City Connects releases its 2022 Progress Report

We’re happy to announce the release of City Connects’ 2022 Progress Report. It’s a look at our history, our growth, and the progress we’ve made in schools as the world has navigated the pandemic.

As the report explains:

“In high-poverty urban schools, children face out-of-school challenges that can impede their success in the classroom and in life. Since the 1960’s, researchers have concluded that socioeconomic background is a significant factor affecting students’ academic achievement.”

City Connects helps by implementing a systematic, evidence-based model of integrated student support that addresses the out-of-school challenges stemming from poverty. And as City Connects has grown, expanding into more U.S. cities and into Dublin, Ireland, we’ve also seen growing interest in integrated student support.

“…particularly in the context of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, interest in this work has grown in the worlds of practice, research, and policy,” the report says.

There is also “growing support for this work at the federal level, as the Covid-19 pandemic vividly illuminated these out-of-school needs and the importance of addressing them. In its August 2021 handbook to guide school reopenings, the United States Department of Education highlighted City Connects as an example of an Integrated Student Support Services Model that can help schools to ‘leverage the school site and community-based resources to ensure students’ social, emotional, physical, mental health, and academic needs are better met, improving outcomes for students and their families.’ ”

Boston College researchers have consistently tracked City Connects’ results, but the report also points to the positive impact our model makes on individual students who attend an urban, public, K-5 elementary school where roughly 85 percent of students are people of color, one third are English language learners, and more than 70 percent are economically disadvantaged. 

One of these students is Ana, a third-grade girl whose strengths include math and writing. 

“Reading was identified as an area of need, and at times, Ana demonstrated low frustration tolerance in class when she was confronted with an academic challenge,” the report explains.

“Ana made friends easily and consistently met behavioral expectations in school. She was very enthusiastic about being part of the school community and forming connections with school staff. At the same time, because she appeared to crave attention from others, she occasionally exhibited difficulty navigating interpersonal boundaries.

“Ana’s City Connects Coordinator initially referred her to a mentoring program, but the waitlist was extensive after the start of the pandemic. As an alternative, she was referred to a virtual after-school tutoring program, which could simultaneously support Ana’s academic needs and foster appropriate social connections with peers and adults. Over time, it became clear that the tutoring program successfully served this dual purpose for Ana.”

The key ingredients: customized support and relationships with a mentor as well as with a City Connects Coordinator.

The other student is Julian, a fourth-grade boy, who “experienced significant difficulty with behavioral regulation in the classroom. He frequently disrupted lessons and activities, which not only impacted Julian’s ability to learn, but presented a challenge for his teacher and his peers.”

Julian joined a social skills group run by the City Connects Coordinator. “Later in the academic year, Julian was tasked with a special errand in the school’s main office each morning, which strengthened his relationships with school staff and connection to the school community overall.

“To address family financial needs that were exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, Julian’s family was referred for support to access food on an ongoing basis, as well as a local internet provider’s voucher program to enable internet access in the home.”

Julian’s behavior improved, and “It was clear that strengthening interpersonal relationships with peers and school staff was a key component to Julian’s progress. This was mirrored in the relationships Julian’s mother had with school staff, which were also strengthened by the support offered in response to pandemic-driven financial stressors.” 

For all elementary school students, City Connects’ overall outcomes include:

• stronger academic effort

• higher report card scores

• better attendance, and

• better performance on statewide tests 

 In addition, “As they move into middle and high school, students who experience City Connects in elementary school outperform comparison peers on indicators of educational success and life chances. City Connects makes a positive impact on retention in grade, chronic absenteeism, and high school dropout.”

“As they graduate from high school, students who experienced City Connects in elementary school are more likely to enroll in, and graduate from, postsecondary institutions.”

Schools also benefit from implementing City Connects. Teachers praise the whole class review of all students, and they report that the City Connects model increased their empathy and patience, improved their ability to manage students’ behavior, and helped them develop deeper relationships with students.

And, “Across all districts, 99% of principals reported satisfaction with City Connects and would recommend City Connects to another principal. Overall, 72% of principals report having more time for their core work, and 94% reported that student support had improved in their schools as a result of City Connects.”

Among our community partners “95%… reported overall satisfaction with City Connects and 100% would recommend City Connects to another agency. Further, 98% felt that City Connects was effective at identifying the needs of the students they work with and 89% agree that City Connects is effective at matching students to services.”

We’re proud to share this report, and we are excited about the future. As Mary Walsh, City Connects’ Executive Director, writes in a letter that opens the progress report:

“City Connects makes a difference for children throughout their lives, from preschool through post-secondary education, improving their educational success and life chances. We are grateful to everyone who makes this work possible, and we look forward to continuing this work together.”

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