From the archives: Checking in with City Connects staff

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. 

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Practice and research: a conversation with Maria Theodorakakis
City Connects Blog, November 11, 2021 

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. 

Continue reading “From the archives: Checking in with City Connects staff”

From the archives: City Connects in Ireland

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 how City Connects has expanded into Ireland. 

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Ireland launches City Connects
City Connects Blog, June 11 2020

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.” 

Continue reading “From the archives: City Connects in Ireland”

From the archives: Sharing what we’re learning through papers, policy briefs, and articles

While the blog goes on summer vacation, we’ll spend the next few months sharing past posts and social media coverage about the many ways City Connects helps students thrive. 

This week’s roundup collects some of the articles, research briefs, and policy proposals published by our partners and by the Mary E. Walsh Center for Thriving Children that share insights drawn from City Connects’ evidence-based model of integrated student support. 

The Center for Thriving Children is the home of City Connects and is based at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education and Human Development. The Center “advances science, implementation, and innovation to promote healthy child and youth development, learning, and thriving.” 

These publications speak to long-standing student needs and to the ways these needs have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Continue reading “From the archives: Sharing what we’re learning through papers, policy briefs, and articles”

National Guidelines on Integrated Student Support


From the earliest days of the pandemic, we’ve seen how powerful it is for schools to provide integrated student support.

To share knowledge about this powerful approach, the Mary E. Walsh Center for Thriving Children – home to City Connects — has just released the first “National Guidelines for Integrated Student Support,” a joint project of experts in research and evaluation as well as in the practice of integrating comprehensive school- and community-resources for students.

The guidelines are a “first effort to encapsulate evidence-based best practices and define what high quality implementation looks like in the day-to-day functioning of schools.”

“Our hope is that, in your hands, this knowledge will raise the standards of care and opportunity provided to our nation’s children and youth,” the guidelines’ website says.

 The need is glaring.

“Students’ learning and wellbeing are increasingly impacted by the complex challenges of our time,” the report notes, adding:

“More than a third of high school students in the United States experienced poor mental health at least most of the time during the pandemic.”

Continue reading “National Guidelines on Integrated Student Support”

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”

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