Sky’s the limit: Connecting kids to career options

Laurie Roule used to be a history teacher at STEM Middle Academy in Springfield, Mass. Then she decided to switch careers. And now she’s helping sixth, seventh, and eighth graders think about their careers as the academy’s City Connects coordinator. 

“I taught eighth grade forever,” Roule says. “And eighth grade is when students choose what high school they want to go to. Kids usually just choose the most popular schools. So I thought it would be cool if they could be exposed to different careers, which might change their minds about where to go to high school.”

So Roule set up what has become an annual career fair, and she invites local professionals. 

“I wanted the kids to know that there’s more out there than they’re aware of. And I want them to be curious and ask questions.”

“The people we invite to the fair have fun and love talking to the kids. So we have a lot of people who come back every year.” 

That has included carpenters, electricians, firefighters who bring their truck, police officers, an archeologist, and a large animal veterinarian. Representatives from the U.S. Army and the U.S. Navy have come as well as a nurse practitioner, paramedics, a physical therapist, crime scene investigators (CSI), a camera crew from Channel 40, a meteorologist from Channel 22, the director of a local music school, car detailers, and automotive technicians from Sarat Ford, a nearby dealership.

“When I went to high school, I was very interested in chemistry, but that wasn’t encouraged because I was a girl,” Roule says. “So I like to bring women in from many careers,” including a member of the CSI team. “I want the girls to know that they can go into any field they want to.”

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Congratulations to Mary E. Walsh

We’re excited to announce that Mary E. Walsh, the Executive Director of City Connects, is the recipient of this year’s Saint Robert Bellarmine, S.J., Award, “in recognition of her exemplary career and significant contributions that have consistently and purposefully advanced the mission of Boston College.”

Walsh received the honor on Monday at Boston College’s graduation ceremony.

“She is the fourth recipient of the award, named for the Italian cardinal, influential professor, and one of the leading figures in the Counter-Reformation.”

Ordained in the year 1570, Bellarmine was known for his commitment to education and to protecting vulnerable people. It’s a tradition that Walsh exemplifies in her work at City Connects. Her conviction that a combination of clearing away out-of-school problems, creating opportunities, and focusing on strengths can help students succeed in school has evolved into the City Connects model of getting the right services to the right students at the right time. It’s a “whole child” approach that’s built on research, data, and evidence of long-term success.

And as Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen explains, this work draws on Walsh’s personal experience.

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Shakamak Schools awarded $1.8 million federal grant to expand City Connects

A $1.8 million federal grant is helping City Connects expand in Indiana’s Shakamak Schools to support students who are finding their way through the aftermath of the pandemic. 

“This is the first time that City Connects will take its evidence-based model to a rural community, and we are eager to partner with and learn from Shakamak,” Mary Walsh, City Connects’ Executive Director, says.

City Connects is presently in schools from multiple districts in five states, many of which are in high-poverty urban communities. “We are receiving more inquiries from different types of communities,” explained Walsh. “We are hearing from more rural and suburban ring communities, in addition to urban districts. This is an important opportunity to continue to adapt City Connects to be effective in different contexts and in different places.”

In Indiana, the $1.8 million, five-year grant was awarded to the Shakamak Schools and to Marian University, home to the City Connects Midwest Technical Assistance Center. The funding comes from the Full-Service Community Schools program

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Offering English Learners an “adventure”

Adventure can’t often be found in a spreadsheet, but Carla Ann Femino did just that. By analyzing data, she found a way to turn a concern into an exciting learning experience.

Femino, the new City Connects Coordinator at Beverly High School, in Beverly, Mass., was conducting a whole class review when she noticed a concern that cut across grades. 

“The students in our English Learner program had really high needs and didn’t have enough supports to address that,” Femino says. “I like data, and I know data helps people understand what students need, so I did an informal extension of my whole class review.”

Femino began talking to English Learner program teachers who taught students who speak Albanian, Arabic, Italian, Nepali, Portuguese, Spanish, and Vietnamese. 

About 67 percent of these students faced mild, moderate, or severe risks in addition to their strengths.

As she conducted her review, Femino also found isolation. Some students weren’t connected to the larger social life of their school, and many weren’t well connected to their larger communities. And they were still building the skills to cope with the stresses of attending a school where most people speak fluent English.

Another factor, Femino says, is that “a lot of English Learner students have adult roles. They have jobs. They have to take care of younger siblings. They might come to school tired, but they still work hard at school, and they find the courage it takes to be resilient.” 

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A Library, llamas, and City Connects

Risen Christ Library
Risen Christ student with her sun-decorated library card — and a koala

With one small card, families in Minneapolis can unlock a world of castles, llamas, and “crafternoons.” That’s why Maggie Longsdorf is on a mission to make sure that the families in her school have library cards. 

“Any time we have a school event, I have a table out where there are always library card applications,” Longsdorf says. She’s the City Connects Coordinator at Risen Christ Catholic School in Minneapolis, Minn. “I tell families, I can have a library card for you in a week.”

It’s easy to forget how much libraries have to offer, Longsdorf says. But a library card is a passport to a world of new opportunities at nearby Hosmer Library, a building that looks like a small castle outside and holds tons of resources and opportunities inside.

Longsdorf says the three most popular things Risen Christ families do at Hosmer Library is borrow books, participate in the tutoring program, and join in summer activities.

“Having access to all those free books is great. And the library is also a great resource for families who are looking for extra academic support for their children outside of school,” Longsdorf adds. “Since the pandemic, a lot of students have been trying to catch up, and it has been difficult to find free academic interventions and support.

“But at the library, there’s free tutoring. All you need is a library card. Once you have that, you can go to any of the libraries in the Hennepin County system and get tutoring. And at Hosmer Library, there are tutors who speak Spanish,” which is important because many of Risen Christ’s students also speak Spanish, including those who come from other countries.

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Two briefs share City Connects’ positive impact

City Connects

Boston College’s Mary E. Walsh Center for Thriving Children, home to City Connects, has released two new briefs on the impact City Connects is having on students and in schools. 

The first brief – The Impact of City Connects on Select Student Sub-Groups – looks at a series of studies that “have explored the impacts of City Connects on important student sub-groups who are especially vulnerable to lower academic and life outcomes.”

These groups include first-generation, immigrant, and English language learner students as well as African-American and Latino boys and students who receive special education services. 

The studies point to a number of benefits, among them improved student achievement for first-generation immigrant children and reduced dropout rates for African-American and Latino boys. 

These findings are crucial to ensuring that City Connects achieves its goal of addressing the needs of all students.

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“It’s about so much more than clothes:” City Connects and Cradles to Crayons at the Massachusetts State House

Lynn Margherio, Founder and CEO of Cradles to Crayons with Massachusetts legislators Rep. Marjorie Decker; Rep. Paul Donato; Rep. Vanna Howard; Rep. Donald Wong

Earlier this month, Lynn Margherio, Founder and CEO of Cradles to Crayons, and City Connects Program Manager Sara Davey led a hearing at the Massachusetts State House to talk about clothing insecurity in the state of Massachusetts – and across the country.

“The goal,” Davey says of the briefing which was co-hosted by State Representative Marjorie Decker, “was to raise awareness and talk to legislators about how they can help children and families.”

Some legislators were already aware of the problem.

“Several legislators spoke from the heart about their own childhood experiences of living in low income situations,” Davey explains. “One legislator said that when he was young, his clothes came from a local church. It was powerful to hear from legislators who know what the impact of clothing insecurity is.”

City Connects Project Manager Sara Davey

Cradles to Crayons defines clothing insecurity “as the lack of access to affordable, adequate, appropriate clothing.” Families “may have some clothing and shoes, however, they may not fit properly, be in wearable condition, or be seasonally appropriate for the weather.” 

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Promoting equity in Salem

Tackling social inequity is hard work. Last year, Salem Public Schools took on this challenge by forming a partnership with the nonprofit organization Equity Imperative that includes feedback from students.

That partnership led to the Student Voice Project, an effort to amplify students’ concerns and help them take action to address these concerns.

“We’re getting trained as adults to be facilitators,” Joy Richmond-Smith, the City Connects Coordinator at Salem’s Saltonstall School, says. “District staff are being trained about equity and race and how they affect our students, as well as about the negative impact of implicit bias and institutional racism in schools.”

The training for facilitators includes the Youth Participatory Action Research (or YPAR) framework, which encourages, according to YPAR’s website, the creation of “positive youth and community development” based on “social justice principles.” 

“In each middle school and high school,” Richmond-Smith adds, “we organized a student voice group that’s supported by an adult mentor.” And this year the program expanded into Salem’s elementary schools. 

Initially, the focus was on first steps. Richmond-Smith and Jaleesa Tentindo, a school counselor, worked with Saltonstall middle school students to identify “a pressing issue at our school that they want to research and then try to come up with recommendations for our school to implement,” Richmond-Smith says.

“The issue they chose was the lack of consistent and meaningful dialogue about race and racism.”

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