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Fighting then, fighting now
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Fighting then, fighting now
Hardship, need prompted creation of Wilson's deaf school - how it all began




Even before the Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf opened its doors to students in 1964, parents and advocates for the deaf were fighting for a school closer to home and petitioning the N.C. General Assembly for funding. They’re still fighting, this time to keep the school open.

While a decision is being reached on which North Carolina residential school may be forced to close, as mandated by the General Assembly, it’s interesting to look at the parallels from the early 1960s, when an eastern school was first proposed.

Tucked away in the archives at the Wilson County Public Library is a history of the school from 1961 to 1978 written by ENCSD’s first superintendent R.M. McAdams. The history details how Wilson became home to so many deaf children.

 

NEW SCHOOL SOUGHT

In 1960, the North Carolina School for the Deaf in Morganton was expecting an increase in enrollment. The school was already at capacity and decisions needed to be made whether to expand the existing school or to build a new one.

N.C. Sen. Joe Eagles of Wilson was on the Advisory Budget Committee and suggested a budget be prepared to develop another school of the deaf.

More than $2 million was requested for the development of the school for 250 children.

Parents and friends of the deaf began lobbying legislators for passage of the bill.

Dianne Fales Wright, who was a student at the Morganton school, said her parents as well as parents of other eastern North Carolina students, were among those active in getting a school built in the east so they could spend more time with their children.

"Our parents were advocates and fought for ENCSD to be established for our students who lived far away from Morganton,” she said. "Our legislators listened to them and gave great support to us, the ‘eastern’ folks.

"If not for our parents and legislators, ENCSD would not exist.”

The bill was passed to fund the school, but funding was tied to a bond referendum, which did not pass in November 1961.

But the efforts didn’t end there.

 

WHERE TO BUILD

Because Morganton is in the western part of the state, a school in the east made the most sense.

Some parents were traveling hundreds of miles roundtrip to get their child back and forth to school during a visit, McAdams wrote.

Wright, whose family lived in Wilmington, said when she was living at the Morganton school as a student, she was seldom able to go back home during the school year.

"Starting out at Morganton, I remember very long distances from Wilmington to Morganton or vice versa (about eight to nine hours of driving/riding one way). My family came to see me one weekend every month, and we spent our weekends together at the Boxwood Motel as our second home.”

Wright, who’s taught at ENCSD for 21 years, said the only times she went home to Wilmington were during Christmas vacation, spring break and summer.

"We never forget how hard it was for our parents and siblings to give up some time and income from work or school and travel long distances,” she said. "These long distances were huge hardships for our families traveling through rural areas. We didn’t have good highways in the eastern parts of North Carolina.”

When a board of directors was appointed by Gov. Terry Sanford to find a location for the school, the first of four criteria was to find a location in the central part of eastern North Carolina "so no parents would have to travel excessively.”

The board decided the school should also be located close to a college or university that would work to train teachers for the deaf and in a community that would be eager to have the school in its area. The board also hoped to find a donated site or at a reasonable cost.

"Inquiries were made in several areas of eastern North Carolina,” McAdams wrote. "Due to the untiring efforts of Sen. Eagles, Dr. (Edgar T.) Beddingfield, Rep. Tom Woodard and others, all from Wilson, North Carolina, an invitation was received by the board of directors to establish the school at Wilson ... This was the only invitation received.”

The board was also informed that 36 acres of land owned by the N.C. Sanitorium and two existing, well-constructed buildings were available at no cost for the school.

"The board of directors for the sanitorium and its administration, Dr. H.F. Easom and Mr. C.C. Moss approved the transfer of the property, if the school for the deaf board of directors approved the site.”

The school’s board of directors also met with Art Wenger, president of Atlantic Christian College, now Barton, to discuss the feasibility of training teachers of the deaf.

"The college administrators agreed with enthusiasm to this cooperative program,” McAdams wrote.

Everything fell into place, and the board recommended to Sanford that the new school for the deaf be located in Wilson. He agreed.

Because of low state revenue, the board presented a capital improvement budget proposal to the General Assembly in 1963 for a school that wasn’t exactly what everyone first envisioned. Instead, the school would initially hold 120 children, but in a few years, a request would be made for funds to expand for 240 students. The board asked for $980,000, but it appeared that once again they wouldn’t get the money. But a grassroots effort kicked in.

"Many parents, deaf adults, board members and others supported the development of this school by direct contacts with members of the General Assembly,” McAdams wrote.

Their efforts worked, and the requested amount was approved.

 

ENCSD GETS ITS START

McAdams was hired in October of 1963 as superintendent of ENCSD, and a small office was established in an existing building on the site, staffed by secretary Sonja Stone.

Site preparation for the school started in January 1964.

In August of that year, the school opened, but facilities were not ready to move in students. Temporary classrooms as well as dormitory space was made available in Morganton for the Wilson students.

Wright, a second-grader, was among the students in that first class.

"Prior to moving to ENCSD, we were categorized as ENCSD students and our classrooms were in the basement of one building in Morganton,” she said. "We were waiting for ENCSD to be completed while learning and studying in Morganton. We finally moved to ENCSD after our spring break without disrupting NCSD (Morganton) and it was a smooth transition from Morganton to Wilson.”

Eighty-eight students were welcomed to campus when spring break was over that school year. McAdams said the six weeks from spring break to summer break was beneficial to "getting a new school functioning smoothly and making necessary corrections for a successful term beginning August 1965.”

Wright said those first years on campus were an adventure for her and her friends.

"Everything was brand new and ‘updated’ to us,” she said. "Both teachers and dorm supervisors were very positive and supportive of us. They were great in giving their time to us during our after-school hours. We, the ‘first’ ENCSD students, were role models to younger students as our school was increasing the enrollment to 300 students in a few years.

"Our teachers and dorm supervisors had high expectations of us to do our best at all times and had zero tolerance for inappropriate behaviors or actions. We didn’t dare to misbehave or break rules.”

Going to school at ENCSD also meant that Wright and her friends could go home more often.

"Moving to ENCSD, I was able to go home every other weekend. I was thrilled being closer to home and seeing my immediate family more often,” she said.

Although some families relocate when their children enroll at a residential school, Wright’s never did.

"I knew and accepted the fact that I was sent to school for my education and future,” she said. "I also knew that I was deaf without anyone’s explanations. It was hard for me being separated from my family especially my identical twin sister (hearing) just as well as it was hard for my family.

"My parents were very firm in seeing that I got a good education and became an independent and productive citizen. They didn’t want to see me dependent on others for help or support.”

 

lisa@wilsontimes.com | 265-7810
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Recovering democrat said...

I don't understand this. We have Republican representation in the legislature. Why is this happening to us?

Monday, November 14, 2011 at 7:12 AM
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