City Connects helps tackle “The Great Divide”

Last fall, the Boston Globe told a tale of two students — Jada Pierre and Britney Mendez – that shows how harmful educational inequities can be. 

We read this article – part of the Globe’s series, “The Great Divide: Race, Class, and Opportunity in our Schools” – and we were struck anew by the stark description of educational inequalities across Massachusetts.

For Jada and Britney – both high school students and both the children of immigrants living in Boston – a key difference was where they went to high school. Jada attended Newton South, located in one of Boston’s wealthier suburbs. Britney went to Brighton High, “a floundering city school,” the Globe says, “where fewer than 30 percent of graduates earn a college degree or other credential within six years of graduating.” 

In 2016, state education officials labeled Brighton an “underperforming school,” which meant that the district had to come up with a turnaround plan. In addition, many of the school’s students have “significant unmet needs beyond campus, ranging from mental health concerns to immigration anxieties. Most are poor, and many arrive at Brighton after struggling at other schools.” 

Some students chose the school. Some, like Britney, “come after failing to get into their top choice in the district’s school assignment lottery,” and some “are sent there based on their academic needs.” 

For students going to school on the “wrong side” of this divide, the City Connects approach offers the opportunity for schools, families, and communities to work together to create opportunities for students in need. Our model is explicitly designed to meet students’ individual needs by providing custom-tailored services and enrichment opportunities. We do this by having a coordinator at each school who sits down with teachers to conduct whole class reviews that look at the strengths and needs of every single student.

Our coordinators are skilled relationship-builders who work closely with students, parents, teachers, and school staff to understand how circumstances illustrated in this series can affect a student’s ability to learn. Armed with that understanding, coordinators deliver the right services to the right students at the right time. 

Coordinators also pull in a group of diverse community partners who can provide support – like dental care or food — or enrichment — like music lessons or summer camps — no matter where students go to school. 

The coordinators’ work is supported and informed by a technology system that we’ve recently updated. Schools and districts can use the data in new and individualized ways that stretch beyond our program boundaries and imagination. Our data collection also enables researchers to assess our program’s effectiveness and results. 

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Another article in the Globe’s Great Divide series has good news about education funding in Massachusetts. 

Thanks to the hard work of state lawmakers, the Student Opportunity Act has become a law that calls for investing $1.5 billion in education over seven years. 

The bill would, in part, “create a fund with up to $10 million annually for grants toward school-improvement efforts,” the Globe explains.

Specifically, the law asks school districts to devise plans to close academic achievement gaps by using “evidence-based programs, supports, and interventions,” including “social services to support students’ social-emotional and physical health.” 

This is exactly what City Connects does.

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 Now that more people are looking at how to achieve not just equal access to education but also an equitable access to opportunity, we are excited about our work and how it can help achieve this goal. 

As the Globe points out, “Experts often say geography is destiny in the United States, that a student’s future success depends heavily on what neighborhood they grow up in.” And the story of Jada and Britney shows how much school quality can matter. 

 But in City Connects schools, geography is not destiny. Students in our schools, including low-income students and students learning English, go on to have higher grades and standardized test scores as well as lower high school dropout rates. They are also more likely to enroll in and complete post secondary programs. 

So while stories about educational inequities can be disheartening, we also know that City Connects is closing educational divides every day. And we are expanding our efforts and sharing what we do so that we can help more schools close more divides and help students everywhere thrive.

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