To meet the historic challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic, City Connects staff are rapidly translating the pillars of City Connects practice into systematic approaches that serve students and families and support teachers.
“Many families of the students in our City Connects schools will be especially vulnerable to the worst effects of this crisis,” City Connects’ Executive Director Mary Walsh said last week. “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.”
To address these complex and layered disruptions, City Connects’ Program Managers and Coordinators are using existing and newly forged systemic approaches to better understand and respond to the comprehensive needs of each individual student both immediately and over the long term.
That’s what’s happening in Salem, Mass. While all of the city’s schools are closed, Salem’s City Connects staff members remain at work, operating on multiple fronts to keep services and supports intact. Students with behavioral health needs are being connected to their providers through telemedicine. Families facing food insecurity are receiving phone calls to ensure they know where food is available for pick up.
One local advantage: City Connects is in every Pre-K-8 school in Salem, so coordinators can provide consistent support across the city, and City Connects Program Manager Ellen Wingard can easily collaborate with school and city officials.
Wingard’s goal is to ensure that health and family needs, social emotional learning, and mental health support are maintained and integrated in a coherent way.
A key strategy in Salem is supporting teachers so that as they teach and keep academic learning going, they can also respond to any student challenges that they hear about.
“We’ve given teachers guidelines for identifying students who have particular needs,” Wingard says. Once a need is identified, teachers use a specified process to report those needs to City Connects coordinators who will then follow up by connecting students to services or referrals.
And while teachers are connecting with all of their students on a regular basis, coordinators have identified particularly vulnerable families who will receive additional outreach and support. In addition to regular communication from teachers and coordinators, students from these families will have regular contact with school adjustment counselors, another member of their school’s student support team.
“We’ve also reached out to major mental health partners to make sure they’re still in contact with their patients,” Wingard says. “And we’re addressing the needs of homeless students.” Homelessness is a problem for 200 of Salem’s 3,620 students
Another local advantage: Salem’s engaged community.
“Lots of people want to help,” Wingard says, “so we’re working as a team to connect schools to appropriate resources. We let the community know what schools need, and we’ll launch relationships between schools and community members.”
At City Connects, we are seeing this kind of comprehensive response in City Connects schools across the country. It’s an approach that comes directly from the heart of our model, creating a system of individually tailored supports “that can serve all students.”
So whether it’s an “ordinary” day, or a time of a global crisis, we strive to get the right services to the right students at the right time.