When Nicole Allen started second grade last September, the most important thing she needed was an alarm clock. I know because I lent her the clock. She lives around the corner from me in Boston's racially mixed South End, but she goes to school in affluent, white, suburban Wellesley.
Nicole gets up at 5:15 every morning to catch her bus at 6:33. It takes an hour and a half for her to get to her Wellesley public school. When she gets home, around a quarter to 5 in the afternoon, streetlights are already on.
Are Nicole and her busmates mere pawns in some court-ordered desegregation plan? No, they are not. In fact, Nicole had been on a waiting list for two years to become a Metco pupil.
Metco, short for Metropolitan Council for Equal Educational Opportunity Inc., began in 1965, and now includes more than 3,300 minority children bused out of Boston into some 35 surrounding suburbs. The State of Massachusetts supports each child with a grant of about $2,000 to the receiving school district.
The program has been widely deemed successful. As Gregory Anrig, Massachusetts commissioner of education, says, "The remarkable thing about Metco is that for every kid in the program, there's a parent that gets the kid out of bed by 5:30 so that he can catch a bus and ride for at least an hour out, and an hour back. That's the best testimony in favor of the program there is."
And Robert Boyd, chairman of the Metco Parents' Council and father of two children in the program, agrees: "Our Metco kids have a spirit that is unparalleleD."
The state board of education reimburses the towns for the actual costs incurred in accepting Metco children -- $7.86 million for 1980-81. (Metco also operates in western Massachusetts, where 166 children from Springfield go to school in five surrounding suburbs.)
All has not been smooth sailing. After a series of racial incidents in the spring of 1978, the nearly 40 Metco students at Concord-Carlisle High announced they planned not to return in the fall. Ultimately, most were persuaded to return, but the experience led the Concord Human Rights Council to establish a program called "Climate for Freedom," to bring speakers into classrooms and set up seminars on racial awareness.
"I think Metco is doing well -- in Concord in general and at Concord-Carlisle High in particular," says Norma Hoyte, Metco coordinator at the high school. Today Concord-Carlisle has about 50 Metco youngsters among its student population of around 1,500.
"I think the kids enjoy coming here -- they love to bring their friends in from Boston," she says. In fact, she has to discourage that somewhat. The Metco students want to bring more visitors than the buses can accommodate.
"And people who've graduated come back for a day -- or people who've been accepted at a prep school. Even the complainers come back."
It takes effort to make Metco work, especially in an area like Concord, with virtually no minority population. Mrs. Hoyte sais it takes a while for white people to get over a sense of discomfort around blacks. Black people, she notes , tend to have more experience with white people than whites have with blacks.
This might be part of the reason that whites tend to see Metco as an integration program, whereas blacks tend to see it as a means to a good education for their children.
Patricia Budd, chairwoman of the Metco board, says: "These kids are going out of their way to get what the kids in the suburbs get anyway. . . . I don't think there would be a waiting list if the purpose were only integration."
Each Metco child has a "host family" in the suburban community, and for younger children, Metco organizes certain activities, such as overnights. But as the students get older they are more likely to have found suburban friends on their own, and to be arranging their own activities with them.
There are special "late buses" to allow Metco students to take part in school sports or music activities after hours. But when it gets too late for those, they often stay over at frie nds' houses.