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Metco rolls out new enrollment plan

Lottery aimed at making process more fair

Trea Lavery
Metco rolls out new enrollment plan
Metco Chief Executive Officer Milagros Arbaje-Thomas at the organization’s Roxbury office. BANNER PHOTO

For the first time since its beginning in 1966, the voluntary school desegregation program Metco will select students by lottery, rather than by the first come, first served system that in has operated under for nearly 53 years.

Parents will be able to enter their children in the lottery during the fall of the year before students are due to enroll through an online portal, rather than by visiting the organization’s Roxbury headquarters during workday hours.

The Roxbury-based agency, which offers approximately 3,300 seats in suburban public schools to school-aged children of color in the city every year, is revamping its application system to be more transparent and equitable, and easier to access.

“This is going to increase the diversity of students in neighborhoods that have been underrepresented in the Metco program,” said Milagros Arbaje-Thomas, chief executive officer of the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity in an interview with the Banner.

Metco is a voluntary desegregation program that offers seats in 33 suburban school districts and 190 schools to Boston students of color.

The new open enrollment period will run from October to December of each year, with applicants being selected randomly to receive spots in the program in the following academic year so that each student has an equal opportunity.

In the past, applicants would rush to the Metco office directly after birth to register for the approximately 8,000-person-long waitlist, disadvantaging those who weren’t clued in about the program until later or moved to the city with their children.

“Right now, we’ve never had to do any advertising. It has been a word of mouth process,” Arbaje-Thomas said. “So you had to be connected to someone in Metco to know about Metco.”

The new application process will also give parents the option to apply online, in multiple languages.

Arbaje-Thomas, a Metco parent herself who assumed her role in 2018, said that modernizing the application process was her number-one priority when she started. Even beyond serving more students, however, she said that modernization will make everything easier on staff as well.

“When I saw the enrollment process, and how many physical folders we have to maintain, I was saying, this is just not an efficient way to do business,” she said. “We need to make some changes, and I didn’t want to go through another academic year like this.”

Metco will hold a public forum from 6:30-8 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 25 at the Thelma D. Burns Building, 575 Warren St., Dorchester for members of the community to learn more and comment on the changes.

Arbaje-Thomas said she believes the changes will create a more diverse environment and offer opportunities to a wider group of students than Metco has been able to reach before.

“I’m very excited about modernizing this historical program that’s been around for 52 years and making sure that Metco can remain true to its mission of racial desegregation,” she said. “It’s meant to bring different racial groups together, and sometimes you need a program like this to make that happen.”

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