A version of this article appeared in print in our January 2017 issue.
As part of our feature on METCO’s fiftieth anniversary, Olivia Gieger sat down with Wellesley Middle School Guidance counselor and Wellesley METCO 1987 graduate Bill Craft to discuss the anniversary and his experience with the program over the years. An excerpt from this interview appears in the January print issue of The Bradford.
What does the fiftieth anniversary of METCO mean to you?
When I think about the fact that the program started in1966, I think about the images we see [from that year], which often depict racial divisiveness, violence, and people fighting to keep cultural groups separate. This program is one that was started by volunteers, [who wanted] to push integration forward and who felt that it was important that Brown vs. Board of Education be put in place as soon as possible.The idea that the program started at a time when Martin Luther King Jr. was still marching, that people were marching for integration and for rights [really puts it into perspective]. There were people from towns like Wellesley and communities in Boston that were proactive and actively pushing integration froward.
The fact that it’s lasted for 50 years, and people are as passionate about the program now
speaks volumes in terms of the importance of integration and people getting to know people of different backgrounds.
How did METCO look when you were in school? How is that different from METCO today?
I started the program in 2nd grade, in the ’70’s at the Perrin school, which is no longer around.
It was similar [to today’s schedule], with early mornings getting on the bus before six in the morning. It was hard to get up in the morning to get on the bus. Getting to school and getting on the playground probably feels the same now as it did then. I met kids on the bus who were from Boston, and we were friends, and I met kids from Wellesley that were my friends.
Riding on the bus was one thing, and getting off the bus at school and being on the playground was a blast, it was the best. In a way, the earlier in the morning, the more time [we had] to play.
I remember Perrin really well. The swings were the first thing you approached, and the field was in the back. It was a balance of being tired and getting up in the morning and then having all of this time to play on the playground.
Throughout high school, we had a lot of later busses for all of the Boston students, so as an elementary student, we had late buses. We had regular buses at the end of school, then a three o’clock bus, and then we had a late bus that left the high school around six. So, we had a bunch of opportunities to stay after and play with friends that lived in Wellesley.
We also had intramural sports at the elementary level. I did all sorts of things from wrestling to basketball.There were late buses every day — from kindergarten right through high school — which meant I took clarinet lessons, where otherwise I wouldn’t be able to do that; I played with my friends in intramural sports; and any day I wanted to stay after, I could stay after, and I did often.That was great.
Now we don’t have that. The elementary schools have a late bus once a month, on the first Wednesday of each month — the early dismissal day — so that kids have the opportunity to connect with their ‘family friends’, [a program in which] a Wellesley family connects with a Boston family. The Boston residents can stay for that one day a month after school, but that is so different, in terms of the program. [METCO aims to] connect kids not just around academics during the school day but [aims] to make genuine friendships. The idea that when the bell rings, kids have to go home because we don’t have funding for late buses… just cuts against the grain of what the program is supposed to be all about.
That’s the biggest difference that strikes me. I remember how much fun I had and all the opportunities I had to continue to connect with friends from Wellesley beyond the school day, beyond the bell. It’s kind of odd; we like to think we’ve progressed, but in that sense, because the budget is always cut almost every year for METCO, we don’t have those same opportunities.
I know the high school METCO students are working on fundraising for the program. How do you think fundraising and student efforts can help get more busses so that students can have these types of opportunities today?
Fundraisers like that often can only support so much, so when you think about [school] sports and those kind of things, rather than intramural sports, which are just recreational, we often look for buses for high schoolers to participate in drama or musicals or interschool sports or after school opportunities for help. It’s always a tricky question when you raise funds what are you going to do with that money; you can’t cover everything. Those buses aren’t going to elementary level.
I think that fundraising helps; I think it makes a difference — hopefully. I don’t know for sure because I am not there. I think often you have to think about what to do with that money. Buses are ridiculously expensive. I don’t know for sure, but it used to be something like 350 dollars a bus ride, so it gets to be really expensive. I know fundraising helps but it’s not enough. What we really need is to get to legislators. When they need to make budget cuts it’s kind of easy to cut METCO, so I think we could be more vocal in being a voter block and in convincing people that it should be untouchable because [METCO] seems that it’s a microcosm of what we want the world to look like; we want people to be talking about different cultural experiences, interacting backgrounds, sharing, and that type of thing. METCO does that, yet it’s sometimes the first program to be cut.
Something like the bus can make a huge difference.
You’re in class for math, science, social studies, and English, and recess at the elementary level, but then the bell rings and now [it’s the] time to connect socially, and all the stuff we really want to be happening: learning about people’s families and their backgrounds and traditions, and sharing those kinds of things…Where’s this social opportunity without a bus? Without something as simple as a bus, it’s hard to do.
What do you hope to see in the next 50 years of METCO?
More funding. Better funding.
A major piece is that there is more funding. [We need funding] for buses first and foremost and opportunities for students to be connecting beyond the school day.
[I also hope to see an] increased awareness in terms of exactly what I said about this being a microcosm of how people should see the world. I wish more people knew and appreciated the fact that there is a program where people voluntarily (which is the important piece: it’s voluntary) connect in the name of both providing academic opportunity but also in the name of learning as much as they can about different cultural groups and breaking down stereotypes.
So if we could have more of that awareness and hopefully an appreciation, then the program continues for another fifty years, and with the funding there’s more opportunities to connect socially and maybe even expand the program.
The other piece is METCO staffing; that’s a challenge too. Before I started we did not have an elementary coordinator. There were seven elementary schools, and we had no coordinator at that level. Someone started to help bridge the gap between schools and teachers and parents and families and those things to support the kids. So when I started [working in Wellesley], we did have an elementary coordinator — because that year the budget actually got a boost, so we had an elementary coordinator, a middle school coordinator, and a high school coordinator. With seven elementary schools, you need someone at that level. Ms. Wornum is the K-12 director, so she’s dealing with budgets and bus contracts and those kind of things. Clearly you need support in middle school, as adolescence hits. In high school, between the transition from middle school to high school and from high school to college, you need one. So we had three, but then a couple years after I was hired, the budget was cut again and we lost our high school coordinator. Now we have a middle school coordinator, and we have a high school coordinator, but we don’t have an elementary coordinator. Even the staffing piece is challenging too because we don’t have the funds to support a coordinator at all three levels, and that’s really important.
The awareness of the importance of the work, the cultural connections, funding for busses and for more opportunities, and thinking about staff [are all things I hope to see in the future].
What was it like being a black boy in a predominately white town in the ’70’s? Did you ever encounter racism or intolerance?
There were a couple of things that happened in my experience. When I started school, in Wellesley in the ’70’s, it was right after the Boston busing piece, so there were a lot of challenges around race during those times, and I remember my family friend — from the family friends program — were the Dummers. My friend was Doug and his mom was Mary, so every stayday, I would stay with them and ride bikes and have a blast. I remember one day I went home, and my mom told me Mrs. Dummer had called and said something had happened at the high school that was a race based incident. I don’t have all the details because I was in third grade or second grade then, but this was a big issue that had happened at high school during the day around race. Mrs. Dummer told my mom that should anything happen, should it trickle down in anyway whatsoever, that she shouldn’t bother to go to Perrin school to look for me because she would look out for me; [she said] ‘he’ll be at my house’. That really touched my mom, in terms of that connection, not just between kids but between the adults. That really struck my mom, and it was really important for my mom to hear that. It meant so much to her that she actually told me as an elementary schooler. So just sort of that always struck me, in terms of the commitment of people in town to the program, and not just to the program — that’s a big umbrella term for it — but to the kids and to the individuals and the families. Mrs. Dummer was so thoughtful, and that’s what just creates a lifelong friendship.
The other thing, sort of as a bookend, was when I was in high school. I had a friend Jake who was our junior class president. We were going on a junior class trip, and there were some questions [among] the people who were chaperoning, and I sort of sensed some bias. I was told I couldn’t bring an electronic [device]. My parents were there; they left; we said goodbye; the bus was about to leave; and then I was told I couldn’t bring a particular electronic because it looked too valuable, but everyone else was able to bring theirs. So my friend Jake stood up on the bus and said, ‘If Bill can’t bring his stuff then no one’s bringing their stuff’. Everyone needed to turn it off, put it away. Just the idea that I had this buddy I grew up with at Perrin School, in second grade, and we didn’t travel in the same circles anymore because friendships change, but he was always a great friend. Even though we weren’t necessarily hanging out together every day, clearly to me, in that friendship, he had the audacity to stand up on a bus and tell people that. The Patriots were in the Superbowl that weekend, so everyone had a little Sony Walkman; everyone wanted to have their technology, but he said if Bill can’t bring his, no one should bring it. So that sort of lasting friendship, to the point where a kid who is 16 or 17 years old is willing to advocate for me because he felt like there was some bias there, also stood out to me.
How do you think being in the METCO program helps expand and deepen people’s understandings of race and diversity?
I so often hear friends — friends who are white or people of color — talking about how they really didn’t have a major cross cultural experience until they got to college. I hear lots of white friends say ‘I really didn’t get to know anyone who was black or latino until I was in college; that’s when my eyes were opened.’ METCO cuts against the grain of that too. Individuals who participate in the METCO program or who live in town have a different experience. Their first cross cultural experience is not in college; it’s when you’re in kindergarten. It’s when you’re five or six! That has to make a difference in terms of exposure from K-12. If you think about towns that are truly racially isolated in that they’re predominantly white towns, there’s very little exposure in terms of breaking down stereotypes. How do you break down stereotypes when you don’t have people of different backgrounds? All you have is what you see on the news or what you see on the media. That fuels some of the issues that we have, but here we have METCO, where there’s a different scenario.
Editor’s note: A version of this was posted on January 18 and taken down due to grammatical errors and word exclusion. This version has since been edited for clarity.