City Connects weaves webs of support in Salem


City Connects’ first year of work in Salem, Mass., is already getting national attention. A recent article in Education Week looked at Salem’s citywide effort to promote students’ success, in partnership with By All Means, an initiative led by the Education Redesign Lab at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. A key part of this effort is Salem’s work with City Connects.

Last September, City Connects launched in all eight of Salem’s K-8 schools. This is the first example of citywide implementation of City Connects, and at this one year mark, we want to share three takeaways. Students benefit from:

  • having access to citywide opportunities
  • relying on stronger connections between their families, schools, and communities; and
  • being supported by a web of care

Here’s how these benefits are playing out.  Continue reading

A backpack and hope: third graders in Brockton help homeless students

While we are proud of the work that City Connects coordinators do to help homeless students, we are even more proud of the work that third graders at Trinity Catholic Academy in Brockton, Mass., are doing to help their peers.

The third graders packed backpacks full of school supplies for other Brockton children who are in the third and fourth grade and are homeless.

“Remember miracles can happen. Dream big. Work hard,” one Trinity Catholic third grader wrote in a note to a child who will receive a backpack. Continue reading

School Climate: a Q&A with Boston College’s Anastasia Raczek

Source: Anastasia Raczek


School climate is making headlines – and peaking the interest of researchers and policymakers. So earlier this month, we caught up with Anastasia Raczek and asked her to explain what school climate is and how it relates to City Connects’ work.

Anastasia Raczek

“School climate means lots of different things to different people. But we’re beginning to get more specific about it, and we do know a lot about what it seems to lead to,” Raczek said. As the Associate Director of Evaluation & Research, she helps lead an independent team that works to evaluate and improve City Connects. The team is based in the Center for Optimized Student Support, part of Boston College’s Lynch School of Education. 

In December, Raczek spoke at an event on school climate that was organized by the Rennie Center and co-hosted by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, MassINC, Boston University, and Boston College. Conference participants discussed the connection between school climate and student success. A related policy brief is posted here Continue reading

City Connects coordinators respond to the opioid crisis

The opioid crisis has devastated the country, and here at City Connects we’re seeing the crisis play out in schools.

There were 66,817 drug overdose deaths in the United States from June 2016 to June 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of these deaths, 2,054 occurred in Massachusetts.

As the Boston Globe reported last year, “The sprawling drug crisis, which public health officials have described as the worst in American history, has touched nearly every part of society. But the burden has perhaps fallen hardest on children, creating a new generation of foster youth and placing extraordinary strain on the child welfare system.”

In Salem, where City Connects is in all nine of the cities public elementary schools, “we’ve seen at least three parent deaths this school year as a result of the opioid crisis in just our PreK-8 schools,” Ellen Wingard, Salem’s City Connects Program Manager, reports. Continue reading

Salem: A city getting ahead of the learning curve

Salem is becoming a city that’s prepared to provide children with the support, help, and enrichment that they need to thrive, Emily Ullman says, instead of addressing crises after they occur.

Ullman is the Director of Extended Learning Programs at Salem Public Schools. She’s also one of the city officials involved in a community collaborative looking at children.

“We knew we were a resource rich community,” Ullman says, pointing to Salem’s many cultural and community organizations and to school staff who were ready to do more for students.

What the city needed was a way to coordinate its in-school and out-of-school efforts and collect data on its actions. It turned to City Connects as part of a broader, citywide effort to address students’ barriers to learning. Continue reading

The Giving Tree

City Connects Coordinator Erika Griffin spotted a holiday problem. She realized that a community partner who had provided gifts for needy children in the past could no longer do so.

To meet this need, Griffin reached out to a friend who helped ensure that a “Giving Tree” was placed in the financial aid department at Salem State College. The tree is made of tags that are each marked with the age and gender of a child in Salem’s public schools. Within a few days, Salem State staff members had chosen a tag and bought gifts for all the children.

Holiday problem solved.

This is just one of the many heart-warming ways that City Connects and our community partners work together to make sure students receive winter gear, books, and toys during the holiday season.


Enjoy the holidays! The blog will be back in January.

Community partnerships bring beds to Springfield

Sometimes our community partners are single organizations, the YMCA or a college that provides tutors.

Other times we work with community teams. That’s the story in western Massachusetts where Stephanie Sanabria, a City Connects Coordinator in Springfield’s public schools, helps children get beds.

Students who are homeless often don’t have a safe, clean, place to sleep. They may have lost everything in a fire or lost an apartment for economic reasons. Once they do have a place to stay, however, giving them a bed can make a substantial, positive difference.

As we blogged last spring, Sanabria works with the local credit unions to raise funding for a Bed for Every Child, a program run by the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless.

More recently, in October, new beds were delivered to Springfield where they were received by a number of local leaders, including Sanabria as well as Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, Azell Cavaan, Chief Communications Officer of Springfield Public Schools, and a number of credit union CEOs and staff members.

City Connects makes these kinds of community partnerships more powerful by identifying children in need and connecting them to the resources that community partners provide. And when Sanabria connects a child to a bed, she also connects them to other needed resources and services such as food, clothing, and other assistance. Continue reading

New Report Shares What We are Learning

Since 2001, City Connects has offered a way for schools to address the out-of-school factors that affect children’s learning inside school. The right set of school-based and community resources can help children cope with these outside challenges so that they can learn and thrive.

Over time, City Connects has built a record of success. In city after city, City Connects helps schools improve students’ attendance, effort, and grades. City Connects narrows achievement gaps and reduces high school dropout rates.

This work has become even more important as more children across the country face more challenges. Nationally, 52 percent of children in our public schools are eligible for Free or Reduced-price Lunch, a measure of low-income status that overlaps with known barriers to learning.

What we are learning through City Connects can help us to serve growing numbers of students. We help address children’s comprehensive needs so they are ready to learn and engage in school. Continue reading