Strengthening ties between City Connects and Ireland — as Irish schools prepare to welcome Ukrainian refugees 

Mary Walsh, Norma Foley, Eugene Wall

As Ireland prepares to welcome Ukrainian refugees and increases its investments in student support, City Connects staff met last week with Irish Minister of Education Norma Foley to share details about our partnership with schools in Dublin

Mary Walsh, City Connects Executive Director, and her team explained more about City Connects, sharing how its unique features make it effective and how the program is being implemented in Ireland.

We are particularly proud that Foley and her team were also able to visit Boston’s John Winthrop Elementary School, a City Connects’ school where coordinators have built strong relationships and helped students facing homelessness and the challenges of the pandemic.

“We were just so thrilled to get the opportunity to see the work on the ground today,” Foley said during a discussion about City Connects held at Boston College later in the day. “It was a wonderful example of what it should be and how it actually is operational.

“It is one thing to see it on paper but another to see it delivered effectively in a school community. I’m a strong believer myself that whatever challenges a child has, whatever needs a child has, a child also brings enormous strengths. 

“We are very proud of the work that is being done and very appreciative of your work with Mary Immaculate College and (BC’s) expertise and talent as well and the collaboration we have seen here today as well.”

Continue reading “Strengthening ties between City Connects and Ireland — as Irish schools prepare to welcome Ukrainian refugees “

Businesses see value in City Connects

In Indiana, City Connects has gotten a welcome nod from the business community. 

Our program is featured in the current issue of BizVoice, published by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. 

“Poverty, homelessness, illness, domestic violence and other issues heavily influence well-being,” the article, Beyond the Classroom, says of students. City Connects “is an innovative concept designed to help children engage and learn in school by connecting them with customized intervention, prevention, and enrichment services to thrive.”

This work is done by City Connects Coordinators, or, as some Indiana schools call them, “family navigators”. And as we’ve blogged, City Connects’ work in the Midwest is being managed by the City Connects Technical Assistance Center at Marion University’s Center for Vibrant Schools.

“We were very intentional with putting the family navigators in our schools that had students who faced the most obstacles and needed additional support. Our family navigators, along with our community partners, really build a network of support for the students, the families, the schools and the teachers who serve them,” Lee Ann Kwiatkowsk says in the article. She’s the director of public education and CEO of the Muncie Public Schools. 

The article also highlights how essential City Connects has proven to be during the pandemic. 

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Our community partner persists through the pandemic: the YMCA of the North Shore

Every day, Charity Lezama, Executive Director of the Salem YMCA, does two things: cope with Covid and ask vital questions.

This has meant keeping kids safe and rebuilding programs that had been shuttered by the pandemic.

It has also meant actively asking: “How do we push ourselves to think bigger? How do we ensure that our kids can thrive in and outside of our program?” Lezama says. 

The YMCA is a City Connects community partner in the Salem Public School system, and its pandemic story is one of persistence and partnerships that City Connects is proud to contribute to.

The pandemic’s challenges have been tough. Before Covid, the YMCA served 540 kids in its afterschool program, including students from City Connects’ schools. Since the pandemic, the program has shrunk to less than half that size. Kids’ and families’ needs have soared. And finding qualified staff has been difficult. 

But in the face of a global disaster, the YMCA took action. In the fall of 2020, its board added a committee that focuses on social emotional learning and mental health.

Continue reading “Our community partner persists through the pandemic: the YMCA of the North Shore”

Gathering equitable evidence and putting it into action


A silver lining of these challenging times is that there is new and welcome attention to the concept of equity. 

At City Connects, we’ve spent decades working to achieve equitable outcomes by serving all students.

Now we’re proud that the nonprofit organization Project Evident has recognized City Connects as an example of the use of “equitable evidence.”

With funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Project Evident launched the Actionable Evidence Initiative, which seeks, as its website explains, “to engage stakeholders in the education sector to accelerate the development of evidence and solutions that can improve outcomes for students who are Black, Latino/a/x, or experiencing poverty.”

A key strategy is “supporting researchers, technical assistance providers, funders, and policymakers to adopt actionable evidence approaches that prioritize practitioners learning and decision making and centers on community needs and voices.”

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Integrating comprehensive services in early childhood settings: a policy brief for state leaders

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Early childhood programs provide crayons, blocks, and story time – and they should also, a new policy brief says, improve access to comprehensive services.

Strong models already exist, and now is the ideal time for states to draw on the lessons that these programs offer and scale access to comprehensive supports and opportunities.

The pandemic has made the need for more support during early childhood more urgent than ever.

“Researchers from the fields of economics, education, neuroscience, and psychology have found that growing up poor — or during a pandemic — affects child development and school readiness for two primary reasons,” according to the brief – “Building a Statewide System to Support Early Childhood Program Integration with Comprehensive Services” – which has just been released by the Mary E. Walsh Center for Thriving Children (CTC) at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education and Human Development. 

The first reason: “research has shown that children in poverty have less access to the types of materials, resources, and enriching everyday experiences that we know promote learning. This is true at home, in their communities, and in their schools.” 

The second reason: “the often chaotic experiences associated with poverty, a public health crisis, or the effects of systemic racism may create prolonged periods of stress for children and their families, which can become toxic to children’s brain development. As the Harvard Center on the Developing Child explains, overactivation of the body’s stress response can keep a child in ‘fight or flight’ mode with harmful consequences for brain growth and readiness to learn in school.”  Continue reading “Integrating comprehensive services in early childhood settings: a policy brief for state leaders”

Recognizing school counselors and City Connects Coordinators

Being a school counselor can be challenging in a normal year. But this work can be grueling in the middle of a pandemic that has triggered a national mental health crisis among children and adolescents.

 So we’re happy that National School Counseling Week, which was last week, brought both recognition and appreciation to school counselors – and to City Connects Coordinators.

As the pandemic continues, counselors are working with struggling students and providing support for burned out teachers and school staff. At City Connects schools, our coordinators are a vital source of this support. Although the pandemic has been tough, our coordinators have been tougher – and more compassionate, creative, and determined than ever.

Coordinators are addressing the isolation the pandemic has caused, while monitoring the racial trauma some students feel since the murder of George Floyd. 

So it was great to see Laurie Roule, the City Connects coordinator at STEM Middle Academy of Springfield, Mass., being acknowledged by her school.

Continue reading “Recognizing school counselors and City Connects Coordinators”

Talking about City Connects, in Ireland

Now that City Connects is running in 10 schools in the North East Inner City (NEIC), district in Dublin, Ireland, we’re proud to see our evidence-based model of integrated student support being adapted to local culture and shared with the public.

One example is a new video designed to help parents learn about City Connects and how it supports students, which is posted above. The video features Program Manager Gerard Cullen and some of Dublin’s Coordinators, and it provides a front seat view of our work in Dublin.

As Cullen explains in the video, “One of our key beliefs is that every child has strengths, and our job is to find out what that strength is, build on it, while also addressing any needs the child might have, so they can succeed in school. And City Connects is not just for the child with trauma or not just for the child experiencing difficulties, either at school or at home. City connects is for every child attending one of our partner schools.”

“So that’s what we do, we create an individual plan for each and every child every year. Sometimes it can be quite simple or a little bit more detailed, but every plan is unique and tailored to that child’s own individual strengths and needs. In essence, City Connects creates the right plan for the right child at the right time.”

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A new name, a transformative gift

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What’s in a name? Sometimes, there’s a promise to change the world, and an invitation for changemakers to join in this work.

That’s why we’re excited to announce that the Center for Optimized Student Support, the home of City Connects, is being renamed the Mary E. Walsh Center for Thriving Children

Helping children thrive is what Mary Walsh set out to do in 2001, when she founded City Connects. Now, as the executive director of City Connects and the Daniel E. Kearns Professor in Urban Education and Innovative Leadership at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education and Human Development, Walsh is in her third decade of helping children overcome out-of-school challenges so they can succeed in school.

The newly named Center for Thriving Children (CTC) arrives on the wings of a $10 million endowment gift from an anonymous donor.

“We are so pleased about this extraordinary gift,” Stanton Wortham says. He is the Charles F. Donovan, S.J., Dean of the Lynch School, where the center is based. “For three decades, Mary Walsh has been building an exceptional program that is improving lives for tens of thousands of children. She conceptualized it, raised funds for it, built it, and commissioned research that shows it is both successful and extremely cost-effective. Her consistent focus on developing the whole child fits wonderfully with the BC mission of formative education.”

“This is a transformative gift,” Walsh agrees. “It is a tremendous honor to all the members of our team over the years, our school-based coordinators, thousands of educators, and community partners who have been instrumental to this work.”

Continue reading “A new name, a transformative gift”
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