“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 →
In schools across the country, students face barriers that make it tough for them to thrive in school, to do well academically, socially, and emotionally. One student could be hungry. Another might need a winter coat. A third may have witnessed violence on the street or at home. A fourth might need a tutor. A fifth might be struggling to learn English.
The list goes on, and no one school can meet all these needs on its own.
Walsh is the Director of the Center for Optimized Student Support, (COSS) part of Boston College’s Lynch School of Education, which co-hosted the conference with the Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy. The COSS also houses City Connects.
That comprehensive approach, Walsh explained, means meeting the needs of the whole child by providing integrated student support, whichCOSS defines as “a comprehensive, coordinated and school-based effort to connect students to specific district supports, enrichments and services.”Continue reading →
When Stephanie Sanabria, the City Connects coordinator at Springfield’s Early Childhood Education Center, looked at the needs of her students and their families, one topic that jumped out was health care.
“We have many students who have various diagnosis, and their families are also facing a number of health-related issues,” Sanabria said.
Sanabria’s response: Set up a health fair.
Amy Heberle, a Post-Doctoral fellow who works with City Connects’ evaluation team at the Boston College Lynch School of Education, explains:Continue reading →
City Connects is expanding in Springfield. We’re growing from the five schools we worked at in 2011 to 15 schools at the beginning of this year to a current total of 23 schools.
We had been connecting 5,000 students to 35,000 services, and now we are reaching nearly 8,000 students with even more support.
It’s an important step forward given that 77 percent of Springfield’s students are economically disadvantaged and face non-academic barriers that run from unmet health care needs to homelessness.
As Mary Walsh, the Executive Director of City Connects, and Daniel Warwick, Springfield’s schools Superintendent, wrote last yearin CommonWealth magazine:
“Researchers repeatedly tell us that children’s brains are harmed by growing up in disadvantaged circumstances and by toxic stress – which includes abuse, neglect, violence, caregiver substance abuse, or mental illness, and the hardships of severe poverty. City Connects helps us by addressing each child’s unique combination of stressors.”Continue reading →
“When Children walk into their schools,” the article begins, “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 →
Fifteen years ago, a small team of school, university, and community partners began working on creating the system of student support that is now City Connects. We were hopeful that we would be able to demonstrate that addressing students’ out-of-school needs would lead to improvements in academic achievement and student well-being.
Our hopes have been more than realized. City Connects not only supports student thriving in school, but contributes to significant academic gains as well. Our longitudinal research shows that for children who attended City Connects in elementary schools, the beneficial effects continue into high school. We can definitively say that the City Connects system of student support makes a positive and long-term difference in the lives of children.
Lower rates of dropout
Students who attended City Connects elementary schools beginning in kindergarten have 50% lower odds of dropping out of high school than students never in a City Connects school. See page 25 of the report for the full analysis.
Improved standardized test scores
After leaving City Connects elementary schools at the end of grade 5, students go on to outperform their peers in middle school and achieve close to state averages on both English and Math statewide standardized test scores (MCAS). Benefits are especially pronounced for students most at risk, like English Language Learners. See page 22 of the report for the full analysis.
Supporting school transformation
After one year of implementing City Connects in Springfield’s persistently underperforming (“turnaround”) elementary schools, the gap between these schools and other Springfield schools was significantly reduced in grades 3, 4, and 5 for both English and Math MCAS. See page 35 of the report for the full analysis.
“The data in this report make clear that thoughtful strategies and rigorous practices that provide non-academic supports for students can make a significant difference toward closing the achievement gap for children living in poverty,” said Mary E. Walsh, Ph.D., Executive Director of City Connects and the Kearns Professor at the Boston CollegeLynch School of Education. “Schools have always made efforts to address students’ out-of-school needs. This report shows that using evidence to inform practice, making effective use of community resources, and tailoring a plan for every student can alter trajectories for children. It has implications for changing the way school counselors, social workers, and other student support staff meet the needs of students.”
Four City Connects schools in Massachusetts have been upgraded from “Turnaround” status with the results of the 2012-13 MCAS statewide tests, announced today by the Mass. Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. We extend our congratulations to the following schools:
Boston Public Schools:
Orchard Gardens K-8
Springfield Public Schools:
Gerena Elementary School
City Connects is proud to be a part of the large Turnaround effort that had positive results in these schools!