Walsh received the honor on Monday at Boston College’s graduation ceremony.
“She is the fourth recipient of the award, named for the Italian cardinal, influential professor, and one of the leading figures in the Counter-Reformation.”
Ordained in the year 1570, Bellarmine was known for his commitment to education and to protecting vulnerable people. It’s a tradition that Walsh exemplifies in her work at City Connects. Her conviction that a combination of clearing away out-of-school problems, creating opportunities, and focusing on strengths can help students succeed in school has evolved into the City Connects model of getting the right services to the right students at the right time. It’s a “whole child” approach that’s built on research, data, and evidence of long-term success.
As immigration to the United States continues, schools are enrolling immigrant students and working to meet their needs.
Providing this support to students and their families is a core strength of the City Connects model. This is especially true at City Connects schools which are located in Boston, Springfield, Minneapolis, and other areas with immigrant communities. In these communities, City Connects Coordinators have been assessing students’ strengths and needs and connecting them to services, supports, and enrichment programs.
One important result is better outcomes for students. As City Connects’ 2022 Progress Report explains:
“Immigrant students who experienced City Connects significantly outperformed immigrant students who never experienced the intervention on both reading and math achievement test scores. City Connects also narrowed achievement gaps between immigrant students and their English-proficient peers.”
This finding comes from research conducted by Eric Dearing, a Boston College professor at the Lynch School of Education and Human Development.
In a recent conversation Dearing noted, “We certainly have immigrants who are pulled to the United States who have high levels of education. But we also have many immigrants who come who are being pushed to the United States from countries that are experiencing war, trauma, and poverty.”
Boston College Professor Eric Dearing has just published a research paper on student achievement gaps in Norway, and his research shows that countries – including Norway and the United States – aren’t doing enough to close these gaps.
Fortunately, Dearing says, programs like City Connects can help close these gaps because of the way City Connects Coordinators work with students, by assessing strengths and meeting needs.
Before he became a professor in the Department of Counseling, Developmental & Educational Psychology at the Lynch School of Education and Human Development, Dearing was a post-doctoral researcher at Harvard’s School of Education and Harvard Medical School where his mentor was the late Stuart Hauser, M.D.
“Hauser had a collaboration with some Norwegian researchers that I had known about, and after I arrived at Boston College, he called and said, I’ve got a group of researchers from Norway, would you come over and give a presentation and then come to dinner with us?”
That invitation led to a global collaboration.
“I was already doing a lot of work on poverty and child development in the United States,” Dearing says. “And while Norway is different from here – it has very different social policies – it also has child poverty.”
Ask Mary Walsh, the Executive Director of City Connects, about her love of education, and she talks about her parents who grew up in Ireland and were only able to attend school through the fourth grade.
“It was always my dad’s deepest regret that he never could get more education,” she says.
Walsh shares this story and the road that led her to become a professor of education in Boston College Magazine’s What I’ve Learned section.
As Walsh tells BC Magazine, one key lesson she has learned from her father is “Nobody can take your education from you.”
However obstacles like poverty, hunger, and parental depression can prevent children from getting an education in the first place. What can make a difference is equipping schools to move these obstacles aside so children can learn. And that’s why Walsh launched City Connects, to put Coordinators in schools who look at every child and provide services and supports to maximize each child’s readiness to learn.
In 2022, “gubernatorial elections were held in 36 states and 3 territories,” according to the National Governors Association. And as these newly elected or reelected governors are being sworn into office in the shadow of the pandemic, many are looking for ways to provide more students with more access to mental health and to wraparound services.
These governors face obstacles.
Billions of dollars are invested in these services by local, state, and federal governments, “to promote healthy child development and academic progress,” according to a recent policy brief from Boston College’s Mary E. Walsh Center for Thriving Children, the home of City Connects.
“These resources have the power to be transformative.
“Too often they are not.”
That’s because a “complicated tangle of programs, services, and resources creates a barrier to children’s wellbeing, learning, and opportunity. Transforming this delivery system is both possible and urgent.”
Katie Drucker first came to Boston College in 2000 as an undergraduate from Florida.
“I came to B.C. thinking I wanted to be a teacher,” she recalls, but she soon realized classroom work wasn’t a good fit. Instead, she discovered educational research.
Now she’s the new Senior Evaluation Researcher at the Mary E. Walsh Center for Thriving Children, the home of City Connects.
“Not every little kid wants to be an educational researcher,” Drucker says, joking about how she came to the field. What made the difference for her was a class she took as a sophomore with Larry Ludlow, a retired professor and the former chair of the Department of Measurement, Evaluation, Statistics, and Assessment (MESA) at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education and Human Development.
While she was a graduate student, Drucker was also a B.C. employee who worked for PIRLS (the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study).
“We did very high-quality, rigorous research,” Drucker explains. “Each study cycle took five years. Then we would write a giant report that was hundreds of pages. We put it out into the world, hoping policymakers would use the information to make kids’ lives better. And a lot of people did, but it took a long time.”
While the blog is on summer vacation, we’re sharing past posts about the many ways City Connects helps students thrive.
This week’s roundup looks at staff members who are or have been part of City Connects, which is based at the Mary E. Walsh Center for Thriving Children in Boston College’s Lynch School of Education and Human Development.
Even as an undergraduate at Boston College, Maria Theodorakakis was looking for a way to combine her academic interests with hands-on work.
“I was looking for a major that really kind of combined my interest in psychology and sociology with my interest in helping kids and working in schools,” Theodorakakis recalls.
A conversation with the late John Cawthorne, a former Associate Dean in BC’s Lynch School of Education and Human Development, led her to transfer from the College of Arts and Sciences to the Lynch School – and that’s where she found City Connects.
Back in those days, in 2007, when City Connects was only in five Boston schools, Theodorakakis applied for and received a summer research fellowship, joining the City Connects team.
Often City Connects grows because of, well, connections. That’s what happened when Una Shannon came from Ireland to Boston College to be a postdoctoral fellow. Shannon learned about City Connects and shared our work with Eugene Wall, the president of Mary Immaculate College in Limerick, Ireland, as well as sharing it with ministers from the Irish National Government.
The result: Irish educators are planning to launch a City Connects pilot program this fall in 10 Dublin schools.
“It strikes me that any ‘school person’ who hears about City Connects tends to have an ‘aha’ moment,” Shannon says. She’s a former teacher who earned her bachelor’s degree from Mary Immaculate College. “It just makes sense to support the whole child, to have a strengths-based perspective, and to have a systemic, systematic, and sustained approach to student support that’s in rhythm with school life.”