Community Partners: City Connects and Big Brothers Big Sisters

To get the right services to the right child, City Connects relies on hundreds of community partners – from nonprofits and health centers to businesses and cultural organizations.

One of our longstanding community partners is Big Brothers Big Sisters of Massachusetts Bay.

Big Brothers provides mentors – or “Bigs” as the organization calls them – who serve as role models and friends for children (or “Littles”) in a one-on-one relationship.

The partnership between City Connects and Big Brothers strengthens this practice.

“We really work collaboratively,” Nora Leary explains. She’s Big Brothers’ Vice President for Program Services. “I think our goals are very similar: to help the kids in Boston Public Schools succeed, not just educationally, but also in all the other spheres of their life.” Continue reading

Helping homeless children

When you’re homeless you can’t do homework. So City Connects coordinators help homeless children and their families by providing the services they need.

It’s work we have to do every day because homelessness is rising. A new report released by America’s Promise Alliance — “Hidden in Plain Sight: Homeless Students in America’s Public Schools” — highlights the grim statistics.

  • Nationally, more than 1.3 million students were homeless in the 2013-14 school year
    “This is a 7 percent increase from the previous year and more than double the number of homeless students in 2006-07.”
  • In Massachusetts, 19,353 students were homeless in the 2014-15 school year, up from 14,247 in the 2010-11 school year
  • 60 percent of students say “it was hard to stay in school while they were homeless; 42 percent say they dropped out of school at least once,” and
  • Half of students say “they had to change schools during their homelessness, and many did so multiple times.” Continue reading

Health care helps children succeed in school

Across all of City Connects’ schools, about 91 percent of the children we serve are low-income, and almost all of them rely on Medicaid for access to a range of health services. Our results in using these and other services to improve students’ academic and social-emotional outcomes shows how integrating comprehensive services can help students be better prepared to learn and succeed.

In the 2015-16 school year, we connected our 29,000 students to 44,197 services for health reasons including vision and hearing screenings, dental check ups, and doctor visits whenever a concerning medical issue arose.

Now, Congress is overhauling the Affordable Care Act and proposing some $800 billion in cuts to Medicaid that could hurt schools and school children. This funding cut would make it harder to connect children to health care. And without these services, many children won’t be able to fulfill their academic potential – an outcome could limit their college and career outcomes.

National news reports are pointing to this widespread challenge across the country. Continue reading

A City Connects summer

Now that it’s summer, children have said goodbye to their teachers and friends, but City Connects keeps kids covered because our coordinators connect them to summertime services.

These connections provide opportunities to play, grow, heal, work, and learn. For City Connects students in Boston, Mass., they include:

SummerWorks – a summer jobs program run by the nonprofit community organization ABCD

West End House Summer camp

The Steppingstone Foundation’s College Success Academy

Comfort Zone Bereavement Camp for grieving children

Little League Baseball Continue reading

City Connects inside community schools

Community schools and City Connects are philosophically aligned programs — both help students thrive by meeting their comprehensive needs. The approaches are different but also complementary, and one of the places where they’re working well together is in nine New York City schools run by the Children’s Aid Society in Harlem, Staten Island, the South Bronx, and Washington Heights.

The Children’s Aid Society launched its community schools in 1992. These schools are “both a place and a set of partnerships between the school and other community resources,” the Coalition for Community Schools explains on its website. That might mean keeping a school open in the evenings to serve as a community center or bringing afterschool or health services into the school building.

City Connects dovetails with this work by providing a systematic way to connect these and other school- and community-resources to the right child at the right time, over time.

In the South Bronx, Ron Cope, a Children’s Aid Society Program Manager, works with City Connects staff members in four community schools. They say that City Connects’ model helps improve community school implementation in four key ways: Continue reading

New research on lowering high school dropout rates

To protect students from the risk of dropping out of high school, start by helping them when they are in elementary school.

That’s the finding of a new brief that updates earlier findings done by researchers at the Center for Optimized Student Support in Boston College’s Lynch School of Education.

The brief — “Reducing High School Dropout through Elementary School Student Support: An Analysis Including Important Student Subgroups” – explains:

“Students who attended elementary schools implementing City Connects beginning in kindergarten or first grade are less likely to drop out of school in high school than comparison students (those who never attended a City Connects school).” Continue reading

City Connects goes to college – in Ohio

We know City Connects works in elementary schools where our coordinators are in the school buildings working closely with students, families, teachers, and administrators. And we’ve adapted the City Connects model to work in high schools, where students are older and have more latitude to decide what they will and won’t participate in.

But five years ago the Mathile Family Foundation asked a pointed question: How could City Connects be adapted to work in a community college setting?

The challenges were obvious: elementary and high schools provide immediate, all-day access to students and teachers. And parents often come to school. But in colleges, students are independent adults. And their presence on campus can be fleeting. In addition, City Connects would have to adapt its model to meet the needs of these “adults” — many of whom are often still teenagers.

We decided to give it a try. Continue reading

A “Kind” stand against bullying

Photo: Courtesy of Larissa Winters

One day, Larissa Winters, a City Connects coordinator, was on Instagram, and she typed the term #kind into the search box. She was looking for a way to engage students with positive aspects of social media.

What came up in her search was the Kind Campaign, a nonprofit organization that addressed girl-on-girl bullying.

We know bullying can hit kids hard. Researchers at the University of Delaware have found that “kids who are bullied in fifth grade are more likely to suffer from depression in seventh grade; and have a greater likelihood of using alcohol, marijuana or tobacco in tenth grade.” And a recent Reuters article on University of Arizona research adds, “Not only does bullying at school affect students’ emotional and social lives, it also directly affects their schoolwork and engagement in the classroom, suggests a U.S. study.”

For Winters, the campaign offered a chance to pull troubling behavior into the light, where it could be discussed and dealt with. So, she contacted the Kind Campaign and used their materials – a documentary called “Finding Kind,” and a related curriculum – to run an all-girl assembly on bullying at her school, Saint John Paul II Catholic Academy. It’s a pre-K through eighth grade school in Dorchester, where she is the school counselor and the City Connects coordinator. Continue reading