The power and untapped potential of providing integrated student support

“To the children whom our school system and our society have failed for far too long.”

That’s the sobering dedication that co-authors Elaine Weiss and Paul Reville chose for their new book, “Broader, Bolder, Better: How Schools and Communities Help Students Overcome the Disadvantages of Poverty.”

In this book, Weiss and Reville call on schools and communities to stop failing by creating “systems of integrated student supports (ISS) for all children.”

The two authors say it is crucial to create ISS systems that support the whole child — like City Connects and others in the field — because of the nation’s history of mediocre policy achievements.

“Decades of education reform efforts have yielded modest if any improvements in most places where poverty is present,” they write. “To be sure, there are outliers, schools and individuals defying the odds, but on average, we still have an iron-clad correlation between socioeconomic status and education achievement and attainment.” Continue reading

A new teacher writes about City Connects

Elizabeth McKernan

By the time Elizabeth McKernan graduated from Boston College in 2018, she had been a student teacher at Brighton High School, Milton High School, and Waltham High School.

In her senior year, she was already taking graduate school classes at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education and Human Development and working on her master’s degree, and she was determined to have an impact on students.

“That’s always been my perspective on teaching: If I can make one student’s life a little bit better then I’m doing it right,” she says.

Last month, McKernan made her mark in educational policy with an opinion piece in CommonWealth magazine — “Customized student support can level the playing field” — that begins:

“As a new high school teacher, I paid attention when educators, mayors, and Patriots players gathered before the Joint Committee on Education last month to testify on behalf of high needs students in Massachusetts. Continue reading

A roadmap for policymakers: a new brief shares lessons about boosting students’ success

A new policy brief, written by our colleagues at Boston College’s Center for Optimized Student Support, shares the lessons of City Connects with policymakers, explaining how integrated student support can ignite success even when students face poverty, mental health challenges, traumatic experiences, and other out-of-school burdens.

The brief – “Building Systems of Integrated Student Support A Policy Brief for Local and State Leaders” – explains the problems policymakers face:

“When leaders examine the existing tangle of programs, services, agencies, and funding streams in the context of deep needs among children and persistent academic achievement and opportunity gaps, impactful ways to transform chaotic service delivery systems are often hard to identify and harder to realize.”

Fortunately, over the last fifteen years, “insights from the sciences of child and youth development, experimentation in communities, and mounting outcomes data point to an approach that is producing results: integrated student support.” Continue reading

National conferences feature City Connects


While Coordinators bring the power of City Connects to students, it is academic researchers at Boston College who share the story of City Connects at conferences, so that others can learn from what we do.

“An advantage of City Connects being located at a university is access to researchers who can evaluate the program’s impact,” Anastasia Raczek says of City Connects, which is a part of the Center for Optimized Student Support. Raczek is the Associate Director of Research & Evaluation of the center, which is at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education and Human Development.

This spring, researchers have shared five presentations about City Connects at education research conferences in the United States and Canada.

The research was conducted by both Boston College professors and graduate students.

“Graduate education is a vital part of our mission, and we’re excited about the research our students have done and shared at these conferences,” Raczek says. “Because they come from different departments – education, measurement and statistics, developmental psychology, counseling psychology, and curriculum studies — they bring a diverse range of professional viewpoints.” Continue reading

The Weekly Connect 4/8/19

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

These are some of the things we’ve been reading about:

Harvard’s Education Redesign Lab cites City Connects as a student support model that more districts could use.

A report finds that state funding for higher-poverty districts is largely inadequate.

A South Bend, Ind., school pilots a weekend meals program.

To read more, click on the following links. Continue reading

City Connects takes root in Indianapolis

As City Connects expands in Indianapolis, Ind., we’re learning more about the power of local innovations.

Last September, City Connects launched in three Indianapolis schools, and we added two new features: a unique funding source and partnership with Marian University.

“I learned about City Connects years ago when I implemented this program in Springfield, Ohio, at a pre-K to 12 Catholic school system,” Dr. Ken Britt says. He is the Senior Vice President and Dean of Klipsch Educators College at Marian University. “I wanted to bring the program to Indiana because I believe that, coupled with our focus on teacher and leadership development, comprehensive student support can be a game-changer for young people. And there is no better program than City Connects.” Continue reading

Dental care and fire trucks: Making preschools service-rich

Think of Stephanie Sanabria as a one-woman fiber optic network. As a City Connects Coordinator, she connects 11 classrooms in Springfield’s Early Childhood Education Center with resources across the city and brings those resources right into the building where it’s easy for young children and their parents to access them.

This building-based approach is an essential part of how City Connects works in Springfield’s early education settings to meet children’s needs and build on their strengths.

“We adapted City Connects for the early childhood years because that’s such an important stage developmentally,” Anastasia Raczek explains. Raczek is the Associate Director of Research & Evaluation at the Center for Optimized Student Support, which is based at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education and Human Development.

We used funding from the Better Way Foundation to launch this effort in Catholic Schools. The first program launched in 2012 in Boston. Today, City Connects serves more than 2,000 pre-K children in programs across the country. Continue reading

Jordan Lawson brings the statistical and the personal to City Connects

Jordan Lawson thought he was going to be a clinical psychologist.

But after learning more about the field, he discovered psychometrics – and the idea of using statistics for social good.

“Statistics is interesting in and of itself, but sometimes, people, myself included, can lose sight of the fact that it’s just a tool that could be used for good,” Lawson says.

Now he’s at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education and Human Development where he is a doctoral student in the Measurement, Evaluation, Statistics, and Assessment Department and a research associate who is helping to address one of City Connects’ data analysis challenges. Continue reading