A week in the life of a City Connects Coordinator – working through a pandemic

Lexy Marsh


When COVID-19 shut down the Boston Public Schools, Lexy Marsh, the City Connects Coordinator at the Oliver Wendell Holmes Innovation School, felt a huge loss.

“I love going to school. I love the routine. So when our school closed, it was sad and stressful, but I quickly switched from how I was feeling to focusing on my students,” Marsh says. 

“All of our kids qualify for the free, reduced lunch program. About 30% of our kids are homeless or displaced, which is a huge percentage. And about 50% of our kids receive some kind of special needs services.” 

“And all my kids thrive on structure, even if they don’t want to admit it. They like coming to school because they know what to expect. They’re going to get breakfast, lunch and a snack. They know what teachers think they’re capable of doing, and they’re going to rise to that level. So, it was sad to know they wouldn’t have this structure.” 

 So when her school switched to online learning, Marsh created new structures, as a peek at her weekly schedule reveals:  Continue reading

Coordinators make plans for a challenging summer

Summer is usually when City Connects Coordinators make sure that students are enrolled in camp or summer school or other programs that will support their growth and development. 

But now, coordinators are planning around the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Summer is a moving target this year,” Lynne Sullivan, City Connects’ Director of Implementation, says. School districts are trying to figure out what programs they can safely offer. Some camps are closing. And parents, especially those who have to go to work, are facing uncertainty. 

“One of the things that coordinators are trying to balance this summer is an emphasis on trying to make up for academic learning loss and address students’ need for social-emotional support,” Sullivan adds.

In City Connect schools across the country, this means connecting students to a mix of creative opportunities.  Continue reading

Steering through the COVID-19 crisis in Springfield

Back in March, when the dangerous spread of the coronavirus forced schools to close, the Springfield Public School system focused on human needs.

“We know that our schools are much more than education centers for our families. They provide important support and we know that closure will impact on our families,” the Springfield, Mass., public school website explained. 

“Springfield’s first priority was the safety and well-being of all our students and families,” Julie Donovan, Springfield’s City Connects Program Manager says. That meant focusing on the essential basics of food and housing and on keeping kids virtually connected to school.

So Springfield’s 28 City Connects Coordinators got to work. They reached out to families who weren’t responding to teachers, and they helped children living in homeless shelters get laptops and Internet hotspots.  Continue reading

Helping teachers who work in COVID-19’s shadow

During this year’s Teacher Appreciation Week, we are honored to support our teachers and their important relationships with students and families. 

City Connects Coordinators have always played a critical role in supporting teachers — and they are continuing this work in the face of COVID-19. 

Teachers tell us they often feel the indirect emotional burden of students’ problems, from hunger, anxiety, and depression to homelessness and family stress.

Coordinators help by assessing students’ needs and addressing them with customized in-school and out-of-school resources. This frees teachers to feel supported and enables them to focus on teaching.  Continue reading

Helping homeless families in the shadow of COVID-19

When the COVID-19 pandemic closed Boston’s schools, City Connects Coordinators rushed to meet urgent needs, connecting families to food, health care, and online learning technology. 

Then they started addressing homelessness. 

“A large portion of our student body and their families are in homeless shelters or they’re in overcrowded situations, living with other family members,” Jacob Nyklicek, the City Connects Coordinator at Boston’s William E. Russell Elementary School says. 

So Nyklicek is providing these families with basics and, when he can, offering housing opportunities. 

On the housing front, Nyklicek connects families to a new program created by the Boston Housing Authority and the Boston Public Schools (BPS) that’s using vouchers to provide housing for 1,000 BPS families. He can also submit applications for families who can’t apply online themselves because they don’t have access to computers. 

“That’s one of the best phone calls you can make,” Nyklicek says, “calling someone who needs housing and saying, we have an opportunity for you, because housing is one of those issues that is so difficult to get help with.”  Continue reading

Children and the impacts of COVID-19

As City Connects works through the coronavirus, we are acutely aware of the painful impact this moment in history is having on school children. 

“There are two big issues” Mary Walsh, the Executive Director of City Connects says, “the impact of COVID-19 on kids and the impact of the shutdown on kids.” 

Given the 24/7 news cycle, Walsh adds, children and families can be bombarded with necessary but nonetheless devastating news about the pandemic. 

“What we know, based on research, is that kids understand illness in very different ways, depending on their developmental stage. 

“Little kids think magically. How does the sun come up? Someone pushes it. Or: If you touch someone with COVID, you can die. They can worry for days about these things, even weeks. Older children, who are 10 to 12, can understand more. But they’re not going to reassure themselves by reflecting on the fact that we got through the 1918 flu pandemic.” 

That’s why it’s crucial to connect students to people and services. Continue reading

New brief: COVID-19 and the importance of comprehensive services

In the midst of the devastating COVID-19 pandemic, schools and community partners are mobilizing to help students with resources beyond academics.

“In every community, people are working in emergency conditions to address similar challenges. How do we get children food? How do we ensure everyone has access to technology needed for learning? How do we maintain students’ and families’ relationships with teachers and others who know and care about them? How can we best help our families help their children?” Joan Wasser Gish asks. She is the Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Boston College Lynch School of Education and Human Development’s Center for Optimized Student Support, the home of City Connects. 

“By synthesizing answers to these questions and adding the expertise of practitioners to that of policymakers and scientists, we hope to provide information that is useful and actionable,” Wasser Gish adds.

That’s why the Center is releasing a new policy brief. Continue reading

Minnesota meets coronavirus-generated needs

To cope with the effects of the coronavirus on students and families in Minnesota, City Connects Coordinators started with the basics: making sure families had access to food, housing, and emergency child care. 

Coordinators made phone calls and sent out surveys to assess needs. They worked with restaurants that were donating free lunches. They worked with Sheridan Story, a local nonprofit organization, that sends food home in backpacks. 

“At this point, all our families can access food,” Laurie Acker, Minnesota’s City Connects Program Manager, says. 

But that was just step one. 

Step two was becoming Internet-ready. Coordinators made sure that students had Internet access and laptops. That meant connecting families to free municipal WiFi or helping them sign up for low-cost plans so their children could participate in distance learning. One coordinator also set up a website with resources for families. Coordinators are also organizing social emotional skills groups online and creating related videos. And they are running Student Support Team meetings (where individual students’ needs are reviewed) online.  Continue reading