Teachers talk about City Connects

While the City Connects model focuses on getting the right services to the right child at the right time, our approach also helps teachers. We highlighted their comments in our 2022 Progress Report, and we’re sharing some of them here.

At the heart of City Connects is the whole class review conducted by coordinators who meet with teachers to explore the strengths and needs of every student. As one coordinator explains of this process: 

“It’s an opportunity for someone to listen to them. Because for years, teachers have sat with this knowledge in the classroom with no one to act upon it. And now here comes another adult in the building that wants to know about your kids. I want to know what you see as strengths. I want to know what you are concerned about. And I’m writing it down. So if I’m writing it down, it must be important, right? And it might be something I can follow up with. Teachers are feeling like, ‘Someone’s listening to me and someone’s going to help my students.’ Because teachers are passionate about what they do. They care.”

A Minnesota teacher elaborates, adding: 

Continue reading “Teachers talk about City Connects”

The Weekly Connect 5/23/22

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:

Since the pandemic, teachers need more help supporting kindergarteners.

Some school districts have revived mask mandates. Other districts face mandate bans. 

How some schools are coping with the recent mass shooting in Buffalo, N.Y

To read more, click on the following links.

Continue reading “The Weekly Connect 5/23/22”

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.

A happy holiday story

Taylor Herring is a new City Connects Coordinator at Boston’s Ellis Mendell School, but she’s already into the full swing of the holiday season.

For Thanksgiving she worked with the United Way to secure food baskets for families in need. And the family council at her school raised funds to buy Stop and Shop gift cards that also helped families put food on their Thanksgiving tables. 

“We’re a small school. We have about 270 kids. But we were able to help around 70 families,” Herring explains. “Our principal noted that because of Covid there has been an increase in the number of families who needed resources.”

Now that Christmas is coming, Herring is in the midst of managing a toy drive.

“We created an Amazon wish list that we publicized, and we also had awesome donors who gave a lump sum of money, so we were able to fulfill the wish list and get Target gift cards that families can use to buy toys or necessities. They can also use the gift cards for other siblings in the household.”

Continue reading “A happy holiday story”

Practice and research: a conversation with Maria Theodorakakis

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. 

She has stayed involved through college and graduate school (she earned a PhD in counseling psychology at Boston College). And today she’s City Connects’ Senior Manager of Clinical Practice and Research. She also works as a child psychologist at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Focusing on both practice and research has given Theodorakakis a unique view of City Connects.

Continue reading “Practice and research: a conversation with Maria Theodorakakis”

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. 

Continue reading “Renewing our commitment to equity: a message from Mary Walsh”

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.

Continue reading “The Weekly Connect 1/19/21”

How City Connects Coordinators are working through the pandemic

Whether their schools are open for in-person learning or open for virtual learning, City Connects Coordinators are working to get the right services to the right child at the right time. 

In their hands, the core City Connects model remains the same, but it is being delivered in increasingly creative and flexible ways. 

One example is Zuleika Andrade, who started working as a coordinator in January. 

“Then,” she says, “Covid happened.” 

So Andrade and her school — Mission Grammar School, a Catholic school in Boston’s Roxbury community – pivoted from in-person to online education. Andrade worked with students virtually running lunch-bunch and snack groups, providing individualized support to students, and helping families navigate access to resources. 

“I was calling families and checking in to see what parents needed now that school was closed, because school provides so much, not just education, but meals, child care, social-emotional connections.”

Last month, the school reopened for in-person instruction with a new, safety-conscious look: in addition to new classrooms, a new lab, and a new ventilation system, there are signs with reminders of where to stand to be socially distant. Continue reading “How City Connects Coordinators are working through the pandemic”

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