What’s better than one City Connects Coordinator?
Two coordinators working together as a team. That’s what Brad Maloon and Mia Riccio do at Collins Middle School in Salem, Mass.
“Just envision the left side of the brain and the right side of the brain,” Maloon says of his partnership with Riccio. “Mia is extremely organized and a very good systems thinker. I’m more of a people person with connections. I grew up in Salem. I’m a Salem guy, so I have a lot of family connections. Mia keeps me on task while I use the creative side of my brain.”
“But it took time,” Riccio says of becoming a team. “My first year here, Brad had been at the school forever. I was just coming in, getting to know the school and the people and how things work. Brad was running around doing all this stuff, and I was wondering how I could help make things work.”
“I was able to help her with getting to know Salem. And she helped me with really learning the City Connects system.”
Riccio is more detail oriented. Maloon is more flexible. And they both have what both agree is “a really strong work ethic.”
What drew both to the City Connects model was its whole-school approach.
“I’ve worked in Salem for a long time, since the 90s, and my biggest fear was that kids would fall through the cracks,” Maloon says. “because the squeaky wheels always get the attention. But there are a lot of quiet kids who also need attention but don’t get it. So when City Connects staff described their system of reviewing every student and tailoring resources to meet students’ needs and strengths that just sounded awesome.”
“That’s also what drew me to City Connects,” Riccio says. She had learned about Salem and its students working as an AmeriCorps member in Salem High School. “Instead of being a school adjustment counselor where you’re very focused on a very specific caseload of students, City Connects was about making sure every kid gets attention.”
The two coordinators are responsible for the Collins School’s 650 students. Brad works with the sixth and eighth graders. Mia works with the seventh graders and provides transitional counseling for students who are moving on to high school. Despite their individual responsibilities, however, their teamwork shines through.
“We go with each other’s strengths, and we work together to get what we both need for the kids,” Maloon says.
“When it comes down to it, we do whatever needs to happen for the student,” Riccio says. “If one of us needs to step up for the other person that’s what we do.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed their circumstances, but not their teamwork.
“When the pandemic first happened,” Riccio says, “our big push was, let’s make sure all our kids are engaged. That became the mission, We need to at least be in contact with everybody.”
“We looked at survival needs first,” Maloon says. “Then we asked, Are they able to learn? It took us a couple of weeks to make sure we got in touch with everybody, but eventually we had communicated with 100% of our student body.”
Because Salem’s schools were virtual during the early part of the pandemic, Maloon and Riccio missed the face-to-face meetings they would normally have. And they lost the information they used to glean from the casual interactions they used to have at school, running into students, teachers, and staff in the hallways.
Instead, they leaned even more heavily on City Connects data, using it to identify students’ needs. They tackled remote learning challenges by monitoring attendance, working on academic engagement, and ensuring that students had equitable access to classes.
They developed a Google form that teachers could use to share any concerns about students. The information goes to the school’s wellness team, and Maloon and Riccio address any needs they see, from food insecurity and mental health counseling to securing Chromebook or Internet access.
“During the pandemic, Mia and Brad have been tenacious in their efforts to meet the challenges students and families are facing, while continuing to strengthen the systems of support within their school,” Ellen Wingard, the City Connects Program Manager who oversees their work, says.
The two coordinators have also kept their sense of humor. Because of the pandemic, “We joke that we’re the Pod Squad,” Riccio says.
“If I have to quarantine, she has to quarantine,” Maloon adds.
“Because we work so closely together,” Riccio says.
Maloon and Riccio are, however, more than a team of two. They also work closely with their school colleagues and with Wingard.
“Ellen has been with us from the beginning,” Maloon says.
“She’s always willing to take a phone call from us and talk through a sticky situation or discuss something that’s very important to a student,” Riccio adds.
The best part of this two-coordinator partnership, Wingard says, is that it has “created an invaluable anchor for the Collins School’s students, teachers, and administrators.”