Renewing our commitment to equity: a message from Mary Walsh

Mary E. Walsh
Mary Walsh

As long as I’ve worked in schools, I have seen and worked against inequity. But the racial injustices of the past year have triggered a national crisis that demands new attention.

These inequities, which date to the country’s birth, have created glaring opportunity gaps that have led to persistent achievement gaps. Along with countless colleagues, I’ve worked to close these gaps, providing support and services to students. 

In 2000, one of the most striking features of many schools was the number of students who were plagued by poverty. They were hungry or homeless or needed eyeglasses or dental care. Here in Boston, there was no systematic and systemic way to meet these needs. School staff spent most of their time assisting students who were “behavior problems.” Students who seemed okay got less attention. If a teacher learned that a student needed winter boots or a coat, there was no clear, systematic way to help.

In 2001, I worked with colleagues in the Boston Public Schools and at Boston College to create a systematic way to address these inequities for every student in a school, because a child who is hungry or cold or in pain isn’t ready to learn. Through a two year planning process with Boston educators, families, and community organizations, we developed City Connects, a model for providing integrated student support that’s based at the Boston College Lynch School of Education and Human Development. City Connects put coordinators, typically social workers and school counselors, into Boston Public Schools. They looked at every student’s strengths and needs and connected each student with a tailored set of supports, resources, and services. The coordinators tracked information and monitored student progress. 

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Celebrating Teachers at the Tobin School

Last October, Jannet Sanchez started working as a City Connects Coordinator at Boston’s Maurice J. Tobin School.

Her first step? Learn about her new school quickly by building strong relationships with teachers.

Classes had been going on for a month, but only remotely because of the pandemic, so Sanchez couldn’t have the face-to-face interactions with students that help coordinators get to know their schools.

Relationships with teachers filled this gap. Teachers shared feedback on how students were doing, supplementing what Sanchez could see when she did classroom observations on Zoom.

To conduct whole class reviews, Sanchez met with teachers in teams so she could hear multiple perspectives on each student.

“We communicated a lot about the best services for kids. And some teachers asked me to set up social skills groups,” Sanchez says. “One teacher asked us to come up with a girls leadership group because there were some mean girl dynamics. Another teacher asked for an art club, so I set that up. It was me and the art teacher encouraging girls to draw and socialize.” 

The teacher/coordinator relationship is crucial — whether there is or isn’t a pandemic — because it’s a two-way street. Coordinators learn from teachers’ about students strengths and needs. And teachers learn more from coordinators about all the City Connects domains — academic, social/emotional, physical health, and family — of students’ lives. 

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Meeting with our community partners — virtually


“Our community partners are so vital to the work of City Connects” Lynne Sullivan, City Connects’ Director of Implementation, says, “so we encourage each district to hold a community partner event each year.”

Whether it’s a breakfast in Minnesota or in Boston, these events let our partners and our staff come together to share both the work they’re doing and their goals for better serving students. They get to chat, brainstorm, and make connections.

“City Connects’ role as a convener is so important,” Sullivan says. “We want to create time for broader discussions. We want to cut through the pandemic’s isolation. And we want schools and community partners to hear directly from each other about what, specifically, they need from each other.

But in the middle of the pandemic, meeting face to face isn’t safe. So City Connects co-hosted a virtual event for our coordinators, our community partners, and the principals of public schools and Catholic schools in the Boston area.

Our co-hosts were the Boston Public Schools’ Office of Community Partnerships and the Archdiocese of Boston’s Catholic Schools Office.

“We convened everyone remotely so they could hear from each other what they’ve been doing during the pandemic,” Sullivan says, “and so they could talk about how they’re planning for the next school year.”

The event included a panel discussion featuring two principals — Efrain Toledano of Boston’s Tobin School and Beth Looney of Boston Catholic’s Mission Grammar School – explaining what they’ll need from community partners when their schools reopen in the fall.

“The principals said to the community partners, ‘Please share all your ideas for how you want to work with kids.’ ‘No idea is crazy,’ ” Sullivan says. “The principals are eager to identify the gaps in services for kids so that they can work with community partners to fill them.”

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Noman Khanani talks about data — and transforming education

Noman Khanani Noman Khanani never expected to work in educational data analytics. But this spring he’s part of the research team that dives deep into City Connects’ data, and he’s sharing some of the results at national conferences. 

“I had always been interested in data,” he recalls. “When I was younger, I always enjoyed math and statistics, but I never really thought of pursuing this as a career. It was just something I was good at in the classroom.” 

Khanani enrolled in graduate school at Boston University’s Educational Leadership and Policy Studies master’s degree program. He thought he would go on to work in administration. 

Then he got a job as a research assistant. 

“That was my first exposure to education research and the use of quantitative analytics and statistics to measure student learning and understand the impact of programs and interventions. This work combined my interests in statistics with working for social good.”  Continue reading

The Weekly Connect 1/19/21

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

Here are some of the things we’ve been reading about this week:

A study finds that weekend food programs — that send students home with backpacks of food –address hunger and improve academic performance.

President-elect Joe Biden plans to address education challenges caused by the pandemic.

Given the rise in failing grades during the pandemic, some Michigan schools are considering ways to revamp their approach to assignments and grading.

To read more, click on the following links.

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The Weekly Connect 10/26/20

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

Here are some of the things we’ve been reading about this week:

Civil rights data from the U.S. Department of Education shows increases in sexual assault and in the use of seclusion and restraint to discipline students who have disabilities.

Boston Public Schools suspends in-person learning.

During the pandemic, overeating and inactivity could lead to increased rates of childhood obesity.

To read more, click on the following links.

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The Weekly Connect 9/14/20

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

Here are some of the things we’ve been reading about this week:

An analysis of 375 school districts finds that rural communities are more likely to offer in-person learning opportunities this fall.

Because of COVID-19’s economic impact, public pre-K programs could face steep budget cuts.

Research and anecdotal evidence suggest that as schools struggle to provide free and reduced-price meals, students are going hungry.

To read more, click on the following links.

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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