City Connects, developed by the Mary E. Walsh, Center for Thriving Children in Boston College, takes a systemic approach to building a network of supports for children at risk of educational disadvantage. In operation in the US for over 20 years, City Connects matches every pupil in a participating school with a comprehensive set of services and enrichments, based on the child's strengths, interests and needs. Mary Immaculate College is the Implementation Lead and Academic Partner for City Connects in Ireland.
Since 2020, City Connects has been a Department of Education priority action in the North East Inner City (NEIC) in Dublin and is supported by the NEIC initiative (www.neic.ie). City Connects is in its fourth year of a pilot programme in 10 NEIC schools serving approx. 1,800 children.
City Connects, a school based system of intervention, is designed, developed and delivered in partnership with schools and services which seeks to ensure that each and every student receives the supports and resources they need in order to succeed and thrive in school and achieve their full potential.
It recognises that children’s lives outside of school can significantly influence children’s achievement in school. City Connects responds proactively to the fact that some children may experience hunger, may be homeless, may be living with violence or instability and may have limited or no access to extracurricular or enhancement activities.
City Connects recognises the talents, skills and potential of all children. It offers a strategic, systemic and systematic mechanism to enable children to meet their potential through having their strengths, needs, and interests recognised and addressed. Its mission is to promote children’s engagement and learning by connecting them to the tailored set of prevention, intervention, and enrichment services they need to achieve and thrive in school and life.
Housed at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education and Human Development, the City Connects approach addresses the needs of each and every child so that no child “falls through the cracks”. City Connects catalogues and leverages services and resources already present in schools and community agencies in every local environment.
Students are provided services in three general categories:
- Prevention and enrichment—examples include before-school programmes, arts enrichment, youth development, academic enrichment, violence prevention, and sports programmes.
- Early intervention—examples include mentoring, academic support, classroom-based health or social skills interventions, and behaviour plans.
- Intensive and crisis intervention—examples include mental health counseling, health and medical services, attendance support, family counselling, and violence intervention programmes.
When a school engages with City Connects, a City Connects Coordinator is assigned to a school or schools and collaborates closely with the Principal and with every teacher, irrespective of their roles within the school. Through the process of carrying out Whole Class Reviews (WCR), with parental permission at the beginning of the school year, the strengths and needs of every single child are recorded on the MyConnects system.
In January 2019, Professor Eugene Wall, President of Mary Immaculate College, along with MIC colleagues Professor Emer Ring, Dean of Education, and Dr. Ann Higgins, travelled to Boston accompanied by representatives from the Department of Education & Skills, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and other Government officials. The purpose of the visit was to meet with the President of Boston College and with key personnel involved in City Connects to explore the possibility of Irish participation in the City Connects project. This ultimately resulted in the establishment of the City Connects Pilot Programme in 2020. Funded initially by the North East Inner City (NEIC) Initiative, the project was a collaboration between the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, the Department of Education, Boston College, Tusla Education Support Services, and Mary Immaculate College. Currently, the City Connects pilot project in Ireland is in its fourth year of implementation, working with 10 primary schools in the Dublin North-East Inner-City area with the aim of addressing the impact of poverty on educational attainment. The City Connects Office in the NEIC has a Programme Manager, Mr. Gerry Cullen, who oversees the work of the City Connects Co-ordinators who work directly in the 10 NEIC schools.
This dynamic team works closely with the principals and staff in the 10 NEIC schools which are:
- Central Model Infant School, Dublin 1
- Central Model Senior School, Dublin 1
- Gardiner Street School, Dublin 1
- O'Connell Primary School, Dublin 1
- Rutland Street National School, Dublin 1
- Scoil Chaoimhín, Baile Átha Cliath 1
- St. Laurence O'Toole's CBS Boys Primary School, Dublin 1
- St. Laurence O'Toole's GNS National School, Dublin 1
- St. Vincent's Infants Boys School, Dublin 1
- St. Vincent's Girls National School, Dublin 1.
Boston College identified the need for a local implementation partner with extensive experience in the Irish educational system and knowledge of how City Connects has been implemented in the U.S. It was proposed by Boston College that the Department of Education engage Mary Immaculate College for this role. It is the perspective of Boston College that the involvement of Mary Immaculate College is important for the successful planning, adaptation, and implementation of the City Connects model in the Irish system.
City Connects is based in the Curriculum Development Unit at Mary Immaculate College. The Director of the CDU, Eucharia McCarthy, oversees the City Connects Project, in collaboration with a number of staff who work on varying aspects of the implementation of City Connects, process evaluation research and the financial management of MIC City Connects.