Harvard’s Education Redesign Lab report shares City Connects’ success

We’re proud that City Connects’ work in Salem, Mass., and in Chattanooga-Hamilton County, Tenn., is featured in a new report from the Education Redesign Lab at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education.

The report – “Sustaining Cross-Sector Systems of Opportunity for Children: Interim Lessons from the By All Means Consortium” – follows up on an earlier report about the work of the By Any Means necessary (BAM) communities, a network set up in 2016 to “create collaborative, cross-sector solutions to address the multifaceted needs of children.” 

Action at the city and state level is exciting because it shows how powerful local leaders can be in addressing the barriers that students face outside of school – from tooth aches to homelessness – so that they can thrive academically in school. 

Two of the Education Redesign Lab’s BAM members, Salem and Chattanooga-Hamilton County, are doing this work using City Connects. 

In 2017, Salem launched City Connects in all of its pre-K-to-8 schools. Since then, coordinators have connected Salem students to more than 17,000 individual services. City Connects is a key building block in the work being done by Salem’s Children’s Cabinet. 

As the report explains, “Today, for example, if a teacher in one of the Salem preK-8th grade schools notices a child needs a winter coat, is struggling to make friends, or has an undeveloped aptitude for drawing, the first people she reaches out to are the City Connects coordinators in her school.” 

“Improved outcomes are anticipated by the end of this school year (the City Connects model takes three years to show academic gains),” the report says, adding, “While a community benefits agreement with North Shore Medical Center allocated initial funding for the City Connects implementation, the district is now supporting the initiative as part of its operating budget.” 

Chattanooga-Hamilton County is a City Connects newcomer: this is the first school year that the county is implementing our model. The goal is to “create a comprehensive system of supports and opportunities for children and to boost postsecondary and career outcomes for youth and adults living in the county.” 

City Connects is in “eight elementary and middle schools in Hamilton Public Schools with the long-term goal of expanding across the district. All participating schools have high populations of low-income students with various types of needs.” 

The district relies on “existing school counselors to tailor supports and services for each child based on an individual review of his or her strengths and needs. Utilizing the City Connects data platform, counselors track students’ progress in four domains, including academic, social-emotional, health, and family.”

Like Salem, Chattanooga-Hamilton County has a Children’s Cabinet that is building on City Connects and on the work of stakeholders from “health, housing, public safety, social services, and juvenile justice,” to take a whole-child approach to encouraging cradle-to-career success. 

“Children’s cabinets provide great synergy for the successful implementation and sustainability of the City Connects model,” Mary Walsh, City Connect’s Executive Director, says. “City Connects can provide integration of cross-sector services and opportunities for each child, and the cabinets can help create conditions for success including leadership, vision, funding, and innovative uses of data to help the city better use both public and private resources.” 

In sharing the success of its BAM communities, the Redesign Lab’s goal is to “document the communities’ successes and challenges” and share this information with other communities. This is an approach that we share here at City Connects. As we implement and study the results of our model, we share our findings broadly to encourage the growth of evidence-based integrated student support.

As the report concludes, “communities must embrace both adaptive and technical solutions that tackle the myriad challenges related to collaborative action. Shifting long-standing practices and mindsets is difficult but necessary if we are to change the trajectories of vulnerable children and give them what they need to grow, learn, and thrive.”

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