“METCO WORKS,” says Andrew K. Nyamekye, K-12 METCO Program Director, from his desk at CCHS. The bulletin board behind him is peppered with yellow sticky notes organized into two columns, compliments and areas of growth. Nyamekye takes both forms of feedback seriously—while only in his second year with the METCO program in Concord, he is fully committed to METCO’s mission and to growing and strengthening the program for years to come.
The Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity (METCO) program began in 1966 during the height of the civil rights movement. Originally funded by a grant from the Carnegie Foundation, METCO was developed to create rich and racially diverse learning, break down barriers to equitable education and decrease segregation. The first year METCO was established, seven schools accepted students and about 200 students initially enrolled. Today more than 3,300 students participate from 38 school districts in metro Boston and Springfield.
”Concord Carlisle has one of the largest and most successful programs,” says Nyamekye. “There are currently 143 Boston students enrolled, 51 at the elementary, 36 at the middle and 56 at the high school grade levels. Students have the opportunity to enter the METCO program either in Kindergarten or 9th grade, with some students entering 6th grade if enrollment is low. The challenges for students and families are different depending on their entry point into the program.
“The school day is a long one for Boston METCO students,” explains Nyamekye. “The average commute is 60 to 90 minutes, even longer in the afternoon.” In the morning, buses pick students at 7:05 am for the elementary; by 6:10 am for the middle school and 6:15 am for the high school. “The good news is that, since Concord and Concord-Carlisle Public Schools provide bus transportation, travel is reliable and consistent so all students get to school on time each day.”
Kindergarten students tend to integrate into the school community easier than their high school counterparts. Because these youngest participants enter the school system at the same age as local students, they face the same academic rigors, expectations and social integration issues as their peers. Every student starts with a clean slate and can progress academically and socially at their natural pace. Young students form friendships that can last through high school graduation and beyond.
Transition is more difficult for students who enter at the high school level. Some students are less prepared for the academic demands of CCHS so they may struggle to keep up with Concord and Carlisle classmates. Participation in sports and other after-school programs can be socially beneficial to Boston students, but challenging and exhausting at the same time. For example, Boston students who choose to participate in sports take the 6pm athletic late bus, which means they arrive home after 7pm on practice and game days.
One of the biggest struggles for some middle and high school Boston students is adapting to social changes. “The CMS and CCHS community just doesn’t look like these kids, so the majority of the time it’s safer and more comfortable for students to stay within their own METCO cohort group. Kindergarten students don’t have as much of a challenge in that area,” says Nyamekye.
Nyamekye also explained that educating Concord and Carlisle communities, teachers and support staff to understand the METCO program is key to a student’s success. Educators need to understand who the students are and why they have chosen METCO. There is also a need to understand that Boston is their home, their sanctuary, and acknowledge that Boston students do have trouble feeling like their authentic selves outside of that comfort zone.
METCO Family Friends Program
Concord-Carlisle has a number of support systems in place for METCO students through the Family Friends Program. Volunteer families in Boston, Concord and Carlisle are encouraged to work together to build cooperative and sharing relationships. It is a two-way street: Concord-Carlisle families help Boston families assimilate into the community by being a resource for information and a friendly face when families come to the area. Boston families share their connection to the city and often offer a new set of cultural and life experiences to Concord and Carlisle families.
METCO Family Friend relationships vary greatly depending on family dynamics and need. Some families enjoy planning social gatherings and encourage student activities and sleepovers outside of the school day. Others provide emergency support for students and see each other casually at school functions. Overall, families are expected to be helpful and cooperative, and many do establish lasting friendships over time.
Nyamekye offered some impressive statistics for students in the METCO program. 100% of all METCO students graduate from high school and attend four-year colleges. For the 2018-19 school year, 100% of CCHS METCO students graduated and attended a four-year college with two entering the military. Nearly all students who enter METCO in kindergarten stay with the program through their CCHS graduation. The METCO department sent out a survey last year to participating Alcott and CCHS families. Over 90% responded that they feel welcomed, valued and that there is a two-way stream of positive communication with their child’s school and within the METCO department.
Nyamekye also listed a number of social and academic tools that have been developed to ensure METCO student success. These include METCO Achievement Strategies for middle and high school students to enhance student’s executive functioning skills, summer camp opportunities through Concord Recreation for grades 1-5 which includes transportation, POWER (Positive Opportunities With Engaging Relationships mentoring program), RISE (Racial Impact Social Empowerment Club), and the METCO Tenacity Challenge where students from urban and suburban schools across Massachusetts demonstrate their knowledge of physics, chemistry, algebra, geometry, social studies, history and art in an academic competition for prizes and scholarships. Barbara Burgos, K-12 Administrative Assistant for Concord and Concord-Carlisle METCO, keeps alumni in touch by maintaining a database of all Concord-Carlisle METCO students, as well as hosting a Facebook page where they can connect and network.
Next Steps for METCO
Andrew K. Nyamekye is in his second year as Director of Concord-Carlisle’s METCO program, but he has been with METCO for 10 years as an academic advisor at Lincoln-Sudbury then a director for Hingham Public Schools. He acknowledges that over his tenure, enrollment is down due in part to private, charter and exam school options in Boston. Some of his plans to strengthen the academic achievement and social-emotional well-being of Boston students, as noted on the sticky notes behind his desk, include encouraging more Boston students to take higher-level honors and AP courses, providing students with academic support through initiatives such as METCO Study and Math Scholars Program, and encouraging more Boston, Concord and Carlisle families to participate in the Family Friends Program, and the METCO Advisory Council which is in its infancy of development.
“METCO works, and having caring educators around makes all the difference.”
This article was published in The Carlisle Mosquito on December 4, 2019: https://www.carlislemosquito.org/index.php/search/?id=35782