City Connects fills the mental health service gap

Kirsten Rene, Despina Petsagourakis, and Anna Hamilton


“We wanted to look at the students that are often missed, students who are in what is known as the mental health service gap. They aren’t being identified and they aren’t receiving services,” Despina Petsagourakis explains.

To do this, Petsagourakis, a graduate student at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education, and her fellow graduate students Kirsten Rene and Anna Hamilton, were part of a team that conducted research on 6,000 students in 15 high-poverty elementary schools in Springfield, Mass.

“The goal is to see if the prevention and intervention system and the community collaboration and coordination that City Connects involves would address students’ needs and deliver support.”

The unmet need is considerable. The poster explains that, “Seventy-five percent of children in need of mental health services do not receive them, with disparities in service provision existing particularly for marginalized populations.” Continue reading

The Weekly Connect 2/11/19

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

These are some of the things we’ve been reading about:

How City Connects works in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood.

The link between bullying and depression among preschool children.

An overview of all 50 states’ education policies.

Head Start improves in Jacksonville, Fla.

New Orleans works to cut student absenteeism.

To read more, click on the following links. Continue reading

Jordan Lawson brings the statistical and the personal to City Connects

Jordan Lawson thought he was going to be a clinical psychologist.

But after learning more about the field, he discovered psychometrics – and the idea of using statistics for social good.

“Statistics is interesting in and of itself, but sometimes, people, myself included, can lose sight of the fact that it’s just a tool that could be used for good,” Lawson says.

Now he’s at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education and Human Development where he is a doctoral student in the Measurement, Evaluation, Statistics, and Assessment Department and a research associate who is helping to address one of City Connects’ data analysis challenges. Continue reading

City Connects and Catie’s Closet: working with a community partner that’s just down the hall

Last school year, Lincoln Elementary School in Springfield, Mass., had a custodian’s closet that was nothing special.

This year that space has been transformed – painted, carpeted and decorated – and turned into Catie’s Closet, a cheerful place where students can get donated clothes and toiletries.

It’s a powerful example of a City Connects’ community partner that places its resources inside schools where students have easy access.

Now, when a student at Lincoln needs clothes, City Connects Coordinator Allison Emhoff can go into the closet and get winter coats, sweaters, pajamas, backpacks, or the school uniforms that students at Lincoln wear. The closet doesn’t have shoes, but Emhoff can put in a special request for them. Students can also get personal products like deodorant or toothpaste. And it’s all convenient because the closet is just down the hall. Continue reading

Using data to promote student success in Salem

For the first time, City Connects has been implemented on a citywide level. The City Connects model is being used in every public K-8 school in Salem, Mass.

Now that the program is in its second year, we have the first year’s data, and this information is helping Salem promote students’ success and helping us understand how City Connects works on a municipal scale.

Before City Connects, “The student population was coming to school with barriers and challenges,” Salem Public Schools’ Superintendent Margarita Ruiz said recently at the national conference on integrated student support that was hosted by the Center for Optimized Student Support, part of Boston College’s Lynch School of Education. Continue reading

A Washington Post op-ed on integrated student support


“Nature or nurture … which is more influential?” Joan Wasser Gish asks in
a recent Washington Post op-ed.

Wasser Gish is the Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Center for Optimized Student Support, which is part of Boston College’s Lynch School of Education. The center is also home to City Connects.

The answer to the nature/nurture question: Talent is evenly distributed across the population; opportunity is not. Particularly in low-income communities, environmental factors can limit students’ academic success.

“…developmental science helps us to understand why,” Wasser Gish writes. “Students who are exposed to poverty and adversities such as trauma, experience ‘toxic stress,’” that can have cascading negative effects in students’ lives.

To address these problems, Wasser Gish explains, schools can provide integrated student support.

“As researchers and educators better understand how to deliver integrated student support effectively,” Wasser Gish notes, “policymakers are stepping in to spread what works.”

To learn more, read the op-ed.

Happy holidays!

Best wishes for a happy holiday season and a prosperous new year from everyone at City Connects!

Behind the scenes at City Connects with Research Fellow Amy Heberle

Amy Heberle

Amy Heberle worked as a post-doctoral research fellow at City Connects during the 2017-2018 academic year. She is now an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Clark University in Worcester, Mass.

Recently, we caught up with Amy and asked her to tell us about her time at City Connects.

Why did you decide to become a psychologist?

I wish I had a great, thoughtful answer for this! The truth is that I sort of stumbled into it. I became interested in psychology in high school. I was curious about how people cope with mental illness and with stressful life experiences, and I had a vague idea that I wanted to be a therapist. I grew up with a bunch of younger nieces and nephews, and I loved helping to care for them and watching them develop, so I became particularly interested in child psychology. However, somewhere along the way I heard that you had to get a graduate degree to practice psychology, and I pretty much ruled it out as an option. There was no way I could have paid for grad school. Continue reading