Three Massachusetts Groups Awarded “Promise Neighborhood” Planning Grants

The U.S. Department of Education yesterday awarded 21 “Promise Neighborhood” planning grants to nonprofit organizations and universities across the country, three of which are based in Massachusetts. The one-year grants of up to $500,000 are designed to help these groups create plans to provide comprehensive “cradle to career” services for children.

“Communities across the country recognize that education is the one true path out of poverty,” said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “These Promise Neighborhoods applicants are committed to putting schools at the center of their work to provide comprehensive services for young children and students.”

The Massachusetts winners are Community Day Care Center of Lawrence, Inc. in Lawrence, the United Way of Central Massachusetts in Worcester, and the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative in Boston.

As reported in the Boston Globe, “the $500,000 grant to the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, a community-based organization, represents a major milestone in replicating the Harlem Children’s Zone locally. For years, different groups of city leaders, philanthropists, and community activists have toured the Harlem program, returning each time to Boston energized, but unable to sustain the momentum.”

One of City Connects’ schools, Orchard Gardens, is located in Dudley Street’s target neighborhood of Roxbury, which is also part of Boston Mayor Tom Menino’sCircle of Promise,” a 5-square-mile area in where the Mayor and Boston Public Schools have been trying to set up a coalition to provide wraparound services for children. Dudley Street will partner with the City of Boston, nonprofit groups, philanthropists, after-school providers, religious leaders, and universities to advance this agenda.

Next year, the President has requested $210 million in his budget, including $200 million to support implementation of Promise Neighborhood projects and $10 million for planning grants for new communities.

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5 Ways to Improve Literacy Among Massachusetts Students

A new report out of the Boston-based Strategies for Children called Turning the Page: Refocusing Massachusetts for School Success says that efforts to increase literacy and produce strong readers need to be stepped up for children birth through age 9. According to data on their website,  31% of third graders in Boston are proficient on the MCAS reading test–that’s a full 26% lower than the state average of 57%. Taking a deeper look, the study also shows that two-thirds of low-income students and one-third of students who are not poor do not read at grade level.

With third-grade reading level a critical predictor of later success, the report, written by Nonie Lesaux, PhD, of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, recommends five avenues for improvement:

  1. Reallocate funds and alter policy to ensure programs are delivered effectively and with sufficient intensity.
  2. Conduct early and ongoing assessment of children’s language and reading and of the quality of services and supports.
  3. Increase adults’ capacity to assess and support children’s language and reading development.
  4. Bring language-rich, rigorous, and engaging reading curricula into early education and care settings, as well as pre-kindergarten to third grade classrooms.
  5. Expand and strengthen work with families across learning settings and within communities.

To promote reading among Boston’s students, Read Boston, one of City Connects’ community partners, provides students with free books and creates classroom libraries in elementary schools that allow students to take books home to read with their families. What effective reading programs are in place in your community?

800 Boston Students Pledge to Make Positive Choices

Allston-Brighton Substance Abuse Task ForceFor the seventh year running, the Allston-Brighton Substance Abuse Task Force is gathering 800 fourth through sixth graders from Boston public schools at a Youth Summit at Boston College. The summit culminates the substance abuse unit in the City Connects-New Balance Foundation health and wellness program, which is conducted by CCNX health coordinators.

The Youth Summit, developed in partnership with the Task Force, CCNX, and the Boston Police Department, aims to arm students with the necessary information and skills that will empower them to make positive choices about drugs and alcohol. The students will hear first-hand about the perils of substance abuse from other youth in recovery and engage in interactive activities to learn more about the effects of drug and alcohol abuse.

According to the Health of Massachusetts report from the Massachusetts Office of Health and Human Services, alcohol abuse in children and teens is a strong predictor for addiction problems in adulthood. The prevalence rates of alcohol use, binge drinking, and illicit drug use are all higher in Massachusetts than the national average. Learning positive choices early is essential; the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that children who began drinking before the age of 15 are four times more likely to become dependent on alcohol at some point in their lives.

Education Secretary Visits Boston’s Quincy School

Secretary Duncan
Secretary Duncan

On a day-long visit to Boston today, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will be holding a round-table discussion about school-community partnerships at the Josiah Quincy Elementary School in Boston’s Chinatown neighborhood. The Quincy school is one of City Connects’ largest elementary schools with nearly 800 students and two site coordinators.

Josiah Quincy Elementary School, Boston
Josiah Quincy Elementary School, Boston

Mary E. Walsh, executive director of CCNX and the Kearns Professor of Urban Education and Innovative Leadership at Boston College, and Pat DiNatale, CCNX director of implementation, will be representing City Connects in the discussion, which will also be attended by Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and Superintendent Carol R. Johnson.  Following the discussion, second- and third-grade Quincy students are scheduled to perform a traditional dance in honor of Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month. Secretary Duncan is also planning to pay tribute to Boston Educators of the Year as part of a discussion with them about effective strategies for academic success.

City Connects Hosts Community Agency Breakfast

More than 30 community-based agencies and nonprofit organizations who partner with City Connects gathered today to discuss efforts to improve students’ health and wellness.

“It takes a whole child approach to teaching and learning,” said Pat DiNatale, director of implementation at CCNX, “and together we can align our resources to best address students’ strengths and needs, as well as their health and well-being.”

The meeting kicked off with a “Jammin’ Minute,” 60 seconds of choreographed light exercise that is performed in CCNX schools every morning. Representatives from partner agencies like Big Brothers Big Sisters of Massachusetts Bay and Tenacity shared updates and conferred with CCNX’s site and health coordinators about ways to build and maintain the most effective partnerships. Suggestions about student referrals, transportation, and follow-up were sought, leading to sharing of best practices between organizations.

To wrap up the gathering, CCNX health coordinator Carey Jacobs, certified child yoga instructor, demonstrated yoga and meditation practices she leads at the Gardner Pilot Academy, complete with breathing exercises designed to promote awareness of the mind-body connection.

Health is integral to a child’s academic success. Our data show that the City Connects-New Balance Foundation Health and Wellness program significantly improves students’ key indicators of thriving: classroom behavior, work habits, and effort. After the program, students demonstrated greater knowledge and reported making healthier decisions about nutrition and well-being. Ninety-one percent of teachers in CCNX schools believe that the health curriculum has a positive impact on their students’ health choices outside of the classroom.

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