Margo Ferrick first learned about City Connects four years ago.
Ferrick, a lifelong educator, was presenting at a Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education workshop where she met Ellen Wingard, the City Connects Program Manager in Salem, Mass., who was also doing a presentation.
Back then, Ferrick was so impressed by what she heard, she submitted a grant application to bring City Connects to Southbridge, Mass., where she worked, but the project wasn’t funded until recently.
Today Ferrick is City Connects’ new Director of Student Support Programs & Practices. But it was years ago that she understood how important it was to individualize student services.
“We can’t have a one-size-fits-all model,” Ferrick says. “Kids are often asked to fit into criteria that are prescribed for them, and not all kids can be successful that way. We also have to understand that there can be significant barriers to success in students’ lives.”Continue reading →
Across the country, school staff, families, and students are entering another year that’s sure to be full of unexpected challenges and uncertainties. To promote healing and each child’s potential, it is critically important that we meet this moment by redoubling our focus on connections with children and families and on the unique strengths and needs that each student brings with them to school.
That’s why here at the Boston College Center for Optimized Student Support, we are widening our mission and expanding into more school districts in Indiana, Massachusetts, and New York. As part of this expanded mission, we will serve as the nation’s hub for the science, implementation, innovation, and information of promoting learning and healthy child development through the effective integration of whole-child supports.
For more than ten years, we have been part of a growing national movement to bring insights from the sciences of child development and learning to advance “whole child” approaches. Because of these insights, we know that students’ in-school performance is affected by factors that exist out of school. We know that hunger, homelessness, trauma, and stress affect a child’s readiness to learn. We also know that every child is unique, with strengths and opportunities to grow that should be met individually, rather than with one-size-fits all solutions. Continue reading →
This fall, thanks to a mix of state and federal funding, City Connects is launching a two-year pilot program in 34 public and charter schools, serving 15,850 students in four cities: Gary, Indianapolis, Muncie, and South Bend.
As City Connects reaches more students in Indiana, it will do so in the context of a long history that stretches from a booming era of industrial strength – farm machine, automobile, and steel manufacturing – that eventually collapsed into decades of plant closings and layoffs.
It’s a convergence of negative forces that will burden working parents and pose out-of-school challenges to children – including unemployment, hunger, homelessness – that hurt children’s ability to learn.
But just as it is with students, City Connects is aware of Indiana’s challenges and excited about Indiana’s strengths.
“It is calmer,” Laurie Acker, the City Connects Program in Minnesota, says of the brand new school year.
“When Covid first hit it was an emergency and there was chaos. Then last year was extremely hard for teachers and students. Now this year, there’s science and protocols. We’re following CDC guidelines. If there’s a Covid positive case, we don’t have to shut down a grade or a school. Instead, we can quarantine close contacts.”
But even in this relatively calmer phase, Acker and the City Connects Coordinators she supervises are supporting students and planning ahead.
“We’ve gotten to the point where instead of being reactive, we’re proactive. We’re able to have kids eat in lunchrooms in designated spots. Kids can take their masks off when they go outside. And at some schools, Covid testing for teachers is required,” Acker says.
Coordinators are also much more attuned to signs of anxiety, so they can see when students might need more support.
“We’re running more skills groups for students that focus on coping and calming strategies.”
As the country continues to move through the pandemic, it needs proven strategies to help its students. To show how this can be done, the Education Redesign Lab at the Harvard Graduate School of Education has released a new report that features a number of student support programs including City Connects.
“Even before the pandemic, it was clear that a one-size-fits-all approach to education and child development is not a successful strategy.”
During the pandemic, children have had a vast range of experiences, “ranging from those who have had every possible support and opportunity to aid them in keeping pace with their studies to those who have been off the grid altogether, totally disconnected from their teachers and schooling.
Now, the country has to educate this diverse population of students, and the only way to do so is through “personalization.”