In the decade since its inception, Boston Connects (BCNX) has grown from a promising idea to a robust education intervention program currently supporting children in 12 Boston public elementary schools.
Thanks to partnerships with more than 100 community organizations, and with the collaboration of Boston Public Schools, we have been able to assess the strengths and needs of students–more than 3,200 last year–and connect each of them with a tailored set of prevention, intervention, and enrichment services. These relationships have empowered us to revitalize student support in BCNX schools by identifying what gets in the way of learning and promoting opportunities that help students succeed. Our data show that this scalable approach of supporting urban children helps kids thrive, improves academic performance, and significantly narrows the achievement gap.
True to our roots, BCNX intends to always remain a presence in Boston Public Schools. We believe that our program can have a positive impact on urban school districts across Massachusetts, and eventually, we hope, the country. To reflect this goal, we are approaching the next phase of our growth not as Boston Connects, but asCity Connects (CCNX), which more accurately reflects our expanded vision and ambitions. Though our name is changing, our mission remains the same: CCNX is working to ensure that all children engage, learn, and thrive in school.
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More than 30 community-based agencies and nonprofit organizations who partner with City Connects gathered today to discuss efforts to improve students’ health and wellness.
“It takes a whole child approach to teaching and learning,” said Pat DiNatale, director of implementation at CCNX, “and together we can align our resources to best address students’ strengths and needs, as well as their health and well-being.”
The meeting kicked off with a “Jammin’ Minute,” 60 seconds of choreographed light exercise that is performed in CCNX schools every morning. Representatives from partner agencies like Big Brothers Big Sisters of Massachusetts Bay and Tenacity shared updates and conferred with CCNX’s site and health coordinators about ways to build and maintain the most effective partnerships. Suggestions about student referrals, transportation, and follow-up were sought, leading to sharing of best practices between organizations.
To wrap up the gathering, CCNX health coordinator Carey Jacobs, certified child yoga instructor, demonstrated yoga and meditation practices she leads at the Gardner Pilot Academy, complete with breathing exercises designed to promote awareness of the mind-body connection.
Health is integral to a child’s academic success. Our data show that the City Connects-New Balance Foundation Health and Wellness program significantly improves students’ key indicators of thriving: classroom behavior, work habits, and effort. After the program, students demonstrated greater knowledge and reported making healthier decisions about nutrition and well-being. Ninety-one percent of teachers in CCNX schools believe that the health curriculum has a positive impact on their students’ health choices outside of the classroom.
Developed by clinicians at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center for students and their families, the Walking Club was a pilot program at the Eliot implemented by Amelia Tonkin, the school’s City Connects-New Balance Foundation health and wellness coordinator. Tucked into Boston’s cozy North End neighborhood, the Eliot doesn’t have a gym, so Amelia embraced the opportunity to motivate her students to exercise outside of school. BIDMC provided a pedometer for each student, as well as one for a family member, to help walkers keep tally their steps; the launch yesterday racked up 4,500 steps alone! The students were joined by State Senator Anthony Petruccelli, who represents the North End and applauded the Walking Club’s focus on exercise as a way to prevent future medical conditions like obesity and high blood pressure. Wally the Green Monster, team mascot of the Boston Red Sox, also cheered on the walkers.
“We know that physical fitness is a vital part of a well-rounded education,” said Traci Walker-Griffith, principal of the Eliot. “We are thrilled that Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is collaborating with our teachers and students on such an important issue. We are also excited that we are able to fold the important educational aspects of this program into our curriculum.”
The Walking Club kit teaches students about the many physical and mental proven health benefits of walking. It includes vocabulary words, a walking quiz, a chart of key muscles used when walking, and a diary to record their exercise. It also explains how to calculate heart rates and evaluate the level of intensity of the exercise.
Despite warm temperatures, the Eliot School students walked 2 miles from their school down the Greenway and back. “The Walking Club will ensure that our students and families engage in health and wellness initiatives available within Boston’s urban location,” said Amelia Tonkin. “By educating our students about the benefits of walking and how to use pedometers, we look forward to utilizing this partnership to keep the Eliot community healthy in an enjoyable way.”