Friday, May 21, 2004
METCO brings diversity to CCHS
May 17 was the fiftieth anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling on Brown vs. The Board of Education, a consolidation of legal challenges brought by plaintiffs from the states of Delaware, South Carolina, Virginia, Kansas and the District of Columbia. Many desegregation programs evolved out of the ruling, and also out of the civil rights movement in the sixties.
One program that grew from a need to diversify schools was the METCO (Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity) Grant Program. METCO, a state-funded program, strives to eliminate racial imbalance through busing students of color from Boston and Springfield to schools in suburban communities.
"There are many schools that are going back to being segregated," warned Norma Dinnall, METCO Program Coordinator for Concord Schools and Concord-Carlisle Regional High School. She said she would like to see the program expand, but "it has been difficult years financially."
The Massachusetts Department of Education oversees the METCO grant program. The Department's main role is to evaluate METCO grant requests, and ensure that the grant is administered correctly. The Department does not place METCO students. A "service provider" company, METCO Inc., is contracted by the Department of Education to register and place students into the program and to act as a link between the METCO community and receiving school districts.
Concord schools began participating in METCO in 1967 when 20 students attended Concord-Carlisle Regional High School. Currently 90 METCO students, approximately 22 in each grade, attend CCHS. For students applying to become METCO participants, it's an intense process, with forms to fill out, interviews, and recommendations. Boston METCO students deal with long bus rides and complicated schedules, yet there is usually a waiting list of over 200 families.
METCO students are paired with a volunteer cooperating family, usually a Concord family with a child at the same school and at the same grade level. Carlisle is under-represented as providing cooperating families, Dinnall said. Most METCO students enter the Concord school system in kindergarten, and develop a long-term relationship with a Concord family. It is rare for a METCO high school student to be assigned a new cooperating family, but it does occasionally happen. The other reason Carlisle families have not been asked to serve as a cooperating family is the lack of a "Volunteer Cooperating Family Coordinator" at CCHS. "We've gone three years without a coordinator at the high school," Dinnall explained. The coordinator makes and monitors the cooperating family assignments. Each school in Concord has a coordinator except the high school. "It can't be someone who works for METCO, Inc." Dinnall said. "It needs to be someone who lives in the community and can make the kids feel comfortable."
Dinnnall is eager to find a volunteer coordinator from Carlisle for the Cooperating Family Program. This year ten new METCO students were enrolled at CCHS and none have been assigned a cooperating family.
Concord cooperating families offer a connection to the community. The relationship between the families can be as simple as an emergency contact, or can involve both families; getting the families together, allowing students to sleep over, or have students get involved in sports together. It's a wonderful opportunity for students and their families, Dinnall points out.
Marilyn Harte, the Carlisle coordinator back in the '80s when her sons were students at the high school, says her family's involvement with the METCO program was a very positive experience for everyone.
"We were assigned students who were in the same grades as each of my sons. At the beginning of the freshman year, we would invite our assigned student and his parents out for a picnic in our front yard so they could get to know us and see just where their child would be staying if he needed a place to spend the night after a late school event. Both of our students were on CCHS sports teams — one on the football team, the other on the track team. I still remember one graduation day when the Schweppe family, with their METCO student and his family, came to our house for a pre-graduation party that was attended by our student and his family as well. It was a time of fond farewells for all of us, the METCO families and the families from Carlisle."
Due to budget cuts, in the fall of 2004 Dinnall's hours will be reduced. "I don't think I will be able to give the students the kind of time I've been giving them previously," she said, when asked how the reduced hours will affect her work load. "I believe the kids could use my services full time."
"We must bear in mind why this important decision [Brown vs. The Board of Education] was made," she added. "It is important to continue to desegregate schools."
© 2004 The Carlisle Mosquito