Essay by Neandra Fernandes a the word changes high school scholarship recipient
High School Scholarship Essay by:
As a Black girl, stereotypes are present in my life every day. Since kindergarten, I have been enrolled in a program called METCO (Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity). METCO is a voluntary desegregation program that buses inner city students to suburban schools in attempt to give Boston students better educational opportunities and to help diversify predominately white institutions. At my high school, Lincoln-Sudbury, I am surrounded by many faces that do not resemble mine. Out of the one thousand six-hundred students that attend Lincoln-Sudbury, there are only ninety METCO students.
During my time at Lincoln-Sudbury, I realized how many stereotypes people had about the color of my skin. When one METCO student would get in trouble or was not completing all of their school work, some teachers and peers would act in ways that suggested that all METCO students behave this way. I took it upon myself to challenge these beliefs and ideas that all METCO students are the same and that because I am Black I am incapable of succeeding academically like the resident students.
At Lincoln-Sudbury High School, many of the METCO students do not take very rigorous courses due to very few teachers pushing them to challenge themselves. Meanwhile, non-METCO resident students are more encouraged to challenging themselves by taking honors or AP classes. In order to break this idea that Black people can not thrive academically, I too took honors classes. Since my freshman year, I took honors Spanish, Science and Math classes. Although being the only Black student in my class was sometimes difficult, I knew that I was breaking the stereotype that METCO students are not fit to take hard classes. In these classes, I worked very hard by staying after school which would make my days even longer. I also met with teachers during all of my frees. I did any extra work that my teachers allowed to help keep my grades up. Soon, teachers began to recognize my hard work. I never gave up, even when the hour and a half bus drive to school and home took a toll on me. I knew that I would be paving the way for other Black students who also want to challenge themselves and those who want to break from the stereotype of what some people think a METCO student is like.
Before I got involved in extracurriculars at Lincoln-Sudbury, I was often mistaken for other Black students in my school. Getting called another name because you both happen to be Black hurt my self esteem. It made me believe that I was not looked at as Neandra, but as just another one of the Black girls in the school. I noticed this and instead of letting it carry on, I branched out by joining clubs and participated in school activities. By being a member of the Mentors in Violence Prevention, a club that brings awareness to abusive relationships, I was able to create a name for myself. Other students began to recognize me from their classes and saw how active I was in the school. I made friends with students outside of METCO and became involved in the school community. Teachers and students got to know me for me, not just know me as a METCO student. I also performed a hip-hop dance at my school’s talent shows to let the school community know who I am outside of the classroom . Also, I continued to play the violin in high school and dedicated four years to the orchestra. I was even an active member of the first ever METCO Student Council at Lincoln-Sudbury. My peers and I worked intensely to bring awareness to how METCO students were being treated and served as the voice for the entire METCO class.
By becoming involved at my high school, people began to treat me as an individual, not stereotype me into a group. I was able to create a name for myself and my own identity, which began to make people see me for who I am. I continue to try to break down social constructs of what society thinks about minorities because it is very important to me that all METCO students, or minority students in general, have their own identity. I am proud to be a Black student, so I must show the world what I am capable of.
I want to create a path for incoming minority students who may feel frustrated because others denied them of their own originality. I want to empower other Black students and help them feel like they can accomplish anything they set their minds to. My experience with students and administration at my school neglecting to value me as an individual motivates me to change the culture of the school and the ideas they may have about METCO students by doing what others may not expect from a Black student. Challenging these ideas were never discouraged out in the open. It was not the words of the people who had misconceptions of METCO students that made it clear that there was a divide, but it was the actions or the lack thereof. There were a handful of staff that truly supported the METCO students, but the number of those who did not was much greater. I knew making a name for myself and excelling academically may have not been what some people wanted, but I knew that I had to make a change. I did not want to change the culture of the school for myself, but for the upcoming students. That is what motivated me to push my peers and push myself to be the best that I could be. Now there are more METCO students getting honor roll and branching out into different activities.
Yes there is still work that needs to be done and we will continue to fight for the METCO program. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr said “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”