Years from now, people may fall into the habit of asking each other: What were you doing right before the COVID-19 pandemic struck and how did it change your life?
Here at City Connects, we’ve already been asking these questions — about our students and about our work. We are also asking how we can be even more effective as the country addresses long-standing racial inequities.
And now, as we move into the fall, in a mix of in-person, virtual, and hybrid schools and classrooms, we are determined to get the right services to the right child at the right time.
It is in this spirit of striving that we release “City Connects: Intervention & Impact Progress Report 2020.”
In our progress reports, which are published every other year, we reflect on the past and assess the present. But this year, we’ve also taken the time to express our gratitude for all the hard work that has gotten us through the pandemic.
“We are grateful to our City Connects Coordinators and Program Managers, who have demonstrated resilience, creativity, and dedication,” Mary Walsh, City Connects’ Executive Director writes in the report’s introduction.
“We are thankful for the support and collaboration of the public and private schools in which we work,” and “We gratefully acknowledge each of our funders as well as the Lynch School of Education and Human Development, Boston College.”
The report also tells an important story about City Connects’ growth.
In the 2018-19 school year, City Connects “was implemented in 82 schools in four states across nine school districts (totaling 26,045 students),” in pre-K and K-12 programs. And during the 2019-20 school year, we expanded to serve a total of six states and established our first international site in Dublin, Ireland.
This growth is the third phase of City Connects’ evolution, which the report sums up as Start Up, Replicate, and Scale. As the report explains, “Since its inception in the 1990s, City Connects has grown from a local collaboration to a national model of integrated student support.”
As we’ve grown, we’ve continued to see how City Connects boosts students’ success by providing services that are comprehensive, customized, coordinated, and continuous. And we know from a rich and growing evidence base that this support has boosted students’ success in many ways, including:
• higher report card scores
• better attendance
• improved performance on statewide tests
• lower likelihood of repeating a grade
• lower likelihood of chronic absenteeism
• a lower likelihood of dropping out of high school, and
• improved likelihood of enrolling and completing post-secondary programs
The report sums this up, noting, “Ongoing evaluation of City Connects has produced a consistent set of findings showing that attending a City Connects school makes a difference for students. City Connects’ students outperform comparison peers on measures of academic achievement, measures of success, and enhanced life chances and opportunities through each stage of their development.”
City Connects also gets high marks from principals and it increases teacher satisfaction. In addition, we improve the effectiveness of the many organizations that serve as our community partners by helping them connect to the students they can best serve.
We are, however, most proud of the difference we make in the lives of individual students. That’s why the report shares the story of several children including Brielle, a second-grade girl whose family was struggling with homelessness. A whole class review revealed strengths – Brielle had strong attendance and a strong parent advocate – as well as needs. Brielle’s reading and math were below grade level and she needed resources to address poor hygiene and behavioral challenges.
City Connects linked her to a customized set of services, including reading interventions, out-of-school counseling services, and clothing resources as well as support for her parents.
“After these services were put in place, Brielle’s behaviors improved,” the report notes. Her hygiene improved, and, “As the school year continued, Brielle was able to make significant academic progress. She also demonstrated positive growth in behavior, with further reduction in behavior problems. Her teacher reported that she was able to express herself calmly in class. The teacher and Coordinator both observed signs that Brielle was developing stronger friendships, and to both, she appeared to be a happier child.”
As Mary Walsh writes in the report, “Our work with children and families is anchored in a deep commitment to promoting justice, supporting one another, and tackling oppression.”
We are excited to continue this work during this school year. We are mindful of the pandemic and of the ways we need to help children and adults cope. And we remain unwavering in our support of children.