A new research agenda: Integrated Student Support

City Connects makes connections. We connect students and their families to tailored sets of resources. We connect schools to an array of community partners. And we connect what we are learning about integrating school and community resources to larger, national conversations.

Our work is a leading example of how schools can help students overcome hardships by providing “integrated student support” that weaves services and enrichments into the fabric of schools.

Now a new report — Comprehensive Services for Children in Poverty: Setting the Research Agenda for Integrated Student Support — lays out what researchers know and poses questions that could produce new knowledge that would benefit students and inform policymakers. Continue reading

Meeting life’s toughest challenges with a network of support

Elise Bradley at Shaw Elementary School

In the high-poverty communities we serve, many of our students experience challenges and traumas, which is why our support of their healthy development takes many forms.

It’s a joint effort that unites school staff, City Connects coordinators, families, and community partners, so that every child gets a network of support tailored to meet their needs.

Part of the role of our coordinators is to use their training as social workers or school counselors to discern who could benefit from more opportunities to build social-emotional skills and relationships to better manage their emotions, and who could benefit from more intensive mental health services to help them be ready to learn.

Once coordinators make this determination, they spring into action. They do regular check-ins with students and families going through tough times. They find community partners who can provide mental health services, including one-on-one counseling. They run social skills groups. And they support teachers and other school staff find productive ways to talk about and address students’ struggles. Continue reading

Getting Better

To get better at what we do, we look at data and listen to feedback.

In our model, coordinators in each school conduct whole class reviews to learn about students’ strengths and needs. Students are then connected to individually customized services. The data from this work is entered into our Student Support Information System, our proprietary web-based database.

It’s a process that we’re always working to improve. City Connects coordinators are always thinking about how to help the students make progress, and the program managers who support and supervise the coordinators are always looking for ways to improve. 

One of the people who gathers this feedback from our staff is Lynne Sullivan, City Connects’ Director of Implementation. She serves as a resource and a conduit for the program managers, ensuring that they have what they need to make sure our practice is working. And when program managers share things that might enhance the practice, Sullivan brings this information back to our implementation team. Continue reading

Strengths Matter Too, Positive Youth Development

Josh Richardt


What helps young people thrive?

Taking their brain’s natural “plasticity” – the ability to change and grow – and combining this with heaping doses of positive people, places, and opportunities.

Researchers call this positive youth development or PYD.

At City Connects, it’s an essential strategy in our work.

“To foster students’ full development, City Connects schools aim for their students to be healthy, caring, socially responsible, knowledgeable citizens,” Una Shannon, a Post-Doctoral fellow who works with City Connects implementation and evaluation teams, says of how we promote positive youth development.

Una Shannon

“The focus is on thriving: Building positive relationships, tapping into resilience, and providing opportunities for meaningful participation and leadership.”

In the field of adolescent development this is a vital shift. Instead of seeing “adolescents as inherently ‘at risk,’” as Richard Lerner, a Tufts University Psychology Professor and an expert on PYD, writes in a 2011 report, the PYD approach “views young people as resources to be developed…” Continue reading

From Awareness to Action in Minnesota


Laurie Acker’s experience with City Connects shows how awareness of students’ needs can lead to action.

“The big ‘A ha,’ that I had with City Connects was hearing that 65 percent of why there is an achievement gap has nothing to do with schools or teachers,” explains Acker, who has worked as both a teacher and a principal in Catholic schools.

That 65 percent statistic comes from research that found the achievement gap is significantly fueled by out-of-school factors. Now, as the Program Manager for City Connects schools in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn., Acker sees those factors up close every day.

But she also sees how City Connects works with students, families, and community partners to address the many other challenges that children in the Twin Cities face. Continue reading

The MassMutual Foundation helps City Connects expand into more Springfield schools

City Connects is expanding in Springfield. We’re growing from the five schools we worked at in 2011 to 15 schools at the beginning of this year to a current total of 23 schools. 

We had been connecting 5,000 students to 35,000 services, and now we are reaching nearly 8,000 students with even more support.

It’s an important step forward given that 77 percent of Springfield’s students are economically disadvantaged and face non-academic barriers that run from unmet health care needs to homelessness.

As Mary Walsh, the Executive Director of City Connects, and Daniel Warwick, Springfield’s schools Superintendent, wrote last year in CommonWealth magazine:

“Researchers repeatedly tell us that children’s brains are harmed by growing up in disadvantaged circumstances and by toxic stress – which includes abuse, neglect, violence, caregiver substance abuse, or mental illness, and the hardships of severe poverty. City Connects helps us by addressing each child’s unique combination of stressors.” Continue reading

A City Connects Coordinator focuses on health and wellness

When Will Osier became the City Connects Coordinator at Boston’s Chittick Elementary School, he built on the school’s existing efforts and focused on health and wellness. This was in addition to the daily work that coordinators do.

The magic ingredient: Osier created a team, a Boston Public School wellness council to create hands-on learning opportunities for students and families.

“The enrichment piece of it is engaging for the kids,” Osier says. “And that was initially what was exciting because you could see all these opportunities to help teach kids things that they’re not learning in a traditional academic setting.” Continue reading

Community partners: Strong Women, Strong Girls

City Connects works with community partners to provide a wide array of services. Often this means helping students get necessities such as dental care or beds. But sometimes our community partners also provide inspiring role models.

That’s the case with Strong Women, Strong Girls, a nonprofit organization based in Boston and Pittsburgh. The organization provides school girls with college-age mentors, and the mentors can themselves be mentored by career women.

The college mentors visit the schools once a week to meet with a group of girls.

“Each mentoring session, we highlight one strong woman,” Madison Banker explains. Banker is a college mentor, part of a group of students from Northeastern University who meet with Boston students. Mentors come from a number of colleges including Tufts University, Harvard University, Boston College, and Simmons College Continue reading