How City Connects Coordinators are working through the pandemic

Whether their schools are open for in-person learning or open for virtual learning, City Connects Coordinators are working to get the right services to the right child at the right time. 

In their hands, the core City Connects model remains the same, but it is being delivered in increasingly creative and flexible ways. 

One example is Zuleika Andrade, who started working as a coordinator in January. 

“Then,” she says, “Covid happened.” 

So Andrade and her school — Mission Grammar School, a Catholic school in Boston’s Roxbury community – pivoted from in-person to online education. Andrade worked with students virtually running lunch-bunch and snack groups, providing individualized support to students, and helping families navigate access to resources. 

“I was calling families and checking in to see what parents needed now that school was closed, because school provides so much, not just education, but meals, child care, social-emotional connections.”

Last month, the school reopened for in-person instruction with a new, safety-conscious look: in addition to new classrooms, a new lab, and a new ventilation system, there are signs with reminders of where to stand to be socially distant. Continue reading

Welcoming our new graduate assistants

Every year at City Connects, we are excited to welcome a new cohort of graduate assistants. The GAs, as we call them, come from different programs here at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education and Human Development, and they bring passion and energy to our work.

“The GAs typically work with us for an academic year, and we want their experience to be a valuable part of their education,” Claire Foley, City Connects’ Associate Director, says. “Many of the GAs give conference presentations and they contribute to our multi-disciplinary team.”

This year’s cohort of new GAs bring a wealth of experience to City Connects. They are:

Elizabeth Dowgert, earning a master’s degree in School Counseling

Dowgert is working on City Connects’ policy outreach and communications efforts. She’s a former preschool teacher who brings insights from the world of early education, where there’s a strong interplay between “whole child” approaches and education, Foley says.

“Elizabeth is really drawn to the idea that school can be a place where you look at and address kids’ out-of-school needs.” She will be working with us to translate our experience implementing City Connects in early childhood settings into lessons and resources for practitioners and policymakers. Continue reading

New courses on providing integrated student support during a pandemic

The pandemic has underscored what we’ve always known at City Connects: The best way to help children is to be systematic and intentional about providing comprehensive supports – even in the face of global instability. 

To do this work, we’ve had to adapt, and we’ve had to work harder than we had ever imagined.

The pandemic “forced us to develop the best online training we’ve ever had for City Connects,” Mary Walsh, City Connects’ Executive Director said recently of new courses that City Connects has developed on providing integrated student support during a pandemic.

To share this knowledge more broadly, we are offering the courses for free to elementary school teachers and counselors across the country as, Walsh says, a “gift during this horrible COVID time.”

The four courses are online and self-paced. They were initially offered in August and sold out in hours. Now, by popular demand, a second run of the courses is available until Friday, October 16, 2020. Participants also have the option of signing up for an accompanying synchronous Zoom session.  Continue reading

A City Connects Progress Report

Years from now, people may fall into the habit of asking each other: What were you doing right before the COVID-19 pandemic struck and how did it change your life? 

Here at City Connects, we’ve already been asking these questions — about our students and about our work. We are also asking how we can be even more effective as the country addresses long-standing racial inequities. 

And now, as we move into the fall, in a mix of in-person, virtual, and hybrid schools and classrooms, we are determined to get the right services to the right child at the right time. 

It is in this spirit of striving that we release “City Connects: Intervention & Impact Progress Report 2020.” 

In our progress reports, which are published every other year, we reflect on the past and assess the present. But this year, we’ve also taken the time to express our gratitude for all the hard work that has gotten us through the pandemic.  Continue reading

Back to school: what we’ve learned, how we’re moving forward

Mary E. Walsh
Mary E. Walsh

It’s September and going back to school – in-person or on Zoom – is an obstacle course of trying to keep students safe, keep them learning, and keep them connected to their school communities and to essential services and supports, as City Connects does. 

“The earth is moving under everyone right now,” Mary Walsh, the Executive Director of City Connects says. “But what we’ve seen is the value of having the City Connects system. It creates a record for every child, so we know the kids, and we know what their strengths and needs are.” 

Back in March, when the pandemic hit, City Connects moved its system of integrated student support online. City Connects’ Coordinators ran groups, sat in on classes, and reached out to families.

During late spring and summer, City Connects staff took stock and began preparing for the fall. Now, the City Connects system is stronger and more responsive to the pandemic’s demands and to the needs of students and families. 

Here are some of the things City Connects has been learning and doing. 

“We were able to more clearly see the impact of the services that kids had and then lost because of the pandemic,” Walsh says. “Especially services like dental vans that brought dental care right to schools. Even the New York Times is reporting on this. There are some services we could move online, but we’re being reminded how important in-school services like dentistry are.”  Continue reading

The Weekly Connect 9/8/20

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

Here are some of the things we’ve been reading about this week:

COVID-19 is taking a toll on the Latinx community.

Parents are suing to reopen schools during the pandemic; teachers are suing over pandemic safety issues.

In the midst of the pandemic, teaching students social-emotional skills can help them focus on learning.

To read more, click on the following links.

Continue reading

Happy Fourth of July!

Enjoy the holiday weekend! And have a great summer! The blog will be back in September.

Discussing the impact of COVID-19 on the Gateways Cities podcast


COVID-19 has hit students, families, and schools hard. But City Connects is working hard to keep students connected to education and supportive services.

To share this story, Joan Wasser Gish, Ellen Wingard, and Stephanie Sanabria — joined Ben Forman on an episode of the Gateways podcast, presented by local nonprofit think tank, MassINC.

“It feels like in this moment when the disruption caused by COVID is making inequities so palpable, and is lifting the lid on how critical family circumstances really are to children’s readiness to engage in learning, and thrive and have choices in life, this kind of work is something that’s going to become more and more important.” Wasser Gish says. She’s the Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Center for Optimized Student Support, which is the home of City Connects and part of the Lynch School of Education and Human Development at Boston College.

“In Salem, if you interviewed principals right now, they would tell you they wouldn’t have known what to do in their first few weeks of closures if they didn’t have their City Connects Coordinators at their virtual side to help them pivot and use the student support system that we had within the buildings [and shift them] to a virtual world,” Ellen Wingard, the City Connects Program Manager in Salem, Mass., says.

“[Because of] having the City Connects model, where we have this tiering system — we review every child in the fall — so we have insight as to who our children are, who our families are,” Stephanie Sanabria, a City Connects Coordinator in Springfield, Mass. says.

To hear the rest of the conversation, please listen to the podcast.