“Looking back to look ahead” is the theme of a newly released annual report –The Condition of Education in the Commonwealth — that points in part to the power of City Connects as a long-standing practice that can strengthen the future of education in Massachusetts by helping “schools build systems of integrated student support.”
Released by the Rennie Center for Education and Research & Policy, the report first came out in 2013.
Now, in 2023, the report says, “our focus on reviewing statewide data and highlighting promising strategies remains critical: despite numerous changes in policy and practice over the past 10 years, we continue to see many of the same trends in student outcomes that were present prior to 2013. Too few students are achieving proficiency in reading, math, and science. Persistent opportunity gaps affect access to affordable early childhood education, advanced coursework, college and career pathways, and other resources.”
The problem is “…our current system is not designed to ensure success for each and every student. Looking to the future, we must work collectively to transform our education system into one that offers equity and excellence for all.”
The pandemic has made the work of transforming education even harder.
“I’ve been a teacher for a long time, but I’ve never helped kids at this level,” Jelena Soots says. She’s the City Connects Coordinator at GEO Next Generation High School in Indianapolis, Ind.
“I was drawn to City Connects because my family and I are immigrants. And in the forefront of my mind is, What would have helped me as a child? What if we had this option back then? That’s how I shifted into the mindset of thinking about what kids need based on who they are.”
Soots and her family immigrated from Croatia in the 1990s when the country was at war. They lived in a refugee camp in Germany and applied to refugee programs run by churches. They were chosen by a church in Indiana.
“At our school, we have a lot of students from different countries, so talking about my experience with them is an icebreaker,” Soots says. “And even though I’ve been here for a long time, I sometimes struggle with how to identify with American culture and how to identify with my Croatian culture, and with the mix of both.
“So I try to be understanding with our students who are in those formative years of puberty and early adulthood and have to navigate the norms they see at home and the norms they see in school and everything in the middle.”
Soots is also full of energy and optimism. One example is her no brakes strategy for finding community partners.