Bedford School Committee members and Superintendent of Schools Philip Conrad emphasized the two-way value of the METCO program following a presentation by its local director at Tuesday’s virtual committee meeting.
“We get an awful lot out of this that isn’t getting as much attention as it should,” said Chair Brad Morrison. Newly-elected member Sarah McGinley asserted, “METCO brings a tremendous amount of value to Bedford.” Added Superintendent Philip Conrad, “It is important to remember that METCO began for two reasons: to end segregation, and also to help communities like Bedford undo their racial isolation.”
METCO is the nation’s largest voluntary school desegregation program, enrolling Boston students of color in suburban schools. Akil Mondesir, METCO director for the Bedford schools, pointed out at Tuesday’s meeting that 2023-24 will be the 50th year of the program in the town. “I hope the 50th also showcases the value the rest of Bedford gets, how our students’ lives are enriched,” Morrison said.
Mondesir shared an audiovisual feature he prepared on the history of METCO in Bedford. The presentation was supposed to be the centerpiece of the committee’s annual meeting at METCO headquarters, but it was decided early in the day to pivot to a remote meeting because of weather conditions. The committee hopes to reschedule the meeting in Boston before the end of the academic year.
“There’s so much that METCO has done, so much that the Bedford community has done,” Mondesir said. “School committee members like yourselves have gone above and beyond to support the students, their families, their education.”
Several School Committee members asked how the district can strengthen the program in Bedford, but Mondesir turned the question around. Noting that some METCO towns don’t offer late buses, he said that in Bedford “the administration has always said we will find a way, because they understand the kids are at the forefront. And they want to be connected to the community where they go to school.”
Committee member Dan Brosgol took the question to a wish-list level, and Mondesir said he would like to see “growth in the program,” as well as separate buses for METCO students in Davis and Lane Schools and a coordinator in each schoolhouse.
Brosgol also asked Mondesir to comment on the most significant changes in the Bedford program over the past 15 years. The director said there is a greater connection to the community among female students, exemplified by innovations such as the stepdance team at the high school. There’s still room for improvement he added, recounting how challenging it can be for a Boston student to attend school during the day and prepare for a prom that evening.
Member Sheila Mehta-Green pointed out that Mondesir’s perspective is unique, as he is not only a professional but also a BHS graduate and father of a METCO student at the high school. Mondesir began his Bedford METCO career in middle school and graduated from BHS in 1998. He joined the staff 15 years ago and has been director since 2017.
“Akil has begun the process of collecting the history of the METCO program in Bedford, [and] how it has had an effect on the students and the community,” Conrad said.
Mondesir told the committee, “My goal for next year is to invite alumni back, to see what Bedford is like now, to hear their stories, good, bad, or indifferent.”
Appearing on the Zoom screen in a shirt featuring the BHS Black Student Union logo, Mondesir said his multi-media production “seemed small and then it started to grow a life of its own.”
The video begins with historical, economic, and cultural references to 1974. The Bedford School Committee voted in May 1974 to join METCO and the first 17 students enrolled in September in the town’s four elementary schools. Also referenced are the tensions in Boston resulting from the court order to achieve racial balance by busing, including a 1975 newspaper article describing how the METCO bus was the target of stone-throwers as it headed out of Boston to Bedford.
Also featured is an array of METCO graduates, mostly during the decade beginning in 2010, and where they studied and what they achieved after departing the Bedford schools. Mondesir said he will recruit METCO alumni to help celebrate the 50th year, and he hopes past school superintendents will also be part of the commemoration.
“We work so hard on policy,” said committee member Sarah Scoville. “So, it’s always great to see the real-life impact that those policies can have on people.”
Morrison asked about the relationship among METCO communities, “how you share wisdom and challenges and how you help each other out. Is there more we can be doing regionally?”
Mondesir noted his particular relationship with the program in Concord. Also, “We have monthly directors’ meetings in different communities and we have these conversations. Because we all go through similar issues, concerns, and struggles, we have opportunities to come together and discuss those topics.” There are also professional development and mentorships, he added.
Conrad said Mondesir has “an important voice” in the METCO Directors Association and serves as a mentor for newer directors. “I am impressed with how collaborative he is and how giving he is.”
The superintendent also thanked Bedford’s representatives in the Legislature for their continued support of state METCO funding. He noted that next Tuesday is the program’s annual advocacy day when supporters meet with legislators in their State House offices.