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SED Partners with Boston Public Schools to Give Students a “Step UP”

Students at the Trotter School spent a day on the BU campus last May as part of a special math-science partnership with the School of Education. Photos courtesy of SED

Last fall, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino (Hon.’01) charged 5 area universities with assisting 10 of the city’s public schools struggling to reach the goals of the No Child Left Behind Act. Now, after a year of planning, Boston University is beginning a partnership with the William M. Trotter Elementary School and Boston English High School that has sent School of Education faculty into the schools and brought local elementary school children to BU for their first experience with higher education.

Called Step UP, the program pairs BU, Boston College, Harvard University, Tufts University, and Northeastern University with local schools to provide more resources for both students and teachers. School of Education instructor Susan Dougherty, the liaison between SED and the Trotter School, which sits on the Roxbury-Dorchester line, began working for the partnership last fall by talking to students and teachers about how BU could best serve the school. “We’re trying to follow the lead of the school,” Dougherty says, “and find out what its needs are and see how we can fit with its goals.”

After a semester of fact-finding, two projects were put in place at the school last spring. In the first, a five-week pilot program, five SED undergraduates tutored five students in reading and writing. Then in May, BU hosted a math-and-science day on campus for 70 Trotter fifth-graders. Carole Greenes, a former SED professor of curriculum and teaching, spearheaded the activities, which included a Jeopardy-style quiz show, a card game called Crypto that had students solving math problems, and a long-jump contest where participants used their distances to do statistical analysis. The children also studied real termites with Donald DeRosa, an SED clinical assistant professor of curriculum and teaching, and had lunch at Warren Towers.

Ruth Shane, the coordinator of University relations with the Boston Public Schools, says a day on a college campus can have a notable impact on a child’s goals. “These children are often from families with limited exposure to higher education,” she says. “Exposure to the University as early as elementary school can begin to build in the children an interest in college.”

Shane is the Step UP liaison to English High, located in Jamaica Plain, where the goal of the partnership is to improve MCAS scores, she says, and help the teens start thinking of themselves as “college material.”

To that end, she has enlisted the aid of a cross-section of BU faculty. John McCarthy, director of BU’s Institute for Athletic Coach Education and an SED clinical assistant professor, is helping the school’s coaches reach athletes in academic trouble. The School of Social Work is looking for the best way to provide support for students needing assistance with personal and school issues. Bennett Goldberg, a College of Arts and Sciences professor of physics and department chairman, has signed on to help math and science teachers come up with effective lesson plans, and Eileen Sullivan, an SED clinical assistant professor, is teaching health and physical education. As the new academic year gets under way, Shane will be assessing the programs and looking for opportunities to expand. “My role,” she says, “is to listen and make connections.”

This fall’s other Step UP initiatives include several BUILD (Boston University Initiative for Literacy Development) student reading tutors working daily with students at the Trotter School’s after-school program. And under the supervision of Sandra Nicolucci, an associate professor in the College of Fine Arts school of music, other BU students will lead music-education sessions on Friday mornings.

Additionally, before the school year began several SED faculty provided professional development to teachers at both partner schools. Shane emphasizes the importance of  staying attuned to the needs of the individual schools, so BU can continue to provide the best resources in the most appropriate areas.

 Charles Glenn, SED’s dean ad interim, has long believed that a university should pitch in to help its city’s schools. A former director of urban education and equity efforts for the Massachusetts Department of Education, Glenn says his interest in the program is personal as well as professional. “My own children all went through Boston schools,” he says. “In fact, my two older children attended the Trotter for their elementary education.”

The program also benefits the University and its students, he stresses, providing training for SED’s aspiring teachers. “Service learning is a requirement for all of our students at SED,” Glenn says. “We think that’s a fundamental part of education. We will have students working in dozens of schools and community agencies this coming year. It’s part of a broader initiative, a broader understanding of education.”