Here’s an excerpt from the piece featuring a quote from our Executive Director, Mary E. Walsh:
While strong school leadership is imperative, we believe that it is unfair to ask schools and teachers to bear sole responsibility for closing the economic divide. Systematically addressing out-of-school factors can help students achieve and removes the burden from teachers, allowing them to focus on delivering quality instruction.
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.
The Turnaround Arts Initiative launched in eight persistently underperforming, or “turnaround,” schools across the country. The two-year initiative pairs celebrities with schools to encourage creative expression like art, music, and dance in the school’s improvement efforts. Schools will be provided art supplies, musical instruments, and community engagement events, as well as professional development for school staff. Cellist Yo-Yo Ma and dancer Damian Woetzel are paired with Orchard Gardens.
Securing arts and enrichment activities for students is a crucial aspect of the City Connects model. Katy Baker, the City Connects School Site Coordinator at Orchard Gardens, said:
We are so proud of our school! Orchard Gardens truly values the arts, and it shows in so many areas of our students’ development. The arts can be such a powerful tool in engaging students.
Dever Elementary School in Dorchester used its $2.3 million grant to extend its day by an hour and contract with the nonprofit Generations Inc. to bring in senior citizens to tutor students, the nonprofit Playworks to run organized activities during recess, and the nonprofit City Connects to help students and their families obtain health care, housing, and other services. “It is very important that we are able to keep the additional time at a reasonable cost or we are at risk of losing a lot of what we have accomplished,’’ said Michael Sabin, Dever’s principal.
When Boston received School Improvement Grant funding for the 2010-11 scho0l year, City Connects expanded into 7 turnaround elementary schools to provide optimized student support. Read more about that expansion here.
The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has named City Connects a “Priority Partner” for turnaround schools in the area of social, emotional, and health needs. A project of the Commonwealth’s Race to the Top grant, the Priority Partners for Turnaournd initiative is aimed at qualifying proven organizations to support district and school turnaround efforts.
“Children living in high-poverty urban settings face countless challenges that impact learning and healthy development,” said Mary E. Walsh, PhD, executive director of City Connects and the Kearns Professor in the Lynch School of Education at Boston College. “As a priority vendor, we are pleased to have the opportunity to work with districts and turnaround schools across the state to address the out-of-school factors that can stand in the way of student achievement.”
DESE has identified vendors to be part of a Priority Partners for Turnaround network. The network will serve as a resource for districts and schools seeking partnerships with educational service providers to help turn around their lowest achieving schools by addressing the state’s priority conditions for school effectiveness, one of which is social, emotional, and health needs. City Connects will work directly with local districts, and in cooperation with DESE, to provide these services.