A small Durham school has a large impact - WRBL

A small Durham school has a large impact

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The Sydnor family said they are together today because of the Wright School. The Sydnor family said they are together today because of the Wright School.

A school on the chopping block with the current Senate budget has changed the lives of one Raleigh family.

The Sydnor family is enjoying time together these days. A sight they didn't always think would be possible. The oldest Sydnor son, 12-year-old Burton, was diagnosed as being bipolar with severe learning disabilities.

Burton would at times become physically violent. These violent outbursts would often target Burton's younger brother, Sheppard. Eventually, Sheppard was sent to live with his grandparents.

"Two years ago, I wasn't living with my family because he had behavior problems," said Sheppard Sydnor.

Burton Sydnor's parents, Richard and Elizabeth, struggled and searched for an answer for years. "I had to physically restrain him daily. Then it would be fine, just like that," Elizabeth Sydnor said.

"We took him to every physician possible to figure out what was going on. And the Wright School found it," Elizabeth Sydnor said.

The Wright School is a weekday boarding school in Durham that will be forced to close if the Senate's proposed budget is passed.

This facility has been treating children with mental illnesses from various economic and ethnic backgrounds for 50 years.

The typical Wright School student has had three psychiatric diagnoses and been hospitalized twice in the year before coming to the school. 

Children are referred to the school after communities determine that the child's needs cannot be met in his or her community. The school aims to build capacity and resources in children and their families so they can successfully return home to their communities.

A 2006 study of the school's effectiveness by Duke University researchers determined that the school is an effective program for serving the state's most difficult-to-treat 6 to 12 year olds.

"They provide a service that you can't get in the private sector at any price," Richard Sydnor said.

Burton Sydnor stayed at the Wright School for eight months. His parents said the difference was night and day.

"Well, I think to tell you the truth, some of the kids there were, if they didn't go there (Wright School) I think could've gone to prisons, you know? I really do," Burton Sydnor said.

Gov. Pat McCrory's proposed budget funds the school. But members of the Senate do not share McCrory's stance on funding the school.

"In these difficult circumstances, we had to focus on targeting resources to programs with a statewide impact," Senator Ralph Hise said. "Rather than using significant tax dollars to support a program that operates at a cost of nearly $113,000 per bed while serving only a tiny fraction of our state's population."

The Sydnor's disagree. They say that helping one child is helping schools and communities. That one child will no longer hijack a class at school with his or her behavior, the Sydnors said.

"It is not just those kids. Those kids have families, schools, and their in classrooms with other kids who interact with them. It's the community at large. So it affects all of us so dramatically," Elizabeth Sydnor said.

Burton Sydnor wrote to state Legislators:

"Dear Legislatures,

My name is Richard Burton Sydnor Iv and I went to the wright school in October of 2011. I went because of aggressive behavior to the point where my brother could not live at home. I understand there is talk about closing wright school due to funding. If I did not go there would be a chance where I would be still living like that. 

When I was there I learned about myself and I found myself. The last months of my days at wright school were bittersweet. In the summer of 2012 I graduated from wright school. 

If you do close it would be bad for all the kids who go there and I guarantee you not one thing besides god can change those kids nearly as much as wright school.


Richard Burton Sydnor age 12"

Charlotte Huffman

An award-winning journalist with an investigative edge, Charlotte has driven legislative change with reports on workplace safety concerns and contaminated groundwater. Contact our Investigative Team anytime HERE. More>>

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