Bedford’s METCO Director Notes His ‘Unique Perspective’

April 19, 2024
Akil Mondesir. Courtesy Image.

Editor’s note: This academic year, the Bedford Public Schools are marking the 50th year of affiliation with the METCO program. Among the accomplishments over five decades are three graduates who serve as school district METCO directors. They reflected on their experiences in recent interviews. The third story in this series focuses on Akil Mondesir.

Akil Mondesir says serving as the director of METCO in the school district he attended as a student and worked as a paraprofessional has its advantages. 

“I feel I have a unique perspective,” he said in a recent interview. “Working with some former teachers and colleagues, I have the ability to help bridge gaps.”

He cherishes the level of support the program receives from the district and the community. During the exigencies of the Covid-19 pandemic, “they rallied around the families from Boston. They never looked at them as the ‘other.’ They wanted to make sure the kids got everything the residents did.”

A 1998 BHS graduate, Mondesir is especially cognizant of the value of alumni. 

“I’m always trying to get people to come back, as educators or working for the town as police or firefighters or other capacities,” he said. 

Two alumni, Shawn Ayala ’06 and DeWayne Clachar ’09, are METCO directors in other districts. “That’s great, amazing,” Mondesir said. “It’s a testament to Bedford, to the work that Bedford has done with students who have gone through the program.”

He stressed that METCO always has been designed as a two-way street, with the receiving districts benefiting from an infusion of diversity, cultural exposure, and real-world demographics. “I think sometimes that gets lost,” he said of the mutual benefits approach.

Mondesir’s grandmother, who was also his guardian, registered him to join METCO for sixth grade in the fall of 1990. 

“I don’t know what made her decide, but she absolutely wanted something different for me,” he said. “I didn’t even know what METCO was.” He found out when the program director in Bedford, Irene Parker, interviewed him at home.

He graduated seven years later, repeating the seventh grade, which he said “was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I needed to mature.” He studied at Northern Essex Community College and Framingham State before completing his undergraduate degree work at Cambridge College.

Mondesir said his METCO years in the Bedford schools were positive ones. Of course, he made friends and connections, but there also were “the educators who reached out, who saw something in me and picked me up when I needed it. Even negative experiences gave me an opportunity to see how to navigate and solve those issues.”

Among those adults was history teacher Paula Verrier, whom Mondesir said was “one of those instrumental people in my life.” 

Throughout high school, he said, “she opened her door and her heart to me as a kid.”

Verrier retired in 2008, and she tracked Mondesir down so she could invite him to a reception in her honor. There she introduced him to BHS Principal Jon Sills, “and she told him I would be a great fit to work in the school. She saw that in me.” 

Mondesir landed a position as a BHS teaching assistant a few weeks later. 

“I had one shirt and one pair if black pants,” he remembered. Even though he had graduated 10 years earlier, “Walking down the hallways as a TA felt so weird – like I still was a student.”

He was the liaison for METCO students, working with three different directors, connecting with kids and their parents. Sills, he said, encouraged him to return to school for the graduate degree that could put him over the top as a future METCO director.

Mondesir said Dr. Percy Napier “gave me the opportunity to engage more with high school and middle school students. He showed me a lot about college readiness. He was instrumental in designing the Tenacity Challenge.” His successor Claire Jones “helped me create a program that was my own. She was focused on the elementary grades, and she gave me full autonomy to deal with issues that arose. She said, ‘I need you to start thinking like a director so I want you to start acting like one.’ She knew what was happening but had me handle day-to day situations – parent meetings, conversations with students and teachers.”

Mondesir earned a master’s from Cambridge College and was named Bedford’s METCO director in 2017, serving as interim director for that first year.

He expressed gratitude to his cousin Stacey Ann Taylor, who was his guardian after the death of his grandmother. “She pushed me to not settle. She made me keep going;” Jim Byrnes, his varsity basketball coach at BHS, also had a major impact. “Getting ready to graduate, I had no ideas what I wanted to do,” Mondesir said. “Coach took me to colleges to meet coaches, and constantly kept in contact with me.” 

“I say this all the time – people saw things in me that I didn’t see for myself.” Sills, he said, “gave me an opportunity when I was at a crossroads. He not only valued having me in the district, he valued me as a person. I consider him a mentor and a friend.”

Mondesir has two children; his daughter is a BHS sophomore. His brother Alistair Williams is also a Bedford METCO graduate.

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