A version of this article appeared on print in our January 2017 issue.
In light of the fiftieth anniversary of Wellesley METCO, Olivia Gieger sat down with METCO Director K-12 and Lexington METCO alumna, Kalise Wornum, to discuss the anniversary and what this landmark means to her. Excerpts of this interview appeared in our January issue.
What was your experience like as a student in the METCO program?
I clearly believe in the program. I think it was one of the most painful, yet rewarding experiences of my life… I moved here in 7th grade from Houston. Learning another culture was huge — realizing I had to be bicultural, figuring out who I am in relation to my color, what does it mean to be the only one of color in my class.
METCO was founded for three reasons. It was founded to eliminate racial isolation. For example in the Wellesley community, if we didn’t have the METCO program, it would be a really isolated place because, unfortunately, in the state of Massachusetts, we are still residentially segregated — we’re are not living next door to each other. For whatever reason, we’re still not doing that. So METCO was formed to help address that issue.
Another reason it was formed was to give urban kids the opportunity to experience a suburban education.
The third, is to make sure that adults were building diverse communities — building bridges really. We figured that if we put our babies together, I’d get to know your mom; she’d get to know my mom.
What does the fiftieth anniversary of METCO mean to you?
I’m younger than the fifty years, so it’s been in existence my entire life. I think it’s telling that METCO was founded by community members in Boston getting together with superintendents in suburban communities saying we both have this issue, and we can both benefit from this. Isn’t that huge? And to this day, that still stands.
Is it perfect? By no means, it’s not. But, I’m proud to be in a district that has this [history]. When METCO started they called it an experiment. It takes courage to want to do it. Today, you and I could [easily chose to enroll] because we know the benefits of it, and we’ve seen the success, but to do it when it’d never been done and it was an experiment and the only thing you had to go on was your moral conscious saying ‘this is the right thing to do and I’m gonna do it’, Wellesley was one of the towns that said yes, and that’s huge, and it’s been in existence for fifty years. The downside is that we still need it because we’re still not living next door to each other, but the fact of the matter is that it fulfills its purpose.
What do you hope the next fifty years of METCO look like?
In some ways, I almost wish we wouldn’t need it. If the purpose of this was to eliminate racial isolation, my hope is that in fifty years, we won’t need to develop a program to do that, but we ourselves and our society has done that for us; we’re now more integrated; we’re now living amongst each other and have a more diverse community that we won’t need such a program.
In the event that that doesn’t happen, I would love to see the program to continue in the vein of making sure that we are still beating back racial isolation, that we are being purposeful in building more bridges and making the program more seamless