City Connects: building relationships between schools and families

To improve outcomes for kids, the City Connects model looks at four domains: academics, social/emotional behavior, physical health, and family.

Our focus on family is essential because parents and caregivers are key partners in students’ development and success. Families help City Connects Coordinators understand what students’ strengths and needs are.

As our 2022 Progress Report explains, “City Connects believes that schools are the epicenter of support for children and families.” Putting services and supports in schools makes them easier to access. And we know that supporting adults who may need help getting their children winter clothes or health care services also helps students. In short, when a family is doing well, children are more likely to do well. 

One example of a coordinator’s work with a student and his family is Julian, a student featured in our progress report. A fourth grader in a City Connects school, Julian had two strengths: his academics and his mother’s engagement with his school. 

However, “At the same time, Julian experienced significant difficulty with behavioral regulation in the classroom. He frequently disrupted lessons and activities, which not only impacted Julian’s ability to learn, but presented a challenge for his teacher and his peers.”

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City Connects featured in a Boston Globe op-ed

City Connects is in the news again, featured in a Boston Globe op-ed by Kerry Donahue about how schools can help students recover from the educational and social-emotional losses caused by the pandemic.

“Urgently addressing the needs of students is critical for ensuring the generation of children impacted by the pandemic do not suffer long-term harm,” Donahue writes. She’s the chief strategy officer at the Boston Schools Fund, “a non-profit organization that advances educational equity through opportunity and access to high-quality schools.”

“With only two remaining school years to spend hundreds of millions of available federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds, the city should harness these resources in four critical areas,” Donahue adds. 

These areas are evidence-based literacy instruction, high-dosage tutoring, coherent wraparound services, and increased operations capacity.

As Donahue notes, students’ “increased mental health and social-emotional needs” are “straining schools and districts that were never designed to manage this volume or concentration of need. Expecting schools that are already trying to address major academic gaps, while managing continued COVID disruptions for students and staff, to also build an effective wraparound service delivery operation defies logic.”

One solution:

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City Connects in the news

City Connects was featured in the news this summer in articles that emphasize the importance of providing integrated student support.

Here’s a roundup of those stories and their focus on key aspects of the City Connects model, including funding sources, data collection that supports students’ success, our work with community partners, and our partnerships with academic researchers.

Click on the links below to read more.

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“$7.5 million to fund Indy school program tackling out-of-class issues”
Fox59 News: “The city is putting $7.5 million toward a new in-school program to address out-of-class issues they say make learning more difficult. This includes issues like mental health care needs, food and housing.

“The program is called City Connects and it will be organized through Marian University’s Center for Vibrant Schools and Boston College, where the program first began.

“ ‘If the student is coming to class every day not having eaten, you can put a million academic interventions in place, and it just won’t address it,’ Jillian Lain, City Connects Midwest Coordinator, said.

“Essentially, if basic needs aren’t met, students can’t learn.

“ ‘City Connects not only talks about the academic challenges but also addresses out-of-school factors like needs of the family,’ Lain explained.” 

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From the archives: our community partners

While the blog is on summer vacation, we’re sharing past posts and social media coverage about the many ways City Connects helps students thrive. 

This week’s roundup looks at how City Connects works with community partners around the country to bring the right services to the right students at the right time. 

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City Connects and Catie’s Closet: working with a community partner that’s just down the hall
City Connects Blog, January 24, 2019

Last school year, Lincoln Elementary School in Springfield, Mass., had a custodian’s closet that was nothing special.

This year that space has been transformed – painted, carpeted and decorated – and turned into Catie’s Closet, a cheerful place where students can get donated clothes and toiletries.

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A book drive thrives, thanks to a community partnership

Before COVID-19, the MassMutual Federal Credit Union used to hold its book drives the old-fashioned way: put a big box in the hallway outside the credit union’s office to collect new and gently used children’s books from the 6,000 or so people who passed by each day.

The approach worked in part because the credit union’s office had a highly visible location right next to the cafeteria. The results were mostly good, lots of books for young children that were passed on to City Connects Coordinators in the Springfield Public School system — and a few very old dictionaries that could serve as doorstops.

Once Covid hit, however, Samantha Barnes, the credit union’s Marketing Specialist, had to adapt and so did City Connects Coordinator, Stephanie Sanabria. What they ended up with was a better book drive that more closely meets the needs of students and schools.

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City Connects in the news

City Connects Coordinators have been working harder than ever to meet the needs of students, families, and communities. 

Here’s a roundup of news stories that share some of the work coordinators are doing.

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In Salem, Mass., a fire that damaged five buildings prompted a community-wide response that includes city officials, local charities, and City Connects Coordinators. 

“Our thoughts are with our Salem school families who were impacted by yesterday’s fire on Hancock Street,” Salem’s School Superintendent Stephen Zrike said in a news release

“Salem Public Schools’ City Connects Coordinators, Family Engagement Facilitators, and school leaders are working with identified staff and families who may have been impacted. If you have questions or have been impacted by the fire, please contact your school to be connected with those who can assist.”

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In Indianapolis, Ind., Mayor Joe Hogsett is addressing the city’s mental health challenges. In March, he pledged to “implement a clinician-led mobile crisis team to respond to calls for help involving mental health situations in Indiana’s capital city,” the Indianapolis Star reports, adding that another part of the city’s efforts to address mental health is City Connects, which “lets the city work with school children and their families on mental health-related issues.”

 And as Indianapolis and other City Connects sites show, the supportive work that coordinators do inside schools integrates with and enhances community wide efforts.

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Recognizing school counselors and City Connects Coordinators

Being a school counselor can be challenging in a normal year. But this work can be grueling in the middle of a pandemic that has triggered a national mental health crisis among children and adolescents.

 So we’re happy that National School Counseling Week, which was last week, brought both recognition and appreciation to school counselors – and to City Connects Coordinators.

As the pandemic continues, counselors are working with struggling students and providing support for burned out teachers and school staff. At City Connects schools, our coordinators are a vital source of this support. Although the pandemic has been tough, our coordinators have been tougher – and more compassionate, creative, and determined than ever.

Coordinators are addressing the isolation the pandemic has caused, while monitoring the racial trauma some students feel since the murder of George Floyd. 

So it was great to see Laurie Roule, the City Connects coordinator at STEM Middle Academy of Springfield, Mass., being acknowledged by her school.

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Powerful community partnerships: The MassMutual Foundation

Despite the challenges of COVID-19, it’s a new year that’s full of promise; and here at City Connects, we are excited about what’s next. 

We’re growing in Indianapolis and in Massachusetts. We have a new technical assistance center based at Marian University in the Midwest, so that we can work with more schools in that part of the country. We’re hiring new staff, and we’re seeing how the City Connects model is effective, resilient, and making a difference for children, families, teachers, schools, and communities, especially during the pandemic. 

We couldn’t do this work alone, which is why we’re so grateful to our many community partners, the nonprofit organizations and businesses that work with us to support students. 

One example is the MassMutual Foundation. 

Continue reading “Powerful community partnerships: The MassMutual Foundation”
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