Children Are Resilient: A Letter to the Editor from Dr. Mary Walsh

An April 24 article in the Boston Globe tackled the challenges educators are dealing with in the third year of the pandemic, including how to support struggling students.

“Everything I’ve trained for, everything that’s worked in the past, none of it’s working,” said Laura Messner, a middle school English language arts literacy specialist in Scituate. “I’m very worried about what’s coming down the pike if we don’t think about how we’re going to address these challenges that are not temporary challenges.”

Dr. Mary Walsh, executive director of the Center for Thriving Children and expert in developmental psychology, wrote a response to the article, focused on concrete ways to better support students and teachers.

Dr. Walsh’s letter was published last week. 

“The article “Teachers help students struggling to succeed” powerfully covers the impacts of students’ challenges. It also highlights missed opportunities for more effectively supporting student — and teacher — well-being and learning.

“Though the challenges of the current COVID-19 era are real, children are also resilient. Mental health is bolstered by a range of interventions. Mild to moderate needs can be addressed with a caring school environment; after-school programs; mentors; participation in sports, arts, or other extracurricular activities; and relationships with peers and adults, while serious mental health needs require therapeutic treatment.

“Adding more counselors and social workers to extend current strategies is unlikely to be financially viable or sufficient to meet the need. Instead, schools that create systems of support to provide every student with an individualized support plan are seeing improvements. These systems connect each child to a tailored set of resources and enrichment opportunities to address that student’s strengths and needs, drawing on resources in the school, the community, or both. These systems of “integrated student supports” are now known to improve student well-being and learning, as well as support teachers who, early research shows, are less likely to leave the profession if their school has such a system in place.”

What Dr. Walsh conveyed in her letter reflects the City Connects practice, and its evidence of positive short- and long-term impacts on student learning and thriving. To learn more about the City Connects model, click here and to learn more about best practices for integrated student support go here.

Community in action: the Edison School connects with Boston College athletes

When Irina Shumway started working as a City Connects coordinator at Boston’s Thomas A. Edison K8 School last October, she felt “like a new kid in school.” The best way to make a new kid feel welcome is to be embraced by the community. 

The Boston College athletic department did just that. 

Part of Shumway’s role as a Coordinator is reconnecting with community partners who bring services and enrichment programs to City Connects schools, including Boston College’s student athletes.

After Shumway arrived, she made two connections: restarting a pen pal program and reaching out to the Eagle football team. 

In the pen pal program, Edison students in 12 classes write to Boston College athletes and the athletes respond. Next month, the kids and the college students will meet each other and put faces to the names on the letters. Fortunately, transportation won’t be a barrier because it’s easy to walk from the Edison School to Boston College.

Shumway also connected with Joshua Beekman, Boston College’s Director of Football Initiatives.

“Joshua said, I have these football players, and they would love to do something,” Shumway said. “We didn’t know exactly what it would look like. We thought we’d have the athletes come play football with the kids during recess.”

Continue reading “Community in action: the Edison School connects with Boston College athletes”

Strengthening ties between City Connects and Ireland — as Irish schools prepare to welcome Ukrainian refugees 

Mary Walsh, Norma Foley, Eugene Wall

As Ireland prepares to welcome Ukrainian refugees and increases its investments in student support, City Connects staff met last week with Irish Minister of Education Norma Foley to share details about our partnership with schools in Dublin

Mary Walsh, City Connects Executive Director, and her team explained more about City Connects, sharing how its unique features make it effective and how the program is being implemented in Ireland.

We are particularly proud that Foley and her team were also able to visit Boston’s John Winthrop Elementary School, a City Connects’ school where coordinators have built strong relationships and helped students facing homelessness and the challenges of the pandemic.

“We were just so thrilled to get the opportunity to see the work on the ground today,” Foley said during a discussion about City Connects held at Boston College later in the day. “It was a wonderful example of what it should be and how it actually is operational.

“It is one thing to see it on paper but another to see it delivered effectively in a school community. I’m a strong believer myself that whatever challenges a child has, whatever needs a child has, a child also brings enormous strengths. 

“We are very proud of the work that is being done and very appreciative of your work with Mary Immaculate College and (BC’s) expertise and talent as well and the collaboration we have seen here today as well.”

Continue reading “Strengthening ties between City Connects and Ireland — as Irish schools prepare to welcome Ukrainian refugees “

Integrating comprehensive services in early childhood settings: a policy brief for state leaders

policy brief

Early childhood programs provide crayons, blocks, and story time – and they should also, a new policy brief says, improve access to comprehensive services.

Strong models already exist, and now is the ideal time for states to draw on the lessons that these programs offer and scale access to comprehensive supports and opportunities.

The pandemic has made the need for more support during early childhood more urgent than ever.

“Researchers from the fields of economics, education, neuroscience, and psychology have found that growing up poor — or during a pandemic — affects child development and school readiness for two primary reasons,” according to the brief – “Building a Statewide System to Support Early Childhood Program Integration with Comprehensive Services” – which has just been released by the Mary E. Walsh Center for Thriving Children (CTC) at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education and Human Development. 

The first reason: “research has shown that children in poverty have less access to the types of materials, resources, and enriching everyday experiences that we know promote learning. This is true at home, in their communities, and in their schools.” 

The second reason: “the often chaotic experiences associated with poverty, a public health crisis, or the effects of systemic racism may create prolonged periods of stress for children and their families, which can become toxic to children’s brain development. As the Harvard Center on the Developing Child explains, overactivation of the body’s stress response can keep a child in ‘fight or flight’ mode with harmful consequences for brain growth and readiness to learn in school.”  Continue reading “Integrating comprehensive services in early childhood settings: a policy brief for state leaders”

A new name, a transformative gift

9B3A9996

What’s in a name? Sometimes, there’s a promise to change the world, and an invitation for changemakers to join in this work.

That’s why we’re excited to announce that the Center for Optimized Student Support, the home of City Connects, is being renamed the Mary E. Walsh Center for Thriving Children

Helping children thrive is what Mary Walsh set out to do in 2001, when she founded City Connects. Now, as the executive director of City Connects and the Daniel E. Kearns Professor in Urban Education and Innovative Leadership at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education and Human Development, Walsh is in her third decade of helping children overcome out-of-school challenges so they can succeed in school.

The newly named Center for Thriving Children (CTC) arrives on the wings of a $10 million endowment gift from an anonymous donor.

“We are so pleased about this extraordinary gift,” Stanton Wortham says. He is the Charles F. Donovan, S.J., Dean of the Lynch School, where the center is based. “For three decades, Mary Walsh has been building an exceptional program that is improving lives for tens of thousands of children. She conceptualized it, raised funds for it, built it, and commissioned research that shows it is both successful and extremely cost-effective. Her consistent focus on developing the whole child fits wonderfully with the BC mission of formative education.”

“This is a transformative gift,” Walsh agrees. “It is a tremendous honor to all the members of our team over the years, our school-based coordinators, thousands of educators, and community partners who have been instrumental to this work.”

Continue reading “A new name, a transformative gift”

Anna Hamilton: from graduate assistant to City Connects staff member

 As a college student at Tulane University, Anna Hamilton was trying to decide whether she wanted to study education or psychology.

“I was very interested in working with children in some capacity and early on as an undergraduate, I got involved in psychological research working in a lab where I studied prejudice and stigma,” Hamilton recalls.

Outside the lab, Hamilton worked with children, leading social-emotional skills groups at an elementary school. She also worked as an intern at a family resource center, providing trauma-informed care for children and families who were involved with Louisiana’s Department of Child and Family Services.

For Hamilton, working with children won out, and she enrolled in Boston College to earn a master’s degree in mental health counseling.

“I thought I was leaving the research world behind,” she says.

But in 2016, a few weeks after she started her master’s program, Hamilton started working as a graduate assistant at City Connects and stepped back into the research world.

Continue reading “Anna Hamilton: from graduate assistant to City Connects staff member”

Reflecting on the past and forging a brighter future

For the new year, we are reflecting on where we’ve been and looking forward to what’s ahead. Writing in our current newsletter, Mary Walsh, the Executive Director of City Connects, says:

“From all of us at City Connects, I wish you and your loved ones a happy, healthy new year. 2021 has been another challenging year in schools for students, for families, and for staff.”

“Despite many pandemic-related challenges, Coordinators are moving mountains to support children and families. We are implementing in an ever-expanding set of schools. City Connects is currently delivering supports, services, and enrichment opportunities to tens of thousands of students in the United States and in Ireland, and the U.S. Department of Education has featured City Connects in a number of its publications.”

This growth has happened in Massachusetts and in Indiana. City Connects has been praised in Ireland; and the Department of Education points to us as an example of an evidence-based model of integrated student support.

Continue reading “Reflecting on the past and forging a brighter future”

Responding to a crisis with integrated student support – a research article

research articleIn the middle of the pandemic, schools with systems of integrated student support (ISS) had an advantage. They were able to pivot to meet the rapidly changing needs of students and families.

A newly released research article — “Leveraging Integrated Student Support to Identify and Address COVID-19-Related Needs for Students, Families, and Teachers” — explains how one evidence-based ISS system, City Connects, has helped schools meet students’ needs. 

A key theme: systemic support matters. 

The research draws on several sources: surveys of City Connects Coordinators conducted in the spring of 2020 in 94 schools across six states; a database of the student services these coordinators provided; and on coordinators’ estimates of the three most common challenges schools faced when they were closed.

Published by AERA Open, the article was written by Courtney Pollack, former Senior Researcher on City Connects Data and Evaluation Team, and now a lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a researcher at MIT; Maria Theodorakakis, Senior Manager of Clinical Practice and Research; and Mary Walsh, City Connects’ Executive Director.  Continue reading “Responding to a crisis with integrated student support – a research article”

%d bloggers like this: