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CodeSwitching: Race and Identity in the Suburban Schoolhouse

A film by Jonathan P. Schwartz

CodeSwitching: Towards a participation-centric examination of the impact of busing for school integration.

In the diary dawn, Interlock Media’s camera-drone hovers above a bus full of METCO students. They are set to headset on the same highways from the inner-city to greater-Boston’s affluent Suburbs that thirty-thousand students have traveled since the METCO program began more than fifty years ago.

CodeSwitching: Race and Identity in the Suburban Schoolhouse traces the stories of a half-dozen African-American students, spanning two generations, who signed up for voluntary busing to attend better-resourced suburban schools. METCO, the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity, has been a wonderful experiment that has helped countless city youth get top-rate education and attend college more frequently than their urban peers. The students were generally perceived as a bonus to the mainly white suburban schools, as their presence provided visible diversity.

For some students, however, the shuttling between Boston’s ethnic neighborhoods and predominantly white suburban schools has not been seamless, especially for the girls. Typically, girls do not experience the same athlete-hero status as many of their male peers. They may face the burdens of both ostracization back home and feelings of isolation in their adopted schools. This had led to anxiety and depression and in extreme cases even attempted suicide.

Social media can compound their troubles again, especially for girls. Social media platforms such as After School and Swilfie are double-edged swords in students’ social lives. While usually facilitating positive communication and connection, these anonymous apps also enable classmates to gossip, demonstrate their social statuses, and comment on those of other students on a relentless basis. Pressures to “act white” or even “act more black” are common for participants, who struggle to bridge the gap between home life and school culture. In the process, they quickly learn to act and speak differently depending on the venue. This is Code-Switching

For some of our characters, “code-switching” has brought social and professional mobility. For others, the nature of code-switching has been harder to handle, causing anxiety and depression.

CodeSwitching: Race and Identity in the Suburban Schoolhouse will be aired on television and used to fire-up conversations on the future of METCO, which if bolster by on-going discussion, promises to be bright.

The METCO program seeks to alleviate educational inequalities, and as a derivative function, to address social, economic, and racial injustices in its partner schools. At METCO’s half-century mark, it is a worthy exercise to reflect on the progress that METCO has made. The recollections and opinions contributed by the diverse character in CodeSwitching add their voices to this healthy discourse.

CodeSwitching, while origination with the support of Westonites, has benefited from dozens of off duty film professionals generously giving their time to produce the animation, music, and stylized look that will draw in viewers of all ages.


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