City Connects: building relationships between schools and families

To improve outcomes for kids, the City Connects model looks at four domains: academics, social/emotional behavior, physical health, and family.

Our focus on family is essential because parents and caregivers are key partners in students’ development and success. Families help City Connects Coordinators understand what students’ strengths and needs are.

As our 2022 Progress Report explains, “City Connects believes that schools are the epicenter of support for children and families.” Putting services and supports in schools makes them easier to access. And we know that supporting adults who may need help getting their children winter clothes or health care services also helps students. In short, when a family is doing well, children are more likely to do well. 

One example of a coordinator’s work with a student and his family is Julian, a student featured in our progress report. A fourth grader in a City Connects school, Julian had two strengths: his academics and his mother’s engagement with his school. 

However, “At the same time, Julian 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’s coordinator referred him to services and supports, including a social skills group that helped him communicate better with peers and with the coordinator. The progress report adds: 

“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. This further enhanced the connection Julian’s mother had with school staff, as she said that she felt her family’s needs were immediately addressed.

“As the school year progressed, Julian’s behavioral challenges decreased notably. 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.”

When the whole class review that coordinators conduct reveals that students have higher tiers of needs, schools create a team that conducts an “individual student review” that pulls in parent and caregiver input. 

Schools tell us that they clearly see the benefits of this work.

When asked, a majority of school principals “reported that Coordinators served as a point of contact for families in the school (89%), reached out to families on behalf of the school (92%), supported teachers in having difficult or sensitive conversations with families (91%), connected families to services (92%), and supported families with transitions (81%),” our progress report notes.

As one Springfield, Mass., principal explains, the coordinator “has an incredible way of connecting with parents and families and she also is organized and communicates progress and benchmarks so everyone is clear as to what has been reviewed and the plan moving forward. This is such an incredible skill set and support for our school and staff.” 

A Minnesota teacher featured in our progress report adds, “I think the most important benefits [of City Connects] are (1) helping students and families navigate non-academic needs by equipping them with wisdom, confidence, and resources; and (2) serving as a go-between between students, families, and school employees.”

And a Boston teacher says, “I can really get a pulse on my scholars and their families by completing the Whole Class Review. This makes me accountable for making sure I understand and know my scholars in school, but more importantly as little humans at home.”

The lesson is clear: building relationships and partnerships between schools and families is a crucial way that City Connects promotes students’ success. 

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