Recap: 2013 Boston Community Partner Breakfast

City Connects breakfast
More than 100 community partners attended the annual City Connects gathering

Yesterday, more than 100 members of the Boston community joined City Connects as we convened our annual gathering of Boston community partners to discuss “Supporting Immigrant Students and Families.”

On our panel, Vera Johnson, Director of the Boston Public Schools (BPS) Newcomer Counseling and Assessment Center, shared her experience working with families new to Boston and its public schools. After finding that parents and caregivers kept returning to her office when they had questions about schools, Johnson created a position dedicated to supporting families beyond their students’ initial enrollment into school: Parent Liaisons. Speaking a variety of languages, Parent Liaisons educate families, encourage participation in school events, and provide assistance maneuvering the BPS system. Johnson’s office, in response to the needs of new families, also began offering English classes for adults. She reports seeing parents grow into “savvy” members of school communities.

City Connects panelists
Panelists (l to r) Vera Johnson, Suzanne Lee, and Raghida Jeranian

Panelist Suzanne Lee, a community activist and former BPS school administrator, shared her first experience with school after immigrating from Hong Kong. Lee was a top student in grade 6 when she left Hong Kong but upon arriving in Boston, was told she should be in grade 4; her lack of English skills led to the assumption that she “didn’t know anything.” She learned how to rely on herself and  ultimately earned a college scholarship and spent her career working in education and community activism. While teaching English to garment workers in Boston, she said she realized why her mother–once a garment worker herself–worked so hard: she was looking for an opportunity to get ahead, and her hopes and dreams were with her children. As a teacher and principal, Lee learned that it takes more than good teaching and learning for children to succeed. “All children can succeed if we meet their needs,” she said. “The first rule is to listen.”

We also heard from City Connects’ own Raghida Jeranian, a Program Manager who supervises School Site Coordinators in Boston. She relayed the story of a Coordinator who welcomed a Somali student and her family midway through the school year. To help with the student’s transition, the Coordinator  set up a lunch group where the student could make friends with others new to the school and secured a space in an after-school program with a focus on homework help (the student’s parents didn’t speak English and were not able to help with homework). The Coordinator learned from the student that the family could not afford furniture in their apartment. Sensitive to the family’s privacy and pride, the Coordinator reached out to let them know of the services she could connect them to outside of school, like free adult English classes and donations. Thanks to their burgeoning relationship, the mother felt comfortable requesting help furnishing their apartment and the Coordinator was able to secure donations. This family shared with others how the Coordinator was able to assist them and they, in turn, felt more comfortable contacting the Coordinator and becoming more engaged with the school community.

Thanks to all of our partners who joined us yesterday, and thank you for your ongoing collaboration! Together, we are ensuring that students to come to school ready to learn and thrive.

For more information:

City Connects Year in Review: Ohio

With the support of the Mathile Family Foundation, City Connects has been working with two Catholic schools in Dayton, Ohio: Our Lady of the Rosary (K-8) and Chaminade Julienne (9-12). Some highlights of the past year include:

  • Across both schools, in academic year 2011-2012, City Connects partnered with 75 community agencies. Between school- and community-based services, School Site Coordinators arranged for more than 2,300 services and enrichment opportunities for students!
  • City Connects is in its third year of a collaboration with Chaminade Julienne to adapt and pilot the City Connects model of student support at the high school level. This adaptation remains true to the City Connects core components while promoting a cutting-edge approach for college readiness and success; initial results are encouraging.
  • Satisfaction survey results show that 88% of teachers (K-12) report that they are satisfied with City Connects and 92% would recommend City Connects to a colleague.
  •  2012 brought some exciting new findings at the elementary level in the area of social competency. Female students perceive a higher level of competency on reading and less victimization this year as compared to last year.  Students in upper grades indicated a trend of less bullying than in past years.

Looking forward to 2013:

  • City Connects has been invited to expand to a K-12 Catholic school campus in Springfield, Ohio, and will be starting a planning phase beginning in January 2013.
  • Another exciting pilot effort: City Connects will be collaborating with a community college in Dayton to adapt the City Connects model of optimized student support at the community college level.

For more information:

  • See our Year in Review post for Boston here.

City Connects Year in Review: Boston

This week on the blog we’ll be looking at the year in review across our 45 sites in three geographic areas: Boston (public and Catholic schools), Springfield (MA), and Ohio.

City Connects is currently implemented in 17 Boston Public Schools, our original site. Here are some BPS highlights:

  • For the 2012-12 school year, City Connects partnered with its first in-district charter school, the Dudley Street Neighborhood Charter School, and its first public high school, the Quincy Upper School.
  • Across Boston Public Schools, in the 2011-12 school year, City Connects partnered with 250 community agencies to arrange more than 30,000 services and enrichment activities for students.
  • 2012 brought some exciting new findings on the long-term benefits of City Connects for students after they have a City Connects elementary school, including significantly lower rates of chronic absenteeism in middle school and significantly lower rates of school dropout after the age of 16.
  • Results of our 2012 teacher survey in Boston were exceptionally positive, with 95% of teachers reporting satisfaction with City Connects and 95% reporting that they would recommend City Connects to a teacher in another school.
  • City Connects’ New Balance Foundation Health & Wellness curriculum continues to show positive results for children across all four units: nutrition, physical activity, social/emotional wellbeing, and healthy choices.

City Connects in Catholic Schools (CCCS) is currently active in 17 schools in the greater Boston area, as well as one freestanding Early Childcare center. Highlights from CCCS include:

  • In the 2011-12 school year, CCCS  linked students to more than 11,000 services and enrichment activities provided by 100 community agencies.
  • This year, CCCS partnered with a freestanding Early Childcare center for the first time, Catholic Charities’ Nazareth Child Care Center in Jamaica Plain. An Early Childhood adaptation of City Connects is being piloted at this center.
  • Analysis of CCCS’s work with Early Childhood populations (ages 3-7)  suggests that students in Early Childhood programs in City Connects schools show significantly more growth in school readiness over a 3-year period than students in comparison schools.

Check back tomorrow for more “Year in Review” updates!

Education and Poverty: Confronting the Evidence

There is a growing body of research about the detrimental impact of poverty and non-academic factors on student achievement. A new paper published by Helen F. Ladd, the Edgar T. Thompson Distinguished Professor of Public Policy and Professor of Economics at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy, compiles a great deal of this research and provides four recommended policy changes to decrease the impact of poverty on children and education. The paper, “Education and Poverty: Confronting the Evidence,” is forthcoming in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management.

One of her four recommendations is to directly address the educational challenges face by children with low socioeconomic status. Ladd, also co-chair of the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education,  advocates for increasing early childhood and pre-school programs, adding school-based health clinics and social services, more participation in after-school and summer programs, and improving the quality of schools for disadvantaged students.

At City Connects, we know that linking children to a tailored set of services aligned with their individual strengths and needs across academic, social/emotional, health, and family domains, has a real positive effect. The resource-rich settings in which we work, Boston and Springfield, allow our School Site Coordinators to link students to a host of services and enrichment opportunities based in the community. This suggests that in addition to creating services in schools, students would benefit from taking advantage of the services that already exist.

Ladd and Edward Fiske, former education editor of the New York Times, co-authored an op/ed in Monday’s Times based on the paper, titled “Class Matters. Why Won’t We Admit It?” Largely summarizing the conclusions in her paper, the op/ed challenged education reformers:

“…Let’s not pretend that family background does not matter and can be overlooked. Let’s agree that we know a lot about how to address the ways in which poverty undermines student learning. Whether we choose to face up to that reality is ultimately a moral question. “

For more information:

Globe Continues Series on Boston Public Schools’ Lottery

The Boston Globe has published the second article in its “Getting In” series about the Boston Public Schools’ lottery, “Relief, dismay, even guilt greet student placements.” In this installment, parents learn of their child’s school placement. Some parents were thrilled, while others weren’t so lucky in getting their first choice.

The series follows 13 families through the Boston Public Schools’ lottery for school assignment. The first article, “Taking a Chance, Making a Choice,” introduced a South End family who is considering moving to the suburbs if the lottery doesn’t work out in their favor.

Boston Globe Debuts Multimedia Series on School Lottery

The Boston Globe recently unveiled a new series, “Getting In: Inside Boston’s School Assignment Maze,” which follows 13 families through the Boston Public Schools lottery for school assignment. The home page for the series features video introductions of the families, who come from diverse backgrounds and varying neighborhoods across the city. The first article in the series, “Taking a Chance, Making a Choice,” follows a South End family who is considering moving to the suburbs if the lottery doesn’t work out in their favor. An accompanying article gives more background on the school choice process in Boston: “Selection Process Starts with Choices, Ends with Luck.”

Three Massachusetts Groups Awarded “Promise Neighborhood” Planning Grants

The U.S. Department of Education yesterday awarded 21 “Promise Neighborhood” planning grants to nonprofit organizations and universities across the country, three of which are based in Massachusetts. The one-year grants of up to $500,000 are designed to help these groups create plans to provide comprehensive “cradle to career” services for children.

“Communities across the country recognize that education is the one true path out of poverty,” said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “These Promise Neighborhoods applicants are committed to putting schools at the center of their work to provide comprehensive services for young children and students.”

The Massachusetts winners are Community Day Care Center of Lawrence, Inc. in Lawrence, the United Way of Central Massachusetts in Worcester, and the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative in Boston.

As reported in the Boston Globe, “the $500,000 grant to the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, a community-based organization, represents a major milestone in replicating the Harlem Children’s Zone locally. For years, different groups of city leaders, philanthropists, and community activists have toured the Harlem program, returning each time to Boston energized, but unable to sustain the momentum.”

One of City Connects’ schools, Orchard Gardens, is located in Dudley Street’s target neighborhood of Roxbury, which is also part of Boston Mayor Tom Menino’sCircle of Promise,” a 5-square-mile area in where the Mayor and Boston Public Schools have been trying to set up a coalition to provide wraparound services for children. Dudley Street will partner with the City of Boston, nonprofit groups, philanthropists, after-school providers, religious leaders, and universities to advance this agenda.

Next year, the President has requested $210 million in his budget, including $200 million to support implementation of Promise Neighborhood projects and $10 million for planning grants for new communities.

For more information: