Tapping data and community partners to help English Language Learners

In Massachusetts and Minnesota, City Connects staff are helping schools meet the needs of English Language Learners (ELL). 

“In Salem, the predominant language that’s spoken, other than English, is Spanish,” according to Ellen Wingard the City Connects Program Manager in Salem, Mass., where 31.2 percent of the district’s 3,620 students speak a first language that isn’t English, and 13.2 percent are ELL students.

“We also have a pretty large Portuguese speaking population and a growing Albanian population and some of our students speak Arabic.”

So, when Salem’s language acquisition teams meet monthly to review the needs and progress of ELL students, City Connects Coordinators are at the table. 

“The coordinators are prepared to talk about any mitigating factors for language development,” Wingard explains. “They share critical data about a student’s family, health, and social/emotional wellbeing.”  Continue reading

Dreaming bigger with City Connects

Josiah Quincy School students

“We love mentoring,” City Connects Coordinator Will Osier of Boston’s Josiah Quincy School says. 

That’s why every week on Wednesdays, 20 girls from the Quincy School in grades eight through 11 go into the heart of downtown Boston and meet with mentors at the online furniture and home goods company Wayfair.

City Connects works in the Quincy Upper school serving students in grades 6-12. In the upper grades, the City Connects model helps older children dream big. And just as they do in elementary schools, Osier and other coordinators working with older students provide individualized services and opportunities that meet students’ strengths and address their needs. Coordinators engage students in designing personalized plans and connect them to resources, relationships, and opportunities that can boost their college and career aspirations.

The Wayfair mentorship program is one good example. It was launched last month by one of the Quincy School’s community partners, the Big Sister Association of Greater Boston. Continue reading

The people behind our technology: Brian Ward and Kevin Lopez Mader

Brian Ward and Kevin Lopez Mader

City Connects is well-known for its data-informed practice and use of technology to provide the right service to the right child at the right time. For Brian Ward and Kevin Lopez Mader building City Connects’ technological capacity has been part of a compelling journey.

Ward got his first computer when he was eight years old, and he started building computers when he was 12. It was a personal interest that grew alongside his academic interest in philosophy, which he studied at Whitman College and at Boston College, earning a master’s degree.

It was as a philosophy graduate student that he got a job working for BC’s Technology Consultant Organization, providing software and hardware support to faculty at the Lynch School of Education and Human Development.  Continue reading

Cold kids, warm hearts: the community steps up for children in need

It’s typical for City Connects Coordinators in colder cities like Springfield and Minneapolis to hold coat drives, often working with community partners, to collect coats as well as hats, scarves, gloves, and boots for students. 

“We do a lot of clothing drives,” Sarah White, the coordinator at Boston’s Winship School, says. “In the fall, we do a uniform swap; at the end of the year, we’ll do another one. And the program Caps for Kids sends over 300 hats a year.” 

But White noticed that while coat drives are great for gathering coats for younger children in kindergarten or first grade, the drives are less likely to pull in coats that fit fifth graders.  Continue reading

City Connects helps tackle “The Great Divide”

Last fall, the Boston Globe told a tale of two students — Jada Pierre and Britney Mendez – that shows how harmful educational inequities can be. 

We read this article – part of the Globe’s series, “The Great Divide: Race, Class, and Opportunity in our Schools” – and we were struck anew by the stark description of educational inequalities across Massachusetts.

For Jada and Britney – both high school students and both the children of immigrants living in Boston – a key difference was where they went to high school. Jada attended Newton South, located in one of Boston’s wealthier suburbs. Britney went to Brighton High, “a floundering city school,” the Globe says, “where fewer than 30 percent of graduates earn a college degree or other credential within six years of graduating.” 

In 2016, state education officials labeled Brighton an “underperforming school,” which meant that the district had to come up with a turnaround plan. In addition, many of the school’s students have “significant unmet needs beyond campus, ranging from mental health concerns to immigration anxieties. Most are poor, and many arrive at Brighton after struggling at other schools.”  Continue reading

City Connects launches in Chattanooga/Hamilton County

Hamilton County School System photo by Dan Henry / DanHenryPhotography.com


“We are getting services to kids faster and more intentionally than we were before,” Program Manager Jennifer Bronson says of how City Connects is working in Hamilton County, Tenn., home to a socio-economically diverse group of students in Chattanooga and surrounding suburban and rural areas. “We are being deliberate.” 

This is a story of how City Connects, which launched in eight county schools last September, is generating data and information that help schools understand students’ needs and meet them. 

Because of a community effort called Chattanooga 2.0, the region was already looking at workforce and education challenges. This led to joining By All Means, a program run by the Education Redesign Lab at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) that helps close educational achievement gaps.  Continue reading

How City Connects could improve the Nation’s Report Card

Across the country, there are student opportunity gaps that — the evidence shows — City Connects can help close. 

We were reminded of the depth of these gaps late last year, when the U.S. Department of Education released “The Nation’s Report Card.” The report card shares the results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, (the NAEP test) which is administered by the National Center for Education Statistics. 

And, unfortunately, the NAEP scores are troubling. 

“America’s fourth and eighth graders are losing ground in their ability to read literature and academic texts,” the New York Times reports. “Two out of three children did not meet the standards for reading proficiency.”  Continue reading

Happy Holidays!

See you in 2020!