Reflecting on the past and forging a brighter future

For the new year, we are reflecting on where we’ve been and looking forward to what’s ahead. Writing in our current newsletter, Mary Walsh, the Executive Director of City Connects, says:

“From all of us at City Connects, I wish you and your loved ones a happy, healthy new year. 2021 has been another challenging year in schools for students, for families, and for staff.”

“Despite many pandemic-related challenges, Coordinators are moving mountains to support children and families. We are implementing in an ever-expanding set of schools. City Connects is currently delivering supports, services, and enrichment opportunities to tens of thousands of students in the United States and in Ireland, and the U.S. Department of Education has featured City Connects in a number of its publications.”

This growth has happened in Massachusetts and in Indiana. City Connects has been praised in Ireland; and the Department of Education points to us as an example of an evidence-based model of integrated student support.

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A happy holiday story

Taylor Herring is a new City Connects Coordinator at Boston’s Ellis Mendell School, but she’s already into the full swing of the holiday season.

For Thanksgiving she worked with the United Way to secure food baskets for families in need. And the family council at her school raised funds to buy Stop and Shop gift cards that also helped families put food on their Thanksgiving tables. 

“We’re a small school. We have about 270 kids. But we were able to help around 70 families,” Herring explains. “Our principal noted that because of Covid there has been an increase in the number of families who needed resources.”

Now that Christmas is coming, Herring is in the midst of managing a toy drive.

“We created an Amazon wish list that we publicized, and we also had awesome donors who gave a lump sum of money, so we were able to fulfill the wish list and get Target gift cards that families can use to buy toys or necessities. They can also use the gift cards for other siblings in the household.”

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Responding to a crisis with integrated student support – a research article

research articleIn the middle of the pandemic, schools with systems of integrated student support (ISS) had an advantage. They were able to pivot to meet the rapidly changing needs of students and families.

A newly released research article — “Leveraging Integrated Student Support to Identify and Address COVID-19-Related Needs for Students, Families, and Teachers” — explains how one evidence-based ISS system, City Connects, has helped schools meet students’ needs. 

A key theme: systemic support matters. 

The research draws on several sources: surveys of City Connects Coordinators conducted in the spring of 2020 in 94 schools across six states; a database of the student services these coordinators provided; and on coordinators’ estimates of the three most common challenges schools faced when they were closed.

Published by AERA Open, the article was written by Courtney Pollack, former Senior Researcher on City Connects Data and Evaluation Team, and now a lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a researcher at MIT; Maria Theodorakakis, Senior Manager of Clinical Practice and Research; and Mary Walsh, City Connects’ Executive Director.  Continue reading

A national conversation on integrated student support

Representative Sharon Tomiko Santos (D-Seattle) and Representative Robert Behning (R-Indianapolis)

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.

Mary Walsh

“We need a comprehensive approach,” Mary Walsh said at this month’s conference “Building Systems for Student Success: When Academics are Not Enough,” the first national conversation about the cutting edge science, practice, and policy of providing integrated student support.

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.

That comprehensive approach, Walsh explained, means meeting the needs of the whole child by providing integrated student support, which COSS defines as “a comprehensive, coordinated and school-based effort to connect students to specific district supports, enrichments and services.” Continue reading