Happy Thanksgiving!


This holiday season, we are exceptionally grateful for all the work our City Connects staff, schools, and community partners are doing to help families.

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As the country battles the pandemic, and many communities face scarce resources and dimmed charitable giving, City Connects Coordinators are still helping families find the ingredients for holiday happiness. 

In Salem, Mass., City Connects Program Manager Ellen Wingard is using a spreadsheet to track the 225 turkeys — donated by local community partner It Starts with ME!

This year, instead of having schools deliver the turkeys, Wingard and her team have collected the names of families in need and set up a central pick-up site where families can get the turkeys as well as additional food from The Salem Pantry and meals from Salem Public Schools.

“It’s one-stop shopping,” Wingard says. “And for families whom we haven’t identified, who still need turkeys, we’ll connect them to the Salvation Army. Many of our restaurants are also doing meals, and so we’re trying to communicate that as broadly as we can.”

The secret to holiday — and year-round — success?  Continue reading

Job satisfaction for City Connects Coordinators – a research study


What’s it like for City Connects Coordinators who work in high-poverty communities and help students succeed?

A new research study – “Experiences of practitioners implementing comprehensive student support in high-poverty schools,” published in the journal Improving Schools –provides interesting answers, pointing to both job satisfaction and systemic barriers. 

The study was written by Amy Heberle, a psychology professor at Clark University and a former City Connects research fellow; Úna Ní Sheanáin, a former post-doctoral fellow who worked with City Connects; Mary Walsh, City Connects’ Executive Director and a professor at Boston College; and by City Connects graduate assistants Anna Hamilton and Agnes Chung, and former City Connects Coordinator Victoria Eells Lutas. 

We know that the work of supporting students can be emotionally demanding. As Walsh and Springfield Public Schools Superintendent Daniel Warwick have written in CommonWealth Magazine: 

“When children walk into their schools, they make everyone feel what they feel. Teachers, principals, even superintendents can all feel the burdens students carry, especially those who struggle with poverty and despair. Some children talk about their challenges. Others don’t. Either way, educators and administrators feel the weight of the hunger, homelessness, mental health challenges, incarceration of parents, and other hardships that many children bear. We have to feel it, because being connected to children is the only way that we can successfully do our jobs.”  Continue reading

Desks meet the remote learning needs of Springfield’s students

 

Stephanie Sanabria

In the past, Stephanie Sanabria, a City Connects Coordinator in Springfield, Mass., had been known as the Bed Lady because she helped secure beds for local families. 

Now, she’s essentially been promoted to Desk Wizard.

“The Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless helps us with beds,” through its A Bed for Every Child initiative, Sanabria says. “But they realized that the need goes beyond beds. Because of remote learning, kids also need desks. When I got the coalition’s email about this, I thought, We need this in Springfield.”

Sanabria’s long-standing relationship with the coalition made it easier to bring this resource to Springfield students. Continue reading

The pandemic and racial inequity: City Connects in Salem

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Salem, Mass., coping with COVID-19 and building greater racial equity is a community effort that relies in part on City Connects. 

So far this fall, Salem Public Schools’ classes have all been remote, with some higher-needs children doing their remote learning in school buildings where they’re supervised by adults. But as Salem’s new Superintendent, Stephen Zrike, recently announced, the city plans to switch to a hybrid model later this month.

“I think the fact that all of our pre-K-to-eight schools have City Connects as their system of student support was really a boon for us during COVID,” Ellen Wingard, Salem’s City Connects Program Manager, says. 

The priority for Wingard and the City Connects Coordinators she supervises has been meeting basic needs, connecting families to food and to help with housing. Wingard’s school and city colleagues have put together one-page resource sheets for coordinators and families so they can see what services are available. 

In addition, as part of a new family intervention strategy, Salem Public Schools staff members, including teachers and paraprofessionals, have been gathering information on students’ needs by reaching out every week to ten families and asking five questions: Continue reading

Educating educators in the middle of a pandemic

“Had there not been a pandemic, would we have experimented with things that felt innovative? I don’t know,” Rebecca Lebowitz says of how City Connects has spent the last months coming up with new ways to provide professional development for educators both inside and outside our network. 

Lebowitz is City Connects’ Senior Manager of Learning and Development, and when she was hired last year, no one was worried about a global pandemic. Lebowitz was busy developing professional development programs. 

When the pandemic hit, she had to move all of our training efforts online.

“This summer, we had all hands on deck, we had an amazing team working together. We all put our heads together and everyone played a role. We really focused on refining our objectives.” 

The work started with responding to a crisis.

It grew into developing innovations that will permanently change what we do. 

“In our conversations about planning and rollout and implementation, we think a lot about the relationships that we’re building with participants,” Lebowitz says. Her PhD dissertation at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education looked at the impact of early childhood instructional coaching both on teacher performance and on children’s outcomes. 

How do you promote strong professional development relationships in a shoreless ocean of Zoom calls and online chats? By rethinking everything.  Continue reading

Yan Leigh: the new Director of Research and Evaluation

We’re excited to welcome Yan Leigh to the Center for Optimized Student Support, the home of City Connects, here at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education and Human Development.

Leigh is the center’s new Director of Research and Evaluation. 

What motivated her to pack up and move to Boston in the middle of a pandemic? 

“I feel strongly connected to and vested in the vision, mission, and core values of the center,” she says. “School districts and states have been hit so hard by the pandemic, so there is not a better time than now to be part of the center’s work. When there’s a crisis, there are challenges for sure, but there are also opportunities.” 

“Our education system has a history of giving some students less of every critical resource. That’s why we need to use evidence-based interventions to reshape the system, one classroom and one student at a time.” 

As an economics graduate student at the University of Mississippi, Leigh thought she would work on business development for a nonprofit organization or work in the private sector. 

“But during my years as a graduate student, I developed a strong interest, an obsession really, in connecting educational research and practice.”  Continue reading

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

Welcoming our new graduate assistants

Every year at City Connects, we are excited to welcome a new cohort of graduate assistants. The GAs, as we call them, come from different programs here at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education and Human Development, and they bring passion and energy to our work.

“The GAs typically work with us for an academic year, and we want their experience to be a valuable part of their education,” Claire Foley, City Connects’ Associate Director, says. “Many of the GAs give conference presentations and they contribute to our multi-disciplinary team.”

This year’s cohort of new GAs bring a wealth of experience to City Connects. They are:

Elizabeth Dowgert, earning a master’s degree in School Counseling

Dowgert is working on City Connects’ policy outreach and communications efforts. She’s a former preschool teacher who brings insights from the world of early education, where there’s a strong interplay between “whole child” approaches and education, Foley says.

“Elizabeth is really drawn to the idea that school can be a place where you look at and address kids’ out-of-school needs.” She will be working with us to translate our experience implementing City Connects in early childhood settings into lessons and resources for practitioners and policymakers. Continue reading