It's a long way from Newton to Dorchester

Newton North High School student: "When I came here I was terrified [nervous laughter from class]. When you live in an all-white suburb and turn on the TV you get all this violence about city schools. I had this big violent picture of the Boston schools. A lot of kids here I think are really nice. I shouldn't be surprised at that."

Dorchester High School student:

"They still seem like a bunch of robots; they don't have feelings; they're too serious. But maybe not as much as I thought."

As they discuss these stereotypes on the last day of their experimental exchange program, the students laugh at their original perceptions of one another -- of Newton as "goofy, stuck-up rich people;" of Dorchester as "dangerous, violent, bombed out."

At the same time they acknowledge that the two communities seem further than 15 miles apart. "Psychologically, they're 100 miles apart," one student says. "It's like going to another country."

A bridge between the two "countries" of Dorchester and Newton began to form in the spring of 1980 when Newton North High School students, studying 19 th-century education and black history, expressed an interest in visiting a Boston school. Their teachers, henry Bolter and Paula Evans, contacted the Educational Collaborative for Greater Boston (Edco), a state-funded agency providing 13 participating communities with 30 "outside the classroom" educational programs.

Edco proposed the exchange to Dorchester High School and recruited the enthusiasm of two social studies teachers there, Frank Lattaralo and John Palmieri. Actual planning with Edco coordinators began last October, and a six-week, six-session exchange of 25 students from each school evolved for the spring.

"After the first day of the exchange, it was clear that the kids jelled nicely," Paula Evans reflects. "But our time frame is definitely too short. The exposure the kids are getting is great, but to assume that we've gone a lot further is too hopeful." Describing Newton North's plans to expand the exchange next year to a full-year accredited course, Paula Evans explains:

"You take a risk when you study something in enough depth to raise difficult questions, questions that can't be answered in six weeks."

Dorchester High School's building, circa 1923, crumbling, and decorated with graffiti, raised the first difficult questions. Some Newton students felt guilty about Newton North's swimming pool, carpeted library, and elective curriculum.

Dorchester students expressed bitterness about losing their best students and programs to magnet schools. Dorchester students criticized Newton North's open-campus program as offering too much freedom, at the same time objecting to their school's practice of "locking us up all day."

But after a morning of classes at both schools, students complained that whether they were at Dorchester or Newton, classes could be boring. "A class is a class is a class, whether there's a rug on the floor or not."

Making an exchange program work involves close cooperation between teachers of both schools, a great deal of planning, and flexibility once the exchange is under way. "Our planning sessions were a real collaborative efforts," says Larry Raskin, Edco's education coordinator.

Out of the planning sessions came a successful "buddy system" of pairing students from opposite schools in small groups of two or three students. The "buddy system" idea was rejected at first by the Dorchester High school administration. "Getting administrative support is essential for a program like this," Mr. Lattaralo says.

Once the right elements were in place, the Newton North- Dorchester exchange seemed to run on the enthusiasm and interest of the students. "I wasn't to thank you guys for having us here," announced a girl at the end of a day early in the six- week session. "It seems to me that this is what education is really about."

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