BOSTON (CBS) – The Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity (METCO) has enlisted new leadership for its program, and she happens to be a METCO Mom.
The Program grew out of the Civil Rights movement to offer school choice to inner-city students from Boston and Springfield and to create racial diversity in suburban school districts.
Former METCO student and Mattapan native Nicholas Vance still sings the program’s praises. “Now, I have friends to this day that are from Bedford, born and raised from Bedford, and have never been to Dorchester or Mattapan until I came along and now all of a sudden, we’ve been friends for life,” said Vance.
Upon returning to his Alma Matter, Bedford High Schoo, Vance, was greeted with the same warmth he experienced growing up, “I love the teachers here – I just talked to at least 12 people in the hallway. They’re like oh my god, you’re bald now!” he joked.
“Boston Public Schools were great, but I was getting straight A’s in all my classes,” he recalled. “I came to Bedford and instantly became a C student and I was like ‘why? Why am I struggling?’ I realized the rigor was different.”
Now in a Ph.D. Program at Northeastern and working at Harvard, he wants to see METCO expand. “This model has been the same model for 50 years. So it’s great that it has come this far, and I think in the next 50 years we’re going to have to change and adapt with the times,” said Vance.
When METCO started in 1966, 220 students traveled out to seven suburban school districts. Today, with a budget of $21 million in state funding, there are about 3,300 students in 37 Districts, almost 200 of which are in Bedford.
The new CEO, Milly Arbaje-Thomase, came to Boston from the Dominican Republic as a child. She’s the first Latina to head up METCO, and its first new leader in decades.
“It really was about the isolated schools in the suburbs and the over-populated schools here in Boston and finding a way that we can partner to alleviate a little bit of that,” said Arbaje-Thomase.
Her sense of purpose extends beyond her new role — because she is also a METCO parent. “I always knew that it was a program that can provide a range of opportunities, not just in the classroom but the extracurricular activities for me was very enticing.”
On her reasoning for putting her two daughters in METCO, Arbaje-Thomase said, “Although I appreciate and love what’s happening in Boston you know at the end of the day we don’t have the same taxes, the same revenue — so Boston is doing the best that they can to really provide well-rounded experience but in the suburbs, we have these things that kind of come automatically and it comes with not as much effort as it comes for Boston to find those resources.”
Milly also has big plans for METCO: “One of the challenges we’re looking at now is: How do we ensure that every student that participates in METCO gets the entire experience, not just the classroom but the before and the after. The ability to stay in your district to do sports, plays, to build your friendships.”
As to why the program is still so essential to urban students, Arbaje-Thomase maintained that “as long as discrimination still exists and racism is still out there, and it’s very alive right now, I believe the program still has a huge purpose.”
Arbaje-Thomase believes in the program and its ability to combat today’s issues of discrimination. She even wants to take it further and expand in to more suburban districts. A project she wishes to supplement with a big fund-raising campaign to pay for transportation and late buses so kids can participate in after-school activities that help build friendships.