This is the 47th year that the Bedford Public Schools have participated in the Metco program. But it’s the first that the schools will be welcoming a Boston contingent during a global pandemic.
The program coordinator, Akil Mondesir, is confident that all necessary measures have been taken to ensure that the Boston students can keep on top of remote learning, and can travel to and from Bedford safely.
“Working side by side with the new superintendent, with Jon Sills, the assistant superintendent the finance director, all of the principals, I truly believe that during this crisis they wanted to be sure the families from Boston were never left out, that they always felt connected and truly are part of the Bedford community,” Mondesir declared.
“Akil has done the bulk of the work. He is an incredible asset for us,” said Superintendent of Schools Philip Conrad. “He has really helped us to understand what the families need, and we have worked with them individually and collectively to get them what they need.”
“Especially at this time of racial reckoning, the kids should feel like we really listening to their needs.”
There are scheduled to be 105 Metco students in the Bedford Public Schools: 19 at Davis, 16 at Lane, 17 at the Middle School, and 41 at Bedford High School. Conrad said school officials hosted Zoom meetings on separate days for Metco families, one for Davis and Lane Schools and the other for secondary schools.
The principals have met with parents and kids, Conrad said. Mondesir noted that upcoming parent conferences may take place outdoors, weather permitting, rather than virtually.
Technology is a necessity, as much of the school year will at least begin with some online teaching and learning.
School officials are ensuring that the devices needed for remote instruction is sufficient. Mondesir said Internet hotspots have been purchased through Verizon, and a number of Metco parents are now better able to access the Internet. Hotspots involve special equipment to create a wireless connection, to which one can connect a tablet, smartphone, computer, or another device
Students who need them not only have been provided with Chromebooks but also extra ones, precluding a trip to Bedford in case something goes wrong. High school students are equipped with iPads, Mondesir said, and everyone has WiFi access.
There are other priorities. “We want transportation to be as seamless as it can be,” Conrad said. “And once they get to school, we’re making sure that they have time to eat and that they feel included.”
Mondesir said he is working with officials at Bedford Charter Service to arrange for one round-trip bus each for Metco children at each of the town’s four schools. He is also connecting with administrators to refine the number of riders and what days they will be in school each week. That way they can be sure to have safe seating on the buses, with social distancing according to state guidelines.
“We have monitors for each bus, and I’m working with Bedford Charter to assign kids by name so parents won’t be able to put kids on the wrong bus. They’ll be identified by name,” Mondesir said, adding that buses will be sanitized twice daily.
The money is available, Mondesir said, approved at the local and state levels. “The kids are getting what they need.”
Sometimes the need is more basic. The Bedford Food Pantry is also serving Metco families in need, Mondesir said. “At first I would get it and then drop it off, and then we worked out a system with a van from Bedford Charter.” Dropoff, he said, is all socially-distanced.
Mondesir, a 1998 BHS graduate and Metco alumnus, acknowledged that “the difficult part is the non-socializing. Students have the ability to interact over the computer, over social media, but how do they get to meet kids? The school leadership is talking about what we can do.”
Some parents were worried that Bedford would withdraw from Metco, Mondesir said. But the superintendent and principals “were adamant that the program is here. That made me feel so good to be here.”
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at [email protected], or 781-983-1763
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