A City Connects Coordinator manages the joys and demands of winter

Winter arrives in Minneapolis carrying two sacks. In one is the bright hustle and bustle of the holiday season. In the other are the frigid cold temperatures that threaten vulnerable families.

At Risen Christ Elementary School, where 98 percent of students are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch, City Connects Coordinator Lindsay O’Keefe and a group of local community partners are prepared to deal with all aspects of winter. This is essential, because, as O’Keefe explains, “Minnesota is really cold. We don’t have snow days. We have cold days where they cancel school because it is so dangerous to have the kids outside waiting for the bus because the wind chills are so cold.”

To boost the fun part of winter, O’Keefe spreads the magic of the holiday season by working with a colleague from Catholic Charities to connect families to a Christmas gift program run by Sponsor a Family MN, a local nonprofit.

“Every single family in our school can sign up for three Christmas gifts for every member of the family that lives in the house. The adults and the kids get three gifts.” Often, families ask for winter coats and boots. Continue reading

Community partnerships that spark innovative new programs

For City Connects Coordinators sharing their schools’ needs with community partners makes it much easier for those partners to offer new services and programs for children.

One example is Risen Christ Catholic School in Minneapolis where there isn’t enough funding to run a summer school program. There is, however, a high demand for summer enrichment programs. These programs are important because Risen Christ is the only dual-language immersion Catholic school in Minnesota, and many of its students are learning English as a second language. As a result, many students need literacy and language support in both English and Spanish.

That’s why when summer comes, the school’s City Connects Coordinator, Lindsay O’Keefe, works with families to send students to Urban Ventures, a local nonprofit that supports kids from the cradle to college. Because the summer program is free and runs all day and all week, covering math, English, and science, as well as providing meals and field trips, it’s extremely popular. Continue reading

What we are thankful for at City Connects

 

As we reflect on 2018, City Connects has a lot to be thankful for. Together, our dedicated coordinators, community partners, school leaders, and City Connects staff provide students with the resources and relationships necessary to overcome barriers and thrive.

We are grateful for City Connects Coordinators who go above and beyond every day to create safe and supportive school environments for all students.

Earlier this month, C.J. McGowan, the coordinator at Ascension Catholic School in Minneapolis, facilitated a school wide anti-bullying initiative. C.J. collaborated with teachers and other school staff to develop creative anti-bullying lessons and activities, which allowed students from kindergarten to eighth grade to offer their opinions on how to stop and prevent bullying. The end result? An ongoing and open conversation with all students on why no one deserves to be mistreated. Continue reading

A City Connects Coordinator addresses bullying

Bullying threatens students’ physical and emotional safety and can negatively impact their ability to learn.

Sadly, too many children in America are being bullied each year. According to stopbullying.gov, a federal government website managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, between 25 percent and 33 percent students have been bullied at school and most bullying happens in middle school.

In a recent survey published by the National Association of Elementary School Principals, school leaders say that they worry about the well-being of their students and that emotional bullying is one of their top 10 concerns.

Fortunately, school staff can make schools safer by working to prevent bullying and by sending the message that bullying is unacceptable. Continue reading

The power of data: from collection to action


At City Connects, we believe that to be able to effectively help children succeed in school and in life, we need to take a customized, comprehensive, coordinated, and continuous approach to student support. And one of the most critical ways to do this is to carefully collect data — because data leads to action.

“Our collection of data is one of the most powerful tools we have,” Mary Walsh, the Executive Director of City Connects, explains. “It’s a record of what we’ve done. It enables us to tailor services and identify trends. It’s a source of insights about what we could be doing. And, it turns out, it’s proof that our model of helping students works.”

Coordinators collect data from whole class reviews. They collect data from individual student plans, from service referrals, and from both school-based and community providers.

All of this information is entered into our highly secure Student Support Information System, a proprietary database. Continue reading

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