Job satisfaction for City Connects Coordinators – a research study


What’s it like for City Connects Coordinators who work in high-poverty communities and help students succeed?

A new research study – “Experiences of practitioners implementing comprehensive student support in high-poverty schools,” published in the journal Improving Schools –provides interesting answers, pointing to both job satisfaction and systemic barriers. 

The study was written by Amy Heberle, a psychology professor at Clark University and a former City Connects research fellow; Úna Ní Sheanáin, a former post-doctoral fellow who worked with City Connects; Mary Walsh, City Connects’ Executive Director and a professor at Boston College; and by City Connects graduate assistants Anna Hamilton and Agnes Chung, and former City Connects Coordinator Victoria Eells Lutas. 

We know that the work of supporting students can be emotionally demanding. As Walsh and Springfield Public Schools Superintendent Daniel Warwick have written in CommonWealth Magazine: 

“When children walk into their schools, they make everyone feel what they feel. Teachers, principals, even superintendents can all feel the burdens students carry, especially those who struggle with poverty and despair. Some children talk about their challenges. Others don’t. Either way, educators and administrators feel the weight of the hunger, homelessness, mental health challenges, incarceration of parents, and other hardships that many children bear. We have to feel it, because being connected to children is the only way that we can successfully do our jobs.”  Continue reading

Desks meet the remote learning needs of Springfield’s students

 

Stephanie Sanabria

In the past, Stephanie Sanabria, a City Connects Coordinator in Springfield, Mass., had been known as the Bed Lady because she helped secure beds for local families. 

Now, she’s essentially been promoted to Desk Wizard.

“The Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless helps us with beds,” through its A Bed for Every Child initiative, Sanabria says. “But they realized that the need goes beyond beds. Because of remote learning, kids also need desks. When I got the coalition’s email about this, I thought, We need this in Springfield.”

Sanabria’s long-standing relationship with the coalition made it easier to bring this resource to Springfield students. Continue reading

Steering through the COVID-19 crisis in Springfield

Back in March, when the dangerous spread of the coronavirus forced schools to close, the Springfield Public School system focused on human needs.

“We know that our schools are much more than education centers for our families. They provide important support and we know that closure will impact on our families,” the Springfield, Mass., public school website explained. 

“Springfield’s first priority was the safety and well-being of all our students and families,” Julie Donovan, Springfield’s City Connects Program Manager says. That meant focusing on the essential basics of food and housing and on keeping kids virtually connected to school.

So Springfield’s 28 City Connects Coordinators got to work. They reached out to families who weren’t responding to teachers, and they helped children living in homeless shelters get laptops and Internet hotspots.  Continue reading

City Connects: A decade of growth in Springfield

In 2010, City Connects launched in Springfield, Mass., and since then we’ve seen a decade of strong growth in the city. 

We recently shared this progress at a meeting of the Springfield Public Schools’ School Committee. 

“City Connects and Springfield have a strong partnership,” Anastasia Raczek says. She is the Associate Director of Research & Evaluation at the Center for Optimized Student Support, where City Connects is based. The center is part of Boston College’s Lynch School of Education and Human Development. 

City Connects’ growth in Springfield from implementation at a small scale into a districtwide solution offers a model for other districts considering how to address the non-academic and out-of-school needs of their students.”  Continue reading

Family engagement at City Connects

Family Literacy Night


Because parents are so vital to their children’s education, City Connects Coordinators work hard to engage them – work that helps build a stronger sense of community and that can help parents who are coping with a crisis.
 

“Just about every month of the school year, there is something we do here at the early childhood center for family engagement,” Stephanie Sanabria, the City Connects Coordinator at Springfield’s Early Childhood Education Center says. 

“Because the children are so young, they are closely tied to their parents, so we need parents’ participation and support. You can’t separate that out. That’s why the positive relationship that we form is so important.” 

And since Sanabria is in a preschool setting, her family engagement efforts are fun and varied. 

There’s Pumpkin Night in October and an evening of building gingerbread houses in December. In August, Sanabria will sometimes accompany teachers on home visits to provide Spanish language support. Continue reading

Harvard’s Education Redesign Lab cites City Connects’ for developing plans that promote students’ personal success

For decades, schools have relied on a “one-size fits all paradigm” that fails to meet “the particular, complex, and varied needs of children and youth living in poverty.”

That’s an observation from a new report from the Education Redesign Lab at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. The report says schools should abandon this approach to poverty and instead devise personalized “success plans” that meet individual students’ needs.

One example of how to do this, the report notes, is City Connects.

The report,Success Plans: Promising Tools for Customizing Student Supports and Opportunities”, says that these plans will “capture in- and out-of-school strengths and needs of children and youth; connect to the infrastructure that can match them with tailored services and opportunities; and seamlessly coordinate education and community resources to increase access to equitable opportunities.” Continue reading

Dental care and fire trucks: Making preschools service-rich

Think of Stephanie Sanabria as a one-woman fiber optic network. As a City Connects Coordinator, she connects 11 classrooms in Springfield’s Early Childhood Education Center with resources across the city and brings those resources right into the building where it’s easy for young children and their parents to access them.

This building-based approach is an essential part of how City Connects works in Springfield’s early education settings to meet children’s needs and build on their strengths.

“We adapted City Connects for the early childhood years because that’s such an important stage developmentally,” Anastasia Raczek explains. Raczek is the Associate Director of Research & Evaluation at the Center for Optimized Student Support, which is based at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education and Human Development.

We used funding from the Better Way Foundation to launch this effort in Catholic Schools. The first program launched in 2012 in Boston. Today, City Connects serves more than 2,000 pre-K children in programs across the country. Continue reading

City Connects fills the mental health service gap

Kirsten Rene, Despina Petsagourakis, and Anna Hamilton


“We wanted to look at the students that are often missed, students who are in what is known as the mental health service gap. They aren’t being identified and they aren’t receiving services,” Despina Petsagourakis explains.

To do this, Petsagourakis, a graduate student at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education, and her fellow graduate students Kirsten Rene and Anna Hamilton, were part of a team that conducted research on 6,000 students in 15 high-poverty elementary schools in Springfield, Mass.

“The goal is to see if the prevention and intervention system and the community collaboration and coordination that City Connects involves would address students’ needs and deliver support.”

The unmet need is considerable. The poster explains that, “Seventy-five percent of children in need of mental health services do not receive them, with disparities in service provision existing particularly for marginalized populations.” Continue reading