Meeting with our community partners — virtually

“Our community partners are so vital to the work of City Connects” Lynne Sullivan, City Connects’ Director of Implementation, says, “so we encourage each district to hold a community partner event each year.”

Whether it’s a breakfast in Minnesota or in Boston, these events let our partners and our staff come together to share both the work they’re doing and their goals for better serving students. They get to chat, brainstorm, and make connections.

“City Connects’ role as a convener is so important,” Sullivan says. “We want to create time for broader discussions. We want to cut through the pandemic’s isolation. And we want schools and community partners to hear directly from each other about what, specifically, they need from each other.

But in the middle of the pandemic, meeting face to face isn’t safe. So City Connects co-hosted a virtual event for our coordinators, our community partners, and the principals of public schools and Catholic schools in the Boston area.

Our co-hosts were the Boston Public Schools’ Office of Community Partnerships and the Archdiocese of Boston’s Catholic Schools Office.

“We convened everyone remotely so they could hear from each other what they’ve been doing during the pandemic,” Sullivan says, “and so they could talk about how they’re planning for the next school year.”

The event included a panel discussion featuring two principals — Efrain Toledano of Boston’s Tobin School and Beth Looney of Boston Catholic’s Mission Grammar School – explaining what they’ll need from community partners when their schools reopen in the fall.

“The principals said to the community partners, ‘Please share all your ideas for how you want to work with kids.’ ‘No idea is crazy,’ ” Sullivan says. “The principals are eager to identify the gaps in services for kids so that they can work with community partners to fill them.”

A second panel featured three community partners — Erin McGrath, Boston Partners in Education, Amanda Sadri of Forsyth Dental, and Minh Nguyen of Strong Women/Strong Girls who talked about how their work has been changed by the pandemic and by much of the country’s renewed commitment to equity after the death of George Floyd and other African-Americans. They also discussed how City Connects coordinators have helped them stay connected to students despite school closings and other pandemic-related obstacles.

The event was also a chance to share City Connects data that compares January 2020, before the pandemic hit, to January 2021. Sullivan says the data confirmed what people were experiencing. Among the findings: many community partners have remained active and engaged during the pandemic.

And while “academic skills and interests” was the top category for services delivered to students in 2020; a year later, the top category was “family assistance and support.”

 At the end of the event, attendees were able to talk to each other during breakout sessions where they could network or make plans for the 2021-2022 school year.

“Now that they’ve met, people can reach out and continue conversations or start new ones.”

The next step will likely be holding a second Boston event in the fall so that people can officially follow up with each other and discuss which of their plans worked and which ones had to be adapted.

In addition, the template for a virtual community partner event will be shared with other City Connects’ regions across the country so that they can hold their own events.

This kind of communication is essential. We always say that relationships between City coordinators and students are a powerful part of the City Connects model. But it’s also true that relationships among adults are a crucial part of promoting students’ success.

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