“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.”
As long as I’ve worked in schools, I have seen and worked against inequity. But the racial injustices of the past year have triggered a national crisis that demands new attention.
These inequities, which date to the country’s birth, have created glaring opportunity gaps that have led to persistent achievement gaps. Along with countless colleagues, I’ve worked to close these gaps, providing support and services to students.
In 2000, one of the most striking features of many schools was the number of students who were plagued by poverty. They were hungry or homeless or needed eyeglasses or dental care. Here in Boston, there was no systematic and systemic way to meet these needs. School staff spent most of their time assisting students who were “behavior problems.” Students who seemed okay got less attention. If a teacher learned that a student needed winter boots or a coat, there was no clear, systematic way to help.
In 2001, I worked with colleagues in the Boston Public Schools and at Boston College to create a systematic way to address these inequities for every student in a school, because a child who is hungry or cold or in pain isn’t ready to learn. Through a two year planning process with Boston educators, families, and community organizations, we developed City Connects, a model for providing integrated student support that’s based at the Boston College Lynch School of Education and Human Development. City Connects put coordinators, typically social workers and school counselors, into Boston Public Schools. They looked at every student’s strengths and needs and connected each student with a tailored set of supports, resources, and services. The coordinators tracked information and monitored student progress.
This year’s programs continue to be online, and they build on what we’ve learned about training and about the country’s current challenges.
Earlier this week, we held our first summer professional development event, the annual June meeting for our program managers, who provide crucial training and coaching for our coordinators who work directly with students in schools.
“This year we covered three big topics,” Rebecca Lebowitz, City Connects’ Senior Manager of Learning and Development, says of the project managers meeting.
“First, we did a lot of work on equity to build our program managers’ professional and personal capacity. We knew that in order to build the capacity of our coordinators who are working in the schools, we have to start with the program managers.”