- Elementary school students who received comprehensive services as part of the City Connects program, which began in Boston Public Schools roughly 20 years ago, were almost half as likely as those not in the program to drop out of high school, according to a study published this week by the American Educational Research Association.
- Conducted by researchers at Boston College, the study finds that among the 894 students who participated in the program from kindergarten through 5th grade, there was a 9.2% dropout rate, compared to 16.6% among nonparticipants. In each City Connects school, a full-time counselor or social worker works with teachers to review each student's needs and coordinates services in partnership with community organizations to address any academic, social-emotional, health or family support issues.
- “There are many pathways to school dropout. A comprehensive intervention in elementary school that addresses a wide range of out-of-school factors can disrupt those pathways, supporting strengths and building resilience,” Mary Walsh, a professor at Boston College, one of the study's authors and the executive director of City Connects, said in a news release. The findings suggest that interventions that expand beyond academic and behavioral issues may be necessary to prevent students from dropping out, and that waiting until high school to provide additional support may be too late, the researchers say.
The GradNation report released Thursday shows that schools still struggling with low graduation rates are predominantly in high-poverty districts and serve large proportions of students of color. The authors of that report also note that the challenges those schools face “are not confined within the walls of the school, but are shaped and heightened by the challenges faced by the school district and community in which they are located.”
City Connects — now also in schools in Springfield and Salem, Massachusetts; Hartford, Connecticut; Dayton, Ohio; and New York City — is different from most interventions that target students who are already struggling academically or getting in trouble. The City Connects coordinator takes a universal approach, reviewing the data on every student then working with partners to tailor services and opportunities to each student and family. The study notes that issues preventing students from being successful don’t always show up as “red flags,” and Walsh noted: “Some students are quiet dropouts, meaning they may not be identified as being at-risk in usual school settings.”
Similar to a community school model, the approach can be successful when school leaders allow someone, such as a coordinator or a social worker, to take the lead on developing partnerships with other agencies and organizations, but to also make sure those services are in line with goals for students and the school.