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Selectmen, community discuss diversity

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By Alex Oliveira
Hometown Weekly Reporter

On Monday, January 14, a panel of eleven community leaders and members addressed the Wellesley Board of Selectmen in an open meeting to discuss the state of diversity in Wellesley. Speakers covered topics ranging from diversity initiatives in local schools, the difficulties of assimilation facing immigrant families, local programs to help non-English speakers learn the language, and diversity programs and organizations already in place in town.

A full crowd sits in attendance at the meeting in Town Hall.   Photos by Alex Oliveira

A full crowd sits in attendance at the meeting in Town Hall.
Photos by Alex Oliveira

Addressing the board were David Lussier, the Superintendent of Wellesley Public Schools; World of Wellesley (WOW) President Michelle Chalmers; Elaine Bannigan of Pinnacle Residential Properties; Elizabeth Shang, an English-Chinese interpreter for Pinnacle; Senior Pastor Sarah Sarchet Butter of Wellesley Village Church; Director Jamie Jurgensen of the Wellesley Free Library; Director Karen Evans of the library’s English as a Second Language Program, along with three students of ESL, Ruslan Mikhailov, Mary Qin, and Lilia Diaz; and Jerry Lu, president of WeCan (Wellesley Chinese American Network).

Lussier described the Wellesley Public Schools’ ongoing awareness of and goal to address inclusivity, both in the classroom and the halls. “It exists within our curriculum. It exists within the staff and their training. It exists within the culture in our schools, and it means that our conception of what diversity means needs to be ever-expanding. At the end of the day, we want all kids and parents to not just be welcomed, but to feel included.”

Community members address the Wellesley Board of Selectmen at a discussion on diversity.  Photos by Alex Oliveira

Community members address the Wellesley Board of Selectmen at a discussion on diversity. Photos by Alex Oliveira

WOW President Michelle Chalmers then introduced World of Wellesley to the room, and addressed a problem brought up by both the speakers and the Board of Selectmen alike: “It’s really difficult to have this important and empathic conversation in sixty minutes, so World of Wellesley will be holding an open discussion at the Community Center on February 26th at seven o’clock so that we will have an open opportunity for people to come to learn more about World of Wellesley, to engage more in the conversation. It will be an opportunity to create next steps and action steps form these types of conversations.”

Bannigan of Pinnacle Properties described her firsthand experience watching the struggles of Chinese families moving to Wellesley who lack the language skills to properly understand and navigate the community. “They’re not a group that are particularly well served,” she said. “That language barrier breaks down ways in which we can communicate.”

Jurgensen and Evans then described the library’s robust English as a Second Language program, driving the point home with readings from three of their students who spoke powerfully - with heavy accents, but in perfect English - about how the ESL program has changed their lives in Wellesley.

Finally, Jerry Lu introduced the launching of the WeCan, which will be a resource for Chinese American’s in Wellesley and the greater Wellesley community to connect and work together.

Jack Morgan, Chairman of The Board of Selectmen, concluded the meeting by saying, “This has been a very eye-opening experience,” said Chairman of the Board of Selectmen Jack Morgan, concluding the meeting. “Communication [with minority groups] is certainly something the town could be much more intentional and organized about.”

Members of the community are welcomed to participate in further discussion about diversity by joining the World of Wellesley at the Community Center on February 26 at 7 p.m.

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