Leaping over language barriers at the Kenny School

“We’ve been talking a lot about how our parent council is great, but not reflective of our school population,” Danielle Morrissey says. She’s the City Connects Coordinator at the Thomas J. Kenny elementary school in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood.

“We were trying to strategize around how to bring in other families that aren’t involved in parent council — and about what the barriers might be, and language came up a lot.”

Language diversity is part of the fabric at the Kenny, where 35 percent of the school’s population speaks a language other than English. So Emily Bryan, the school’s principal, decided to reach out to more families by holding coffee hours in different languages. Morrissey helped organize and facilitate them. Continue reading

City Connects students in Salem give back to their community

Our approach of connecting students to the right services at the right time also creates opportunities for students to give back to their communities.

That’s what happened in Salem, Mass., when Brad Maloon the City Connects coordinator at the Collins Middle School worked with his colleagues to put together a team of students and staff who participated in the May 12th, 5K Walk for HAWC.

HAWC is a Salem-based nonprofit that provides free services to victims of domestic abuse and partner violence. 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

City Connects helps a community school in the Bronx Shine A Light

Community School 211, a pre-K to eighth grade school in the Bronx run by the Children’s Aid Society, has woven City Connects into a successful strategy for improving students’ attendance — and won an award for its efforts.

The school has seen its chronic absenteeism rate drop by almost 8 percent and its average daily attendance rate go from 92.9 percent last year to 94.1 percent this year. Chronic absenteeism is often defined as missing 10 percent of school days — or more– in a year. Missing this much school puts students at risk of having poor academic outcomes and dropping out.

Last month, C.S. 211 won a Shine a Light award from New York City’s Department of Education for their attendance improvement efforts. This is the result of four years of continuous improvement to ensure that students are in school every day. It’s exciting recognition of the vision, teamwork, and systematic effort it takes to boost attendance and help students fulfill their academic potential. Continue reading

Improving educational opportunity for all students

In a new OpEd in CommonWealth magazine — “We need a holistic approach to improving student outcomes” — Joan Wasser Gish looks at the power of schools to address poverty and other out-of-school factors to improve educational opportunities for all students.

Wasser Gish is the Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Boston College Lynch School of Education’s Center for Optimized Student Support – home to City Connects.

“Factors outside of school more powerfully predict outcomes than any factor in schools,” Wasser Gish writes. This makes it imperative to address the impact of out-of-school factors on learning to improve students’ outcomes. How can this work be done? Continue reading

Customizing services by building trust with families

Chittick Elementary School

At City Connects, we don’t just connect students to services, we connect them to a customized set of services and enrichment opportunities that meet their individual needs.

At the heart of this work is a core task: building trust with families.

Coordinators use this combination of customization and trust to help families through challenging times. This means learning how best to engage and support kids; cutting through bureaucratic red tape; and sharing insights and resources with parents. Coordinators might help a family get beds or guide immigrants who don’t speak English through the healthcare system. Our goal is to strengthen families so that students have everything they need to thrive.

This work starts early. And it continues for as long as students are at school.

“It takes time to warm the parents up to the fact that I and everyone in the school is supporting the family and not attacking parents for not parenting perfectly,” says Julie Vogel, the coordinator at the Paul A. Dever Elementary School. Continue reading

A new research agenda: Integrated Student Support

City Connects makes connections. We connect students and their families to tailored sets of resources. We connect schools to an array of community partners. And we connect what we are learning about integrating school and community resources to larger, national conversations.

Our work is a leading example of how schools can help students overcome hardships by providing “integrated student support” that weaves services and enrichments into the fabric of schools.

Now a new report — Comprehensive Services for Children in Poverty: Setting the Research Agenda for Integrated Student Support — lays out what researchers know and poses questions that could produce new knowledge that would benefit students and inform policymakers. Continue reading

Meeting life’s toughest challenges with a network of support

Elise Bradley at Shaw Elementary School

In the high-poverty communities we serve, many of our students experience challenges and traumas, which is why our support of their healthy development takes many forms.

It’s a joint effort that unites school staff, City Connects coordinators, families, and community partners, so that every child gets a network of support tailored to meet their needs.

Part of the role of our coordinators is to use their training as social workers or school counselors to discern who could benefit from more opportunities to build social-emotional skills and relationships to better manage their emotions, and who could benefit from more intensive mental health services to help them be ready to learn.

Once coordinators make this determination, they spring into action. They do regular check-ins with students and families going through tough times. They find community partners who can provide mental health services, including one-on-one counseling. They run social skills groups. And they support teachers and other school staff find productive ways to talk about and address students’ struggles. Continue reading