Friday, June 1, 2001
METCO panel visits Carlisle
Students, parents and teachers in the METCO program at Concord-Carlisle Regional High School visited the Carlisle School last week, as part of a panel discussion organized by Carlisle's regional school committee members Cindy Nock and Harry Crowther.
The Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity (METCO) began in 1965 to give minority students from the city an opportunity to attend suburban schools in Massachusetts and to help desegregate suburban schools. Currently 90 METCO students attend the high school, traveling by bus from Boston neighborhoods, such as Dorchester and Roxbury, to Concord each day. There are also 110 students in Concord's K-8 school system. The METCO students at CCHS are now about 50 percent African-American, 40 percent Hispanic and 10 percent Asian, reflecting the changing population of Boston.
The Concord Public Schools and CCHS have participated in the program since 1967. Cindy Nock said it's her understanding that the Carlisle Public School did not join METCO because at the time we had a superintendent that was shared with Bolton and Stow.
Perceptions of METCO
The panel of teachers, students and parents from both Boston and Carlisle discussed the program, including some of the common perceptions and misconceptions about METCO. CCHS guidance counselor Bob Raskin said the program is an opportunity for both Boston and local students to share learning academically, artistically, athletically and socially. Concord METCO coordinator Norma Dinnall pointed out that for many Carlisle students this is their first exposure to attending school with students of color.
Some of the more interesting comments of the evening came from the METCO students themselves. Nock asked the two high school students present if they were treated differently at CCHS. Junior Crystal Dorch said she believes METCO students are sometimes stereotyped and "expected not to try hard" but she said a lot of students she sees are trying hard.
Student Shayla Jordan said that at home she's considered a "smart, spoiled brat" who gets to go to school in Concord. At CCHS she says people see METCO students as attending standard, non-honors classes and see them in the METCO corner of the cafeteria. Moving between the two worlds, she says, "I just work on developing my own character."
The METCO corner in the cafeteria drew some discussion. There is also now a table where Hispanic students in the program sit. Crystal Dorch explained that METCO students tend to sit together in the cafeteria simply because they feel most compatible with their peers.
Local Host Families
Polly Atwood, administrator at the Alcott School in Concord spoke about the Concord-Carlisle Cooperating Family Council, a group of families who provide local support to METCO students including giving students a ride to a school event or having them to their home for supper. Each elementary school Boston student is paired with a host family and about 60 percent of high school students are paired with a local host family. Not all high school students need host families, particularly if they have been attending school in Concord since the early grades and know other students and the community, said Dinnall.
Cooperating families are sometimes hard to find, said Dinnall because some parents worry about the time commitment involved. But, Atwood said "Each host family relationship is different. For some it's a contact in an emergency, while others want more from the relationship. It's also not necessary for the host family student and a METCO student to be best friends. Many of the students have different interests."
Increase in state reimbursement expected
The number of METCO students is determined both by the available space at the high school and by funding received from the state as reimbursement. The state reimbursement for METCO is applied towards the transportation costs of busing students to and from the city, for the salary of the METCO coordinator and staff, and to partly reimburse the CCHS regional school budget.
The cost of educating each pupil at CCHS is $10,567 as calculated by the state department of education in 1999, the latest year for which data is available. The state reimbursed the regional school district $305,000 this year for METCO students attending CCHS. With approximately $3,400 received from the state as reimbursement for each of the 90 METCO student at CCHS , the balance is paid out of the regional high school budget.
After more than a decade of level funding by the state, the school district hopes to receive an additional $200,000 for METCO for the 2001-2002 school year when the state budget is approved according to Deidre Farrell, director of financial services for the Concord and Concord-Carlisle schools. Recently a group of school superintendents in METCO school districts, with the support of local legislators, lobbied for the state to fully fund the program, she said. The additional funding, if received, would bring the state's METCO reimbursement to around $5,600 per pupil and once approved would become part of the annual education budget.
Because METCO is a benevolent program that is also partly funded by local Concord and Carlisle school budgets, it is susceptible to the possibility of budget cuts. When faced with a large increase in the overall high school operating budget this spring, a member of the Carlisle FinCom questioned funding for the long-standing program. The discussion did not progress however, with school officials and parents in the two communities continuing to demonstrate support for the program.
Other towns that have participated in METCO for many years include Bedford, Lexington, Lincoln, Sudbury, Wayland, Weston and Framingham. According to METCO, there are over 15,000 minority students currently on the waiting list to join the program.
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