Because the students and families we serve will be especially hard hit by the educational, social, and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for strong and effective approaches to student support has never been greater. To help meet this need, the Boston College Center for Optimized Student Support will continue to bring you information and best practices relevant to effectively serving children and families before, during, and after this crisis. The Center’s flagship program, City Connects, is continuing its commitment to provide high-quality, evidence-driven student support in this challenging time.
As schools across the country shut down due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, City Connects Coordinators are responding to the needs of students and families impacted by this ever-changing crisis.
“Many families of the students in our City Connects schools will be especially vulnerable to the worst effects of this crisis,” said Mary Walsh, our Executive Director. “For families whom we serve, this pandemic means unexpected unemployment, heightened food insecurity, lack of child care, and sudden loss of stability provided by the everyday routine of school.”
City Connects Coordinators have been hard at work preparing for school closures. Across all our sites, the most immediate and critical need is food for families and children who rely on school breakfast and lunch programs. Every city in which we work has found different ways to address food provision for students. In Dayton, Ohio, for example, coordinators are helping with a drive-by pick up service at school so families can easily obtain packages of food. In Minneapolis, City Connects Program Manager Laurie Acker and her team have helped coordinate regular delivery of boxes containing food to bus stops. They are also letting students and families know which restaurants in the Minneapolis area are offering free food for those affected by school or business closures.
The continuation of critical mental health services has also been a major concern for City Connects coordinators. In Salem, Mass., City Connects Program Manager Ellen Wingard contacted and worked with local mental health providers to assure the continuation of psychological services to vulnerable students via telehealth systems. And many coordinators across all of the City Connects sites are maintaining regular telephone contact with students who have intensive needs. It is particularly important for children who have experienced trauma to have a steady source of support as the world around them changes so quickly and dramatically.
Hamilton County schools in Tennessee and schools in Salem have each developed their own list of community agencies that are still open and operating. These lists are organized by City Connects’ four comprehensive developmental domains: academics, social-emotional and behavioral needs, health, and family. Organizing information in this way makes it easier for coordinators to make referrals and families to access services.
“We realize that many of the resources and programs we’re putting together are a quick-fix,” said Acker. “We also know that if you organize the resources for children and families now in a way that provides easy identification and access, we’ll be better off in the long term as people begin to realize that there is a systemic approach in place.”
In Boston, City Connects coordinators have been working very closely with teachers to prepare academic packets so that students can learn at home. Coordinators will continue to support the teachers in this way during the long period of school closure. And some Boston schools and coordinators will continue to hold virtual student support meetings with staff to provide ongoing help to students with intensive needs.
Our next step, according to Walsh, is to “create a systemic approach to providing long-term crisis support across all of our City Connects schools. This pandemic is going to make severe demands on all of our students, families, and caregivers over the long haul.”
We have already seen, in these first few days and weeks of sudden school closures, how an integrated, comprehensive, and systemic approach to supporting students and families has begun to pay off as we continue to provide the right support, to the right child at the right time.