City Connects fills the mental health service gap

Kirsten Rene, Despina Petsagourakis, and Anna Hamilton


“We wanted to look at the students that are often missed, students who are in what is known as the mental health service gap. They aren’t being identified and they aren’t receiving services,” Despina Petsagourakis explains.

To do this, Petsagourakis, a graduate student at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education, and her fellow graduate students Kirsten Rene and Anna Hamilton, were part of a team that conducted research on 6,000 students in 15 high-poverty elementary schools in Springfield, Mass.

“The goal is to see if the prevention and intervention system and the community collaboration and coordination that City Connects involves would address students’ needs and deliver support.”

The unmet need is considerable. The poster explains that, “Seventy-five percent of children in need of mental health services do not receive them, with disparities in service provision existing particularly for marginalized populations.” Continue reading

Jordan Lawson brings the statistical and the personal to City Connects

Jordan Lawson thought he was going to be a clinical psychologist.

But after learning more about the field, he discovered psychometrics – and the idea of using statistics for social good.

“Statistics is interesting in and of itself, but sometimes, people, myself included, can lose sight of the fact that it’s just a tool that could be used for good,” Lawson says.

Now he’s at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education and Human Development where he is a doctoral student in the Measurement, Evaluation, Statistics, and Assessment Department and a research associate who is helping to address one of City Connects’ data analysis challenges. Continue reading

A City Connects Coordinator manages the joys and demands of winter

Winter arrives in Minneapolis carrying two sacks. In one is the bright hustle and bustle of the holiday season. In the other are the frigid cold temperatures that threaten vulnerable families.

At Risen Christ Elementary School, where 98 percent of students are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch, City Connects Coordinator Lindsay O’Keefe and a group of local community partners are prepared to deal with all aspects of winter. This is essential, because, as O’Keefe explains, “Minnesota is really cold. We don’t have snow days. We have cold days where they cancel school because it is so dangerous to have the kids outside waiting for the bus because the wind chills are so cold.”

To boost the fun part of winter, O’Keefe spreads the magic of the holiday season by working with a colleague from Catholic Charities to connect families to a Christmas gift program run by Sponsor a Family MN, a local nonprofit.

“Every single family in our school can sign up for three Christmas gifts for every member of the family that lives in the house. The adults and the kids get three gifts.” Often, families ask for winter coats and boots. Continue reading

City Connects and Catie’s Closet: working with a community partner that’s just down the hall

Last school year, Lincoln Elementary School in Springfield, Mass., had a custodian’s closet that was nothing special.

This year that space has been transformed – painted, carpeted and decorated – and turned into Catie’s Closet, a cheerful place where students can get donated clothes and toiletries.

It’s a powerful example of a City Connects’ community partner that places its resources inside schools where students have easy access.

Now, when a student at Lincoln needs clothes, City Connects Coordinator Allison Emhoff can go into the closet and get winter coats, sweaters, pajamas, backpacks, or the school uniforms that students at Lincoln wear. The closet doesn’t have shoes, but Emhoff can put in a special request for them. Students can also get personal products like deodorant or toothpaste. And it’s all convenient because the closet is just down the hall. Continue reading

Community partnerships that spark innovative new programs

For City Connects Coordinators sharing their schools’ needs with community partners makes it much easier for those partners to offer new services and programs for children.

One example is Risen Christ Catholic School in Minneapolis where there isn’t enough funding to run a summer school program. There is, however, a high demand for summer enrichment programs. These programs are important because Risen Christ is the only dual-language immersion Catholic school in Minnesota, and many of its students are learning English as a second language. As a result, many students need literacy and language support in both English and Spanish.

That’s why when summer comes, the school’s City Connects Coordinator, Lindsay O’Keefe, works with families to send students to Urban Ventures, a local nonprofit that supports kids from the cradle to college. Because the summer program is free and runs all day and all week, covering math, English, and science, as well as providing meals and field trips, it’s extremely popular. Continue reading

Using data to promote student success in Salem

For the first time, City Connects has been implemented on a citywide level. The City Connects model is being used in every public K-8 school in Salem, Mass.

Now that the program is in its second year, we have the first year’s data, and this information is helping Salem promote students’ success and helping us understand how City Connects works on a municipal scale.

Before City Connects, “The student population was coming to school with barriers and challenges,” Salem Public Schools’ Superintendent Margarita Ruiz said recently at the national conference on integrated student support that was hosted by the Center for Optimized Student Support, part of Boston College’s Lynch School of Education. Continue reading

A Washington Post op-ed on integrated student support


“Nature or nurture … which is more influential?” Joan Wasser Gish asks in
a recent Washington Post op-ed.

Wasser Gish is the Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Center for Optimized Student Support, which is part of Boston College’s Lynch School of Education. The center is also home to City Connects.

The answer to the nature/nurture question: Talent is evenly distributed across the population; opportunity is not. Particularly in low-income communities, environmental factors can limit students’ academic success.

“…developmental science helps us to understand why,” Wasser Gish writes. “Students who are exposed to poverty and adversities such as trauma, experience ‘toxic stress,’” that can have cascading negative effects in students’ lives.

To address these problems, Wasser Gish explains, schools can provide integrated student support.

“As researchers and educators better understand how to deliver integrated student support effectively,” Wasser Gish notes, “policymakers are stepping in to spread what works.”

To learn more, read the op-ed.

The Weekly Connect 12/24/18

Here’s the new edition of The Weekly Connect. Check it out and sign up to have it delivered to your inbox!

These are some of the things we’ve been reading about:

Schools in Washington state are addressing students’ homelessness.

White House report recommends scrapping Obama-era school discipline guidelines.

Chronic absenteeism is a major problem in U.S. schools.

To read more, click on the following links. Continue reading