Helping hands and Peace Paths to problem solving

For City Connects coordinators, supporting students and helping them succeed sometimes means giving them the tools they need to share their thoughts or figure out ways to solve their own problems.

That’s part of what Coordinator Josh Richardt is doing at Catholic Central Elementary School in Springfield, Ohio.

To help students share what they’re thinking but might not say, Richardt uses the Helping Hands Locker. It’s a centrally located, locked locker where kids can deposit messages about their experiences. Richardt explains the concept to students, and then he gives them prompts. One can be a piece of paper that says “I wish my teacher knew…” Students can answer in writing or with a drawing. They can also indicate how they want the information handled, meaning shared with a teacher or just with Richardt himself. Kids are sharing information about disagreements on the playground or about mean comments that someone has made about them. Continue reading

Coordinators are the heart of City Connects

Josh Richardt, City Connects Coordinator at Catholic Central Elementary School in Ohio


Our mission is to build a network of support and care for the students that we serve — but this is only possible thanks to the hard work of our coordinators. They are the ones who, everyday, forge strong relationships with teachers and school staff, students and parents, and community partners to effectively provide individualized supports for students depending on their particular situation and circumstances.

Coordinators greet students at the bus stop. They catch up with parents in the hallway. They talk to teachers, school nurses, and principals. They are friendly. They are approachable.

And they do the core, City Connects work of conducting whole class reviews — assessing the strengths and needs of every student in every school. They connect students to services in school; and coordinators connect students to dozens of community partners outside school who provide everything from dental care and mental health counseling to summer camps and after-school programs. Continue reading

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

A backpack and hope: third graders in Brockton help homeless students

While we are proud of the work that City Connects coordinators do to help homeless students, we are even more proud of the work that third graders at Trinity Catholic Academy in Brockton, Mass., are doing to help their peers.

The third graders packed backpacks full of school supplies for other Brockton children who are in the third and fourth grade and are homeless.

“Remember miracles can happen. Dream big. Work hard,” one Trinity Catholic third grader wrote in a note to a child who will receive a backpack. Continue reading

Community partner breakfast in Minnesota: eat, play, connect

City Connects is growing in Minnesota. But the program isn’t just getting bigger — serving over 2,000 students across 10 schools with 13,284 services — it’s also getting better connected.

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The heart of City Connects’ model is connecting children to services. But again and again, we’ve seen that this also means forging connections among adults. That might mean connecting an immigrant parent to a health provider or having a funder hear from a principal.

To illustrate and capitalize on the power of these connections, Minnesota Program Manager Laurie Acker organized a community partner breakfast where she skipped the usual PowerPoint presentation and instead asked all the attendees to play a version of the classic kids’ game, Connect Four, a name that also acknowledges City Connects’ fourth anniversary in Minnesota. Continue reading

Strengths Matter Too, Positive Youth Development

Josh Richardt

 

What helps young people thrive?

Taking their brain’s natural “plasticity” – the ability to change and grow – and combining this with heaping doses of positive people, places, and opportunities.

Researchers call this positive youth development or PYD.

At City Connects, it’s an essential strategy in our work.

“To foster students’ full development, City Connects schools aim for their students to be healthy, caring, socially responsible, knowledgeable citizens,” Una Shannon, a Post-Doctoral fellow who works with City Connects implementation and evaluation teams, says of how we promote positive youth development.

Una Shannon

“The focus is on thriving: Building positive relationships, tapping into resilience, and providing opportunities for meaningful participation and leadership.”

In the field of adolescent development this is a vital shift. Instead of seeing “adolescents as inherently ‘at risk,’” as Richard Lerner, a Tufts University Psychology Professor and an expert on PYD, writes in a 2011 report, the PYD approach “views young people as resources to be developed…” Continue reading

From Awareness to Action in Minnesota

 

Laurie Acker’s experience with City Connects shows how awareness of students’ needs can lead to action.

“The big ‘A ha,’ that I had with City Connects was hearing that 65 percent of why there is an achievement gap has nothing to do with schools or teachers,” explains Acker, who has worked as both a teacher and a principal in Catholic schools.

That 65 percent statistic comes from research that found the achievement gap is significantly fueled by out-of-school factors. Now, as the Program Manager for City Connects schools in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn., Acker sees those factors up close every day.

But she also sees how City Connects works with students, families, and community partners to address the many other challenges that children in the Twin Cities face. 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