City Connects is constantly learning. We learn from the experiences of our City Connects coordinators and the national array of schools and communities in which we work. And because City Connects is based in Boston College’s Lynch School of Education, we are also learning from different scientific fields about how we can make City Connects better. Once we have this knowledge, we go out and share it.
This cycle of learning was on display last week when Agnes Chung and Romita Mitra – both graduate students at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education – went to a Harvard Graduate School of Education conference to share two research posters about City Connects. The theme of the conference was “Spanning the Divide: Building Bridges through Research.” Continue reading →
“Developmental science illuminates risks to child development and learning, as well as opportunities for meaningful intervention.”
“This research provides insight into why experiences like poverty and trauma can inhibit learning, and what can be done to counteract their effects.” These insights come from the sciences of psychology, human development, cognitive science, and neurobiology.
Since 2001, City Connects has offered a way for schools to address the out-of-school factors that affect children’s learning inside school. The right set of school-based and community resources can help children cope with these outside challenges so that they can learn and thrive.
Over time, City Connects has built a record of success. In city after city, City Connects helps schools improve students’ attendance, effort, and grades. City Connects narrows achievement gaps and reduces high school dropout rates.
This work has become even more important as more children across the country face more challenges. Nationally, 52 percent of children in our public schools are eligible for Free or Reduced-price Lunch, a measure of low-income status that overlaps with known barriers to learning.
What we are learning through City Connects can help us to serve growing numbers of students. We help address children’s comprehensive needs so they are ready to learn and engage in school. Continue reading →
We’re excited about our new video. It’s an overview of how City Connects gets the right services to the right child at the right time.
In the video, Julia MacEwan, a City Connects site coordinator, says:
“In order for kids to be successful in school, they need lots of different things. A kid might need a backpack, a winter coat. She might need counseling, a family service center. And those are all the kinds of things that your City Connects coordinator can connect you to.”
Eric Dearing — a professor of Counseling, Developmental, and Educational Psychology in Boston College’s Lynch School of Education — explains:
“One advantage of City Connects is that it takes a multi-pronged approach to solving a multi-pronged problem. The disadvantage – and also the advantages – that we see among families in poverty are not the same from family to family and child to child.”
And Mary Walsh, City Connects’ executive director, adds:
“We did it by relying on developmental science, and we worked very closely with practitioners in the community. We were able, in a sense, to create a system that built the proverbial village around a child.”
What leads to the academic gains that City Connects provides?
New research is shedding light on this question by looking at the impact of three things: how elementary school academic skills, elementary school thriving skills, and the amount of time spent in City Connects affect academic achievement.
One of the research papers that will be presented asks whether an additional year of City Connects boosts students’ academic outcomes. This paper will be presented by Diego Luna Bazaldua, a post-doctoral researcher who is part of an independent evaluation team of faculty and researchers within the Center for Optimized Student Support at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education.
Professor Eric Dearing conducted research that looked at how immigrant children do in City Connects schools. Dearing is a professor in the department of Counseling, Developmental, and Educational Psychology in Boston College’s Lynch School of Education. He’s also a faculty adviser to the City Connects Evaluation Team.
“Poverty affects not only the amount and quality of learning support a child receives, but also the likelihood of experiencing stress, chaos, and violence,” Dearing explained last year in the journal Child Development. “For immigrant children, these risks may be aggravated by language barriers, documentation status, and discrimination.”
We can see the impact in a child’s smile. And we know that parents, principals, and our community partners are very satisfied with City Connects.
But because we are part of a major research university, Boston College, we also take a hard look at the data; and external researchers continuously review our work.
The gold standard for this kind of evaluation is a randomized controlled trial or RCT. In these trials, one group of randomly chosen individuals receives an intervention that might be, for example, a cancer drug or an enrichment program. A second group is randomly assigned to a “control” group that does not receive the intervention.
The two groups are compared to see how well the intervention works.
We’ve known for decades that what happens to children outside school can help or hurt how well they do inside school. What’s new is that we’re talking about the complexities science has found. We know, for example, that:
• Every child is unique and that children’s development happens across a range of domains — academic, social-emotional, and health — and in a range of settings that include home, school, and communities.
• Strengths and risks act together. As we say in the policy brief, “There is a delicate dialogue between risks and strengths, where a child’s protective resources such as positive relationships, talents or interests may or may not help to mitigate the impacts of risk factors like deprivation, abuse, or anxiety,” and
• Development occurs over time and it can be disrupted by chronic adversity and trauma, also known as toxic stress. Development can also be helped by effective interventions that help a child get back on track.