Boston: Bridging the distance with student support

Although the spread of coronavirus has closed the Boston Public Schools’ buildings, City Connects Coordinators are still at work. 

Coordinators helped close the schools. They put together resource lists for families, helped teachers set up websites, and distributed laptops to students. Then the coordinators leapt with Boston’s schools into the world of online education and on-going student support. 

“Everybody is learning as we go,” City Connects Program Manager Sara Davey says of the coordinators who continue to keep students connected to supports and services. “The thing I’m most proud of is how quickly everybody jumped into action.” 

Losing daily, in-person contact with students is challenging, but the coordinators are building on the hard work they’ve been doing throughout the school year.

“I think the heart of everything our coordinators do is building relationships,” Davey says, explaining that coordinators’ ongoing connections to students, families, and administrators have helped them thrive in the virtual landscape. 

“Our coordinators have gotten very creative in the ways that they are doing outreach to students and families.” This includes jumping into a web-based Google Classroom site to communicate with families as well as providing a wide range of other kinds of assistance: 

• At the Warren Prescott School, Emma Russell created one website for listing resources for families and another website with resources for teachers.

• At the Joseph Lee School, Connor Russo is focusing on how to best use funding for homeless students. 

• At the Martin Luther King, Jr. School, Stan Duperval has set up a Google Voice hotline where parents can leave requests that Duperval will respond to. 

• At the Thomas A. Edison School, Colleen Dischiave created a document that teachers can use to re-tier students. Putting students into tiers of strengths and needs is a crucial part of the City Connects practice that happens in the fall and again in the spring, so that coordinators can see how students are doing. 

• At the John Winthrop School, Stephanie Sanchez, who is bilingual, is doing outreach to Spanish-speaking families and assessing if students are ready to participate in a virtual lunch bunch group. 

• At the Oliver Wendell Holmes Innovation School, Lexy Marsh is participating in a virtual student support team and considering the option of having parents present information about their children’s behavioral challenges since they now have the best view of their children.

• Coordinators Valia Markaki and Ashlei Alvarez are working with a local community partner, the Big Sister Association, to keep Little Sisters connected to their Big Sisters. Some are already writing letters.

• And, as Boston’s teachers keep in regular touch with families and use spreadsheets to track families’ needs, coordinators are scanning those spreadsheets so they can meet the listed needs. 

When parents discover that their children’s behavior is more challenging then they had realized, coordinators help share behavioral strategies. If a food-insecure family needs groceries but parents are fearful about going out, a coordinator helps. If a parent needs help filling out an unemployment form, a coordinator can connect them to support. Housing problems? A coordinator is there. 

Coordinators are also paying special attention to families who are involved with Massachusetts’ Department of Children and Family, to make sure that the stress of this time isn’t harming vulnerable families. 

And because enrichment matters, coordinators are connecting students to fun online activities like museum tours and GoNoodle, a website that promotes motion and mindfulness. 

Davey also points to how much City Connects coordinators are supporting each other. During a recent professional development meeting (held over the phone), coordinators from Boston’s public schools meet with coordinators from Boston’s Catholic schools to share strategies and resources. 

“The coordinators felt really invigorated by the call, and they shared so many great ideas about communicating with families in different ways.” 

As Mary Walsh, City Connects’ Executive Director, has said many times over the past few weeks, we know that the coronavirus is taking a heartbreaking toll on schools and families. But we also know that even in the midst of a historic crisis, school communities are essential. The City Connects model keeps students connected to these communities and to the relationships, services, and supports they need to thrive, even when schools have to move to a virtual space.

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