City Connects in Springfield: results and the importance of integrated student supports

We’re excited to share a new article in CommonWealth magazine that tells the story of how Springfield is using City Connects to help its school children thrive.

The article — “‘Wraparound’ services helping kids succeed: Expansion of City Connects program to Springfield” – was co-authored by Daniel J. Warwick, Superintendent of the Springfield Public Schools, and Mary Walsh, the Executive Director of City Connects.

“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

The power of existing community resources

Pictured left to right: Dave Plantier, President & CEO of MassMutual FCU and CCUA Social Responsibility Committee member; Shavon Powell, Bed for Every Child recipient; Stephanie Sanabria, City Connects Coordinator – Springfield Public Schools; and Lynn Liquornik, VP of Lending at MassMutual FCU and Pioneer Valley Chapter President.

At City Connects, our coordinators implement our innovative model: a system that brings the right services to the right child at the right time.

On a normal day, this can mean working with our community partners to connect children to tutoring, dental and health services, after-school programs, and counseling.

But on some days, coordinators spring into action when there’s an emergency.

That’s what happened recently when the Powell family had to deal with an apartment fire. Continue reading

New Report Details Positive Outcomes for City Connects Students, Schools

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.

We are pleased to announce the publication of The Impact of City Connects: Progress Report 2014, detailing results from the 2011-12 academic year in City Connects’ Boston and–for the first time–Springfield, MA, public schools. Highlights include:

  • 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 College Lynch 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.”

For more information:

Four City Connects Turnaround Schools Upgraded as Statewide Test Results Announced

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:
    • JFK Elementary
    • Orchard Gardens K-8
  • Springfield Public Schools:
    • Gerena Elementary School
    • Zanetti K-8

City Connects is proud to be a part of the large Turnaround effort that had positive results in these schools!

For more information:

City Connects Year in Review: Springfield, MA

2012 marked the second year of City Connects implementation in Springfield (MA) Public Schools. The engagement began in five of Springfield’s turnaround elementary schools and this year, expanded to three turnaround middle schools. This marks City Connects’ first expansion to freestanding middle schools; we are now reaching about 2,800 students in Springfield! Some highlights include:

  • Across all schools in the 2011-12 academic year, City Connects partnered with more than 100 agencies to arrange 14, 500 services for students in Springfield Public Schools.
  • After our first year in Springfield Public Schools, results of the 2012 teacher survey were exceptionally positive: 91% of teachers reported satisfaction with City Connects and 89% reported that they would recommend City Connects to a teacher in another school.
  • City Connects held its first-ever community partner meeting, where more than 85 community agencies gathered at Springfield College to launch the Springfield “Wraparound Zone” Initiative. Read more about the meeting here.
  • Mary Walsh, City Connects’ Executive Director, and Julie Donovan, City Connects Program Manager in Springfield, were invited to speak to the Springfield School Committee. They shared the initial positive results from the first year of implementation.

For more information:

  • Check out our Year in Review: Boston  and Ohio posts.

MCAS Results Released

Results from Massachusetts’ statewide standardized tests, the MCAS (short for Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System), were released last week. The Boston Globe summarized the results:

Nearly two-thirds of Massachusetts public schools are falling short of performance targets under the state’s new evaluation system, even as struggling urban districts achieve solid gains, state officials reported Wednesday.

In Boston, as well as other city districts, results on the standardized tests were mixed. Scores among 10th-graders rose to new heights. But in the lower grades, results were largely stagnant, and in a number of cases dropped.

Statewide, about 1,000 of nearly 1,600 public schools did not meet the new targets on the standardized tests this year, ­either for “high-needs” students, such as those with disabilities or from low-income families, or for the student body as a whole.

Here at City Connects, we are especially proud of four of our Springfield Public Schools–these ” turnaround” schools made double-digit gains in scores over the last two years: Homer Street, Zanettti, Brookings, and Gerena.

Our evaluation shows that students in City Connects schools outperform their Boston peers in middle school and achieve close to state proficiency levels in both English and Math MCAS. After leaving a City Connects school at the end of grade 5, significant long-term effects continue through eighth grade. Learn more about our impact on MCAS scores here.

For more information:

City Connects Springfield Update

Springfield EducatorCity Connects’ work in Springfield Public Schools (SPS) was featured in the Spring 2012 issue  [pdf] of the Springfield Educator. The conclusion of this school year marks the first year of City Connects’ implementation in six transformation (Level 4) SPS elementary schools. Next year, three SPS Level 4 middle schools will also be implementing City Connects.

The article comes on the heels of the first-ever gathering of community partners working with SPS, held on May 9. Convened at Springfield College, a partner with SPS and City Connects, the meeting marked the official launch of the Springfield “Wraparound Zone” Initiative. Wraparound Zones are an effort  funded through the state’s Race to the Top grant designed to build district capacity to systematically address students’ non-academic barriers to learning.

Springfield Community Meeting
Julie Donovan and Dr. Ingram at the Springfield Public Schools Wraparound Zone launch May 9.

Julie Donovan, the City Connects Program Manager in Springfield, welcomed more than 85 community partners to the meeting. Dr. Alan Ingram, Superintendent of Springfield Public Schools, opened the day by discussing the importance of the connection between home and school.

“Twenty-six thousand students in our schools live in poverty. Morally, we can’t ignore it. Poor children can do well in school with the right supports,” Dr. Ingram said. Students only spend a small part of their day in the classroom, he said, so we can’t turn around schools by only looking inside the classroom. The solution is to bring fragmented parts of the community together to work on behalf of children.

City Connects in the Boston Globe

Over the weekend, the Boston Globe ran a story about the challenges facing school districts in Massachusetts’ “Gateway Cities,” 24 former industrial cities across the state, in establishing partnerships with nonprofits providing services or funding to schools. The article,”Smaller Mass. cities seek non-profit to bolster schools,” reported that almost 75% of the 40 turnaround schools named by the state since 2010 have been in outlying cities, but for a host of reasons, the bulk of partnerships seem to be concentrated in more populated urban areas like Boston.

This article comes on the heels of Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick’s proposed 2013 budget, which includes funding for his “Gateway Cities Education Agenda,” an initiative he announced in November. The agenda comprises five strategies aiming to close the achievement gap, including a student support effort to be funded by a proposed $3.6 million. The Governor proposed creation of Student Support Councils in Gateway City schools and hiring Student Support Counselors to provide comprehensive services to students and their families.

City Connects is currently working with two Gateway Cities: Springfield, MA, which has City Connects in its turnaround elementary schools, and Lynn, MA, who recently engaged in a planning period with City Connects. From the article:

Already, a movement is taking root among some nonprofits to look beyond Boston. ACCESS, which provides college financial aid advice to middle and high school students, has expanded to Springfield. So has City Connects, an organization at Boston College that puts counselors in local schools to help connect students and their families to a variety of programs.

For more information: