Providing professional development as the pandemic fades

The pandemic has forced City Connects to grow in ways that have led to unexpected progress. 

One example is the evolution of the summertime professional development programs we run for City Connects’ program managers and coordinators.

Last summer, when we were only a few months into the pandemic, we moved all our professional development programs online

This year’s programs continue to be online, and they build on what we’ve learned about training and about the country’s current challenges.

Earlier this week, we held our first summer professional development event, the annual June meeting for our program managers, who provide crucial training and coaching for our coordinators who work directly with students in schools. 

“This year we covered three big topics,” Rebecca Lebowitz, City Connects’ Senior Manager of Learning and Development, says of the project managers meeting.

“First, we did a lot of work on equity to build our program managers’ professional and personal capacity. We knew that in order to build the capacity of our coordinators who are working in the schools, we have to start with the program managers.”

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The Weekly Connect 6/21/21

Here’s the new edition of The Weekly Connect. Check it out and sign up to have it delivered to your inbox!

Here are some of the things we’ve been reading about this week:

The City Connects model is an example of how schools can provide crucial services as the pandemic recedes.

A Brown University economics professor is preserving data about how schools fared during the pandemic.

Policies can address the systemic racism that school children face. 

As schools return to in-person learning, thousands of “missing” students are not returning.

To read more, click on the following links.

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As the pandemic recedes, schools can do more to support students

As this school year came to a close, most students had returned to in-person school. The pandemic had loosened its devastating grip, although its impact on students remains. Now, as the country moves forward, it’s time for schools to provide a 21st century education by providing integrated student support, the wraparound services – like help with food, health, and housing – that allow kids to thrive.

One example of how to provide this support is City Connects, Joan Wasser Gish writes in a new CommonWealth magazine article, “ ‘Wraparound’ services crucial to school reopenings.”

In the article, Wasser Gish — Director of Strategic Initiatives at Boston College’s Center for Optimized Student Support, the home of City Connects – points out that even before the pandemic, many children faced tough circumstances.

“…52 percent of children were in households with income low enough to be eligible for free or reduced lunch in school. In Massachusetts, child poverty, homelessness, and mental health needs were steadily on the rise. And then COVID-19 hit.”

The resulting devastation was tough for families. But as the country rallies, Wasser Gish explains, there are also opportunities.

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A Brookings article on tackling funding silos to better serve children

One significant challenge when it comes to helping children and families is running into funding silos – restrictions on public and private funds that do not allow for flexibility in responding to families’ complex needs.

A recent article – “The COVID-19 experience shows government budgeting can become more nimble” — from the Washington, D.C., think tank Brookings, explores the problem – and explains how City Connects is part of the solution.

“Most of the major social challenges facing America, from homelessness and opioid dependency to achieving successful aging and good family health, require the successful coordination of funds from many government programs. In general, we are not good at doing that,” the article’s authors Stuart M. Butler and Timothy Higashi write.

Butler is a Senior Fellow in Economic Studies at Brookings. And Higashi is a Senior Research Analyst in the Economic Studies program.

“Programs tend to be siloed at all levels of government,” they add, “with most managers reluctant to allow funds to be used outside their explicit purposes. Moreover, eligibility rules, restrictions on data sharing, and other accountability requirements present significant obstacles to collaboration and flexibility.”

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Celebrating Teachers at the Tobin School

Last October, Jannet Sanchez started working as a City Connects Coordinator at Boston’s Maurice J. Tobin School.

Her first step? Learn about her new school quickly by building strong relationships with teachers.

Classes had been going on for a month, but only remotely because of the pandemic, so Sanchez couldn’t have the face-to-face interactions with students that help coordinators get to know their schools.

Relationships with teachers filled this gap. Teachers shared feedback on how students were doing, supplementing what Sanchez could see when she did classroom observations on Zoom.

To conduct whole class reviews, Sanchez met with teachers in teams so she could hear multiple perspectives on each student.

“We communicated a lot about the best services for kids. And some teachers asked me to set up social skills groups,” Sanchez says. “One teacher asked us to come up with a girls leadership group because there were some mean girl dynamics. Another teacher asked for an art club, so I set that up. It was me and the art teacher encouraging girls to draw and socialize.” 

The teacher/coordinator relationship is crucial — whether there is or isn’t a pandemic — because it’s a two-way street. Coordinators learn from teachers’ about students strengths and needs. And teachers learn more from coordinators about all the City Connects domains — academic, social/emotional, physical health, and family — of students’ lives. 

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Meeting with our community partners — virtually


“Our community partners are so vital to the work of City Connects” Lynne Sullivan, City Connects’ Director of Implementation, says, “so we encourage each district to hold a community partner event each year.”

Whether it’s a breakfast in Minnesota or in Boston, these events let our partners and our staff come together to share both the work they’re doing and their goals for better serving students. They get to chat, brainstorm, and make connections.

“City Connects’ role as a convener is so important,” Sullivan says. “We want to create time for broader discussions. We want to cut through the pandemic’s isolation. And we want schools and community partners to hear directly from each other about what, specifically, they need from each other.

But in the middle of the pandemic, meeting face to face isn’t safe. So City Connects co-hosted a virtual event for our coordinators, our community partners, and the principals of public schools and Catholic schools in the Boston area.

Our co-hosts were the Boston Public Schools’ Office of Community Partnerships and the Archdiocese of Boston’s Catholic Schools Office.

“We convened everyone remotely so they could hear from each other what they’ve been doing during the pandemic,” Sullivan says, “and so they could talk about how they’re planning for the next school year.”

The event included a panel discussion featuring two principals — Efrain Toledano of Boston’s Tobin School and Beth Looney of Boston Catholic’s Mission Grammar School – explaining what they’ll need from community partners when their schools reopen in the fall.

“The principals said to the community partners, ‘Please share all your ideas for how you want to work with kids.’ ‘No idea is crazy,’ ” Sullivan says. “The principals are eager to identify the gaps in services for kids so that they can work with community partners to fill them.”

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The Weekly Connect 5/10/21

Here’s the new edition of The Weekly Connect. Check it out and sign up to have it delivered to your inbox!

Here are some of the things we’ve been reading about this week:

In Salem, City Connects staff are planning for summer

A new report from the national nonprofit Zero to Three says that inequality starts early, when children are infants and toddlers. 

In Massachusetts, 1.6 million adults are struggling to get enough to eat

The pandemic has taken a disproportionate toll on immigrant students and English learners

To read more, click on the following links.

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Sharing what we do — with federal help

As schools find their way through the pandemic, meeting the needs of all students has become more important — and harder for educators to do. That’s why City Connects and the Center for Optimized Student Support, both part of Boston College’s Lynch School of Education and Human Development, are empowering educators across the country to rethink their approaches to providing student support.

The U.S. Department of Education is helping us share what we do by featuring the City Connects model in the newly released “ED COVID-19 HANDBOOK: Roadmap to Reopening Safely and Meeting All Students’ Needs,” Volume 2

The handbook covers how to create safe and healthy learning environments, address lost learning time, and support the stability and well being of educators and school staff. 

In a section on addressing resource inequities, the handbook says in part: 

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