A helping hand
bostonconnects links students with support in the community
Nonacademic factors—such as mental or physical health issues, or family problems—can have a profound effect on a student’s ability to learn. Many schools, however, do not have the mechanisms to identify these factors and provide vital support to students. It is the mission of BostonConnects, a program started in 2001 and directed by Lynch School Professor Mary Walsh, to break down nonacademic barriers to learning by linking students—with the help of teachers and parents—to support services that exist in the community. Thanks to $9.2 million in new grant money from the New Balance Foundation, Strategic Grant Partners, and the Charles Hayden Foundation, BostonConnects has expanded from nine elementary schools to 14 in neighborhoods across Boston this academic year, serving more than 4,000 students.
“Addressing the achievement gap and academic achievement with schoolchildren requires an intensive focus on teaching and learning,” says Walsh, who holds the University’s Daniel E. Kearns Chair. “Closing the gap also requires a focus on supports and services that will enable every child to achieve at a high level. That requires collaboration between schools, families, community agencies, universities, and businesses.”
Full-time, on-site BostonConnects coordinators at every school assess students to determine what needs they have, and if the necessary support services—such as youth development programs, tutoring, mentoring, counseling, and medical care—are best provided by the school or by an outside organization. Currently, 62 external agencies assist schools in the BostonConnects network, including the YMCA, the Boys and Girls Club, and New England Medical Center.
The New Balance Foundation has awarded BostonConnects a $4.6 million grant to continue the New Balance Health Curriculum, a nationally recognized wellness education program designed to help students make good health and nutrition choices. Strategic Grant Partners, a Massachusetts-based coalition of family foundations, has provided $2 million to support the expansion and assess the success of the BostonConnects model. An additional $1 million has been provided by the Charles Hayden Foundation, as well as funds from Boston College and other charitable and government sources.
BostonConnects currently serves schools in the Allston, Brighton, Roxbury, and Mission Hill neighborhoods in Boston; the new funding will allow the program to expand to schools in the North End, South End, and Chinatown.
“The Lynch School of Education and Boston College are proud to expand a success story like BostonConnects, which brings best practices to bear on resolving societal problems in our city and provides a model for urban school reform nationally,” says Lynch School Dean Joseph O’Keefe, S.J.