What I have learned from my time in METCO

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What I have learned from my time in METCO

Various students speak at a forum at the Weston METCO 50th anniversary event

Various students speak at a forum at the Weston METCO 50th anniversary event

Latoya Rivers

Various students speak at a forum at the Weston METCO 50th anniversary event

Latoya Rivers

Latoya Rivers

Various students speak at a forum at the Weston METCO 50th anniversary event

Conor McCoy, Staff Writer

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Throughout my time in Weston, METCO has always been a major part of my identity.  Starting at the Roxbury Weston Preschool, I’ve seen how Weston’s relationship with the program has changed over the years. I’ve been able to witness the METCO program’s accomplishments, as well as some of its shortcomings.

The Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity, more commonly known as METCO, was first established in 1966. The original goals for the program were to expand educational opportunities, increase diversity and reduce racial isolation. For Weston, 2017 marks the 50th anniversary since the METCO program was introduced to the town.

Weston METCO Director and alumni La Toya Rivers had similar ideas on the program’s role in integration.

“What I feel METCO started to do was desegregate, and I feel like it’s done that very well…true integration is about integration. It’s actually including those groups, and what they bring to your school system, and if we do that, I think that’s what takes us to the next level,” Rivers said.

While the program has achieved its goal of desegregating suburban schools, I believe that there are still many steps that need to be taken to properly integrate Boston students into suburban environments like Weston. In my opinion, it feels as if some METCO students are just bussed out to suburban schools and left to figure it out.

When I was an elementary student, I felt as though my residency in Boston didn’t make me any different from the other kids at school. Rather, it just meant that the bus ride was longer.

It wasn’t until middle school that I first noticed all of the Boston kids sitting together. Since then, this separation between METCO and Weston students has only become more prevalent in our school system.

Weston resident and senior Maddie Epperson noticed the growth of this separation at the high school level.

“I think in our earlier years there wasn’t much of a divide, but as we got to high school, I feel like more METCO kids ended up being separated from the community than would be ideal,” Epperson said.

As a METCO student, senior and Boston resident Melissa Barbosa shared what she believes is the root of the issue.

“I think it’s because a lot of the METCO kids don’t feel welcome or feel like they don’t fit in with the Weston environment…they feel like they are judged and people have stereotypes about them,” Barbosa said.

It is clear why METCO students might feel marginalized and stereotyped in Weston, since incidents involving race are not uncommon. At the beginning of the school year, it was revealed that Snapchats including racial slurs had previously been sent by various students.

This incident brought light to the crack between the METCO and Weston students in our community. It is a painful reminder that even with the steps that have been taken since the program’s introduction, there is still much progress to be made.

Fixing the gap in our community would take a lot of time and effort for both the Weston school administration and the student population as a whole. I believe the first step in that process is being open to taking the necessary actions needed in order to improve the community.

Such steps could involve making the time to foster the types of conversations where these problems are addressed. METCO students currently have these conversations in the form of affinity meetings, where students discuss and reflect on their experiences. In an effort to include the entire school in these conversations, affinity meetings could be opened to all students to widen these discussions and address specific ways to improve our community.

Even further, these all-school affinity meetings can be included at the elementary level to introduce students to these types of conversations at a young age. This introduction to racial issues and how to discuss them will allow young students to become more comfortable with addressing difficult topics. As students hear the opinions and struggles of others, they can begin to bridge the separation that starts to grow in elementary and middle school.

Rivers stressed the importance of community and how we can improve the inclusion within it as we move forward.

“We really do need to concern ourselves more with the well-being of everyone and not just ourselves. And that’s something that I feel like METCO programs can do, if they take the opportunity to do it.”