City Connects Coordinators always ask the same important questions: What do students need? How can Coordinators help? How can community partners help?
Asking these questions at the Indian Orchard Elementary School in Springfield, Mass., led to a productive partnership.
“We’ve collected clothing donations on our own, and we still do,” Shandria McCoy says. McCoy and Alaina Lyman are Indian Orchard’s City Connects Coordinators. “But last year our principal asked me about bringing Catie’s Closet to our school.”
It’s a great match. Catie’s Closet is a nonprofit organization that provides students with donated clothes by setting up spaces in schools where students can go to get these clothes. And students at Indian Orchard sometimes need clothes, especially since they wear school uniforms – khaki or navy blue pants and blue or white shirts. Springfield Public Schools started requiring school uniforms in 2008 to help students stay focused on schoolwork.
But for some families, affording clothes can be a challenge.
The pandemic didn’t just shut down schools, it also shut down team sports.
Now, Joy Richmond-Smith and Brad Maloon, two City Connects Coordinators in Salem, Mass., are working together to bring sports back to students.
“Last year, I connected several kids to the Jr. Celtics program,” Richmond-Smith, the coordinator at the Saltonstall School says. “They were limited English speakers, and they had never had the chance to play on an organized team, and they really wanted to.”
The Jr. Celtics Academy is a basketball program for middle school students run by the YMCA in Marblehead and the Boston Celtics.
“Some of the kids have never been to Marblehead,” a wealthy town next door to Salem, “and they had never been to that Y.”
Keisha Anderson is working to engage more African-American men and bring them into her school.
“I want to open school spaces to dads, uncles, male mentors, pastors, barbers, whoever has a positive male influence in students’ lives. I am opening doors so they can come into our building.”
Anderson is the City Connects Coordinator at Belle Haven Elementary School in Dayton, Ohio, and although she’s excited about having mothers, aunts, and female mentors in her school, she says that these women already show up. Teachers are already comfortable reaching out to mothers. And there are already a number of programs that focus on girls.
To be inclusive and focus on boys, Anderson reached out and formed a community partnership with Dayton Flight, a professional basketball team.
A new article published by the Washington, D.C., think tank Brookings, highlights the dynamic market for “student support” services that’s emerging as public funding increases to help schools address students’ social service and mental health needs, many of which were aggravated by the pandemic.
Wasser Gish is the Director of Systemic Impact, at the Mary E. Walsh Center for Thriving Children, the home of City Connects, and Jiang is one of the center’s Research Associates.
“With the field’s increasing understanding of what effective student support strategies look like, policymakers should establish quality benchmarks to help districts ensure a minimum, evidence-based standard of care for students,” Wasser Gish and Jiang explain.
“Just as the Food and Drug Administration strives to ensure that the health benefits of a new treatment outweigh potential harms, policymakers in education can use evidence to minimize potential risks and maximize the benefits of student support interventions.”
Among the risks that local, state, and federal policymakers can minimize are:
As immigration to the United States continues, schools are enrolling immigrant students and working to meet their needs.
Providing this support to students and their families is a core strength of the City Connects model. This is especially true at City Connects schools which are located in Boston, Springfield, Minneapolis, and other areas with immigrant communities. In these communities, City Connects Coordinators have been assessing students’ strengths and needs and connecting them to services, supports, and enrichment programs.
One important result is better outcomes for students. As City Connects’ 2022 Progress Report explains:
“Immigrant students who experienced City Connects significantly outperformed immigrant students who never experienced the intervention on both reading and math achievement test scores. City Connects also narrowed achievement gaps between immigrant students and their English-proficient peers.”
This finding comes from research conducted by Eric Dearing, a Boston College professor at the Lynch School of Education and Human Development.
In a recent conversation Dearing noted, “We certainly have immigrants who are pulled to the United States who have high levels of education. But we also have many immigrants who come who are being pushed to the United States from countries that are experiencing war, trauma, and poverty.”
Students who are referred for counseling often end up having their names put on long waiting lists, which was the case in Salem, Mass.
“A lot of the community partners that we would typically go to have waitlists that are weeks or sometimes months long,” Mia Riccio, Salem’s City Connects Program Manager, says. “The access just isn’t there. It’s especially hard for families who are under- or uninsured.”
To meet this need, Salem’s City Connects program is working with community partners to offer help more quickly by providing tele-mental health services.
Since 2016, Salem has deliberately taken a citywide approach toward meeting children’s needs, and last year, the city formed a Mental Health Task Force. At the time, as the local news source Patch media explains, school Superintendent Steve Zrike sent a letter to the school community, promising to leverage resources to “ensure that our community receives access to the highest quality services in a timely manner.”
“Zrike said the task force will look to find ways to provide students services both in and out of school,” the Patch adds.
Boston College Professor Eric Dearing has just published a research paper on student achievement gaps in Norway, and his research shows that countries – including Norway and the United States – aren’t doing enough to close these gaps.
Fortunately, Dearing says, programs like City Connects can help close these gaps because of the way City Connects Coordinators work with students, by assessing strengths and meeting needs.
Before he became a professor in the Department of Counseling, Developmental & Educational Psychology at the Lynch School of Education and Human Development, Dearing was a post-doctoral researcher at Harvard’s School of Education and Harvard Medical School where his mentor was the late Stuart Hauser, M.D.
“Hauser had a collaboration with some Norwegian researchers that I had known about, and after I arrived at Boston College, he called and said, I’ve got a group of researchers from Norway, would you come over and give a presentation and then come to dinner with us?”
That invitation led to a global collaboration.
“I was already doing a lot of work on poverty and child development in the United States,” Dearing says. “And while Norway is different from here – it has very different social policies – it also has child poverty.”
“Looking back to look ahead” is the theme of a newly released annual report –The Condition of Education in the Commonwealth — that points in part to the power of City Connects as a long-standing practice that can strengthen the future of education in Massachusetts by helping “schools build systems of integrated student support.”
Released by the Rennie Center for Education and Research & Policy, the report first came out in 2013.
Now, in 2023, the report says, “our focus on reviewing statewide data and highlighting promising strategies remains critical: despite numerous changes in policy and practice over the past 10 years, we continue to see many of the same trends in student outcomes that were present prior to 2013. Too few students are achieving proficiency in reading, math, and science. Persistent opportunity gaps affect access to affordable early childhood education, advanced coursework, college and career pathways, and other resources.”
The problem is “…our current system is not designed to ensure success for each and every student. Looking to the future, we must work collectively to transform our education system into one that offers equity and excellence for all.”
The pandemic has made the work of transforming education even harder.