Creative community solutions keep students engaged in school

Photo courtesy of KARE11

When City Connects Coordinators in Minnesota saw that students engaged in virtual learning were missing from school, the coordinators dug in to find out why.

“There were several reasons,” Laurie Acker, the City Connects Program Manager in Minnesota, says. “Some students didn’t have access to the Internet, or they had spotty access because a number of people in their homes were trying to use computers.” Other students lived in homes that were crowded or distracting. 

“The other thing we saw was that for a number of families there wasn’t any parental assistance at home, so some students were trying to do school by themselves without help. Younger students didn’t always know how to use the computer. And middle school students weren’t always motivated to use it.” 

Fortunately, Valerie Quintana saw a solution: use office buildings that have been emptied out by the pandemic to create study spaces for school children. 

Quintana is the co-founder and Executive Director of The Real Minneapolis, a nonprofit organization that “responds to the immediate and fluid needs of historically under-represented individuals by thoughtfully listening.”  Continue reading

Managing the pandemic in preschool

“Preschool shouldn’t be like this,” Erika Griffin says of the Early Learning Center in Salem, Mass., where children have their own desks and their own bins of toys that only they can play with – all to protect them from spreading COVID-19. 

“When the kids need a break from sitting at their desks, the teachers put Hula Hoops on the ground six feet apart and each child sits in their hoop so they can play on the floor, just to give them a break from sitting at their desks. At the end of every day, those toys are sanitized. We work hard to come up with small, creative solutions, and the kids have been great with that.” 

Erika Griffin

Griffin is both a City Connects Coordinator and a school adjustment counselor at the Early Learning Center, and she’s used to children sitting at large tables, socializing, and sharing toys. 

But what Griffin’s work shows is that even during a global pandemic, City Connects continues to work in early education settings. 

As we’ve blogged, the core of the City Connects practice remains the same, whether it’s implemented in preschools, elementary schools, high schools, or colleges. Coordinators conduct whole class reviews with teachers and in consultation with families to assess the strengths and needs of each and every child.  Continue reading

Courtney Pollack: a researcher’s journey to City Connects

courtney-pollackCourtney Pollack, a former middle school teacher, stands in two worlds. 

As a Research Affiliate in the Gabrieli Lab at MIT, she does laboratory-based research. 

At Boston College, she does applied research. 

“Laboratory research contributes important knowledge about learning. But there’s a long runway from the lab to the classroom, so it takes time and several intermediate steps for this knowledge to have an impact on how students learn every day,” Pollack explains.

“Another approach is to conduct applied education research, which is what the Center for Optimized Student Support does.” Pollack is a Senior Researcher at the center, which is home to City Connects and based at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education and Human Development.

“Researchers in the center study the City Connects intervention, which is grounded in prior child development research from different disciplines and from both laboratory and applied settings.” 

Long before Pollack was an academic, however, she was a college student who had started thinking about how education works because she was tutoring middle school students in Arizona who were struggling in math.  Continue reading

A City Connects connection to college

Jama Badinghaus, a City Connects Coordinator at Chaminade Julienne High School in Dayton, Ohio, has been helping students apply to college for several years. Now she’s doing it in the middle of a pandemic — and she’s encouraging students to reach beyond the colleges they know to choices they hadn’t considered. 

“My role is on the support side,” Badinghaus says, “helping students think about what they want to do and asking if families have the resources they need.”

“We’ve put more energy into making sure that students have access to financial aid information. We’re making sure that students have a better sense of how to complete college applications, and we educate them about specific programs for first generation students [who are the first in their families to attend college] or for low-income kids.” 

For Badinghaus this has meant diving deep into programs like QuestBridge, a national nonprofit that connects exceptional low-income students with competitive colleges.  Continue reading

A new policy brief: to help address the pandemic, federal leaders can promote integrated student support

As the country manages the health and economic burdens created by the pandemic, federal officials have an opportunity to help children and families.

A new publication, “Building Systems of Integrated Student Support: A Policy Brief for Federal Leaders,” explains how.

The need is substantial.

“From wealthy suburbs to poor inner cities and rural areas, businesses are struggling, and food lines are long,” the brief explains. And while the “funds flowing through the stimulus packages seem big on paper in Washington,” the funds can feel paltry once they arrive in communities, particularly “in the context of historic and pandemic-driven increases in child poverty, hunger, trauma, academic learning loss, and limited opportunities.”

Joan Wasser Gish, the brief’s author, sees an opportunity in the crisis. 

“This is a moment for bipartisan action to address the complex needs of children and families uncovered and exacerbated by the pandemic,” Wasser Gish says. She is the Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Center for Optimized Student Support at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education and Human Development. “Federal leaders make decisions that set the context for how states, communities, and schools can respond to the children and families they serve. This brief provides research-informed recommendations for action.”  Continue reading

One school, two City Connects coordinators

City Connects Coordinators Mia Riccio and Brad Maloon

What’s better than one City Connects Coordinator?

Two coordinators working together as a team. That’s what Brad Maloon and Mia Riccio do at Collins Middle School in Salem, Mass. 

“Just envision the left side of the brain and the right side of the brain,” Maloon says of his partnership with Riccio. “Mia is extremely organized and a very good systems thinker. I’m more of a people person with connections. I grew up in Salem. I’m a Salem guy, so I have a lot of family connections. Mia keeps me on task while I use the creative side of my brain.” 

“But it took time,” Riccio says of becoming a team. “My first year here, Brad had been at the school forever. I was just coming in, getting to know the school and the people and how things work. Brad was running around doing all this stuff, and I was wondering how I could help make things work.” 

“I was able to help her with getting to know Salem. And she helped me with really learning the City Connects system.” 

Riccio is more detail oriented. Maloon is more flexible. And they both have what both agree is “a really strong work ethic.”  Continue reading

The rich rewards of holistic learning

As schools move through and beyond the pandemic, one of the best strategies they can use is holistic learning. 

Holistic learning is “a powerful approach to teaching and learning because it acknowledges that academics must be paired with non-academic support to help students thrive in and out of school,” the Rennie Center says in its new Condition of Education report, which cites City Connects as an example of holistic learning in action. 

Understanding and responding to students “holistically reflects the reality that each learner comes into the classroom with a unique set of strengths, challenges, aspirations, and life experiences,” the report, which was released yesterday at a virtual event, explains. “Overlooking these distinctions means that too many students—particularly students of color—do not receive the support they need to thrive in school or beyond.” Holistic learning, in other words, “seeks to break down barriers.”  Continue reading

Coordinating for the holidays

As this difficult pandemic year ends, City Connects Coordinators are making many lists and checking them twice to ensure that families have what they need to get through the holiday season.

Across the country, coordinators are making sure that children have access to the practical, educational, and even magical resources they need to have happy holidays and a successful new year. These include: 

• coats, food stamps, rental assistance, and help for newly arrived immigrants

• tutors, bus passes, and an in-school paraprofessional to support a child with disabilities

• holiday meals and gifts as well as two Trees for Tots Christmas trees — one Minion-themed, and one book-themed – being decorated by City Connects Coordinator Gabrielle West and her colleagues at Catholic Central’s elementary school in Springfield, Ohio. The trees are being donated to two families in need. Continue reading