Daniel Triana Alvarado was 7 years old when his family moved from Mexico to Westborough, Mass., where he began a journey through public education that prepared him for and led him to the Mary E. Walsh Center for Thriving Children, the home of City Connects.
Westborough, Triana recalls, was a town with resources for families and students. In high school, Triana had a guidance counselor, Steven Favulli, who talked to him and his family about college.
“My parents still talk about how important Mr. Favulli was,” Triana says. “He made my parents feel like they had a grasp of what was going on in school because he spoke Spanish, and he took the time to help them understand.”
Triana enrolled in Worcester State University (WSU) where he decided to major in business administration, attracted by the range of doors the degree promised to open.
“What did I get out of going to Worcester State University?” Triana says, musing about his college years. “Opportunities.”
These weren’t typical opportunities. Triana was working full time in college, so he couldn’t participate in internships. And he hadn’t developed career aspirations based on seeing the careers of his parents or of family friends. Instead, his opportunities came in the form of personal connections.
Mr. Favulli connected Triana to a job at WSU’s Latino Education Institute, where he helped support English classes for adults in the community. The director of the institute connected Triana to Southbridge Middle School, where Triana worked as a family liaison for both the school program and the afterschool program.
Southbridge was only forty minutes away from Triana’s hometown of Westborough, but he was struck by the difference. Westborough was affluent, while Southbridge had been declared an underperforming school district and was in receivership, being run by state education officials. But for Triana, being a family liaison was a chance to give back, to help families the way his family had been helped.
“As a family liaison, I was like a City Connects coordinator. I connected families to services. I helped them if they had difficulties with teachers. I would interpret for them and translate documents. But we didn’t track data the way City Connects does.”
And, as City Connects coordinators do, Triana tailored his work to meet families’ needs, helping, for example, new arrivals from Puerto Rico who had left their homes because of hurricane damage.
“My experience at Southbridge,” he says, “has shaped a lot of what I know.”
Last December, Triana joined the Center for Thriving Children where he is the Program Systems Coordinator. He is, in other words, helping City Connects grow. This is crucial work now that City Connects has launched in Ireland and set up a technical assistance center in the Midwest.
“It’s super cool,” he says, “that City Connects started as a small program in Boston, and now it’s in another country.”
“We’re growing so much that we can’t just be casual about our systems. We have to have strong systems and structures in place.”
Currently, Triana is working on a number of projects, including a needs assessment project, which requires reaching out to principals, teachers, and parents, and asking them about their schools’ needs and strengths.
“We want to get perspective from all angles. We want to hear from principals and make sure that they support the implementation of City Connects. And we want to understand what City Connects can do to help and improve things, how City Connects and schools can work together.
“We want to be able to look back and say this is where we were, and this is how we were able to meet the needs of your district.”
The most important part of this work, Triana says, is the systemic approach that City Connects takes.
“It’s not just about supporting the kids with the most needs, it’s about supporting all kids, even the ones who look good on paper but may still be struggling.”
“We have to get to know all the kids and see what their needs and strengths are because if we know their strengths, we can guide them to the right path, which is an experience that I feel lucky to have had myself.”