What we are thankful for at City Connects


As we reflect on 2018, City Connects has a lot to be thankful for. Together, our dedicated coordinators, community partners, school leaders, and City Connects staff provide students with the resources and relationships necessary to overcome barriers and thrive.

We are grateful for City Connects Coordinators who go above and beyond every day to create safe and supportive school environments for all students.

Earlier this month, C.J. McGowan, the coordinator at Ascension Catholic School in Minneapolis, facilitated a school wide anti-bullying initiative. C.J. collaborated with teachers and other school staff to develop creative anti-bullying lessons and activities, which allowed students from kindergarten to eighth grade to offer their opinions on how to stop and prevent bullying. The end result? An ongoing and open conversation with all students on why no one deserves to be mistreated. Continue reading

A City Connects Coordinator addresses bullying

Bullying threatens students’ physical and emotional safety and can negatively impact their ability to learn.

Sadly, too many children in America are being bullied each year. According to stopbullying.gov, a federal government website managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, between 25 percent and 33 percent students have been bullied at school and most bullying happens in middle school.

In a recent survey published by the National Association of Elementary School Principals, school leaders say that they worry about the well-being of their students and that emotional bullying is one of their top 10 concerns.

Fortunately, school staff can make schools safer by working to prevent bullying and by sending the message that bullying is unacceptable. Continue reading

Great Lakes Great Apple Crunch: celebrating local farmers and healthy food


City Connects coordinators encourage students to get involved in their communities because this expands students’ world view, helps them develop empathy and leadership skills, and shows them how their actions can have a positive impact. 

Last month, the winner for loudest community activity was the 2018 Great Lakes Great Apple Crunch.

Across the Midwest, at predetermined times, students gathered together and bit into apples to make a synchronous and satisfying crunch. The goal? Educate and encourage the use of healthy, locally-grown foods, support local farmers, grow healthy eaters, and build strong communities across the region.

The event is part of National Farm to School month, an effort to forge stronger connections between farms and schools. 

While City Connects coordinators often help students with tougher problems, there’s an emphasis on connecting students to engaging activities that help them learn while having fun.

“Some of our kindergarteners had recently taken a field trip to an apple orchard,” Cassie Norris, the Coordinator at the Harvest Preparatory School in Minneapolis, says.  At her school students in kindergarten through eighth grade participated in the Great Apple Crunch along with some teachers and administrators. The school “had different crunch times throughout the day.”

Meanwhile in Springfield Ohio, Catholic Central Elementary School celebrated the day with apples from the Steven Bakery and Orchard, according to the school’s coordinator, Josh Richardt. Some 350 K-8 students participated along with 20 staff members. The school also worked with the Ohio State Extensions Office, which organized healthy eating education programs for students.  

“Overall it was a really positive event! It was neat thinking that we were doing this at the same time as one million-plus others,” Richardt says.

As we’ve blogged before, enrichment is vital to students’ success. Music lessons, art classes, and other experiences “can help students gain confidence, develop new skills, strengthen positive relationships, build resiliency, and see themselves in a new way.”

An event like the Great Apple Crunch can help students take more pride in themselves and in their communities, educate them about nutrition and healthy food, all of that while having fun.

The power of data: from collection to action

At City Connects, we believe that to be able to effectively help children succeed in school and in life, we need to take a customized, comprehensive, coordinated, and continuous approach to student support. And one of the most critical ways to do this is to carefully collect data — because data leads to action.

“Our collection of data is one of the most powerful tools we have,” Mary Walsh, the Executive Director of City Connects, explains. “It’s a record of what we’ve done. It enables us to tailor services and identify trends. It’s a source of insights about what we could be doing. And, it turns out, it’s proof that our model of helping students works.”

Coordinators collect data from whole class reviews. They collect data from individual student plans, from service referrals, and from both school-based and community providers.

All of this information is entered into our highly secure Student Support Information System, a proprietary database. Continue reading

A Bed For Every Child: a community partnership in Springfield delivers beds to more than 90 children

Across City Connects schools, community partnerships have a profound impact on children lives. One example is flourishing in Springfield, Mass.

Last year, as we’ve blogged, after a local family’s home caught on fire, Stephanie Sanabria — the City Connects coordinator at Springfield’s Early Childhood Education Center — worked with a team of community partners to secure a bed for the family’s daughter. A few months later, more beds were delivered to Springfield for more children. Behind the deliveries is an initiative called A Bed for Every Child run by the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless.  The Pioneer Valley Chapter of credit unions helped out with fundraising.

As Julie Donovan, City Connects Program Manager in Springfield, explains, “this initiative is critical for our families. Our students need a good bed to lay in every night, so that they can get the proper sleep — the proper rest to achieve their full potential — and come to school ready to learn.”

Because of local tragedies as well as hurricanes that hit Florida and Puerto Rico, the need for beds has grown. As Sanabria, who has been nicknamed the Bed lady, recently told us, referrals for families often come through word of mouth, especially now that many Puerto Rican hurricane evacuees are receiving housing. Continue reading

Helping hands and Peace Paths to problem solving

For City Connects coordinators, supporting students and helping them succeed sometimes means giving them the tools they need to share their thoughts or figure out ways to solve their own problems.

That’s part of what Coordinator Josh Richardt is doing at Catholic Central Elementary School in Springfield, Ohio.

To help students share what they’re thinking but might not say, Richardt uses the Helping Hands Locker. It’s a centrally located, locked locker where kids can deposit messages about their experiences. Richardt explains the concept to students, and then he gives them prompts. One can be a piece of paper that says “I wish my teacher knew…” Students can answer in writing or with a drawing. They can also indicate how they want the information handled, meaning shared with a teacher or just with Richardt himself. Kids are sharing information about disagreements on the playground or about mean comments that someone has made about them. Continue reading

Study reveals that City Connects leads to a lower high school dropout rate

High school dropout rate comparison


We’re proud to announce that a Boston College research study on high school dropout rates has just been published by AERA Open, a peer-reviewed journal published by the American Educational Research Association.

The study — “The Long-Term Impact of Systemic Support in Elementary School: Reducing High School Dropout” — found that elementary-school students who experienced City Connects see their dropout rates cut in half compared to children who don’t attend City Connects schools.

Boston College researchers released this finding last year and discussed it in a policy brief. Now, it’s being acknowledged by AERA, the American Education Research Association, which has an extremely rigorous review process.

“Having this study published is welcome confirmation of our impact. Even years after they leave their City Connects elementary schools, students are benefitting from the personalized outreach and support that City Connects provided when they were young,” Mary Walsh says. Walsh is City Connects’ Executive Director and the Kearns Professor of Urban Education and Innovative Leadership at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education. Continue reading

Coordinators are the heart of City Connects

Josh Richardt, City Connects Coordinator at Catholic Central Elementary School in Ohio

Our mission is to build a network of support and care for the students that we serve — but this is only possible thanks to the hard work of our coordinators. They are the ones who, everyday, forge strong relationships with teachers and school staff, students and parents, and community partners to effectively provide individualized supports for students depending on their particular situation and circumstances.

Coordinators greet students at the bus stop. They catch up with parents in the hallway. They talk to teachers, school nurses, and principals. They are friendly. They are approachable.

And they do the core, City Connects work of conducting whole class reviews — assessing the strengths and needs of every student in every school. They connect students to services in school; and coordinators connect students to dozens of community partners outside school who provide everything from dental care and mental health counseling to summer camps and after-school programs. Continue reading