The pandemic didn’t just shut down schools, it also shut down team sports.
Now, Joy Richmond-Smith and Brad Maloon, two City Connects Coordinators in Salem, Mass., are working together to bring sports back to students.
“Last year, I connected several kids to the Jr. Celtics program,” Richmond-Smith, the coordinator at the Saltonstall School says. “They were limited English speakers, and they had never had the chance to play on an organized team, and they really wanted to.”
The Jr. Celtics Academy is a basketball program for middle school students run by the YMCA in Marblehead and the Boston Celtics.
“Some of the kids have never been to Marblehead,” a wealthy town next door to Salem, “and they had never been to that Y.”
Keisha Anderson is working to engage more African-American men and bring them into her school.
“I want to open school spaces to dads, uncles, male mentors, pastors, barbers, whoever has a positive male influence in students’ lives. I am opening doors so they can come into our building.”
Anderson is the City Connects Coordinator at Belle Haven Elementary School in Dayton, Ohio, and although she’s excited about having mothers, aunts, and female mentors in her school, she says that these women already show up. Teachers are already comfortable reaching out to mothers. And there are already a number of programs that focus on girls.
To be inclusive and focus on boys, Anderson reached out and formed a community partnership with Dayton Flight, a professional basketball team.
Students who are referred for counseling often end up having their names put on long waiting lists, which was the case in Salem, Mass.
“A lot of the community partners that we would typically go to have waitlists that are weeks or sometimes months long,” Mia Riccio, Salem’s City Connects Program Manager, says. “The access just isn’t there. It’s especially hard for families who are under- or uninsured.”
To meet this need, Salem’s City Connects program is working with community partners to offer help more quickly by providing tele-mental health services.
Since 2016, Salem has deliberately taken a citywide approach toward meeting children’s needs, and last year, the city formed a Mental Health Task Force. At the time, as the local news source Patch media explains, school Superintendent Steve Zrike sent a letter to the school community, promising to leverage resources to “ensure that our community receives access to the highest quality services in a timely manner.”
“Zrike said the task force will look to find ways to provide students services both in and out of school,” the Patch adds.
“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.
City Connects is in the news again, featured in a Boston Globe op-ed by Kerry Donahue about how schools can help students recover from the educational and social-emotional losses caused by the pandemic.
“Urgently addressing the needs of students is critical for ensuring the generation of children impacted by the pandemic do not suffer long-term harm,” Donahue writes. She’s the chief strategy officer at the Boston Schools Fund, “a non-profit organization that advances educational equity through opportunity and access to high-quality schools.”
These areas are evidence-based literacy instruction, high-dosage tutoring, coherent wraparound services, and increased operations capacity.
As Donahue notes, students’ “increased mental health and social-emotional needs” are “straining schools and districts that were never designed to manage this volume or concentration of need. Expecting schools that are already trying to address major academic gaps, while managing continued COVID disruptions for students and staff, to also build an effective wraparound service delivery operation defies logic.”