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Catholic Central to start student support program

Catholic Central, in partnership with Boston College, will start an intervention program in the fall that focuses on students’ individuality, strengths and needs.

Kenith Britt, president of Catholic Central, has received nearly $500,000 in anonymous donations to support the initiative, called City Connects.

Developed by Boston College 11 years ago, City Connects centers on the philosophy that children face challenges outside of school that impede academic success. The program’s mission is to connect each student with services in the school and in the community that he or she needs to thrive.

“It’s a student support program to improve academic and non-academic outcomes, from retention and testing, to truancy, absenteeism and motivation,” Britt said. “This is the start of a process of individualizing education. It’s part of our plan to bring all the students onto one campus. We want to support the unique gifts and talents of each child. It’s the beginning of a long-term cultural change within the school system to focus on individual student learning as opposed to grade level exclusively.”

At the core of the program are full-time school site coordinators. The school will likely need to hire two people for those jobs, such as master’s level school counselors or social workers who will be tasked with developing and monitoring support plans for every student.

One example of what the program could do would be if a student is gifted in physics and wants to intern at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, the school staff members could work to set that up.

“Another example is in the case of meeting a student’s basic needs. If the student isn’t eating outside school, maybe we can help them by connecting their family with the Second Harvest Food Bank,” he said. “We believe if they are not eating, they’re not going to be learning.”

The school currently has a small group of parents and faculty on a planning team for the project. They are evaluating the school using survey and test scores. Once they review the data, they will hand off their ideas to an implementation team, with the program starting in the fall.

Tracy Engle, a parent and member of the planning team, said she’s an advocate for the program because it’s about the whole child.

“It’s important that we look at the whole child — where they come from to meet their academic, social, and emotional needs,” Engle said. “People expect kids to come to school ready to learn, but if they are not getting all their needs met, they can’t learn.”

Catholic Central has committed to run the program for three years.

“If it works, we will continue investing in it, and if it doesn’t, we will re-tool it,” Britt said. “We’re certain there will be some benefit to it.”

The partnership is an exciting opportunity for Springfield, he said.

“For a major college to be willing to implement this with us … that’s something the whole community should be proud of,” he said.

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