Foxborough’s METCO Director Jesenia Castro spoke with cable access host Bob Hickey, alongside METCO, Inc. CEO Milly Arbaje-Thomas. Their conversation ranged from the benefits and struggles experienced by Boston families who take the bus out and back, to a call for the town to get involved and support the students and cherish the impact of the historic program. As Milly put is:
“If you are in the METCO community, you have to be better than every other community out there, because of what we are part of: something so unique, something so historical, something so deep. I mean, we’re one of seven school desegregation programs still alive in the entire United States today, and we’re the largest. So if school committees are signing on the dotted line that they’re going to be a METCO community, that’s step number one: accept these students into our towns. And then what’s next? What can we do in deeper and more intentional ways? We have to be better about teacher diversity. We have to be better by integrating our students in all the entire experience of a school. We have to figure out ways to bring our families together, look at curriculum bias, our instruction, teacher diversity. There are so many things. The lens that you should have is, how can I be better?”
METCO has given Michelle Crawford Cranmore educational ties to three Boston suburbs. Her two sons go to school in Weston through their METCO partnership; she spent five years as METCO Program Advisor in Brookline Public Schools, and this year she took on the METCO Director role down on the South Shore, in Scituate.
Her vision for METCO goes well beyond the educational outcomes for individual students. In a profile in the local paper, she says:
Every student in Scituate is a METCO student because they are all part of this experience. Recent census data suggests that Scituate is 96.8 percent white. The eight houses of worship published on the town website cater to different Christian based religions. METCO is beneficial to the Scituate community because it offers students, staff and the greater Scituate community a peek into what the world looks like outside Scituate. Our Scituate students and families who reside in Boston come from all walks of life; they represent a tapestry of races, ethnicities, cultures, religions and ways of being.
METCO’s CEO spoke with Juri Love of Color Magazine about how her life experience influences METCO’s evolving vision. Milly Arbaje-Thomas immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic as a child, and watched her mother overcome the language barrier and work tirelessly to put Milly through Catholic School in Lynn, Massachusetts. Now, she shares that dedication to her children’s education with the thousands of other METCO parents: her two children attend school in Brookline through METCO.
Milly draws on a range of her life experiences to connect with METCO’s mission:
As a Dominican immigrant with Lebanese roots, married to a Black and Filipino man, I hope to never forget the cultural richness that I personally bring to this job. And most importantly, I hope [to continue] opening doors and bringing opportunity to others.
Taking on the leadership role in METCO wasn’t an easy choice, amid personal and health challenges. But, as she tells Color Magazine, the vision was too meaningful to pass up:
A few years ago, while I went through cancer treatment, I told myself I would only [resume] working full-time if my job was meaningful and had a significant impact across the Commonwealth and beyond. METCO is exactly that! It’s not every day that one can work for a program that creates educational opportunity for students of color from urban neighborhoods and helps to close the achievement gap, [while] fighting racism.
Read her whole interview with Color Magazine here.
METCO alum Michael Bivins, better known as “Biv” in Bel Biv DeVoe (and as a founder of the 80s R&B group New Edition), brought his new jack swing out to Belmont in June to get his long-awaited high school diploma. As WHDH news reports:
A member of the 90’s bands New Edition and Bel Biv DeVoe walked across the graduation stage at Belmont High School Thursday to receive an honorary degree. Michael Bivins left school his sophomore year to begin his professional music career. Before that, he would take the bus from Roxbury to Belmont everyday as he took part in the METCO program. Bivins is now married with four girls, but he never forgets his years at Belmont schools and growing up in Roxbury.
Watch Michael reunite with his METCO coordinator Thelma Burns in the video here!
After 11 years playing the pivotal role of overseeing the experiences of Brookline’s METCO participants, Dr. Sujan “Suzie” Talukdar has been chosen to lead one of the town’s eight elementary schools outright.
As of July 1, Dr. Talukdar will be principal of the Driscoll School, which serves kindergarten through 8th grade. Brookline Public Schools’ superintendent Andrew Bott acknowledged that the expertise and relationships she built supporting the families from Boston as they navigated the schools has equipped her with the skills to ensure an inclusive and equitable community at Driscoll. As he put it in a letter to Brookline families:
[Dr. Talukdar] explained clearly how her experience at the district level combined with her familiarity with the Driscoll community will allow her to bring a new perspective to the leadership of the school. Throughout her years in Brookline, Dr. Talukdar has established a strong reputation for her ability to collaborate closely and effectively with central office staff, principals, curriculum and program coordinators, teachers, paraprofessionals, and families in support of student growth and development. During her more than 20 years as an educator, Dr. Talukdar has used her passion and expertise in cultural proficiency, anti-racism, and educational equity to address academic and opportunity gaps.
The entire METCO network congratulates Suzie as she takes on this new challenge. She will be a powerful role model to all of Brookline’s students!
The Boston Globe’s Meghan E. Irons profiled incoming METCO CEO Milly Arbaje-Thomas, stressing the widened social impact that she hopes will define her vision for the organization’s next 50 years. Following the retirement of 43-year executive director Jean Maguire in 2016, the Board of Directors selected Arbaje-Thomas to help METCO become a “more mature and dynamic organization,” according to Board President Charles E. Walker, Jr.
“I don’t want to [just] place students in the [suburban] districts,” she tells Irons. “I want to have relationships with the districts. I want to be that voice for the children. I see METCO, Inc. as a center of gravity for the work that is happening in the districts.”
Her ambitious fundraising aspirations, which will be abetted by a newly assembled Board and Boston-area institutions that are already filling up her calendar with meetings, will allow the small administrative staff to expand in effectiveness and ambition.
“We’ve come this far,” she says. “We’ve made progress. But how much better can we be?”