Over the last couple of months, Arlington METCO Director Richelle Smith has continued to organize activities that bring Arlington Public Schools Boston-based students and their families together with their Arlington classmates and community members. One example is the Bridging Two Communities Walk that took place at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston on March 26. Over 100 participants came out to join in fellowship and enjoy an exceptionally beautiful day..
This walk originated several years ago when Ms. Smith was a Social Work Intern for the Arlington METCO program.The idea developed from a play date that she shared with her METCO-student daughter. The two met a resident friend at the Arboretum and had such a good time that Ms. Smith thought this could be a good way to bring Arlington-resident and METCO families together. This year marks the third time the Walk has taken place, and it continues to grow. In addition to Ms. Smith, the students and their families, this year’s group included event coordinator METCO Family Engagement Liaison Nikecia Gadson, Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Homan and other members of the district and school administration, teachers, APS staff, and community members.
The Walk followed two other events that brought people together outside of the school setting. On February 11, AHS METCO students, parents, and APS staff traveled to the Boston Public Housing Commission’s Woods Mullen Shelter where they sorted clothing and helped organize a portion of the Women’s Donation Closet. The idea of performing volunteer service together came from AHS Social Studies teacher Jay Barry, who helped to organize the event. Ms. Smith had been a Unit Manager at this women’s shelter, and she believed that volunteering there would offer the students a different perspective on homelessness.
This was the first volunteer service trip that the APS METCO program has organized since Ms. Smith became Director. The Shelter’s Volunteer Services Coordinator Dwayne Brown worked with the program to make it happen. Ms. Smith reports that the visit made history because the Arlington group is the only METCO program that has volunteered there.
It was clear that the visit spurred a lot of thought among the ten participants. One of the students was so inspired he went home that afternoon and folded all his clothes! He was proud of the progress the group made at the Shelter, and commented that “...it is not what I expected.” When asked to elaborate on this he stated, “I thought it was like how it looks outside.” Ms. Smith hopes to do this volunteer activity annually and help out in other ways.
Another event that brought people together was METCO Advocacy Day on March 21. Every year, supporters of METCO, the largest voluntary school desegregation program in the nation, come to the Massachusetts State House to ensure that the budget includes the funding required to continue. The Arlington group that attended included APS administrators and teachers, students, and town community members. They joined over 250 METCO supporters to raise their voices for the program and meet with legislators. This was the first in-person Advocacy Day since the COVID pandemic.
Speakers included State legislators such as Chris Worrell, (a Lincoln/Sudbury METCO alum), the Mayor of Melrose, School Superintendents from Needham and Natick, and students and other program alumni. The performances, including the one by the Lincoln Step Team led by METCO Director Marika Hamilton, wowed the crowd. Each member of the Arlington delegation met with their respective legislator.
Ms. Smith describes Advocacy Day this way; ”Between the inspirational speeches, the engaging performances, and the heartfelt conversations with legislators during office visits, the impact of the program on schools and communities was palpable.” Arlington is one of the seven original towns that welcomed the METCO program into their school districts when it was founded in 1966. As such, in the words of Ms. Smith, it is important for Arlington to “...advocate for the METCO Program to maintain current programming and ensure proper funding and staffing for future programming efforts, including late bus accessibility.”