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The Cypress

The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

METCO Fellows Program eases high school transition

The process of gaining approval for the Fellows Program involved approval from curriculum coordinators, school administration and members of Town Hall.

According to METCO administrators, the transition from 8th to 9th grade, an already difficult one for most students, can pose a challenge to students who don’t live in Brookline. A new program is looking to fix this.

Students in the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity program (METCO), a voluntary integration program that brings students from the Boston area, most of whom are racial minorities, into suburban K-12 schools, make up 5 percent of the student body, according to a 2019 article. The METCO Fellows Program consists of a group of six students and 18 teachers within the METCO and Learning Center programs. Brookline METCO Coordinator Karim Azeb said the goal of the Fellows Program is to provide extra support for collaboration between incoming METCO students and teachers.

“The METCO Fellows Program was born from the idea that statistically and historically METCO students, and incoming freshmen specifically, really struggle academically at the high school,” Azeb said. “Relative to their 9th grade peers, for whatever reasons it is, they struggle more, whether it’s academically, sometimes socially and sometimes culturally.”

Behind this program are many passionate teachers who aspire to create what they envision. An example is special education teacher Jason Montrose, who said that he’s always wanted a program like the Fellows Program.

“Being a METCO student going to Newton Public Schools in the ‘90s, I wanted to make sure that there was the type of programming that I needed when I was struggling to figure out school,” Montrose said.

In 2021, the idea for the program was created and presented to J. Malcolm Cawthorne, who was the METCO coordinator for the high school at the time and is now the head of METCO for the district. The program was also approved by the heads of the Special Education Department at the time, Jen Miller and April Zyirek. The program was piloted in 2021 with the class of 2025.

Azeb said that, behind the scenes, a lot of work has to be done by himself and Dean of Student Support Systems Brian Poon to get this program up and running. Azeb joined this program and process when it was already somewhat in the works, but there was still a lot of work to be done.

The first step in the approval process involved Poon and Azeb pitching the idea to Head of School Anthony Meyer and Assistant Head of School Hal Mason. A sit-down meeting was held in which they pitched the idea and explained funding pathways.

After approaching more curriculum coordinators, Poon and Azeb brought the idea to Town Hall to pitch it to the town legislators, who approved the program and determined that the funding should be provided.
Physics teacher Jennifer Spencer said that she loves the innovative mindset behind creating programs like this one.

“This idea of throwing something on the wall, and seeing what sticks, right? One of the things that is interesting is this idea of Jason and Malcolm putting together a METCO tutorial a few years ago, and now we’re trying this Fellows Program,” Spencer said.

Spencer said that this program means a lot to her and that she feels compelled to give her time and energy to such an important cause, especially because she believes that when it comes to racial equity, teachers of color do a lot of the heavy lifting.

“As a teacher who has worked in Boston and with students of color for my entire career, Brookline High was the first time I’ve ever worked with any white students,” Spencer said. “Coming here, I definitely saw a need for more support and I tend to speak my mind, so this was an opportunity for me to help but also work with other colleagues who are like-minded.”

Throughout their time in the Fellows Program, students have shown tremendous growth. However, staff are seeking to further develop the program to reach more students, potentially even at the elementary level.

“I’d like to see it expand down through elementary schools because of the skills that we have to work on to get kids ready to be successful at Brookline High School,” Montrose said. “It takes awhile and that’s not just this population; it’s all kids.”

Overall, striving to close the education gap has turned into a positive experience for teachers and students. Azeb said that one of the best parts of this program is seeing the appreciation from the sidelines.

“I love seeing the sheer gratitude from the parents that their kids are not going to be left to sink or swim on their own, which, unfortunately, has been a sentiment, specifically of METCO parents of incoming freshmen,” said Azeb.

This is just the beginning of the Fellows Program’s story, which is rooted in the support of those around it.

“We’re super appreciative of the support we’ve gotten. It would have been really easy for people to say ‘no, this program is too small’ or ‘it’s too focused on just the METCO kids,’” Azeb said. “But honestly, not one person uttered that sentiment. We had support from the get-go and it means a lot to the families and kids.”

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