What's It Like To Be A Student Of Color In A Predominantly White District?

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An empty classroom (AP/Charles Rex Arbogast)
An empty classroom (AP/Charles Rex Arbogast)

What is it like to be a student of color in a predominantly white classroom or school district? As we continue to look at how race plays out in American society, as we have these conversations here on Radio Boston and as stories of racism experienced by students in white schools abound on social media, we wanted to ask that question.

A recent Boston Globe story highlighted the experiences of families of color in Arlington, describing how J. Mike Remy left his job with Arlington Public Schools in 2017 after expressing concerns to the superintendent about racial disparities in student discipline. Remy said he had been told to downplay his discoveries.

Kerry Rodriguez, whose children go to school in Medford, is mom and chief of the Massachusetts Parent Union. She said a teacher unfairly graded her son at the end of the school year, after remote learning.

"He couldn't even deny in previous trimesters that this kid is bright, he's brilliant, he's engaged, asks questions," Rodriguez said. "But she was brutal in her grading of him, his lack of engagement in remote learning."

Kerry, you know, said she was unable to try to and was able to engage with the teacher after getting those grades. She also added that she's concerned that a lot of kids across the Commonwealth are having similar experiences, especially poor district and school administrators and staff who don't match the diversity of the students.

Radio Boston reached out to both the Arlington and Medford public schools superintendents, but did not hear back from them in time for this segment.

We hear from Tashana Bailey, a METCO parent and former employee in the Arlington Public School system, and a former METCO student herself.

Interview Highlights

On her own children's school experience in Arlington public schools: 

"It's already hard on the METCO students who have to leave from Boston to go to Arlington to go to school. Some time first thing in the morning, they're facing struggles because when they get there ... it's super early. They haven't eaten yet and they're either tired or they want to play ... There's all this energy that they want to burn off because they've been sitting on the school bus for or for an hour or more ... When they get off the school bus, they want to play and engage. And sometimes the school doesn't have any staff to watch them. When the kids are just running around and playing, the residents will think that they're getting into trouble or ... they're being too loud. They have to understand where we're coming from. It's not exactly the same as the people that live there. There's a lot of times when we have students who are attending the school, who have issues with their their teachers, because I'm sorry to say, ... we do have racist teachers in the Arlington public schools, and these are the people that parents are relying on to trust to educate their children ... The environment is not really inviting to us."

On the lack of support systems for students of color: 

"Students will go home and complain to their mothers or ... their family. They have a support system at the school — the METCO staff — but it's just not enough ... I feel like the leadership expects the METCO staff to solve all the problems when it's a community problem. It's not fair. Parents have to figure out what we're supposed to do to make our community safe."

On how METCO students are treated differently when they need academic support: 

"Sometimes our students may struggle with with parts of the curriculum, you know, testing and things of that nature ... Sometimes, if they're struggling in certain areas, I just think the system is quick to just automatically put them on an [Individualized Education Program], versus really taking the time to give them extra support. It's a little bit harder. Growing up as a METCO student, I spent a lot of time in my community. I went to Concord. And it's different now because the world has just changed. People don't really trust each other. I'm noticing that ... they need to do a better job with bridging the community."

On her personal experience as a METCO student: 

"I started in first grade and I stayed all the way through 12th grade. I'm not going to say that I didn't have any issues with racism and things of that nature, but it felt very different. I can't really tell you what they did differently because I was a child, but what I can say is that it was more family-oriented. The community there really did want us there. They were involved. I remember having Concord students come to Boston and spend the night at my house. It was like a family ... I still have strong relationships with my friends now. So it was more family oriented. The METCO community was stronger. We looked out for each other ... I don't really see much of that happening. So it's almost like we're just Boston students that are dropped off to go to school in Arlington. It's not like we are part of the Arlington community."

This article was originally published on July 22, 2020.

This program aired on July 22, 2020.

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Tiziana Dearing Host, Radio Boston
Tiziana Dearing is the host of Radio Boston.


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Paris Alston Host, Consider This
Paris Alston was WBUR's host of the Consider This podcast and a former producer for Radio Boston.



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