5:30AM - my alarm shatters the landscape of my dreams. I stand for two seconds before collapsing back onto my bed. At 5:43, I roll off my bed and look for my clothes. After brushing my teeth and dressing, I glance at my watch—it’s 6:00AM, I have to leave soon. This is my life as a METCO student.
The Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity (METCO) was founded in 1966 with the aim of providing educational opportunities to inner-city minority students. The program seeks to increase diversity and reduce racial isolation by placing Boston students in high-performing suburban public schools. METCO has helped break down cultural barriers in predominantly white institutions. However, one question remains: How do METCO students feel?
After surveying 21 METCO students from different districts, one common theme emerged: Boston teens have a strained relationship with their city. 81 percent of teens wanted to spend more time in Boston, and 71 percent felt either little or no connection to Boston and their neighborhood. The study also found that those who had joined in their high school years had a better relationship with Boston due to having grown up in the city.
Desiree Brown, a 2016 graduate of Marblehead High School, joined METCO in second grade. Brown said she only felt accepted once during her entire school career—when she was picked to coach her school’s powderpuff football team.
“In that moment there was no ‘METCO student,” Brown said. “There was just me... Desiree.”
Brown’s peer had accepted her once, but the administration of her school never did. Each district in the state has a designated METCO director who is supposed support its METCO students. However, Brown did not feel supported. She wishes that METCO directors would realize that their job is to be there for the kids. “For many of us, our METCO director is someone who we look up to, sometimes the only African American role model in our life. So when they turn their back on you and side with someone else it hurts… alot,” she said.
Sarah Simpson a 2016 Swampscott METCO graduate, shared a story of her fellow METCO friends being expelled for having weapons. Simpson’s friends carried weapons to protect themselves from the gangs they were formally in. Sadly, many did not see it as protection, but just students carrying weapons.
“I mean, they hear rap about how difficult the black life is, but the moment they see it face to face they act as though it's a new thing.” explained Simpson. Simpson’s friends had left their gangs to achieve a better education. “The same education they were ready to kill for was lost when the cultural distinction between Swampscott and Boston deepened.” explained Simpson.
METCO is a great program with good intentions. Sadly, somewhere in it’s history the cultural lack and understanding between METCO towns and their students deepened. Students lose their Boston friendships due to increasing suburban friends and often feel unwanted.
In the future, I believe METCO students need to put their foot down. We need to be heard. Be strong and courageous in your voice. Your teachers understand your life is hard and you need a little bit more help than others. Don't allow them to treat you as though you can handle everything they throw at you. During the summer, create more Boston based friends by trying out new activities. Speak to your METCO directors, they are there for YOU.