As this school year came to a close, most students had returned to in-person school. The pandemic had loosened its devastating grip, although its impact on students remains. Now, as the country moves forward, it’s time for schools to provide a 21st century education by providing integrated student support, the wraparound services – like help with food, health, and housing – that allow kids to thrive.
In the article, Wasser Gish — Director of Strategic Initiatives at Boston College’s Center for Optimized Student Support, the home of City Connects – points out that even before the pandemic, many children faced tough circumstances.
One significant challenge when it comes to helping children and families is running into funding silos – restrictions on public and private funds that do not allow for flexibility in responding to families’ complex needs.
“Most of the major social challenges facing America, from homelessness and opioid dependency to achieving successful aging and good family health, require the successful coordination of funds from many government programs. In general, we are not good at doing that,” the article’s authors Stuart M. Butler and Timothy Higashi write.
Butler is a Senior Fellow in Economic Studies at Brookings. And Higashi is a Senior Research Analyst in the Economic Studies program.
“Programs tend to be siloed at all levels of government,” they add, “with most managers reluctant to allow funds to be used outside their explicit purposes. Moreover, eligibility rules, restrictions on data sharing, and other accountability requirements present significant obstacles to collaboration and flexibility.”
News headlines keep echoing a dismal fact: across the country, children are dealing with the trauma of living through a global pandemic.
This is true for both school-aged children and for young children ages 0 to 5. And as City Connects Coordinator Elizabeth Planje explains, working young children in preschool programs to provide services and promote healing requires a different lens.
“You do have to be a little more curious to find the root cause of what’s bothering very young children,” Planje says. She’s the coordinator at Sacred Heart School, in Lynn, Mass., as well as a therapist. At Sacred Heart, she works with students as young as 2.9 years old. “The older kids can tell you more about what’s going on, but with younger kids you have to be more of a detective.”
This means observing, thinking, and testing out ideas across all four City Connects domains — academic, social/emotional, physical health, and family — to understand children’s needs.
Planje tells the story of a young child who screamed every time he went to the restroom. It took some reflection, but eventually Planje and the teachers theorized that the child was experiencing sensory overload. The sound of flushing was too loud for him. The solution: he now goes to the restroom wearing headphones that muffle the noise.
Last October, Jannet Sanchez started working as a City Connects Coordinator at Boston’s Maurice J. Tobin School.
Her first step? Learn about her new school quickly by building strong relationships with teachers.
Classes had been going on for a month, but only remotely because of the pandemic, so Sanchez couldn’t have the face-to-face interactions with students that help coordinators get to know their schools.
Relationships with teachers filled this gap. Teachers shared feedback on how students were doing, supplementing what Sanchez could see when she did classroom observations on Zoom.
To conduct whole class reviews, Sanchez met with teachers in teams so she could hear multiple perspectives on each student.
“We communicated a lot about the best services for kids. And some teachers asked me to set up social skills groups,” Sanchez says. “One teacher asked us to come up with a girls leadership group because there were some mean girl dynamics. Another teacher asked for an art club, so I set that up. It was me and the art teacher encouraging girls to draw and socialize.”
The teacher/coordinator relationship is crucial — whether there is or isn’t a pandemic — because it’s a two-way street. Coordinators learn from teachers’ about students strengths and needs. And teachers learn more from coordinators about all the City Connects domains — academic, social/emotional, physical health, and family — of students’ lives.