Hartford Public Schools (HPS), City Connects isn’t just a partner. We’re part of Hartford’s Acceleration Agenda.

The agenda – which is itself part of a larger strategic operating plan — is an effort “to address educational equity and achievement by optimizing support for schools and creating consistency of practice.”

The goal is to “accelerate learning by taking a case-management approach to personalize solutions for all of our students, classrooms and schools.”

It’s a promising vision of achieving district-wide success one student and one school at a time in a system where the majority of students come from low-income families.

City Connects coordinators started working in Hartford’s schools last year, and initially there was a learning curve, Charlene Perez Diaz explains. Teachers were worried about taking time out of the school day to do whole class reviews with City Connects coordinators, and they worried about managing the overall process.

But now, “The staff are truly becoming integrated in the schools where they’re placed,” according to Diaz, the City Connects Program Manager and HPS’s Community Partnership Manager.

“One teacher described it as almost being therapeutic because they feel like they’re being listened to and heard, that they’re being supported in their work as a teacher.”

Here’s a closer look at the work that has been done so far.

 

The Process

City Connects served more than 3,000 students in eight Hartford schools during the 2016-17 school year. And thanks to whole class reviews, the district has more detailed information about many of its students.

Before the reviews, peopled made a lot of generalizations about how Hartford’s students were doing, Diaz explains. But data from the whole class reviews revealed that in fact, the smallest number of students were in need of Tier 3 supports, the City Connects’ category for students who face the most risks.

Diaz and her City Connects colleagues meet monthly as a Community of Practice in a group that includes principals and other administrators and educators to share data, discuss progress, and strategize on how to improve services and children’s outcomes.

 

City Connects Coordinators

Every day City Connects coordinators do the expected work of connecting students to services – and on any day, they may have to do the unexpected work of handling crises.

“We’ve had some families that have faced domestic violence, and the site coordinators have consistently gone above and beyond to provide support,” Diaz explains.

Site coordinators have helped parents navigate the courts and find housing. When one mom came to school and said she had to leave home that day, the coordinator found her a suitcase and helped her move.

When a student who was benefiting from receiving Tier 1 enrichments – the category for students facing minimal risk – had a sudden change of behavior, the coordinator checked with the family, dug deeper, and the domestic violence came to light.

“A very intimate type of support is provided because of the relationship that the coordinator builds with the families so that the families feel comfortable,” Diaz says. That’s what makes having staff with a social work or counseling background so important.

One notable advantage that Hartford has, Diaz says, is that all of the coordinators were at some point Hartford Public School students so their professional work is supported by personal insights and experience.

 

Community Partners

Hartford schools rely on existing and new partnerships with community organizations to get the right services to the right child.

“We had a student in one of our schools who was disabled and wheelchair bound,” Diaz says. “And the principal was asking all the students, ‘what are you doing for the summer?’ And the student’s response was that he wasn’t going to do anything because he was limited by his wheelchair.

“So the principal turned to the site coordinator and said, ‘we need to work on this.’”

The coordinator connected the student to a free, week-long camp for students with different abilities, and then “went a step further and was able to get transportation to and from camp for the entire week.”

Another site coordinator formed a partnership with the Girl Scouts to form a Girl Scout troop. But it takes adult volunteers to run the troop, so he recruited teachers and parents, and they got the training they needed to become troop leaders.

“Other people in other communities might take that for granted,” Diaz says. “But this school didn’t have a troop, and the coordinator made that happen.”

 

Moving Forward

“We intend to scale up our City Connects work as much as we can,” Diaz says.

Working with City Connects helps fulfill the vision that’s outlined in Hartford’s strategic operating plan: “to ensure that every student thrives and every school is high performing” so that every child has a meaningful opportunity to succeed.

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