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

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.

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