Children Are Resilient: A Letter to the Editor from Dr. Mary Walsh

An April 24 article in the Boston Globe tackled the challenges educators are dealing with in the third year of the pandemic, including how to support struggling students.

“Everything I’ve trained for, everything that’s worked in the past, none of it’s working,” said Laura Messner, a middle school English language arts literacy specialist in Scituate. “I’m very worried about what’s coming down the pike if we don’t think about how we’re going to address these challenges that are not temporary challenges.”

Dr. Mary Walsh, executive director of the Center for Thriving Children and expert in developmental psychology, wrote a response to the article, focused on concrete ways to better support students and teachers.

Dr. Walsh’s letter was published last week. 

“The article “Teachers help students struggling to succeed” powerfully covers the impacts of students’ challenges. It also highlights missed opportunities for more effectively supporting student — and teacher — well-being and learning.

“Though the challenges of the current COVID-19 era are real, children are also resilient. Mental health is bolstered by a range of interventions. Mild to moderate needs can be addressed with a caring school environment; after-school programs; mentors; participation in sports, arts, or other extracurricular activities; and relationships with peers and adults, while serious mental health needs require therapeutic treatment.

“Adding more counselors and social workers to extend current strategies is unlikely to be financially viable or sufficient to meet the need. Instead, schools that create systems of support to provide every student with an individualized support plan are seeing improvements. These systems connect each child to a tailored set of resources and enrichment opportunities to address that student’s strengths and needs, drawing on resources in the school, the community, or both. These systems of “integrated student supports” are now known to improve student well-being and learning, as well as support teachers who, early research shows, are less likely to leave the profession if their school has such a system in place.”

What Dr. Walsh conveyed in her letter reflects the City Connects practice, and its evidence of positive short- and long-term impacts on student learning and thriving. To learn more about the City Connects model, click here and to learn more about best practices for integrated student support go here.

Giving Back: Daniel Triana Alvarado joins the Mary E. Walsh Center for Thriving Children

Daniel Triana Alvarado was 7 years old when his family moved from Mexico to Westborough, Mass., where he began a journey through public education that prepared him for and led him to the Mary E. Walsh Center for Thriving Children, the home of City Connects.

Westborough, Triana recalls, was a town with resources for families and students. In high school, Triana had a guidance counselor, Steven Favulli, who talked to him and his family about college.

“My parents still talk about how important Mr. Favulli was,” Triana says. “He made my parents feel like they had a grasp of what was going on in school because he spoke Spanish, and he took the time to help them understand.” 

Triana enrolled in Worcester State University (WSU) where he decided to major in business administration, attracted by the range of doors the degree promised to open.

“What did I get out of going to Worcester State University?” Triana says, musing about his college years. “Opportunities.”

These weren’t typical opportunities. Triana was working full time in college, so he couldn’t participate in internships. And he hadn’t developed career aspirations based on seeing the careers of his parents or of family friends. Instead, his opportunities came in the form of personal connections.

Continue reading “Giving Back: Daniel Triana Alvarado joins the Mary E. Walsh Center for Thriving Children”

Building on a career in school counseling, Jennifer Bouckaert joins City Connects

When Jennifer Bouckaert began her career in the public schools of Southbridge, Mass., as a school adjustment counselor, she saw that the schools and the students were overwhelmed.

“Students were struggling behaviorally. There weren’t a lot of structures or systems in place to support them. We didn’t have preventative or proactive procedures,” she recalls.

“We were firefighting. We weren’t problem-solving and getting kids what they needed.”

 In 2016, Southbridge’s public schools were taken over by officials from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, who put the school system into receivership, citing years of “persistently low student performance” as well as the fact that “Since 2011, seven individuals have served as superintendent, and there has been a similar level of turnover in other leadership positions in the district.”

Massachusetts, the Department said, had provided years of assistance and resources to Southbridge, “but the district-led efforts did not improve student performance significantly.”

Bouckaert worked with her Southbridge schools colleagues to build new systems and structures. They partnered with the Center for Behavioral Education and Research to implement the Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports program or PBIS.

“The goal was to help build the capacity of the teachers and school staff to create an environment where all students would thrive. We developed a system of positive acknowledgement where students were praised for what they did well and retaught expectations when necessary. This was the beginning of creating a positive, proactive climate and culture.” 

Continue reading “Building on a career in school counseling, Jennifer Bouckaert joins City Connects”

Our community partner persists through the pandemic: the YMCA of the North Shore

Every day, Charity Lezama, Executive Director of the Salem YMCA, does two things: cope with Covid and ask vital questions.

This has meant keeping kids safe and rebuilding programs that had been shuttered by the pandemic.

It has also meant actively asking: “How do we push ourselves to think bigger? How do we ensure that our kids can thrive in and outside of our program?” Lezama says. 

The YMCA is a City Connects community partner in the Salem Public School system, and its pandemic story is one of persistence and partnerships that City Connects is proud to contribute to.

The pandemic’s challenges have been tough. Before Covid, the YMCA served 540 kids in its afterschool program, including students from City Connects’ schools. Since the pandemic, the program has shrunk to less than half that size. Kids’ and families’ needs have soared. And finding qualified staff has been difficult. 

But in the face of a global disaster, the YMCA took action. In the fall of 2020, its board added a committee that focuses on social emotional learning and mental health.

Continue reading “Our community partner persists through the pandemic: the YMCA of the North Shore”

The Weekly Connect 1/31/22

Here’s the new edition of The Weekly Connect. Check it out and sign up to have it delivered to your inbox!

Here are some of the things we’ve been reading about this week:

Cash aid to poor mothers increases babies’ brain activity. 

Federal education policy could better meet the needs of students who are English Learners.

As the pandemic persists, high school graduation rates dip in 20 states

To read more, click on the following links.

Continue reading “The Weekly Connect 1/31/22”

Mobilizing generosity: connecting kids to clothes in Salem

In 2016, the Clothing Connection started giving clothes to children in one of Salem’s public schools. The small nonprofit focused on the kids at the Carlton Innovation School, providing basics such as sweatshirts, socks, and sneakers so they could participate in gym class. 

Today, the Clothing Connection is a City Connects community partner working in multiple schools, and it’s a great example of City Connects’ practice of helping students by mobilizing existing resources. These resources are often health services, spots in day camps, and, yes, clothes. But the story of the Clothing Connection is also a story about mobilizing a community’s generosity.

“When you send your children to school in a district, you get a more complete and complex view of the needs in that district,” Susanna Baird says. She’s a co-founder of the Clothing Connection and the mother of two Salem students. 

“Having a pair of sneakers means that you can go to gym and recess. I don’t know about anybody else’s kids, but when my kids were little, gym and recess were pretty important to making it through the rest of the day, probably more so in the winter, when you come home and you can’t run around outside that much. Many kids don’t have the winter gear they need to go outside.” 

Continue reading “Mobilizing generosity: connecting kids to clothes in Salem”

Happy Thanksgiving: City Connects in Southbridge, Mass.

One of the things we’re grateful for this Thanksgiving are schools that have just started implementing City Connects this school year.

This includes all six public schools in Southbridge, Mass., which cover pre-K through 12th grade and a therapeutic day program.

We’re also grateful for the six coordinators in these schools who geared up for Thanksgiving!

Three community partners – House of Destiny Church, Lifesong Church, and Sts. Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Church – provided Thanksgiving holiday baskets.

Continue reading “Happy Thanksgiving: City Connects in Southbridge, Mass.”

The Weekly Connect 10/25/21

Here’s the new edition of The Weekly Connect. Check it out and sign up to have it delivered to your inbox!

Here are some of the things we’ve been reading about this week:

MRDC makes recommendations for helping families affected by parental incarceration

Massachusetts expands low-income students’ access to school meals

National child healthcare organizations declare that children and teens are in a Mental Health State of Emergency.

To read more, click on the following links.

Continue reading “The Weekly Connect 10/25/21”
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