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.
“As we all know, for many young people, this past year has been the hardest of their lives.”
Students have endured everything from losing in-person contact with friends to falling into — or falling deeper into — poverty to the loss of loved ones who have died from Covid.
“So much has changed since all students were last in school full-time,” the Rennie Center adds. “Eight million people have slipped into poverty, and 14 percent of households with children are struggling with food insecurity. Meanwhile, mental health-related emergency department visits are up 24 percent for children and 31 percent for adolescents. We will be learning about the impact of COVID-19 on children for years to come. But what we know right now is that they need extra support.”
“Preschool shouldn’t be like this,” Erika Griffin says of the Early Learning Center in Salem, Mass., where children have their own desks and their own bins of toys that only they can play with – all to protect them from spreading COVID-19.
“When the kids need a break from sitting at their desks, the teachers put Hula Hoops on the ground six feet apart and each child sits in their hoop so they can play on the floor, just to give them a break from sitting at their desks. At the end of every day, those toys are sanitized. We work hard to come up with small, creative solutions, and the kids have been great with that.”
Griffin is both a City Connects Coordinator and a school adjustment counselor at the Early Learning Center, and she’s used to children sitting at large tables, socializing, and sharing toys.
But what Griffin’s work shows is that even during a global pandemic, City Connects continues to work in early education settings.
Two coordinators working together as a team. That’s what Brad Maloon and Mia Riccio do at Collins Middle School in Salem, Mass.
“Just envision the left side of the brain and the right side of the brain,” Maloon says of his partnership with Riccio. “Mia is extremely organized and a very good systems thinker. I’m more of a people person with connections. I grew up in Salem. I’m a Salem guy, so I have a lot of family connections. Mia keeps me on task while I use the creative side of my brain.”
“But it took time,” Riccio says of becoming a team. “My first year here, Brad had been at the school forever. I was just coming in, getting to know the school and the people and how things work. Brad was running around doing all this stuff, and I was wondering how I could help make things work.”
“I was able to help her with getting to know Salem. And she helped me with really learning the City Connects system.”