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

City Connects Community Partner Meeting and “Shared Accountability”

Thanks to all of our community partners who joined us today for our annual gathering! We had a rich discussion about using data to create and sustain effective school-community partnerships. A few notable points from our table talks:

  • Most students in City Connects schools receive more than one service or enrichment program. Is there a way we can examine which combination of services is most effective in contributing to positive outcomes for specific groups of students?
  • In light of Boston not having a neighborhood school structure, would it be possible to examine community outcome data for additional insight into the impact of student support?
  • What other benefits do students experience outside of those demonstrated in academic outcomes? City Connects analyzes thriving measures (behavior, work habits, and effort) because they are included in Boston report cards, but are there other non-academic gains to be considered?
  • Can City Connects use its coalition of community partners to make progress in eliminating service gaps–for example, helping to increase capacity in after-school programs for young children?

This meeting with our partners came on the heels of a new Education Sector report, “Striving for School Success: A Model of Shared Accountability.” From the report:

“In the current school reform atmosphere, in which individual schools and teachers are being judged by their own students’ outcomes, this notion of ‘shared accountability’ is rare … But little will be accomplished—in Cincinnati, the Promise Neighborhoods, or elsewhere—unless the supports and services essential to fighting poverty are tightly coordinated and the providers are held accountable for their performance. It may seem obvious that, working together, providers can have a
greater impact than they can have toiling in isolation …  The idea of shared accountability is to not just coordinate these disparate efforts but also to focus them on a common vision for student success that is backed by the collection and analysis of data on a range of related indicators, such as early education, nutrition, and even housing security.”

City Connects and its coalition of partners in schools and in the community definitely have a common vision for students, and our gathering today further demonstrates that we are all committed to ensuring that every student comes to school ready to learn and thrive.

For more information:

  • Read the full Education Sector report here [pdf]
  • Follow Education Sector on Twitter @EducationSector and read tweets related to shared accountability using hashtag #sharedacct 

City Connects Poster at APA Meeting

City Connects team member Michael Capawana, a Counseling Psychology graduate student in the Lynch School of Education, is presenting a poster at the upcoming annual meeting of the American Psychological Association this week. His poster, “School and Community Agency Collaboration on Student Health Needs,” was recognized as one of the top student-authored posters being presented in its division.

The poster focuses on how City Connects addresses student health needs, in addition to academic, social/emotional, and family needs. Policymakers and educators agree that elementary and secondary schools can play a significant role in the promotion of healthy development in children. The evidence is clear that improving children’s health facilitates positive academic outcomes, while poor nutrition, inactivity, and chronic medical conditions have been linked to less successful academic performance. In children, physical illness is often concurrent with psychological and social problems such as anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem, which can lead to absenteeism and decreased academic achievement.

The task of addressing students’ health factors cannot and should not be accomplished by schools alone. Instead, efforts should include collaboration across schools, community agencies, youth development organizations, and institutions such as universities and hospitals. The communities in which schools are embedded, particularly urban environments, possess services and enrichment opportunities that have the potential to address student risk, increase resiliency, and ultimately improve academic outcomes. The collaborative role of community agencies in delivering health-based services to students is essential.

Michael’s study describes the health needs impacting a population of urban students; participants were 3,709 students in grades K-5, enrolled in 11 Boston elementary schools in City Connects. Within this population:

  • 57% of all students had at least one general need, with most students having more than one
  • 16% of all students were recognized as having 725 health needs
  • Each student had an average of 1.3 health concerns, with some children having multiple
  • The most prevalent needs identified included visual impairment, weight/nutritional issues (primarily obesity), asthma, allergies, hearing impairment, speech difficulties, hygiene, and sleep problems

City Connects is succeeding at addressing various health needs for many students to improve overall thriving. However, with the burgeoning prevalence of medical problems facing children, the responsibility of caring for kids extends to the community. Efforts should include collaboration across schools, community agencies, youth development organizations, and institutions such as universities and hospitals to facilitate access to existing resources available in the community for children and families, and foster the healthy development of all students.

Co-authors of this paper include Mary E. Walsh, PhD, Kathleen Flanagan, PhD, and Norman C. Hursh, ScD, CRC, CVE.

Report Gives Massachusetts “D” Grade on Youth Physical Activity

A new report from the Boston Foundation and NEHI, a nonprofit, independent health policy institute, handed out grades to Massachusetts across a range of areas in its “Healthy People/Healthy Economy” [pdf] annual report card. Sadly, Massachusetts earned a lackluster “D” in the category of youth physical activity. The report explains why:

  • In 2009, one in every four students in Massachusetts did not participate in at least 60 minutes of physical activity per week and almost half—42%—of Massachusetts public school students did not attend any physical education classes.
  • According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just 18 percent of Massachusetts schools offer daily gym classes, compared with a 30% national average.
  • According to a July 2011 report, Massachusetts is at the bottom of all states when it comes to physical activity for high
    school students.

To try to improve on this front, the Coalition has filed legislation urging state standards to require at least 30 minutes of physical activity during the school day, every day, for all students.

For more information:

Cradles to Crayons Donates Leap Pads to City Connects Schools

C2C Volunteer Day
The City Connects team at Cradles 2 Crayons

City Connects believes that all children can learn and thrive in school if their non-school needs are addressed. A critical partner in meeting these needs is Cradles to Crayons, a powerhouse Boston nonprofit that provides, free of charge, disadvantaged children with the essential items that all kids need to flourish. Cradles to Crayons has supported Boston’s children by providing vital items like backpacks filled with supplies at the start of school and hats and coats during the winter.

On June 17, as part of a year-end day of service, City Connects School Site Coordinators and Program Managers spent the day at Cradles to Crayons’ “Giving Factory,” a warehouse in Brighton, where they inspected, sorted, and packaged clothing donations for children. Emily York, City Connects Program Manager, said:

“Cradles to Crayons has been an important partner for City Connects for several years, thanks in part to the hard work of several of our School Site Coordinators, most notably Amy Cluff, Brendan Adams, and Elizabeth Centeio. With their move to the new Giving Factory space in Brighton, our partnership has been strengthened even more.  Since Cradles to Crayons is such an important partner for us, we were excited about the opportunity to spend some time volunteering. We were divided into teams to create bags of clothing items for children of certain ages and genders; it was so much fun!  The staff there are friendly and energetic and we could not have asked for a better day.”

Following the volunteer day, Kylee North, Cradles to Crayons’ Manager of Distribution Partnerships, contacted us to let us know about availability of a special donation: 400 Leap Pad learning tablets. Our Program Managers were thrilled and thought the donation would be perfectly suited for students at three City Connects elementary schools in Boston that were closing–the Farragut, Emerson, and Agassiz. In addition to those schools, there were enough Leap Pads to share with six more City Connects schools: Edison, Winship, Jackson Mann, Dever McCormack, Holland, and Mason. Said Kylee:

“Cradles to Crayons is dedicated to serving kids in need. Our vision that one day, every child in need will have the essentials to feel safe, warm, ready to learn, and valued, drives us to partner with different agencies across the state that share in that vision. City Connects is no exception. We know that when we provide children’s items to City Connects, those items go directly to the kids who need them the most in the Boston Public Schools. It’s collaborative partnerships like these that help Cradles to Crayons deepen our impact and further our reach to serve more children in need.”

Emily York says that with Kylee’s help, a more streamlined process has been created allowing School Site Coordinators at every City Connects school to place orders more easily. They can provide families with the items they need with more accuracy and quicker than ever before.

Thank you, Cradles to Crayons, for all the great work you do on behalf of Boston’s children!

For more information:

Community Partners Health & Wellness Breakfast: Video Posted

Over on our YouTube channel, we’ve posted video of the speakers’ presentations from our May 11 community breakfast, where the topic was “Creating Dynamic School Partnerships to Increase Health & Wellness of Students.” The 5 videos include:

  • Dr. Mary Walsh, executive director of City Connects, discussing  the critical roles health and fitness play in student success, as well as City Connects data about health and wellness services students receive.
  • Dr. Linda Grant, medical director, Boston Public Schools,  discussing prevention, intervention, and management strategies that schools can and are using to support children.
  • Jill Carter, executive director of health & wellness, Boston Public Schools, discussing initiatives in her department to support health and wellness across all schools in the district.
  • Simon Ho, principal, Josiah Quincy Elementary School, discussing how he implements a comprehensive and coordinated health and wellness program for students at the Quincy.
  • Patrice DiNatale, director of new practice at City Connects, discussing how City Connects integrates health as a core component of student support.
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