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USF associate professor marks symbolic milestone in her efforts to help teen mothers in The Bahamas

Associate Professor Ruthmae Sears poses with her colleagues at the PACE Programme in The Bahamas

Associate Professor Ruthmae Sears (second from left) poses with her colleagues at the PACE Programme in The Bahamas.

Equity is at the heart of Ruthmae Sears’s research and passion for continuing education. Her desire to help young women succeed brings a new level of pride to the USF associate professor of mathematics education and associate director of the USF Coalition for Science Literacy. She just returned from The Bahamas, where she grew up, to celebrate a significant milestone for a program she’s been supporting for 16 years.

In 2006, Sears began volunteering with the Providing Access to Continued Education (PACE) Programme for girls – established in 1969 to help teen mothers complete high school. She used to drive to the church where PACE was housed during her lunch breaks as a secondary (grades 7-12) mathematics teacher to teach the PACE students math – helping offset the program’s teacher shortage.

Sears focused on building a curriculum. She stressed math skills and financial literacy and later worked with her colleagues to support teen mothers beyond the program – which now offers college application guidance, financial aid, training for job interviews and social etiquette.

“Our goal is to disrupt systemic inequities and provide equitable learning opportunities for all students,” Sears said. “If we do not provide adequate support, young ladies may drop out of school, which can impact their educational and career opportunities and future livelihood.”

Because of Sears’s fundraising efforts for the PACE Foundation Bahamas, established through the Bahamas’ Ministries of Health and Education, and the contributions of many others, the PACE school now has a permanent home that bears the founder’s name, the Andrea Archer Institute, and Sears was there for the symbolic mortgage-burning ceremony.

It’s a moment close to her heart, as Sears first became familiar with PACE when one of her friends became pregnant. Sears saw how her friend was socially isolated and removed from the school system – essentially stigmatized.

“I always remember the hope the PACE Programme gave her, it reengineered her belief that she can move forward and pursue her goals,” Sears said.

The PACE Programme is a conduit for teen mothers to return to school with a mission to build self-esteem and character. Pregnant teens are usually removed from mainstream school settings and use the program to re-enter a new school environment. It is Nassau’s only continuing education option available to pregnant teens in the area.

“We are removing every barrier to success that we can. It is imperative that they stay on a path of continued education,” said Sonia Brown, president of the PACE Foundation.

Now that the two-story building is complete, fully paid for and renamed, Sears and her colleagues are turning their focus to teen fathers.

“We all have a role to play,” said Sears. “We need to teach young men to be fathers and responsible adults.”

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As the home for more than 2,200 students and 130 faculty members across three campuses, the University of South Florida College of Education offers state-of-the-art teacher training and collegial graduate studies designed to empower educational leaders. Our college is nationally accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP), and our educator preparation programs are fully approved by the Florida Department of Education.