Three Massachusetts Groups Awarded “Promise Neighborhood” Planning Grants

The U.S. Department of Education yesterday awarded 21 “Promise Neighborhood” planning grants to nonprofit organizations and universities across the country, three of which are based in Massachusetts. The one-year grants of up to $500,000 are designed to help these groups create plans to provide comprehensive “cradle to career” services for children.

“Communities across the country recognize that education is the one true path out of poverty,” said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “These Promise Neighborhoods applicants are committed to putting schools at the center of their work to provide comprehensive services for young children and students.”

The Massachusetts winners are Community Day Care Center of Lawrence, Inc. in Lawrence, the United Way of Central Massachusetts in Worcester, and the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative in Boston.

As reported in the Boston Globe, “the $500,000 grant to the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, a community-based organization, represents a major milestone in replicating the Harlem Children’s Zone locally. For years, different groups of city leaders, philanthropists, and community activists have toured the Harlem program, returning each time to Boston energized, but unable to sustain the momentum.”

One of City Connects’ schools, Orchard Gardens, is located in Dudley Street’s target neighborhood of Roxbury, which is also part of Boston Mayor Tom Menino’sCircle of Promise,” a 5-square-mile area in where the Mayor and Boston Public Schools have been trying to set up a coalition to provide wraparound services for children. Dudley Street will partner with the City of Boston, nonprofit groups, philanthropists, after-school providers, religious leaders, and universities to advance this agenda.

Next year, the President has requested $210 million in his budget, including $200 million to support implementation of Promise Neighborhood projects and $10 million for planning grants for new communities.

For more information:

Reducing Student Poverty

The Center for American Progress released a report this week, Reducing Student Poverty in the Classroom, that acknowledges families living in poverty often face barriers when it comes to accessing government services or programs. These include:

  • Lack of outreach and accessible information about the programs
  • Transportation challenges of visiting and signing up for these programs at different (and sometimes remote) locations
  • Burdensome application requirements, such as unnecessary repeat visits to program offices and unnecessary document requests
  • The stigma associated with applying for programs

These barriers are why our City Connects School Site Coordinators fill such a crucial role. Daily, they are working with families to alleviate these obstacles and help them access services to promote the healthy development of their children. In academic year 2008-09, our School Site Coordinators connected 3,000 Boston Public School students to 11,365 services.

Source: City Connects annual report, 2008-09

The report’s authors write, “Schools are ideal locations because they have unparalleled access to poor students and their families—they are located in the neighborhoods in which families live, are recognized and familiar community institutions, and have established relationships with low-income students and their families.”

Based on the access and trust schools have, the authors created a set of recommendations for Congress to help address poverty:

  • Attach to an appropriations bill (or other vehicle) a requirement that relevant federal administrative agencies produce a report to Congress that outlines a plan for expanding the use of central connection points and simplifying and consolidating public benefit application requirements. These efforts should include advancing school-based antipoverty strategies.
  • The White House Domestic Policy Council and the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships get involved in efforts to develop a plan and take a leadership role to help spur Congress to action.
  • Invest in community school models and create a new innovation fund designed to explore the potential benefits of delivering public benefits through schools.
  • State and local governments establish inter-agency committees to replicate and expand upon existing school-based antipoverty models and maintain new modes of providing services through schools.

For more information:

More Boston Students Not Fluent in English, New Data Shows

The Boston Globe reported today that the number of students in Boston Public Schools who are not fluent in English–called English-language learners, or ELL–has been greatly underestimated. According to the Globe, new data released by BPS shows that 28% of the district’s total enrollment, 16,000 students, were identified as ELL this year. Last  year, the number of ELL students was 11,000. This spike is likely a one-time event that can be attributed to a change in the testing mechanism for fluency to include reading and writing in English, in addition to speaking and listening to English.

State tests show that ELL students’ academic performance is, on average, below that of non-ELL students–oftentimes 20 to 30 percentage points lower (source). In City Connects’ 12 Boston elementary schools in the 2008-09 academic year, 53% of students had a native language other than English and 18% had limited English proficiency.  The figure below shows that City Connects (CCNX) intervention has had significant effects on the report card scores of ELL students.

Longitudinal change in Reading report card scores,
CCNX vs. comparison-school students, disaggregated by ELL status

Data source: Boston Public Schools report card data, 2001-02 through 2007-08.

ELL and non-ELL students who were in CCNX schools started, on average, with significantly lower report card scores than their respective comparison students. Both ELL and non-ELL students who were continuously in CCNX schools from grades 1 through 5 had significantly greater improvement over time in reading scores than students who were never in CCNX.

The effect of CCNX on reading and writing report card score improvements was largest for ELL students. By third grade, ELL students in CCNX schools demonstrated similar reading and writing report card scores to those proficient in English in the comparison schools, thereby eliminating the achievement gap in reading and writing between ELL and non-ELL students.

Source: The Impact of Boston Connects Annual Report, 2008-2009 [pdf], page 12. Learn more about City Connects student outcomes on our results web page.

More reading about ELL students in BPS: English Learners in Boston Public Schools: Enrollment, Engagement and Academic Outcomes of Native Speakers of Cape Verdean Creole, Chinese Dialects, Haitian Creole, Spanish, and Vietnamese [pdf], a 2009 study by the Mauricio Gastón Institute for Latino Community Development and Public Policy at the University of Massachusetts-Boston

Part 2: City Connects on Public School Insights

As a follow up to his recent interview with City Connects’ Executive Director Mary Walsh and Director of Practice Pat DiNatale, Claus von Zastrow of the Learning First Alliance spoke to two people experiencing City Connects in Boston’s schools: Traci Walker Griffith, principal of the Eliot K-8 School, and Kathleen Carlisle, site coordinator at the Mission Hill School. Read about how City Connects is implemented in schools and the impact it has on students and their families:

Helping the Whole Child: A View from Two Schools

City Connects was also recently featured on the Future of Teaching blog as an example of a positive shift that is catching on in the context of school reform.

Public Education Network Newsblast on CCNX

City Connects was featured in today’s Public Education Network Newsblast:

“In a profile of the Boston program City Connects on his Public School Insights blog, Claus von Zastrow writes that a rigorous study by Boston College, which runs the program, “tells a pretty stunning story.” City Connects (CCNX) exists in 12 Boston elementary schools, and works to link each child to a “tailored set of intervention, prevention, and enrichment services located in the community.” The beneficial impact of CCNX on student growth in academic achievement (across grades 1 to 5) was on average approximately three times the harmful impact of poverty. By the end of grade 5, achievement differences between CCNX and comparison students indicated that CCNX intervention moves students at the 50th percentile up to or near the 75th percentile, and students at the 25th percentile up to or near the 50th. For multiple outcomes, the treatment effects were largest for students at greatest risk for academic failure. After grade 5, the lasting positive effects of CCNX intervention can be seen in middle-school state standardized test scores, ranging from approximately 50 percent to 130 percent as large as negative effects of poverty. Von Zastrow conducts an interview with two of the program’s leaders, who explain that at root, the program ensures that already existing services actually reach students previously under-served. Implementing the program by putting a support person and the model into schools costs a little less than $500 per student per year.”

Learn more about our results on our website.

City Connects Featured on Public School Insights

City Connects’ Mary Walsh, Executive Director, and Pat DiNatale, Director of Practice, were interviewed about the CCNX model of  student support over at the Public School Insights blog. The blog has a rich collection of what’s already working in public schools and aims to spark a national conversation about how to make it work for children in every school. It is a product of the Learning First Alliance, a partnership of 18 leading education associations with more than 10 million members dedicated to improving student learning in America’s public schools. Check out the interview and leave a comment!

When “City Connects” Helps the Whole Child,
Achievement Gaps Shrink

The figure in the interview is new work from the CCNX evaluation team. It shows that  students in City Connects schools outperform their Boston peers in middle school and achieve close to state proficiency levels in both English and math on Massachusetts statewide tests (MCAS). After they leave the CCNX program, significant long-term effects persist through middle school. This graph presents the percentage of students achieving in the Proficient or Advanced categories of MCAS mathematics for one cohort of students who started first grade in 2001.

Data Source: Massachusetts Dept. of Elementary & Secondary Education; Boston Public Schools MCAS data, 2009. CCNX sample sizes: Grade 4=374; grade 5=378; grade 6=338; grade 7=325; grade 8=276.

  • Learn more about City Connects data on our Results web page
  • Follow Claus von Zastrow, author of the Public School Insights blog and Executive Director of the Learning First Alliance, on Twitter

Introducing City Connects

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 as City 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.

Thank you for checking out our blog. To keep up to date with CCNX, leave us a comment, follow us on Twitter, subscribe to our email newsletter,  and stay tuned for a re-launch of our website coming later this summer.

City Connects Hosts Community Agency Breakfast

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.

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