B.U. Bridge is published by the Boston University Office of University Relations.
By Hope Green
Motivating children to read more books, skip fewer classes, and plan for college is an uphill battle in urban school systems. Tough neighborhoods and troubled families pose a challenge to even the most dedicated teachers. Fortunately, Boston schools have Ruth Shane on their side.
As director of the Boston University/Boston Public Schools Collaborative, Shane oversees more than a dozen tutoring and enrichment programs for pupils in kindergarten through high school and professional-development workshops for their teachers. During her 18 years in the BU School of Education post, she has become a trusted friend to local educators and the youngsters in their care.
"She has this deep commitment to inner-city children," says Janet Owens, principal of the Mason Elementary School in Roxbury and former Brighton High School guidance counselor. "Sheís kind of an unsung hero."
Shaneís praises were sung a little more loudly recently when she was one of the first seven people to receive a Boston Higher Education Partnership (BHEP) Service Award. The partnership, established in 1975 to foster collaborative arrangements between public schools and institutions of higher learning, kicked off the awards program in May.
"These awards honor outstanding service to the partnership and recognize peopleís willingness to collaborate with their peers," BHEP Chairman Marjorie Bakken (SEDí81), president of Wheelock College, said when presenting the award, "[but] the real winners are the Boston public school students who benefit from their dedication."
Shane (SEDí73) was tapped for the directorship of BUís Collaborative Office of Public Education Advising in 1982 while working as a volunteer coordinator in the Community Service Center. Within a few years she launched a local division of Upward Bound/Project Achieve, a federal college-preparatory program for motivated high school students who are either recent immigrants or from families of limited means. Today the program serves 90 to 95 Boston students each year and includes a six-week summer component at SED.
Over the years Shane has expanded the scope of BUís town/ gown partnership with the schools. Most recently, she established an enrichment and remediation program that will closely monitor cohorts of 180 students for five years, beginning in grade seven. With Owens, she developed a career-awareness program for students in fifth grade that included a scavenger hunt through Mugar Memorial Library, a dormitory, and other University buildings.
"We start with the assumption that kids in economically deprived neighborhoods are not surrounded by people talking about college," Shane says. "Our programs give them an idea of what itís like on a college campus."
Another of the larger efforts Shane helps to coordinate is the Boston University Initia-tive for Literacy Development (BUILD), a joint program of several BU departments. Under her supervision, SED doctoral students and more than 200 work-study employees tutor children in Allston, Brighton, Roxbury, and Chelsea.
In addition, Shane serves as ombudsman for BUís annual Boston Public High School Scholars Program, which awards full BU scholarships to students from the city.
Yet aside from these more visible projects, Boston principals cite Shane for attacking mundane logistical problems with equal gusto. At the Winship Elementary School in Brighton, where an annual floor waxing can leave classrooms in chaos, she devised a system of computer diagrams to show workmen how to put the furniture back in order.
"Sheís a good listener," says Tony Barbosa, the principal at Winship. "She helps us resolve conflicts."
Present and former students echo his comments. Michael Dennehy (CASí92), director of Upward Bound, benefited from her counsel while attending BU under the High School Scholars Program.
"It was a tough time for me because my dad was sick with cancer," Dennehy says, "so Ruth helped me balance trying to take care of him and my commitment to my schoolwork, plus a part-time job I was holding down. She was really an exemplary advisor. Throughout my years working with her, sheís been a great mentor.
"She always makes an effort to get to know people," Dennehy adds. "She goes out of her way to help."
Shane confesses that when she took the directorís job she figured she would stay only a few years. That was then. Today she thinks of students who have moved up through the collaborative programs as "part of my extended family" and her administrative partners in the schools as old friends.
"I think the news media gives us a fairly flat, two-dimensional picture of teachers and principals," she says, "but I take a lot of pleasure in working with them over time, and Iíve gained insight watching them confront the task of making the schools better. It isnít easy, and it isnít a short-term thing."