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Lorenzo Blake: School integration provides benefits to students and school systems while it strengthens communities

Wednesday August 1, 2012

Parent’s Corner
by Lorenzo Blake
Hartford Parent
This story appeared in the Sheff Movement’s Summer 2012 newsletter

Anyone who is a parent can relate to the elation of witnessing their child learn something or vicariously re-living the amazement in their eyes when they have an experience that is completely new. Now, couple that with the perspective of the disparity across the diaspora of educational models we have in the US, that impose obstacles based on class, color and creed. Then, add strides that have been and continue to be made by organizations like the Sheff Movement in Connecticut and The Metropolitan Council for Education Opportunity (METCO) in Massachusetts. You will now begin to understand the sense of the excitement being generated around the education of children being raised in these urban centers.

Many parents are dedicated to improving their children’s chances at future success. Whether through magnet schools in their own neighborhoods or the “Open Choice” busing system offered by the Capitol Region Education Council (CREC), Hartford County parents are availed options worthy of consideration. The Sheff Movement collaborates and supports the magnet schools and the Open Choice programs with advocacy. The unique interactions and mixing of cultures and customs can provide benefits for all concerned. Our children develop an ability to navigate unfamiliar situations and new experiences. As parents, we are given more opportunity to guide and mold them as they gain understanding of their larger community. Currently, the demand of students wanting to participate is far greater than the availability of seats.

Hartford’s magnet schools provide a learning environment focused on education specific to the children’s talents and potential. Children, like my daughter, who are in the Open Choice program through CREC are immersed in a suburban learning environment. This affords them chances to compete and prove themselves using their strengths and abilities. Commonly, it is through these new experiences that confidence is built, bonds are created and possibilities are explored.

The knowledge and the social skills our children gain while in these programs become invaluable tools often utilized in their future careers. They can gain a better perspective of the world around them and their future role in it. Support from parents with children in these programs, and in participating school districts, is crucial. METCO, often compared to the programs in Connecticut, has been diligently committed to this perspective.

In a 2007 report, “Boston’s METCO Program Lessons for the Hartford Area,” compiled by Erica Frankenberg, the METCO director’s duties are described as supporting students and their families, assisting in the lottery selection and student placement, and providing transportation solutions where needed. The report goes on to highlight the METCO program’s progress and provides a strong argument for more state funding and program expansion. Although Hartford does not have paid directors for each participating district, they make efficient use of their resources and support their families with resource specialists, support specialists, literacy facilitators for kindergarten students, after school program for middle and high students and summer programs.

By examining these programs, one could draw certain conclusions. School integration provides benefits to students and school systems while it strengthens communities. The chances of success increase with the more support that is offered encouraging parents to be involved. Political advocacy plays a key role in sustaining and expanding progress made by these programs. It is my belief that as parents it is our obligation to be engaged, involved and willing to fight to ensure the best circumstances for our children’s education.