City Connects in Ireland: an update

In the middle of the pandemic and amidst school closures, City Connects launched a pilot program in Dublin in the fall of 2020. Today the program is running in ten schools in Dublin’s North East Inner City (NEIC), a district that was created to spark social and economic regeneration in an area that is addressing the familiar urban challenges of poverty, crime, and untapped potential. 

Earlier this month, at an event in Dublin’s Larkin Community College, where NEIC released its 2021 Progress Report, City Connects won warm recognition for its work in Ireland from the country’s Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe. 

 Ireland’s Prime Minister Micheál Martin attended the event and said of the work being done in the district, “The ability to create innovation and innovative programs to augment work already underway in this area is key to progress.”

Minister for Finance Donohoe said early in his speech, “I want to pick out three areas in the report that speak to the ambition that we have for 2022. First one which I want to recognize is the City Connects project.” (He starts speaking at the 29 minute mark in this video.)

Donohoe praised City Connects for building “community hope” and “looking at how we can put together a new way of working with all students in our schools to make sure they have the tailored support to support their needs and to develop their talents.”

It’s a matter, Donohoe added, of being able to “harness our teachers, our social workers, our community leaders, our youth workers to come together in a different way to respond to the needs that our young girls and boys have. And this is a project that I’m convinced, in the years to come, it’s going to reap such dividends for those who are beginning their journey on this program in 2021.” 

City Connects Program Manager Gerard Cullen and the coordinators in Dublin are also working with local community partners and global businesses to offer more targeted specialized services to students and more enrichment opportunities. 

Including students’ voices in this process is a vital part of the process. According to NEIC’s progress report, data from City Connects’ student surveys provided “clear indications to all stakeholders on activities in which children in the area would like to participate. The top three activities were swimming, cookery, and art.” 

Students also shared another interest, Mary Walsh, City Connects’ Executive Director, says. 

“City Connects staff asked kids what they most wanted for afterschool enrichment activities, which is a big need, and the kids asked for Lego Clubs.” 

Thanks to a grant from global audit and tax consultant KPMG, three Lego clubs are being set up with instructors and plenty of opportunities to build things. It’s a win for students because they get an engaging place to build and develop STEM skills. And it’s an opportunity for KPMG to respond directly to students’ interests. This grant also illustrates the kind of action Donohoe praised, which is also a core City Connects principle: that it is possible, important, and rewarding to mobilize community resources to help students and schools. 

The implementation of City Connects in Ireland is an ongoing and growing process. Evaluations are being done by Mary Immaculate College, Walsh says, to improve how things are done. Principals are meeting regularly with each other to address implementation challenges and share solutions. 

“We’re seeing positive differences in the access that kids have to resources and supports,” Walsh says. “We hope that if this is successful, we’ll be able to expand and help more kids.”

Despite the pandemic, Dublin’s North East Inner City is drawing on all its resources to invest in students. Or, as Donohoe put it, none of this would “be possible without the engagement that we have had from community leaders in this project, and from the communities themselves. This is about how we make something greater than the sum of its parts. It’s how we bring together different ideas, different ambitions, different views regarding the future of the community, and bring it together in a way that is cohesive.”

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