This article focuses particularly on how City Connects supports students by linking them to the health and wellness services they need to come to school ready to learn and thrive. Drawing on the work of school site coordinator Mark Griffin (pictured at right) at Boston’s Edison K-8 School as an example, the story describes the City Connects approach to addressing the out-of-school factors that impact learning, particularly for students living in poverty.
Last year, we connected 7,800 Boston Public Schools students to more than 11,400 health and wellness services, ranging from counseling to nutrition education, asthma intervention, and bullying prevention. We know that healthier students are better learners, and as the Globe article mentions, research shows that City Connects has a significant positive impact on academic achievement.
In this season of giving thanks, we’d like to extend our gratitude to our community partners who provide these essential services to children and families–we collaborate with more than 380 organizations in Boston alone! Together we’re helping students put their best foot forward.
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.
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.
City 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.
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.
Thanks to all of our community partners who joined us today for our annual gathering! We had a rich discussion about using data to create and sustain effective school-community partnerships. A few notable points from our table talks:
Most students in City Connects schools receive more than one service or enrichment program. Is there a way we can examine which combination of services is most effective in contributing to positive outcomes for specific groups of students?
In light of Boston not having a neighborhood school structure, would it be possible to examine community outcome data for additional insight into the impact of student support?
What other benefits do students experience outside of those demonstrated in academic outcomes? City Connects analyzes thriving measures (behavior, work habits, and effort) because they are included in Boston report cards, but are there other non-academic gains to be considered?
Can City Connects use its coalition of community partners to make progress in eliminating service gaps–for example, helping to increase capacity in after-school programs for young children?
“In the current school reform atmosphere, in which individual schools and teachers are being judged by their own students’ outcomes, this notion of ‘shared accountability’ is rare … But little will be accomplished—in Cincinnati, the Promise Neighborhoods, or elsewhere—unless the supports and services essential to fighting poverty are tightly coordinated and the providers are held accountable for their performance. It may seem obvious that, working together, providers can have a
greater impact than they can have toiling in isolation … The idea of shared accountability is to not just coordinate these disparate efforts but also to focus them on a common vision for student success that is backed by the collection and analysis of data on a range of related indicators, such as early education, nutrition, and even housing security.”
City Connects and its coalition of partners in schools and in the community definitely have a common vision for students, and our gathering today further demonstrates that we are all committed to ensuring that every student comes to school ready to learn and thrive.