The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, May 21, 1999

Features

Families and students return to CCHS for METCO reunion

On May 15, a perfect Saturday afternoon, families and friends streamed into the Concord Carlisle High School cafeteria to celebrate the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunities, (METCO) program, that has enriched the lives of children from our communities for over thirty years. Kids headed outside to play with hula hoops and jump ropes, while inside, people recognizing familiar faces, hugged and shook their heads laughing at new babies, spouses and the sudden impact of the transformation of old friends. The reunion of METCO students from Boston and their Carlisle and Concord host families, showcased the results that the METCO program has had to bring people together.

METCO was started in 1965 by a parent group in Boston during a time of heated desegregation issues in the Boston Public Schools, explained Adelaide Walton, METCO coordinator for the CCHS and CPS systems. Parents from Boston Public Schools who wanted an option to desegregation, as well as a better education system, joined with the suburban communities; Concord would join the program in 1967.

When elementary students were brought into the school system in 1969, the staff began a training program around the issues of culture and experience of urban and suburban children. The goal, from the mission statement was, "to develop a better knowledge and understanding of the black experience, to give participants a clearer insight into their own social attitudes, and to foster ways of dealing with racial views in the classroom."

In 1978, issues surrounding those racial views in the classroom culminated in an incident that would throw the METCO program into turmoil. A fight between some Concord resident students and Boston resident students created a "racial upheaval" that led to several METCO parents removing their children from the program. A special investigative committee headed by Charles Willie, of the Harvard School of Education, also a Concord resident, studied the situation and made recommendations for the future. The result was the Concord-Carlisle Coalition for Human Rights, still going strong today. The following September of 1978, twenty-six of the forty possible METCO students returned to the high school, and the METCO program was on its feet again.

Another outcome of the committee's recommendations was an increase in the number of METCO students in the schools. Presently, there are about 102 students in the K-8 system, and an additional 90 in the high school. These numbers have remained consistent over the years, though at one point, enrollment hit a low because the METCO program in this community, as opposed to most other towns, is on a space-available basis. Years when the number of Concord-Carlisle resident students hit record highs, the METCO program numbers hit record lows.

At CCHS, support for the program is strong, with little or no repercussions from the highly publicized questioning in Lynnfield recently, of its program. Additional buses are being voted in to keep METCO students around for more of the crucial after-school activities where, often, bonds are formed. Sports, theater, band and student council activities don't always coincide with present bus schedules, and therefore unintentionally exclude METCO students from total involvement. When asked about how much "bonding" seemed to happen on a social level at the high school based on first-glance views of Boston kids hanging out with each other, and resident students eating lunch at separate tables, Walton pointed out that a lot of the social mixing that occurs cannot be pointed to with photo-op accuracy. "You still have the 'black corner' in the cafeteria," she observed, "but if someone were to find a way to color code jocks, drama, chorus, you would see the same thing, just not so visibly. All the social issues are coming into play. But a lot of mixing happenssports teams are a natural way, and for elementary kids there's a lot of socializing. As students get older They pair off with people with the same interests, people like themselves. The new late buses should help "

C-C Cooperating Family Council

In 1980, the formation of the Concord-Carlisle Cooperating Family Council was developed, a combination of the Friends of METCO and what were formerly known as host family groups. The more inclusive terminology "Cooperating Family" was adopted to reflect the attitude of mutual support embraced by a revitalized METCO organization. The group whose goals are to "plan activities, collect and disseminate information, coordinate events and act as a forum for concerns and exchange of ideas" has helped foster a new level of communication between student family groups.

In its thirty-third year, the METCO program continues to grow and change. 1996 marked the first year kindergartners joined the program; last year the youngest members of METCO participated in the Rainbow After K program run by the Concord-Carlisle Adult and Community Education program. From the early grades and up, the diversity has meant powerful enrichment for the Concord-Carlisle communities often noted for its dearth of color. As Walton described it, "METCO "gives suburban kids an experience with people and culture, that they might not have had otherwise. As they head into the millennium, the whole demographics of the country is changing. Kids who as adults can operate in a diverse world will be more successful. It works both ways, expanding all our horizons."


1999 The Carlisle Mosquito