Author: Lindsay K. Saunders
April 24, 2019 – DHHS' Wright School recently completed a building renovation, which began in November 2017. Wright School is a state-operated residential mental health treatment program for children ages 6-12 who are experiencing severe behavioral and emotional problems, which impact their learning.
A recent celebration welcomed 150 people, including current and former staff, former parents and students, community leaders, legislators, and other supporters of the school. Attendees were greeted by enthusiastic staff members, wearing t-shirts proclaiming, “Keep Calm and Wright School On.”
“This school saved our family!” declared one mother. She shared how overwhelmed she felt with her daughter’s needs and that the Wright School services helped her family and her daughter in ways other interventions had not. Her daughter, who attended Wright School 15 years earlier, was also there and said, “I loved Wright School. I’d come back now, if I could.”
There have been many changes in the building since she was last there. The most recent updates to the Durham facility include converting to central heating and air conditioning; replacing 1950’s-era vintage windows; enhancing the teaching kitchen; and the addition of a security system and sprinkler system.
The new sprinkler system required the installation of a large fire department utility box at the street, which obscured the original Wright School sign and entrance. To solve this problem, Wright School staff and students collaborated with artists Brenda Miller Holmes and Joanne Andrews, as well as the Durham Arts Council and Community Artists in the Schools program to convert the utility box into a welcoming new sign and mural for the school. Children in the treatment program live in age-based groups called the Eagles, Royals and Olympians. Each group designed images and symbols for the mural which inspire positive achievements and personal victories.
Wright School’s treatment, based on the therapeutic Re-Education model, is unique. It is a five-day residential program where children go home every weekend (not contingent on behavior) to allow children and their families the regular opportunity to practice new skills in less restrictive settings, with parents responsible for providing transportation to and from school. The program is highly structured with routine chances for children to learn how they are doing as they go through the schedule of a normal day with school, chores, play, personal health and homework.
Wright School is funded with state tax dollars through the NC Department of Health and Human Services’ Division of State Operated Health Facilities. With the program being a free service to NC residents, insurance is a non-issue, which reduces the barriers families already face during such a challenging time. In July 2019, the school looks forward to the addition of new custom-designed modular office buildings to replaced 1960’s era office trailers.