A week in the life of a City Connects Coordinator – working through a pandemic

Lexy Marsh

 

When COVID-19 shut down the Boston Public Schools, Lexy Marsh, the City Connects Coordinator at the Oliver Wendell Holmes Innovation School, felt a huge loss.

“I love going to school. I love the routine. So when our school closed, it was sad and stressful, but I quickly switched from how I was feeling to focusing on my students,” Marsh says. 

“All of our kids qualify for the free, reduced lunch program. About 30% of our kids are homeless or displaced, which is a huge percentage. And about 50% of our kids receive some kind of special needs services.” 

“And all my kids thrive on structure, even if they don’t want to admit it. They like coming to school because they know what to expect. They’re going to get breakfast, lunch and a snack. They know what teachers think they’re capable of doing, and they’re going to rise to that level. So, it was sad to know they wouldn’t have this structure.” 

 So when her school switched to online learning, Marsh created new structures, as a peek at her weekly schedule reveals:  Continue reading

Helping homeless families in the shadow of COVID-19

When the COVID-19 pandemic closed Boston’s schools, City Connects Coordinators rushed to meet urgent needs, connecting families to food, health care, and online learning technology. 

Then they started addressing homelessness. 

“A large portion of our student body and their families are in homeless shelters or they’re in overcrowded situations, living with other family members,” Jacob Nyklicek, the City Connects Coordinator at Boston’s William E. Russell Elementary School says. 

So Nyklicek is providing these families with basics and, when he can, offering housing opportunities. 

On the housing front, Nyklicek connects families to a new program created by the Boston Housing Authority and the Boston Public Schools (BPS) that’s using vouchers to provide housing for 1,000 BPS families. He can also submit applications for families who can’t apply online themselves because they don’t have access to computers. 

“That’s one of the best phone calls you can make,” Nyklicek says, “calling someone who needs housing and saying, we have an opportunity for you, because housing is one of those issues that is so difficult to get help with.”  Continue reading

Boston: Bridging the distance with student support

Although the spread of coronavirus has closed the Boston Public Schools’ buildings, City Connects Coordinators are still at work. 

Coordinators helped close the schools. They put together resource lists for families, helped teachers set up websites, and distributed laptops to students. Then the coordinators leapt with Boston’s schools into the world of online education and on-going student support. 

“Everybody is learning as we go,” City Connects Program Manager Sara Davey says of the coordinators who continue to keep students connected to supports and services. “The thing I’m most proud of is how quickly everybody jumped into action.” 

Losing daily, in-person contact with students is challenging, but the coordinators are building on the hard work they’ve been doing throughout the school year.

“I think the heart of everything our coordinators do is building relationships,” Davey says, explaining that coordinators’ ongoing connections to students, families, and administrators have helped them thrive in the virtual landscape. 

“Our coordinators have gotten very creative in the ways that they are doing outreach to students and families.” This includes jumping into a web-based Google Classroom site to communicate with families as well as providing a wide range of other kinds of assistance:  Continue reading

The Weekly Connect 3/23/20

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:

As many of the articles listed below explain, the coronavirus is having a devastating impact on education, threatening students’ access to school meals, their ability to learn, and their connection to their school communities.

Massachusetts requires Boston Public Schools to make significant improvements.

Preteen years are critical for brain development.

To read more, click on the following links.

Continue reading

A City Connects Coordinator goes above and beyond

City Connects Coordinators don’t just match students up with community partners – our coordinators also invest in making these relationships flourish. 

That’s the work that City Connects Coordinator Madeline Gillespie does at Mendell Elementary School in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood. Gillespie has worked with the nonprofit mentoring organization Strong Women Strong Girls (SWSG) to ensure that the program has a positive impact on students.

“We have a robust program with about 25 girls in grades three, four and five who meet with six mentors who are students from Simmons College,” Gillespie says. 

Through the SWSG curriculum, the girls and their mentors learn and talk about strong women and girls. At the Mendell school, this conversation has included both famous girls such as Marsai Martin, the 15-year-old, African American actor who appears on the television show black-ish – as well as less-well-known women such as Jasmine Cho, an Asian-American baker who is committed to social justice.
Continue reading

Dreaming bigger with City Connects

Josiah Quincy School students


“We love mentoring,” City Connects Coordinator Will Osier of Boston’s Josiah Quincy School says. 

That’s why every week on Wednesdays, 20 girls from the Quincy School in grades eight through 11 go into the heart of downtown Boston and meet with mentors at the online furniture and home goods company Wayfair.

City Connects works in the Quincy Upper school serving students in grades 6-12. In the upper grades, the City Connects model helps older children dream big. And just as they do in elementary schools, Osier and other coordinators working with older students provide individualized services and opportunities that meet students’ strengths and address their needs. Coordinators engage students in designing personalized plans and connect them to resources, relationships, and opportunities that can boost their college and career aspirations.

The Wayfair mentorship program is one good example. It was launched last month by one of the Quincy School’s community partners, the Big Sister Association of Greater Boston. Continue reading

Cold kids, warm hearts: the community steps up for children in need

It’s typical for City Connects Coordinators in colder cities like Springfield and Minneapolis to hold coat drives, often working with community partners, to collect coats as well as hats, scarves, gloves, and boots for students. 

“We do a lot of clothing drives,” Sarah White, the coordinator at Boston’s Winship School, says. “In the fall, we do a uniform swap; at the end of the year, we’ll do another one. And the program Caps for Kids sends over 300 hats a year.” 

But White noticed that while coat drives are great for gathering coats for younger children in kindergarten or first grade, the drives are less likely to pull in coats that fit fifth graders.  Continue reading

City Connects helps tackle “The Great Divide”

Last fall, the Boston Globe told a tale of two students — Jada Pierre and Britney Mendez – that shows how harmful educational inequities can be. 

We read this article – part of the Globe’s series, “The Great Divide: Race, Class, and Opportunity in our Schools” – and we were struck anew by the stark description of educational inequalities across Massachusetts.

For Jada and Britney – both high school students and both the children of immigrants living in Boston – a key difference was where they went to high school. Jada attended Newton South, located in one of Boston’s wealthier suburbs. Britney went to Brighton High, “a floundering city school,” the Globe says, “where fewer than 30 percent of graduates earn a college degree or other credential within six years of graduating.” 

In 2016, state education officials labeled Brighton an “underperforming school,” which meant that the district had to come up with a turnaround plan. In addition, many of the school’s students have “significant unmet needs beyond campus, ranging from mental health concerns to immigration anxieties. Most are poor, and many arrive at Brighton after struggling at other schools.”  Continue reading