Confidence, competence, and care: building social-emotional skills in Minneapolis

When C.J. McGowan became the City Connects Coordinator at Ascension Catholic School, she saw students who had many needs — and also many strengths.

“I saw a Catholic school in the north side of Minneapolis, which is the toughest side of the city, probably of the whole Twin Cities in terms of crime and poverty,” McGowan said recalling her early days at Ascension.

“There were a handful of kids who had gone through trauma. The trauma of immigrating. The trauma of being poor and not being able to afford food on a regular basis. There were academic needs and some intense behavioral health needs. And yet, there were a ton of resilient kids doing their best and doing pretty well.”

She knew that — in addition to addressing students’ comprehensive needs — building on strengths and generating feelings of competence and confidence could change the way these students saw themselves as learners and could help them thrive. So that is what she did. Continue reading

Leaping over language barriers at the Kenny School

“We’ve been talking a lot about how our parent council is great, but not reflective of our school population,” Danielle Morrissey says. She’s the City Connects Coordinator at the Thomas J. Kenny elementary school in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood.

“We were trying to strategize around how to bring in other families that aren’t involved in parent council — and about what the barriers might be, and language came up a lot.”

Language diversity is part of the fabric at the Kenny, where 35 percent of the school’s population speaks a language other than English. So Emily Bryan, the school’s principal, decided to reach out to more families by holding coffee hours in different languages. Morrissey helped organize and facilitate them. Continue reading

A new research agenda: Integrated Student Support

City Connects makes connections. We connect students and their families to tailored sets of resources. We connect schools to an array of community partners. And we connect what we are learning about integrating school and community resources to larger, national conversations.

Our work is a leading example of how schools can help students overcome hardships by providing “integrated student support” that weaves services and enrichments into the fabric of schools.

Now a new report — Comprehensive Services for Children in Poverty: Setting the Research Agenda for Integrated Student Support — lays out what researchers know and poses questions that could produce new knowledge that would benefit students and inform policymakers. Continue reading

Community partners: Strong Women, Strong Girls

City Connects works with community partners to provide a wide array of services. Often this means helping students get necessities such as dental care or beds. But sometimes our community partners also provide inspiring role models.

That’s the case with Strong Women, Strong Girls, a nonprofit organization based in Boston and Pittsburgh. The organization provides school girls with college-age mentors, and the mentors can themselves be mentored by career women.

The college mentors visit the schools once a week to meet with a group of girls.

“Each mentoring session, we highlight one strong woman,” Madison Banker explains. Banker is a college mentor, part of a group of students from Northeastern University who meet with Boston students. Mentors come from a number of colleges including Tufts University, Harvard University, Boston College, and Simmons College Continue reading

School Climate: a Q&A with Boston College’s Anastasia Raczek

Source: Anastasia Raczek


School climate is making headlines – and peaking the interest of researchers and policymakers. So earlier this month, we caught up with Anastasia Raczek and asked her to explain what school climate is and how it relates to City Connects’ work.

Anastasia Raczek

“School climate means lots of different things to different people. But we’re beginning to get more specific about it, and we do know a lot about what it seems to lead to,” Raczek said. As the Associate Director of Evaluation & Research, she helps lead an independent team that works to evaluate and improve City Connects. The team is based in the Center for Optimized Student Support, part of Boston College’s Lynch School of Education. 

In December, Raczek spoke at an event on school climate that was organized by the Rennie Center and co-hosted by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, MassINC, Boston University, and Boston College. Conference participants discussed the connection between school climate and student success. A related policy brief is posted here Continue reading

Sharing what we’re learning: How we can help immigrant students succeed

At City Connects, we always share what we’re learning. It’s a vital way to promote student success.

Last month, Eric Dearing participated in a webinar on immigrant children, sharing what we know about their outcomes. (He starts speaking at the 35:43-minute mark.) Dearing is a professor at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education and an independent researcher who has assessed City Connects’ impact.

We know that many first-generation immigrant children who are new to the country face challenges, Dearing explained during the webinar, which was hosted by the Foundation for Child Development. Poverty presents “multi-pronged risks for immigrant children at nearly every level of context in which their lives are embedded.. whether we’re talking about neighborhoods or the schools or the families or the homes in which they are living.” Many of these students can also struggle in school because they are also English Language Learners. Continue reading

City Connects is recognized for its impact

We are happy to announce that Results for America, a national nonprofit, has added Mary Walsh and City Connects to its Moneyball for Government Team, a list of leaders and organizations that are using data to solve problems.

Sports fans know that “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game,” is a book by Michael Lewis. It tells the stories of how the Oakland A’s, a baseball team with a limited budget, gave up on conventional wisdom and started using a statistical approach to evaluate and recruit players. Data, in other words, helped the A’s become a better team and win games.

In the same vein, Results for America uses its “Moneyball for Government” designation to encourage “governments at all levels to increase their use of evidence and data when investing limited taxpayer dollars. By playing Moneyball, we can improve outcomes for young people, their families and communities.” Continue reading

City Connects’ Community Partner Breakfast

“Finally, finally, finally, the whole child is back on the agenda and that’s very, very exciting for all of us in this room,” Mary Walsh said last week at City Connects’ annual Community Partner Breakfast.

Educators and community leaders attended the breakfast, which was held at Suffolk University Law School. The theme was “Supporting the Whole Child.”

The keynote speaker was Liz Walker, a former television news anchor and currently the Senior Pastor of Roxbury Presbyterian Church. She was followed by a panel discussion that featured four school and community partners who work with City Connects.

For Walsh, the breakfast was a chance to rally the troops – the teachers, the City Connects coordinators, and the community partners who provide an array of services — and explain how their work is helping Boston’s students. Continue reading