Sharing lessons and stories: City Connects’ Executive Director Mary Walsh

Mary Walsh, Executive Director of City Connects and the Mary E. Walsh Center for Thriving Children (Photo: Caitlin Cunningham)

Ask Mary Walsh, the Executive Director of City Connects, about her love of education, and she talks about her parents who grew up in Ireland and were only able to attend school through the fourth grade. 

“It was always my dad’s deepest regret that he never could get more education,” she says. 

Walsh shares this story and the road that led her to become a professor of education in Boston College Magazine’s What I’ve Learned section. 

As Walsh tells BC Magazine, one key lesson she has learned from her father is “Nobody can take your education from you.”

However obstacles like poverty, hunger, and parental depression can prevent children from getting an education in the first place. What can make a difference is equipping schools to move these obstacles aside so children can learn. And that’s why Walsh launched City Connects, to put Coordinators in schools who look at every child and provide services and supports to maximize each child’s readiness to learn. 

Another lesson is “Always live on the hyphen.” 

“That’s what my mentor in graduate school used to say,” Walsh tells the magazine. “He was talking about the hyphen between research and practice—and how one feeds the other. I thought about that a lot during my early career, when I interviewed and worked with homeless children across Massachusetts. Their individual stories generated new questions that were much more complex and interesting than any single anxiety or depression test could capture. They gave me an acute awareness of what poverty does to the hearts and minds of children.”

Walsh used this lesson to build City Connects into a practice that is fueled by research. And she has shared this lesson in the classroom as the Daniel E. Kearns Professor in Urban Education and Innovative Leadership at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education and Human Development. And while she has recently retired from teaching, she’ll continue as the Executive Director of City Connects of the Mary E. Walsh Center for Thriving Children. 

Perhaps the most important lesson Walsh shares with BC Magazine is that “Every student wants and needs to be known.”

“Our work with City Connects can involve anything from getting eyeglasses for kids to finding shelter for their family, but it also helps teachers in schools with three or four hundred students understand what’s going on with each individual child. We’ve had teachers who come to us and say, ‘Now I feel like I really know my students, and I can empathize with them.’ That makes a big difference.”

Or, as Walsh has said before, “It’s all about building relationships with children. It’s all about changing the world one child at a time.” 

Please read the article to learn more about Walsh’s story, her work, and the lessons she has learned about how children can thrive by getting an education that no one can take away.

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