Roberto Patino was 8 years old when Janet Boulware met him.
A call had gone out at Pioneer Elementary School for volunteers to work with struggling readers, and Boulware, whose own two sons were enrolled at Pioneer at the time, had signed on to help.
Roberto knew very little English and Boulware no Spanish, and at first, he said, “we just sat there and looked at each other.”
But every day Boulware would come for Roberto, to pull him aside and work one-on-one with him for 45 minutes at a time. They started with the basics — the alphabet — and worked their way up to reading.
“He was like a sponge,” Boulware recalled, “absorbing things so quickly.
“I fell in love with him in three days.”
Patino would become, years later, Boulware’s inspiration for creating the Davis Bridge Educational Foundation, a program that has helped hundreds of low-income, English-language learners like Patino find academic success in school thanks to after-school tutoring and homework help, home visits and much more.
For her efforts, Boulware learned this week she will receive the city’s A.G. Brinley Award for 2012. She and Citizen of the Year Rick Gonzales will be recognized publicly at the Davis Chamber of Commerce’s installation dinner on Friday, Jan. 18.
As thrilled as she is with the honor, Boulware is especially happy “that this invisible population of low-income families is finally not invisible any more.”
And she feels privileged, she said, to have been a part of it.
It was not long after meeting Patino, and realizing how much more support children like him needed in school, that Boulware embarked on a journey that took her back to school. She would study Spanish at Sacramento City College before entering the Chicano studies program at UC Davis and earning a bachelor’s degree. Her senior thesis proposed an after-school program for low-income students who would be tutored by UCD students. The thesis soon would become reality.
The program began with 15 junior high school students — including Patino, who was by then an eighth-grader at Holmes Junior High School — being tutored by eight UCD students. But Boulware realized fairly quickly that junior high was too late.
“They were already too far behind,” she said.
So Boulware switched the program’s focus to elementary school students instead, serving students at both Montgomery and North Davis elementary schools and eventually expanding to Valley Oak, Patwin and, when Valley Oak closed, Korematsu. Soon the program also would be at Harper Junior High School and this year expanded for the first time to Davis High School.
In fact, Boulware’s first group of elementary school students — second-graders back when they started — are now seniors in high school, and are still reaping the benefits of the Bridge program.
“It’s been so fun to see them with their Bridge tutors at the high school, filling out their college applications,” Boulware said.
They are applying to UC campuses, state universities and community colleges — students who without the Bridge program very likely would not be applying to college at all.
Patino says without Boulware — and the Bridge program — “I’d probably be on the street somewhere.”
Instead, he graduated from DHS and now works full-time, supporting his mother and grandmother. He had hoped to go to college, but his father’s death required that he enter the workforce instead.
He’s remained close to Boulware and even has several cousins participating in the Bridge program.
Asked what the program — and Boulware herself — meant to him, Patino said, “someone who was there for me, pushing me, encouraging me.”
Even when he might not have wanted it.
Boulware makes regular home visits whenever she is concerned about a student, making sure that student’s parents are aware and involved.
“That kind of home visit tells a kid, ‘We’re not going to let you slip,’ ” Boulware said. “That’s what I did with Roberto.”
And it’s what she continues to do to this day.
In addition to her work with the Bridge program, Boulware is also a full-time graduate student at UCD, studying Latino communities and writing her thesis on school-based resource centers.
Not surprisingly, Boulware was the driving force behind the opening of a family resource center on the Montgomery campus earlier this year, a goal she has had for many years.
On the down side, the Bridge program itself took a hit this year. Due to cutbacks in federal funding for work study, fewer UCD students were available to serve as tutors. In fact, Boulware said, the program lost between 50 and 60 tutors this year, causing the after-school programs at both Patwin and Korematsu to close down.
The need is as great as ever at those schools, she said, but for now, at least, it’s not being met.
— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at [email protected] or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy