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.
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.”
Margo Ferrick first learned about City Connects four years ago.
Ferrick, a lifelong educator, was presenting at a Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education workshop where she met Ellen Wingard, the City Connects Program Manager in Salem, Mass., who was also doing a presentation.
Back then, Ferrick was so impressed by what she heard, she submitted a grant application to bring City Connects to Southbridge, Mass., where she worked, but the project wasn’t funded until recently.
Today Ferrick is City Connects’ new Director of Student Support Programs & Practices. But it was years ago that she understood how important it was to individualize student services.
“We can’t have a one-size-fits-all model,” Ferrick says. “Kids are often asked to fit into criteria that are prescribed for them, and not all kids can be successful that way. We also have to understand that there can be significant barriers to success in students’ lives.”Continue reading “Welcoming Margo Ferrick to City Connects”
News headlines keep echoing a dismal fact: across the country, children are dealing with the trauma of living through a global pandemic.
This is true for both school-aged children and for young children ages 0 to 5. And as City Connects Coordinator Elizabeth Planje explains, working young children in preschool programs to provide services and promote healing requires a different lens.
“You do have to be a little more curious to find the root cause of what’s bothering very young children,” Planje says. She’s the coordinator at Sacred Heart School, in Lynn, Mass., as well as a therapist. At Sacred Heart, she works with students as young as 2.9 years old. “The older kids can tell you more about what’s going on, but with younger kids you have to be more of a detective.”
This means observing, thinking, and testing out ideas across all four City Connects domains — academic, social/emotional, physical health, and family — to understand children’s needs.
Planje tells the story of a young child who screamed every time he went to the restroom. It took some reflection, but eventually Planje and the teachers theorized that the child was experiencing sensory overload. The sound of flushing was too loud for him. The solution: he now goes to the restroom wearing headphones that muffle the noise.