Our Approach

City Connects takes a systemic, high-impact, cost-effective approach to addressing the out-of-school factors that limit learning. The support we offer makes a significant impact on students — now, and years from now. 

Why Our Model Works

For all children, life outside of school affects what happens in school. For children living in poverty, life outside of school may include hunger, a stay in a homeless shelter, or medical needs that are difficult to meet. Low-income families may have less time and fewer resources to invest in homework help or extracurricular activities for their children. Chronic financial stress may cause a parent to have lower-quality interactions with his or her child.

Research shows that poverty has harmful consequences for children’s achievement and other domains of development including health, family, and social-emotional outcomes. These domains interact, with consequences for one multiplying across the others. Effective student support must pay attention to each of these areas in the interactions students encounter in their homes, schools, and neighborhoods, tailoring any intervention to the particular risks and strengths of individual children and to the ways risks and strengths change and interact over time.

Schools are a place where teachers, school staff, families, and community partners can come together to support each student. However, in many places, schools lack a system for providing this support that can serve all students (not just those at most risk) and that can connect students to a comprehensive set of services and enrichments. City Connects offers a defined practice for a counselor or school social worker to collaborate with every teacher to support every student. Our tools permit schools to track this work, understand student progress, and demonstrate effectiveness.


Key Differentiators

Every Student, Every Teacher, Every Year

When a school partners with City Connects, a full-time City Connects Coordinator becomes embedded within the fabric of the school. The City Connects Coordinator collaborates with teachers in every classroom to review the strengths and needs of every student, every year.

Systemic Support

The City Connects Coordinator creates a tailored support plan for every student - leveraging a comprehensive range of prevention, intervention, and enrichment services that already exist in schools and communities.  

Students who are most at risk receive an in-depth review and a broader level of support.  

At City Connects schools, the City Connects Coordinator becomes the hub of student support — a single point of contact in an otherwise crowded maze of service providers. We alleviate the burden on principals and teachers, and we create an organized referral process for community-based partners.

Feedback and Follow-up

Using proprietary software developed for City Connects, City Connects Coordinators constantly track services and evaluate results, making sure every student is getting what’s needed.

The City Connects Coordinator works closely with students and their families, providing referrals and support that bolster the long-term health of the entire family. The following graphic shows the full process:

Our Core Practice

Data-informed practice and rigorous evaluation

The City Connects Coordinator uses data to improve the implementation of the City Connects model and supports school decision-making. Researchers use data generated by the City Connects practice to engage in rigorous evaluation. 

The evaluation team at the Mary E Walsh Center for Thriving Children is independent of City Connects. In addition, the team convenes experts from outside Boston College and submits its research to professional journals that implement anonymous peer review.

Who Can City Connects Help?

You juggle more demands in a day than the average CEO faces in a week. We’re here to help. We simplify the complex challenges of student support, helping you maximize your resources and focus on improving academic outcomes.

In short, we’ll improve the coordination and delivery of student support in your school. A City Connects Coordinator — a master’s-level school counselor or a school social worker — will organize the resources and structures already present in your school and community, connecting students with services in a more efficient way. The Coordinator will be your point person for community-based service providers and for families, reducing the burden on you and your staff.

Our Student Support Information System creates a customized, confidential student support record for every student, following them from year to year and school to school. This lets us tell you, in real time, how we’re delivering services and enrichment to your students.

With an optimized system of student support in place, principals in City Connects schools see an impact on student academic achievement, standardized test performance, classroom behavior, school climate, and student health and wellbeing.

These days, teachers are asked to do it all. We want to help you focus on just one thing: teaching. 

By directly addressing the out-of-school obstacles that students carry into the classroom every day, City Connects lets you focus on your essential teaching mission. Each year, our City Connects Coordinator — a master’s level counselor or social worker — will sit down with you to review each student in your class. From this Whole Class Review, we identify students who are particularly vulnerable, conduct in-depth Individual Student Reviews for those students, develop individually tailored plans, and connect them to the services they need.

In the process, we lower the burden on you to address the out-of-school challenges that impede learning and contribute to behavior problems in the classroom.

By collaborating with City Connects on the Whole Class Review, teachers enhance their non-academic knowledge of their students, which then shapes their work in the classroom. Teachers tell us that they gain new awareness — both of the challenges facing individual students and of the dynamics of their class as a whole. They gain insights into their students that deepen their empathy and help them better reach each individual.

The role of education as a pathway to opportunity in our country has never been more critical, or more scrutinized. The evidence is clear: Poverty, and the chaos it often brings to a family’s daily life, severely constricts a child’s ability to engage and succeed in school. How can we make sure our schools are up to the challenge of providing a 21st-century education for all our children — not just some? And what will it take to get there?

Everyone is looking for policy solutions that work.

City Connects works.

In an era of scarce resources and rising need, it’s essential to ensure that existing programs and services are fully utilized and well deployed. City Connects delivers that assurance, creating a systematic approach to addressing the needs of all students.

Even in high-need districts, resources and enrichment opportunities for children are present, both in schools and in the larger community. The challenge is accessing them, amid what can be a cacophonous maze for overtaxed teachers, administrators, or families. At City Connects schools, the City Connects Coordinator is the connecting point, navigating the maze to identify and target the right student to the right service, creating an optimized system of student support.

In 2019-20, City Connects has linked more than 25,000 students to 220,000 services and enrichment opportunities across its sites, ranging from tutoring to athletic programs.

And what’s more, we have the evidence to show that these interventions are working — for students, teachers, schools, and families.

From test scores to classroom behavior, years of data show that City Connects students outperform their peers and thrive in and out of the classroom. 

Explore our key findings. You’ll see that City Connects is committed to the continual evaluation of our programs and our outcomes. As an evidence-based intervention, we seek the highest standards of rigorous peer review for our research. Our results are reviewed by an external, independent review team of national experts.

Our research has found consistent impacts on student achievement and thriving in early childhood and elementary school.

  • In preschool, City Connects students demonstrate higher school readiness scores than students in comparison schools. They demonstrate fewer and less-intense problem behaviors.
  • In elementary school, City Connects students outperform peers on academic report card scores and standardized tests. They outperform peers on report card scores in behavior, work habits, and effort.

The impacts — measured in terms of academic benefits and improved life chances — continue in secondary school, after students have left City Connects schools.

  • Middle school students who attended City Connects elementary schools outperform peers from comparison schools on statewide tests in both English Language Arts and Math.
  • Former City Connects students are significantly more likely to achieve Advanced or Proficient on grade 10 statewide tests in both English Language Arts and Math.
  • Former City Connects students are less likely to be chronically absent in middle and high school.
  • They have lower rates of being held back through grade 9.
  • If they attended City Connects schools from kindergarten through the end of the elementary years, they are about half as likely to drop out of school as peers who never attended City Connects schools.