The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, March 31, 2006

Features

METCO students thrive at CCHS

Forty years ago this September, the first METCO students boarded school buses in Boston and headed for schools in the suburbs.

Harry Scales III
Then, as now, the goals of METCO (Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity), the state-funded voluntary desegregation program, were to eliminate racial unbalance in the public schools. All children would have access to quality education, blacks would be less racially isolated, ethnic diversity and racial tolerance would be added to suburban schools. Concord was not initially involved in the program, but it voted to participate in 1968 when classroom seats and additional funding became available.

Today METCO is thriving in 35 districts in the Commonwealth, with some 3,200 students from several Boston neighborhoods, including Roxbury, Dorchester, Hyde Park and Brighton. Of the approximately 1,250 students at Concord-Carlisle Regional High School, 80 are METCO students, and there are 110 METCO students in the K-8 system of the Concord Public Schools. The ethnic background of these METCO students is approximately 60% African American, 30% Hispanic and Latino and 10% Asian. Currently, there are no METCO students in the Carlisle Public School.

We interviewed three METCO students at CCHS to learn more about the program, their education, and how the Boston-to-Concord commute each school day affects their lives. We also spoke with Norma Dinnall, the METCO coordinator at Concord-Carlisle High School.

"A great education"

METCO students see plenty of benefits being in Concord schools. Jonathan Ng, a junior who started in the program as a ninth grader, said, "It's a great education. The way the teachers teach, using different strategies, it's excellent."

Arielle Spivey
"I like the freedom and all the sports," said freshman Harry Scales III, who entered the METCO program in the third grade. He compared what he was learning in high school to what his Boston peers are learning in their high schools. "I did what they are doing in middle school."

Junior Arielle Spivey, a METCO veteran who started coming to Concord as a first grader, agrees. She did a survey in her sociology class comparing material that was offered at CCHS to that offered at a Boston public high school (not Boston Latin). It was clear that Concord middle schools cover much of the material offered in Boston high schools. "We get a lot more here," Spivey noted. "We're more prepared for tests. There's a lot more honors and AP [Advanced Placement] classes. Also, we have fencing teams and swimming teams. Usually we [Boston students] would have to go to a program outside the school, like Pop Warner, if we could find [sports] at all." She mentioned several books that her Boston peers are reading in high school that she read in middle school. She adds she has become a good time-manager, and she's happy here. Ng agrees — he likes the environment a lot here and feels comfortable.

The METCO students we interviewed are not only good students, but they are active after school at CCHS. They can take buses home at 2:10, 3:10 or 5:15 p.m., which allows them to participate in a variety of after-school activities. Spivey belongs to a dance club that meets a couple of times a week. She also has her own show every other week on the high school radio station. Ng is on the basketball team, and Scales plays varsity football and varsity basketball and runs track. "We're a good football school," he said, and he recommends that other Boston students join METCO for this reason.

Jonathan Ng
The METCO families

Norma Dinnall has been the METCO coordinator for our district for the last 29 years. She has administrative and parent responsibilities, and she is an advisor to the METCO students. There used to be an assistant coordinator for the five K-8 schools in Concord, but that position was eliminated due to budget cuts. Dinnall organizes at least three events a year to foster more interaction among METCO families and host families and increase interest in the community — a picnic in the fall in Concord, a dessert meeting often with a speaker in the winter and a potluck in the spring in Boston bring families together.

Dinnall said most families enter the program with kindergarten or first-grade students, and the students remain in the school system through high school. A few students are added in sixth and ninth grades. When Spivey came to Concord in the first grade, "Getting on a bus was a new concept. I was jumpy as a little kid. I didn't mind the long bus ride. There are a lot of trees out here." Ng had never been on a school bus before. He said it was a bit of a transition, getting up very early, and it took some getting used to. Students get picked up as early as 6:05 a.m. to get to CCHS on time. But depending on where their stop is on the bus route, some lucky METCO students don't get on buses until 6:45 p.m., which is later than some Carlisle students' bus routes.

Dinnall said it was very important that METCO parents get to know one another. An orientation program in the summer for parents and students starts the networking process. In the past, said Dinnall, a summer orientation was held on Thompson Island in Boston Harbor where team-building exercises and risk-taking activities challenged the participants. Ng said he really enjoyed that day: "It was a good ice-breaker." Scales said that he had been to several fun get-togethers, including one at Crane Beach and another on Georges Island. During the year, METCO parents are expected to attend some parent meetings in Boston, parent-teacher conferences at CCHS, visit the school several times and volunteer their time to the METCO office and activities at the school.

A major part of the program is the participation of host families in the suburban towns. METCO students are partnered with Concord students, usually in the same grade and the same gender. The host family's home becomes a "home away from home" for the Boston student. Often, the two families organize a few outings together to get to know one another. If a METCO student gets ill during the school day, he or she will go to the host family and then be driven back home to Boston. On half days, METCO students may go to their host families or a Concord Recreation Program for the afternoon. Scales said, "I'm over there [my host family's house] often to hang out." Spivey, who has had several host families over the years, said,"You make friends and go over to their house. It's nice." Ng doesn't have a host family, and Dinnall pointed out the great need for more host families at CCHS. "Host families just need to be friendly," she said. The Family Friends Program, as it is called in the Concord system, could be strengthened by more community support. Anyone interested in getting involved is encouraged to call Norma Dinnall at 1-978-341-2490, ext. 7117.

In spite of everyone's efforts to provide the best experience for the METCO students and their families, there may be bumps in the road. The three students commented it was not always easy. Scales said, "It was a big transition from middle school to high school. There's a lot more work and responsibility." Ng commented, "In my old [Catholic] school, they'd chase you for your work. Here, that's not the case. Here, you have to initiate [the conversation] if you are having trouble. It helps you to mature." He added that if you ask for help, "Teachers will stay to help you. They want to help you." He greatly appreciated that support.

Spivey said, "There's so much work to do. In the long run it will help." She said, "It can become challenging when we are reading works by Toni Morrison or discussing slavery."

Ng added that the METCO program brings benefits to residents of Concord too. "METCO brings a mixture into the school. There's more diversity. Kids learn from each other." Spivey and some other students are trying to organize a school-wide event to promote multi-culturalism and bring the whole school together. When she was in ninth grade, there was a food fest, featuring foods from different ethnic cultures. She would like to bring back that event. "Everyone could bring a dish. Everyone likes to eat. There could be entertainment by the kids. It would be great."

All photos by Ginny Lamere


2006 The Carlisle Mosquito