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Lincoln-Sudbury High METCO Director says program is 'relevant'

May 12, 2016
By Holly Camero

LINCOLN

Steve Desrosiers, METCO director at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School, says METCO embodies life in America.

Students coming to L-S from Boston as well as those living in Lincoln and Sudbury benefit from the METCO program he says.

“If we think about what America has always been, which is a place where many immigrants have come and put their shoulders to the earth … and made this country richer by coming here. This program is continuing this tradition,” he said.

The Lincoln-Sudbury school district has been part of the METCO program since its inception 50 years ago, and was instrumental in getting the program off the ground. Desrosiers has been the L-S METCO director for two years, the first as interim director. Prior to that he worked for the Boston public school system for eight years, four of which he spent running the district’s No Child Left Behind program and one year in the office of student engagement.

He says METCO helps change students’ perception of the world.

“The gift from the METCO side is that kids who never leave Lincoln-Sudbury and only travel to affluent communities that look like Lincoln-Sudbury have a sense of what the rest of the world looks like,” he said. “It allows for these kids to look at their fellow men struggle and ask themselves the deep questions about ‘What does my privilege mean’ and ‘How do I use it.’”

The same holds true for Boston students.

“[METCO] allows the Boston kids to ask themselves ‘What do I aspire to?’ ‘What do I want to have and is it possible for me to work my way up to a Harvard, etc.?’ I think communities that don’t have a METCO program are at a disadvantage especially now that the global economy is here,” Desrosiers said.

With that global economy comes a need to be fluent in different languages and to understand and be comfortable with people from different cultures.

“These kids are able to ask tough questions early on. They are able to grapple with the country they actually live in. They ask questions – ‘Where do we want to take this country?’ ‘How do we share the table, so we don’t only see ourselves?’,” he said.

The high school currently has 91 METCO students, spread among four grades. Many of the students have come up from the Lincoln and Sudbury elementary schools, so have already established friendships by the time they get to the high school. Most students participate in extracurricular activities such as sports and theater and more than 90 percent of them go on to college.

“The majority of students fit in and the majority of those stay in all the way through because they fall in love with some aspect of the offerings here – the environment, the arts offerings, theater, sports and then the academics,” he said.

The adjustment is easier for those students who have been with the district since the early grades. But even those students that come to L-S in high school typically find a way to fit in, he said. The few that can’t adjust return to Boston.

Closing the gap

While most of the students adjust socially, there is an achievement gap – the average grade for a METCO student is a “C” and for resident students a “B” or higher. When a student can’t keep up with the academics, then the program is not workable.
“We are supposed to be teaching at a very high level,” he said, “and if that doesn’t happen we are not serving the students.”

To help close the achievement gap, the school offers a homework club for METCO students facilitated by teachers. The school has also contracted with Sylvan Learning to provide tutorial support for students in Boston. Freshman students are given lessons in study skills and time management.

“We have good students but they need to master using their time really well,” Desrosiers said, noting METCO students have a long commute to and from the school, which limits their free time. “… but there is definitely an achievement gap and there is definitely work to be done around making sure that they’re all performing much better.”

Desrosiers said family involvement is key, something that may be lacking with METCO students.

“What you find with resident students is that their parents are very engaged and very involved in teaching them as well,” he said.

The achievement gap widens when parents are not involved.

“The families sometimes think that the magic is going to happen in the classroom,” he said.

Schools are also coming to realize that every child has a different learning style.

“Our teachers are making sure we are differentiating in the classroom and trying to get the parents to be more involved,” Desrosiers said. “But parents haven’t in the past seen themselves as part of this equation so we need to do a better job of inviting Boston parents into the academic life and not just leaving it up to the classroom. Families have a lot to do with it especially in the early grades.”

But overall, he said, the program is a success.

“METCO is not just about culture – the diversity of experience that both sides are getting exposed to is huge. It makes it as valid an experience, as American an experience and as relevant an experience as it can be – in this whole exchange. You’re not isolated – the world is crashing in on you. My hope is that the teachers are always leveraging that thing for great discussion,” Desrosiers said.