Coordinating for the holidays

As this difficult pandemic year ends, City Connects Coordinators are making many lists and checking them twice to ensure that families have what they need to get through the holiday season.

Across the country, coordinators are making sure that children have access to the practical, educational, and even magical resources they need to have happy holidays and a successful new year. These include: 

• coats, food stamps, rental assistance, and help for newly arrived immigrants

• tutors, bus passes, and an in-school paraprofessional to support a child with disabilities

• holiday meals and gifts as well as two Trees for Tots Christmas trees — one Minion-themed, and one book-themed – being decorated by City Connects Coordinator Gabrielle West and her colleagues at Catholic Central’s elementary school in Springfield, Ohio. The trees are being donated to two families in need. Continue reading

10 things we have learned from the COVID-19 pandemic (so far)

1. City Connects’ system of integrated student support, which is
delivered by skilled coordinators, allows schools and districts to be resilient in the face of crisis — even a global one.

2. The core practices of City Connects — the whole class reviews, individual student reviews, and personalized support — can work virtually.

3. By moving our model online, “We got to know families better,” City Connects Executive Director Mary Walsh says. “When we were in schools it could be hard to schedule meetings with working parents. But online, “we got to see families at home and get more of a sense of their challenges.”

4. Having a record of every child — thanks to our data system — meant that once the pandemic hit, we could quickly reach out to every student. We knew who our most vulnerable families were, so we could re-establish connections with community-based providers like telehealth services and afterschool programs. And we had a system in place to respond to rapidly changing family needs. Continue reading

National momentum to support the whole child

At City Connects, we have learned that a combination of supports and opportunities is needed to change children’s lives. And we have an evidence base that shows our model helps students succeed.

Now, our organization is playing a supporting role as part of a national movement for change that is focused on the whole child. Along with partners and coalitions, we are working to grow this movement into a campaign of action that could transform education by improving students’ access to comprehensive services.

This month, for example, we joined over 350 organizations and individuals in support of a White House Office on Children and Youth, which would be dedicated to improving the coordination of federal programs, bringing sustained attention to research and policy, and elevating the wellbeing of children, youth, and their families. We are also engaged in partnerships, coalitions, commissions, and advisory boards. Our goal is to contribute to the momentum for change and share what we are learning: both our knowledge about effective approaches to integrated student support or “wraparound” services, and our evidence that when implemented well, support that addresses the needs of the whole child can transform students’ lives.

City Connects is also part of an advisory group to the Sciences of Learning and Development alliance (SoLD), which uses “insights from the sciences of learning and development…to serve as a resource to connect and support leaders in research, practice, and policy to transform America’s education systems and achieve equity and excellence.” Continue reading

Happy Thanksgiving!

This holiday season, we are exceptionally grateful for all the work our City Connects staff, schools, and community partners are doing to help families.


As the country battles the pandemic, and many communities face scarce resources and dimmed charitable giving, City Connects Coordinators are still helping families find the ingredients for holiday happiness. 

In Salem, Mass., City Connects Program Manager Ellen Wingard is using a spreadsheet to track the 225 turkeys — donated by local community partner It Starts with ME!

This year, instead of having schools deliver the turkeys, Wingard and her team have collected the names of families in need and set up a central pick-up site where families can get the turkeys as well as additional food from The Salem Pantry and meals from Salem Public Schools.

“It’s one-stop shopping,” Wingard says. “And for families whom we haven’t identified, who still need turkeys, we’ll connect them to the Salvation Army. Many of our restaurants are also doing meals, and so we’re trying to communicate that as broadly as we can.”

The secret to holiday — and year-round — success?  Continue reading

Job satisfaction for City Connects Coordinators – a research study

What’s it like for City Connects Coordinators who work in high-poverty communities and help students succeed?

A new research study – “Experiences of practitioners implementing comprehensive student support in high-poverty schools,” published in the journal Improving Schools –provides interesting answers, pointing to both job satisfaction and systemic barriers. 

The study was written by Amy Heberle, a psychology professor at Clark University and a former City Connects research fellow; Úna Ní Sheanáin, a former post-doctoral fellow who worked with City Connects; Mary Walsh, City Connects’ Executive Director and a professor at Boston College; and by City Connects graduate assistants Anna Hamilton and Agnes Chung, and former City Connects Coordinator Victoria Eells Lutas. 

We know that the work of supporting students can be emotionally demanding. As Walsh and Springfield Public Schools Superintendent Daniel Warwick have written in CommonWealth Magazine: 

“When children walk into their schools, they make everyone feel what they feel. Teachers, principals, even superintendents can all feel the burdens students carry, especially those who struggle with poverty and despair. Some children talk about their challenges. Others don’t. Either way, educators and administrators feel the weight of the hunger, homelessness, mental health challenges, incarceration of parents, and other hardships that many children bear. We have to feel it, because being connected to children is the only way that we can successfully do our jobs.”  Continue reading

Desks meet the remote learning needs of Springfield’s students


Stephanie Sanabria

In the past, Stephanie Sanabria, a City Connects Coordinator in Springfield, Mass., had been known as the Bed Lady because she helped secure beds for local families. 

Now, she’s essentially been promoted to Desk Wizard.

“The Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless helps us with beds,” through its A Bed for Every Child initiative, Sanabria says. “But they realized that the need goes beyond beds. Because of remote learning, kids also need desks. When I got the coalition’s email about this, I thought, We need this in Springfield.”

Sanabria’s long-standing relationship with the coalition made it easier to bring this resource to Springfield students. Continue reading

The pandemic and racial inequity: City Connects in Salem













In Salem, Mass., coping with COVID-19 and building greater racial equity is a community effort that relies in part on City Connects. 

So far this fall, Salem Public Schools’ classes have all been remote, with some higher-needs children doing their remote learning in school buildings where they’re supervised by adults. But as Salem’s new Superintendent, Stephen Zrike, recently announced, the city plans to switch to a hybrid model later this month.

“I think the fact that all of our pre-K-to-eight schools have City Connects as their system of student support was really a boon for us during COVID,” Ellen Wingard, Salem’s City Connects Program Manager, says. 

The priority for Wingard and the City Connects Coordinators she supervises has been meeting basic needs, connecting families to food and to help with housing. Wingard’s school and city colleagues have put together one-page resource sheets for coordinators and families so they can see what services are available. 

In addition, as part of a new family intervention strategy, Salem Public Schools staff members, including teachers and paraprofessionals, have been gathering information on students’ needs by reaching out every week to ten families and asking five questions: Continue reading

Educating educators in the middle of a pandemic

“Had there not been a pandemic, would we have experimented with things that felt innovative? I don’t know,” Rebecca Lebowitz says of how City Connects has spent the last months coming up with new ways to provide professional development for educators both inside and outside our network. 

Lebowitz is City Connects’ Senior Manager of Learning and Development, and when she was hired last year, no one was worried about a global pandemic. Lebowitz was busy developing professional development programs. 

When the pandemic hit, she had to move all of our training efforts online.

“This summer, we had all hands on deck, we had an amazing team working together. We all put our heads together and everyone played a role. We really focused on refining our objectives.” 

The work started with responding to a crisis.

It grew into developing innovations that will permanently change what we do. 

“In our conversations about planning and rollout and implementation, we think a lot about the relationships that we’re building with participants,” Lebowitz says. Her PhD dissertation at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education looked at the impact of early childhood instructional coaching both on teacher performance and on children’s outcomes. 

How do you promote strong professional development relationships in a shoreless ocean of Zoom calls and online chats? By rethinking everything.  Continue reading