In a surprise and sudden personnel change, the Wellesley A Better Chance Program (ABC) has hired a new Resident Director, replacing former Resident Director Ana Carmona-Benitez Neri, who had been with ABC just since September 2017. Assistant Resident Director/Tutor and Tufts-educated Yashira Perez has also departed the house and is no longer employed by Wellesley ABC.
In a statement, Board of Directors co-president Sunny Allen said, “The Wellesley ABC organization is pleased to announce the appointment of its new Resident Director. Cynthia Russell brings a wealth of experience to her new role. She’s an administrator in the Wellesley Middle School and is also a former ABC Resident Director. As the new Resident Director comes on board, the organization has initiated a comprehensive plan to ensure a smooth transition for our scholars. In the meantime, the Wellesley ABC residence is still in use for the operations of the program.”
ABC is a boarding-school type program that provides academically talented and promising young women of color from underserved communities the opportunity to live in Wellesley and attend school at Wellesley High School. There currently are six students attending WHS through the program. While eighth graders in their home community, the students went through a competitive application process, which included visits to Wellesley and interviews with a search committee. Once accepted, they entered WHS as freshman to form a new home-away-from-home community in a house owned by Wellesley College, where they are supervised and cared for by a Resident Director. In addition, multiple volunteers and donors keep the program running.
More than 300 of the nation’s leading boarding, day, and public schools participate in an ABC program. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick entered Milton Academy through the prestigious, private boarding school’s affiliation with ABC, and singer/songwriter Tracy Chapman was an ABC student at the Wooster School in Connecticut. Wellesley ABC counts a Bill and Melinda Gates Millennium scholarship recipient among its alumnae, and has a 100% success rate of sending all its students on to 4-year colleges.
As the personnel transition is completed, ABC is still using the house for study and to keep the students together in community. However, until the new director starts, the girls’ host families are taking on a more involved role. Each Wellesley ABC scholar is assigned a host family for the four years they live in Wellesley. The scholars spend one weekend a month at their host family’s home participating in the activities of that family. Whether they are cheering on the students during times of accomplishment or are there in times of emergency, the host families are the students’ and the students’ families’ assurance that someone is looking out for them.
The ABC Board says that they are unable to discuss the departure of the former ABC employees, saying that it is a private personnel matter.
I haven’t approached any of the ABC scholars for a quote on these changes in their Wellesley home situation, and don’t intend to. Through my own volunteer activity as an ABC driver, I’ve met all the girls. They chat about this and that with me as we drive from Point A to Point B, and I value that. What gets said in my car, stays in my car. (None of the ABC students discussed this matter with me.)
What’s more, lately I’m feeling more protective than usual of Wellesley’s youth. As a larger group, they’re grappling with issues on a national scale like preparing for a walkout on March 14 at 10am from WHS to the football field to protest Congress’ inaction on the gun violence bloodying schools and other venues. The protest is slated to last for 17 minutes in honor of the number of lives lost during the recent Parkland, Fla., ambush. At the same time and on a more individual basis, our kids are working through the daily struggles that have always faced young people.
Here’s our job as a town: to help them get through it all — be it large and seemingly insurmountable or small, temporary but still seismic. They need to work through all this with the help of us adults, who must always have a firm grip on the safety net, ready to do everything possible to bounce them into the secure situation they deserve.
Because here’s the thing: lately it seems like when our young people are dropping down, hurtling, collapsing into that safety net, they didn’t just fall. They were pushed.