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.
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.
Think of Stephanie Sanabria as a one-woman fiber optic network. As a City Connects Coordinator, she connects 11 classrooms in Springfield’sEarly 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.
“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 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.”
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.
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.
“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 “City Connects in Springfield: results and the importance of integrated student supports”