Powerful community partnerships: The MassMutual Foundation

Despite the challenges of COVID-19, it’s a new year that’s full of promise; and here at City Connects, we are excited about what’s next. 

We’re growing in Indianapolis and in Massachusetts. We have a new technical assistance center based at Marian University in the Midwest, so that we can work with more schools in that part of the country. We’re hiring new staff, and we’re seeing how the City Connects model is effective, resilient, and making a difference for children, families, teachers, schools, and communities, especially during the pandemic. 

We couldn’t do this work alone, which is why we’re so grateful to our many community partners, the nonprofit organizations and businesses that work with us to support students. 

One example is the MassMutual Foundation. 

Continue reading “Powerful community partnerships: The MassMutual Foundation”

City Connects in Ireland: an update

In the middle of the pandemic and amidst school closures, City Connects launched a pilot program in Dublin in the fall of 2020. Today the program is running in ten schools in Dublin’s North East Inner City (NEIC), a district that was created to spark social and economic regeneration in an area that is addressing the familiar urban challenges of poverty, crime, and untapped potential. 

Earlier this month, at an event in Dublin’s Larkin Community College, where NEIC released its 2021 Progress Report, City Connects won warm recognition for its work in Ireland from the country’s Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe. 

 Ireland’s Prime Minister Micheál Martin attended the event and said of the work being done in the district, “The ability to create innovation and innovative programs to augment work already underway in this area is key to progress.”

Minister for Finance Donohoe said early in his speech, “I want to pick out three areas in the report that speak to the ambition that we have for 2022. First one which I want to recognize is the City Connects project.” (He starts speaking at the 29 minute mark in this video.)

Donohoe praised City Connects for building “community hope” and “looking at how we can put together a new way of working with all students in our schools to make sure they have the tailored support to support their needs and to develop their talents.”

Continue reading “City Connects in Ireland: an update”

Observations from the pandemic: a policy brief

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The pandemic’s global toll has been devastating, especially for students and schools. But as City Connects has moved through the last 18 months, we’ve observed a range of needs that we are sharing in a new policy brief, “Effects of the pandemic on students, families, and school staff in 2020.” 

The brief draws on the power and insights of City Connects’ network, which currently includes over 140 schools in five states and in the nation of Ireland. During the height of the pandemic, we gathered information from City Connects Coordinators who implement our model by assessing students’ needs and strengths and delivering responsive services. In November 2020, 73 of 90 invited coordinators responded to an anonymous survey. The brief is based on a subset of these coordinators’ responses to a longer survey.

 

Working through a pandemic 

When schools shut down in Spring 2020, the brief notes, “children, families, and staff in high-poverty schools faced the compounding effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing racial and economic injustice.” 

 During this harrowing time, City Connects coordinators continued their work in a range of situations. As the brief explains, “14% of coordinators worked at schools with fully in-person learning and worked in the school, whereas about half of coordinators worked in schools with remote learning and were working from home.” 

Continue reading “Observations from the pandemic: a policy brief”

Renewing our commitment to equity: a message from Mary Walsh

Mary E. Walsh
Mary Walsh

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. 

Continue reading “Renewing our commitment to equity: a message from Mary Walsh”

Welcoming our new graduate assistants

Every year at City Connects, we are excited to welcome a new cohort of graduate assistants. The GAs, as we call them, come from different programs here at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education and Human Development, and they bring passion and energy to our work.

“The GAs typically work with us for an academic year, and we want their experience to be a valuable part of their education,” Claire Foley, City Connects’ Associate Director, says. “Many of the GAs give conference presentations and they contribute to our multi-disciplinary team.”

This year’s cohort of new GAs bring a wealth of experience to City Connects. They are:

Elizabeth Dowgert, earning a master’s degree in School Counseling

Dowgert is working on City Connects’ policy outreach and communications efforts. She’s a former preschool teacher who brings insights from the world of early education, where there’s a strong interplay between “whole child” approaches and education, Foley says.

“Elizabeth is really drawn to the idea that school can be a place where you look at and address kids’ out-of-school needs.” She will be working with us to translate our experience implementing City Connects in early childhood settings into lessons and resources for practitioners and policymakers. Continue reading “Welcoming our new graduate assistants”

A City Connects Progress Report

Years from now, people may fall into the habit of asking each other: What were you doing right before the COVID-19 pandemic struck and how did it change your life? 

Here at City Connects, we’ve already been asking these questions — about our students and about our work. We are also asking how we can be even more effective as the country addresses long-standing racial inequities. 

And now, as we move into the fall, in a mix of in-person, virtual, and hybrid schools and classrooms, we are determined to get the right services to the right child at the right time. 

It is in this spirit of striving that we release “City Connects: Intervention & Impact Progress Report 2020.” 

In our progress reports, which are published every other year, we reflect on the past and assess the present. But this year, we’ve also taken the time to express our gratitude for all the hard work that has gotten us through the pandemic.  Continue reading “A City Connects Progress Report”

Back to school: what we’ve learned, how we’re moving forward

Mary E. Walsh
Mary E. Walsh

It’s September and going back to school – in-person or on Zoom – is an obstacle course of trying to keep students safe, keep them learning, and keep them connected to their school communities and to essential services and supports, as City Connects does. 

“The earth is moving under everyone right now,” Mary Walsh, the Executive Director of City Connects says. “But what we’ve seen is the value of having the City Connects system. It creates a record for every child, so we know the kids, and we know what their strengths and needs are.” 

Back in March, when the pandemic hit, City Connects moved its system of integrated student support online. City Connects’ Coordinators ran groups, sat in on classes, and reached out to families.

During late spring and summer, City Connects staff took stock and began preparing for the fall. Now, the City Connects system is stronger and more responsive to the pandemic’s demands and to the needs of students and families. 

Here are some of the things City Connects has been learning and doing. 

“We were able to more clearly see the impact of the services that kids had and then lost because of the pandemic,” Walsh says. “Especially services like dental vans that brought dental care right to schools. Even the New York Times is reporting on this. There are some services we could move online, but we’re being reminded how important in-school services like dentistry are.”  Continue reading “Back to school: what we’ve learned, how we’re moving forward”

Ireland launches City Connects

Often City Connects grows because of, well, connections. That’s what happened when Una Shannon came from Ireland to Boston College to be a postdoctoral fellow. Shannon learned about City Connects and shared our work with Eugene Wall, the president of Mary Immaculate College in Limerick, Ireland, as well as sharing it with ministers from the Irish National Government.

The result: Irish educators are planning to launch a City Connects pilot program this fall in 10 Dublin schools. 

“It strikes me that any ‘school person’ who hears about City Connects tends to have an ‘aha’ moment,” Shannon says. She’s a former teacher who earned her bachelor’s degree from Mary Immaculate College. “It just makes sense to support the whole child, to have a strengths-based perspective, and to have a systemic, systematic, and sustained approach to student support that’s in rhythm with school life.”  Continue reading “Ireland launches City Connects”

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