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CITY CONNECTS | Globe Editorial

Remove barriers to learning

December 11, 2010

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STUDENTS CAN achieve more when they come to school prepared to learn. A nine-year-old program in the Boston Public Schools offers a glimpse into how that system — and others — might clear away some of the many barriers that stand between children and their education.

City Connects, an initiative led by Boston College and supported primarily by private foundation grants, staffs 17 elementary schools with one or two full-time coordinators. They work with teachers to identify in each student any social, health, and family issues that could impede or — better still — enhance academic achievement. They then work with families to find appropriate resources, from trauma counseling to tutoring, from housing to after-school music and sports, and from health appointments to winter clothing. For one family, the greatest need may be a translator who can speak a specific Burmese dialect. In other situations, the more relevant question may be whether Big Brothers volunteers are more effective at certain ages. As executive director Mary Walsh put it, “We’re constantly trying to figure out new things.’’

The results have been promising. Participants do better on state math tests, are less disruptive in the classroom, and less likely to be held back at the end of the year. The program’s cost — less than $500 per pupil a year, according to City Connects officials — has not been prohibitive. And if the program succeeds in one part of its mission — keeping children from being diverted unnecessarily into special education — it can save money in the long run.

For all these reasons, it’s encouraging that City Connects plans to send counselors to Springfield elementary schools next year. Boston schools, too, want to expand the program, saying the work it does is “absolutely essential.” School systems try many different interventions to help students achieve, but with varying success. Their enthusiasm is well-placed when, as in the case of City Connects, a program can demonstrate good results.