The Weekly Connect 2/13/17

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These are some of the things we’ve been reading about:

Betsy DeVos is the new U.S. Secretary of Education… and John King, who just stepped down as education secretary, is going to lead the Education Trust, a national nonprofit that promotes high educational achievement for all students.

A strong, positive school climate can protect middle school students from the upheavals of adolescence and help them do better in math and reading.

Research shows that New York’s work with community schools is paying off.

More preschools are providing health education as the links between health and learning receive more attention.

To read more, click on the following links. Continue reading

Big Sisters Recognizes Quincy School as Community Partner of the Year

Mentoring has an overwhelmingly positive impact on children, reducing rates of high school dropout and increasing enrollment in post-secondary education. City Connects School Site Coordinators regularly refer students to community organizations that provide mentoring opportunities. One of our key mentoring partners is the Big Sister Association of Greater Boston, which serves more than 2,600 girls throughout Greater Boston.

Catherine Riede, Nicole Young, and Judy tk (L to R)
Left to right: City Connects School Site Coordinators Catherine Riede and Nicole Young with Judy Ellman, Manger of School-based Mentoring for Big Sisters of Greater Boston (photo courtesy of Big Sisters of Greater Boston)

At their annual meeting on May 12, the Big Sister Association of Greater Boston named the Josiah Quincy Elementary School as its 2014 Community Partner of the Year. The award recognizes the Quincy’s sustained commitment to Big Sister’s mission to serve girls and families through mentoring programs. The award was accepted by Catherine Riede and Nicole Young, the City Connects School Site Coordinators at the Quincy. Catherine and Nicole serve as the primary contacts for Big Sister at the Quincy, one of Big Sister’s longest-standing and largest partners. The pair were also recognized for their instrumental role in supporting, strengthening, and promoting Big Sisters within the school.

“Our partners at Josiah Quincy have been advocates for Big Sister and have truly welcomed us into their community,” said Deb Re, Chief Executive Officer at Big Sister Association of Greater Boston. “They have not only demonstrated a real interest in getting to know the nearly 60 matches who meet at their school, but also have hosted lunch groups, invited Big Sisters to speak at their career day, and distributed information about Big Sister in their newsletter to parents. We are so grateful for their committed partnership, and look forward to continuing to grow the number of girls we serve at Josiah Quincy in the coming years.”

Congratulations to the Quincy, and thank you to Big Sisters for the important work you do!

For more information:

Recap: 2013 Boston Community Partner Breakfast

City Connects breakfast
More than 100 community partners attended the annual City Connects gathering

Yesterday, more than 100 members of the Boston community joined City Connects as we convened our annual gathering of Boston community partners to discuss “Supporting Immigrant Students and Families.”

On our panel, Vera Johnson, Director of the Boston Public Schools (BPS) Newcomer Counseling and Assessment Center, shared her experience working with families new to Boston and its public schools. After finding that parents and caregivers kept returning to her office when they had questions about schools, Johnson created a position dedicated to supporting families beyond their students’ initial enrollment into school: Parent Liaisons. Speaking a variety of languages, Parent Liaisons educate families, encourage participation in school events, and provide assistance maneuvering the BPS system. Johnson’s office, in response to the needs of new families, also began offering English classes for adults. She reports seeing parents grow into “savvy” members of school communities.

City Connects panelists
Panelists (l to r) Vera Johnson, Suzanne Lee, and Raghida Jeranian

Panelist Suzanne Lee, a community activist and former BPS school administrator, shared her first experience with school after immigrating from Hong Kong. Lee was a top student in grade 6 when she left Hong Kong but upon arriving in Boston, was told she should be in grade 4; her lack of English skills led to the assumption that she “didn’t know anything.” She learned how to rely on herself and  ultimately earned a college scholarship and spent her career working in education and community activism. While teaching English to garment workers in Boston, she said she realized why her mother–once a garment worker herself–worked so hard: she was looking for an opportunity to get ahead, and her hopes and dreams were with her children. As a teacher and principal, Lee learned that it takes more than good teaching and learning for children to succeed. “All children can succeed if we meet their needs,” she said. “The first rule is to listen.”

We also heard from City Connects’ own Raghida Jeranian, a Program Manager who supervises School Site Coordinators in Boston. She relayed the story of a Coordinator who welcomed a Somali student and her family midway through the school year. To help with the student’s transition, the Coordinator  set up a lunch group where the student could make friends with others new to the school and secured a space in an after-school program with a focus on homework help (the student’s parents didn’t speak English and were not able to help with homework). The Coordinator learned from the student that the family could not afford furniture in their apartment. Sensitive to the family’s privacy and pride, the Coordinator reached out to let them know of the services she could connect them to outside of school, like free adult English classes and donations. Thanks to their burgeoning relationship, the mother felt comfortable requesting help furnishing their apartment and the Coordinator was able to secure donations. This family shared with others how the Coordinator was able to assist them and they, in turn, felt more comfortable contacting the Coordinator and becoming more engaged with the school community.

Thanks to all of our partners who joined us yesterday, and thank you for your ongoing collaboration! Together, we are ensuring that students to come to school ready to learn and thrive.

For more information:

City Connects speaker highlights partnership with Cradles to Crayons

City Connects' Sarah O'Connor is joined by two GPA student volunteers at Cradles to Crayons' Family Volunteer Day
City Connects’ Sarah O’Connor is joined by two GPA student volunteers at Cradles to Crayons’ Family Volunteer Day

City Connects School Site Coordinator Sarah O’Connor was a featured speaker at community partner Cradles to Crayons‘ Family Volunteer Day recently. Sarah is based at the Gardner Pilot Academy (GPA) in Boston’s Allston neighborhood and says she’s a “frequent flier” at Cradles to Crayons (C2C), which provides children living in homeless or low-income situations with the essential items they need to thrive – at home, at school and at play. Sarah spoke to nearly 200 volunteers at C2C’s “Giving Factory” warehouse about the impact donations have on students.

“Cradles to Crayons is an essential partner for the Gardner Pilot Academy,” Sarah said. “Cradles helps to meet the basic needs of many of our students and provides them with the items that they need to be successful in school. We are so grateful for their ongoing support.”

This year, all GPA students received new backpacks full of school supplies at the beginning of the year and the soccer team was outfitted with cleats before taking the field this season. It’s a two-way partnership–GPA hosts donation drives at the school for C2C and brings students to volunteer at the Giving Factory.

“Sarah has been an all-star and really taken this partnership to the next level. We are so thrilled to have her hands-on support and knowing that she puts so much time and effort into each child’s needs is reassuring to us. We feel  privileged to have her as the point person for so many children in our community,” said Dave Cotugno, Family Philanthropy Associate at C2C. “C2C is thrilled to have such a strong partnership with City Connects and provide them with tools to help children thrive inside and outside of school.”

C2C will be honoring the Gardner at the upcoming “Un-Gala” event on December 7, which will allow every GPA student in grades K-5 to receive new pajamas and a book to take home for winter break.

For more information:

  • Follow Cradles to Crayons on Twitter @C2CBoston

Two City Connects Schools Commended for Promoting Student Health

“Healthy Connections” awards were presented to two City Connects schools, the John F. Kennedy and the Josiah Quincy elementary schools,  at the Boston Public Schools (BPS) 5th annual Wellness Summit on May 30. Seven awards were given to schools with innovative approaches to promoting student health and wellness.

“The schools we recognize today have shown innovative, collaborative, and service-oriented approaches to delivering Coordinated School Health to BPS students and families,” said BPS Superintendent Dr. Carol R. Johnson.

The JFK Elementary school’s health and wellness efforts included a range of activities: a Girls on the Run running club partnership with Hill House, Playworks recess activities, yoga instruction, a Winter Walking Club, dance and movement classes with the Boston Arts Project and the Hyde Square Task Force, nutrition lessons from the Martha Eliot Health Center, and a Step It Up walking challenge with Partners HealthCare. Beyond student activities, parents and caregivers were invited to attend weekly meditation and stress management classes and staff participated in Zumba.

In addition to winning a Healthy Connections award, the Quincy Elementary was given one of 10 national “Praiseworthy Pioneer” grants from the Active Schools Acceleration Project (ASAP). ASAP is an initiative of ChildObesity180, an organization at Tufts University committed to facilitating cross-sector collaboration to reverse the trend of childhood obesity within one generation’s time. ASAP seeks to increase quality physical activity in schools to promote healthy, active living and to evoke the beneficial behavioral and academic outcomes that follow. The $2,500 Praiseworthy Pioneer grants were given to support physical activity programming in schools.

“We are honored to be recognized. The award  will help support the Quincy’s Jammin’ Minutes, Playworks, GoKidsGo, and Sports and Scholars physical activity programs,” said Pauline Yee, a physical education teacher at the Quincy.

In City Connects, health is one the four domains of student strengths and needs that we examine, because healthy students are better able to learn and thrive in school. Congratulations to the JFK and the Quincy schools on these awards!

For more information:

New Report Assesses Community Partnerships in Boston Public Schools

Schools at the HubA new report released today, “Schools at the Hub: Community Partnerships in the Boston Public Schools,” [pdf] presents extensive baseline data about the types and extent of partnerships providing supports to students and families across all of Boston Public Schools.

The report, based on a survey administered to all school principals at the end of the 2009-2010 school year by the Massachusetts Full-service Schools Roundtable, reveals that more than 200 organizations partner with schools across the city. By analyzing 10 areas of support offered by Boston schools, including tutoring, mentoring, on-site mental health services, adult education, before- and after-school programs, school-based health clinics, and university partners, the report also showed some unevenness in partnerships across schools and called for greater equity in service distribution to meet the needs of all students.

As of Spring 2010, areas of need uncovered in the report include middle schools, who lagged behind other school levels in areas of mentoring, tutoring, prevention programming, after-school programs, and on-site mental health services. In addition, less than one-third of schools reported including community partners in their strategies to serve English language learners and/or students with disabilities.

At City Connects schools, School Site Coordinators utilize the Student Support Information System, a database that allows them to keep track of the service and enrichment activity providers serving students in their schools. City Connects has nearly 300 partners [pdf] who provide a range of prevention, enrichment, early intervention, and crisis intervention services to students and their families.

For more information:

  • Read the Boston Public Schools’ press release [pdf] about the report

Shoes That Fit & Nordstrom Donate New Balance Sneakers to Josiah Quincy School Students

One hundred children at the Josiah Quincy Elementary School in Boston’s Chinatown neighborhood received new footwear thanks to a donation from Shoes That Fit, a nonprofit organization teamed up with Nordstrom. With the financial support of the Nordstrom Giving Tree program, 100 pairs of New Balance sneakers have been distributed to children in need.

Raghida Jeranian, a City Connects School Site Coordinator at the Quincy school, worked with the Red Oak Afterschool Program at the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center to coordinate the donation and delivery of the shoes. Red Oak offers academic support and extracurricular opportunities in afterschool and summer programs and provided the shoes to its predominantly low-income student population as a result of its strong partnership with City Connects.

“We always encourage students to be physically active, and these new shoes will be a big step forward in promoting exercise,” Jeranian said. “Having a donation of 100 pair of new sneakers that fit properly is a huge benefit to these students.”

A Josiah Quincy School student displays her new pair of shoes.

Shoes That Fit was created in 1992 after its founder had a conversation with a school nurse about a student who was crying on the playground. The nurse examined his feet and found them to be stuffed into shoes three sizes too small; the boy’s family couldn’t afford new shoes in his size, and he was in pain. Thus began Shoes That Fit, which provides shoes for about 100,000 children each year and will soon be marking 1 million pairs of shoes donated at more than 1,900 schools in 40 states.

Shoes That Fit works by connecting a sponsoring organization with a school; in this case, the Quincy school was chosen in a lottery.

“We can be wherever people want to help. We match up schools that have children in need with sponsors in their community who want to help—any group of people or type of business,” said Shoes That Fit Program Manager Lee Kane. “Sponsors determine how many shoes they can offer, the school identifies and measures children with materials we provide, and then members of the sponsoring group purchase and deliver the shoes. It’s a very hands-on, grassroots approach. They really enjoy the process and we’d love to help more schools in Boston.”

The Nordstrom Holiday Giving Tree program runs through December 24. One hundred seventeen Nordstrom stores across the country are displaying holiday trees with tags that customers can purchase for $20, which represent a child who will receive a new pair of New Balance athletic shoes. Thanks to the Nordstrom Holiday Giving Tree Program, a minimum of 11,550 pairs of shoes will be distributed this year to children in need!

For more information:

  • Shoes that Fit is always looking for sponsors–to find out more, please contact Lee Kane

More Than a Gut Feeling: The Real Value of Family and Community Engagement

City Connects evaluation team member Eric Dearing, PhD, associate professor of applied and developmental psychology at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education, has authored an “emerging leaders profile” in the latest Harvard Family Research Project FINE Newsletter, which is dedicated to expanded learning and family engagement. In his article, “More Than a Gut Feeling: The Real Value of Family and Community Engagement,” Eric discusses his vision for the field of family engagement, as well as the nation:

“My vision … is that we abandon the reliance on intuition and instead thoughtfully consider what is and is not working, and why. In turn, we can begin to empower districts—particularly those that are economically disadvantaged—to invest in promising and proven practices that engage families and communities in their children’s education in ways that will ultimately improve life chances.”

Eric cites two examples of successful programs that engage the family and community in education, one of which is City Connects. Peruse the whole issue to learn more about Eric and other scholars’ thoughts on family engagement.

For more information:

  • Follow the Harvard Family Research Project on Twitter @hfrp