Closing the opportunity gap with data, systems, and support

Mary Walsh
City Connects’ executive director Mary Walsh

Boston College’s Lynch School of Education (LSOE), the home base of City Connects’ research and implementation teams, has published a new piece about the impact of our work: “Closing the opportunity gap with data, systems, and support.” From the article:

“Over the course of the past decade, research has shown that two-thirds of the student achievement gap can be attributed to out-of-school factors and how they affect a student’s ability to focus on school. The success of [professor and executive director Mary] Walsh’s program, and evidence from its rigorous evaluation, shows that schools can collaborate with community partners to significantly narrow the gap.”

For more information:

  • Follow the LSOE on Twitter @BCLSOE

More Than a Gut Feeling: The Real Value of Family and Community Engagement

City Connects evaluation team member Eric Dearing, PhD, associate professor of applied and developmental psychology at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education, has authored an “emerging leaders profile” in the latest Harvard Family Research Project FINE Newsletter, which is dedicated to expanded learning and family engagement. In his article, “More Than a Gut Feeling: The Real Value of Family and Community Engagement,” Eric discusses his vision for the field of family engagement, as well as the nation:

“My vision … is that we abandon the reliance on intuition and instead thoughtfully consider what is and is not working, and why. In turn, we can begin to empower districts—particularly those that are economically disadvantaged—to invest in promising and proven practices that engage families and communities in their children’s education in ways that will ultimately improve life chances.”

Eric cites two examples of successful programs that engage the family and community in education, one of which is City Connects. Peruse the whole issue to learn more about Eric and other scholars’ thoughts on family engagement.

For more information:

  • Follow the Harvard Family Research Project on Twitter @hfrp

City Connects APA Poster Looks at Bullying

City Connects team member Sarah Backe, a Counseling Psychology graduate student in the Lynch School of Education, presented a poster at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association last week. Her poster, “The Positive Impact of an Evidence-Based Student Support System on Bullying and Victimization” explored the impact that the City Connects intervention is having on students’ social experiences.

Sarah’s study utilized students’ self reports of bullying (picking on other kids) and victimization (being picked on by others) to examine whether time spent in City Connects was having an impact on these experiences. On the whole, students reported that they rarely engaged in bullying behavior toward their peers. However, student reports of victimization indicated that this happens at greater frequency. While exposure to City Connects was not associated with any changes in self-reported bullying behavior, results indicated that greater exposure to City Connects (i.e., more years spent in the intervention) was associated with student reports of less frequent victimization.

This exploratory study indicates that an optimized model of school-wide student support, such as that promoted by the City Connects intervention, may have positive impacts on peer victimization in schools. These findings suggest that prevention and intervention programs don’t need to be exclusively focused on bullying behaviors to have a positive impact on the social experiences of students in schools.

Sarah hopes that future research on optimizing student support will include consideration of the ways in which powerful experiences of the peer group may impact the achievement and thriving of students. She is excited by the results of her study and suggests that primary prevention programs such as City Connects should be utilized to promote the achievement and thriving of individual students while also promoting a supportive school climate.

Co-authors of this poster included Anastasia Raczek, MEd, and Mary E. Walsh, PhD.

City Connects Poster at APA Meeting

City Connects team member Michael Capawana, a Counseling Psychology graduate student in the Lynch School of Education, is presenting a poster at the upcoming annual meeting of the American Psychological Association this week. His poster, “School and Community Agency Collaboration on Student Health Needs,” was recognized as one of the top student-authored posters being presented in its division.

The poster focuses on how City Connects addresses student health needs, in addition to academic, social/emotional, and family needs. Policymakers and educators agree that elementary and secondary schools can play a significant role in the promotion of healthy development in children. The evidence is clear that improving children’s health facilitates positive academic outcomes, while poor nutrition, inactivity, and chronic medical conditions have been linked to less successful academic performance. In children, physical illness is often concurrent with psychological and social problems such as anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem, which can lead to absenteeism and decreased academic achievement.

The task of addressing students’ health factors cannot and should not be accomplished by schools alone. Instead, efforts should include collaboration across schools, community agencies, youth development organizations, and institutions such as universities and hospitals. The communities in which schools are embedded, particularly urban environments, possess services and enrichment opportunities that have the potential to address student risk, increase resiliency, and ultimately improve academic outcomes. The collaborative role of community agencies in delivering health-based services to students is essential.

Michael’s study describes the health needs impacting a population of urban students; participants were 3,709 students in grades K-5, enrolled in 11 Boston elementary schools in City Connects. Within this population:

  • 57% of all students had at least one general need, with most students having more than one
  • 16% of all students were recognized as having 725 health needs
  • Each student had an average of 1.3 health concerns, with some children having multiple
  • The most prevalent needs identified included visual impairment, weight/nutritional issues (primarily obesity), asthma, allergies, hearing impairment, speech difficulties, hygiene, and sleep problems

City Connects is succeeding at addressing various health needs for many students to improve overall thriving. However, with the burgeoning prevalence of medical problems facing children, the responsibility of caring for kids extends to the community. Efforts should include collaboration across schools, community agencies, youth development organizations, and institutions such as universities and hospitals to facilitate access to existing resources available in the community for children and families, and foster the healthy development of all students.

Co-authors of this paper include Mary E. Walsh, PhD, Kathleen Flanagan, PhD, and Norman C. Hursh, ScD, CRC, CVE.

City Connects Executive Director Featured on EdReformer

Dr. Mary Walsh, City Connects’ executive director and the Kearns Professor of Urban Education & Innovative Leadership at the Lynch School of Education, Boston College, was featured in a Q&A on EdReformer today. EdReformer is an online community of advocates, innovators, entrepreneurs, and investors seeking to improve student learning worldwide.

For more information:

  • Follow EdReformer on Twitter @EdReformer
  • See related coverage of City Connects on our News page
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