About the Mary E. Walsh Center for Thriving Children
All children rely on relationships and systems of support to develop, learn, and thrive. The Mary E. Walsh Center for Thriving Children (CTC) uses research and data to identify and evaluate strategies that successfully transform schools and communities into systems of opportunity for all students. By engaging in research and convening educators, policy makers, and community leaders, the Center is a catalyst for developing and implementing programs that are effective, systemic, and scalable. We conduct interdisciplinary research that builds on the strengths of both science and practice to understand what it takes to produce true opportunity for all, as well as consider the root causes of the achievement gap and a wide array of programs and practices that promote healthy child development. Our research helps to identify solutions that are sustainable and scalable. We share the results of our work, including best practices, with a broad spectrum of education leaders, policy makers, and community organizations to inform and improve programs, practice, and policy, and inspire decision makers to reconsider what is possible for all students.
Under the Center’s umbrella, City Connects puts research into practice by providing a network of care and supports around each individual student to ensure that they are ready to learn and engage in school. The intervention provides customized, comprehensive, coordinated and continuous student support in ways that are quantifiably impactful and cost-efficient.
Note: Because the students and families we serve will be especially hard hit by the educational, social, and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for strong and effective approaches to student support has never been greater. To help meet this need, the Boston College Mary E. Walsh Center for Thriving Children will continue to bring you information and best practices relevant to effectively serving children and families before, during, and after this crisis. The Center's flagship program, City Connects is continuing its commitment to provide high-quality, evidence-driven student support in this challenging time.
What We Do
Our mission is to study and share the most effective ways to address the out-of-school factors impacting student learning and thriving in schools, and to support practitioners in implementing evidence-driven integration of school and community resources.
The Center serves as a national center for researchers, programs, and practitioners. We reach across multiple disciplines and approaches to share knowledge, promote best practices, test out innovations in the field via City Connects’ research & development platform, research impacts on student outcomes, and provide professional development, technical assistance, and resources to support effective integration of school and community resources at scale.
The Mary E. Walsh Center for Thriving Children uses research and data to identify and evaluate strategies that successfully transform schools and communities into systems of opportunity for all students.
Mary E. Walsh, Ph.D., is a nationally regarded expert in applying developmental psychology to support students’ thriving, and is Executive Director of the Boston College Mary E. Walsh Center for Thriving Children. Mary is the founder and Executive Director of City Connects, housed within the Center, which is a systemic approach to providing each child in a school with a personalized set of opportunities and supports demonstrating significant, positive, long-term impacts on student achievement and school persistence. Mary is the Daniel Kearns Professor of Urban Education and Innovative Leadership at the Lynch School of Education and Human Development at Boston College. Mary has published and presented widely in the area of school-community supports for schoolchildren and their families. Two of her books are Children, Health and Learning and Meeting at the Hyphen: Schools-Universities-Communities-Professions in Collaboration for Student Achievement and Well-Being (co-authored with M. Brabeck).
Tina Chen-Xu, M.B.A., serves as the Center's Director of Expansion and Operations. Tina leads efforts to build and execute our Center's strategic roadmap for growth. In her role, Tina seeks to build effective practices for scaling the Center's service offerings through partnership development, project management of pilot initiatives, and resource management. Tina’s work includes project management leadership for the recent modernization of the City Connects proprietary data system, City Connects' first international expansion to Dublin, Ireland as well as the Midwest Technical Assistance Center. Tina contributes to the assessment and planning of the organization-wide business operations to implement capacity building efforts and models for sharing and delivering best practices in integrated student support. As a prior management consultant with Public Consulting Group, Tina brings experience working with state and local government and community agencies nationally to support the effective delivery of family assistance, health, and educational services to children and families.
Claire Foley, Ph.D., serves as the Associate Director of City Connects, housed in the Mary E. Walsh Center for Thriving Children at Boston College. During her tenure, Claire has collaborated to advance the implementation and evaluation of City Connects, a model of comprehensive, integrated student support that is grounded in the developmental sciences. Claire serves as a liaison across research and practice teams and contributes to reporting and publication of project findings. Claire also contributes to cross-project efforts on measuring fidelity of implementation and on maintaining and developing a proprietary software system that enables comprehensive student support in schools. Claire’s academic background is in linguistics, with a focus on syntactic theory and language acquisition. At Boston College and in prior positions, Claire has published and taught in linguistics and led experimental research groups.
Yan Leigh, Ph.D., serves as the Director of Research and Evaluation at the Mary E. Walsh Center for Thriving Children at Boston College's Lynch School of Education and Human Development. Prior to joining Boston College, Yan served as the Director of the Office of Research and Development at the Mississippi Department of Education, where she developed a dynamic research framework and agenda, led the Department's research team, and produced research to inform evidence-based decision-making for the Department's leadership. Yan is a Next Generation Leaders Awardee with the Consortium for School Networking, and a State Education Fellow with Results for America. Yan is a member of the Diverse and Learner-Ready Teachers Initiative at the Council of Chief State School Officers, and a member of the National Center for Education Statistics Expert Panel on Educational Technology Equity Initiatives in the U.S. Department of Education. Yan also serves on the Policy Council with the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research. With doctoral training in Economics, Yan is also experienced in project management and portfolio management, large-scale grant management as the Principal Investigator, and data privacy and governance.
Cynthia A. Scheller, Ed. D, serves as the Director of Student Support Programs and Practice at the Mary E. Walsh Center for Thriving Children. Previously, Cindy spent 23 years in public K-12 education, including nearly 10 years as a public elementary school principal in Providence and North Kingstown, Rhode Island. During her time as a principal, Cindy led school reform efforts at the building level, using data to inform decision-making, resulting in significant gains in student achievement. Her work focused on the importance of building teacher leadership capacity through a distributive leadership model as well as creating enriching learning opportunities for all students. Prior to her time as a principal, Cindy worked at both the district and state levels in Rhode Island. As Supervisor of Secondary Reform Initiatives, and later Director of Professional Learning in the Providence Public Schools, Cindy led professional development, focusing on increasing teacher effectiveness and improving academic achievement via high-quality curriculum and differentiated instruction. She also established collaborative relationships with other key stakeholders, such as labor unions, neighboring district leaders and the RI Department of Education to support teacher induction and professional development. In these and other experiences, she applied learnings from her doctoral work at Johnson & Wales University, where she earned an Ed.D. in educational leadership. Cindy’s career began in the classroom. She followed her passion for music and taught junior high school music education for eight years.
Joan Wasser Gish, J.D., M.A., serves as the Director of Systemic Impact at the Mary E. Walsh Center for Thriving Children. Joan works to embed what we are learning about effective and cost-efficient approaches to integrating comprehensive supports for children, youth, and families, into policy and practice at scale. Joan works with policymakers at the federal and state levels, and with numerous national and state-level coalitions and advisory boards, to translate lessons from research and implementation into a roadmap for action. Joan also catalyzes and supports strategic partnerships for the Center. Twice appointed by the Governor to the Massachusetts Board of Early Education and Care, during her eleven year tenure, Joan helped to build systems that improved implementation quality and benefited children. Joan has worked on education, social services, and equity issues as an attorney, in a Presidential campaign, in the United States Senate, and in a community-based non profit. Joan has been published by the Washington Post, Brookings Institute, Education Week, Boston Herald, and Commonwealth Magazine, and frequently lectures at Harvard University and Boston College.
For inquiries regarding the Mary E. Walsh Center for Thriving Children, please contact:
Lynch School of Education and Human Development
Campion Hall, Room 305D
140 Commonwealth Ave.
Chestnut Hill, MA 02467