And being in a competitive academic environment like Marblehead, where expectations are high, inspires students to challenge themselves and do their best.
When I was in school, the place where racial diversity made the biggest difference wasn’t the classroom but the locker room. Several METCO students were my teammates on the high school track team. Their athletic talent made us all better sprinters and offered the chance to break down barriers in ways the classroom couldn’t. Being part of a four-man relay and having to pass the baton to a teammate forges a special kind of trust. And it builds bonds deeper than anything that can be legislated.
Last fall, as I was preparing to go to our 40th high school reunion, I wondered how many METCO kids would show up. When I got there, I was delighted to see most of them had flown in from all over the country. Those who couldn’t come had made a point of posting their regrets on Facebook.
Among those in attendance was one of my track teammates, Preston Bellizeare, who like many in the class, I had not seen in 40 years. Now an insurance agent in Baton Rouge, La., he shared a sobering assessment of his high school experience. “If I hadn’t gone to Marblehead High School,” he told some classmates that night, “I might be dead now.”
I hadn’t heard about that conversation stopper until days later. I wanted to discuss it with him, but didn’t get the chance until recently. When we spoke, he told me he was referring to some of his old friends who wound up casualties of the violence that had plagued his Boston neighborhood.
“If I had to do it again, I’d go to Marblehead,” Bellizeare told me. Despite the long bus rides during which he would often fall asleep, he said, “the experience opened my eyes to another way of life, how other people lived.”