The Trilogy School Celebrates 25 Years of Serving Kids with Learning Challenges

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Trilogy students celebrate at the anniversary event. Photo courtesy of The Trilogy School.

BY ELIZABETH BRIGNAC

In 1999, Judy Williams, a developmental education specialist, and Laura Wyatt, an educator and psychologist focused on kids with special needs, recognized a need in the Triangle community for a school that accommodated kids dealing with special learning challenges. They opened The Trilogy School with 16 part-time elementary and middle school students. The school grew with its students, eventually covering high school classes as well as middle and elementary school and expanding to offer full days (though some students still attend on a part-time basis). 

Last week, Trilogy celebrated 25 years of success educating kids with special needs. I spoke with Ann Ashby, Trilogy’s Upper School Director who has worked at Trilogy since it opened; Genny Smith, the lower school director and Patti Bulgin whose son attends Trilogy. Their excitement was palpable. 

“We just ended our big party so we’re all really extra,” laughed Smith as the conversation began. They are justly proud of what their school has accomplished after 25 years.

Founders Judy Williams (left) and Laura Wyatt are honored at Trology's anniversary celebration. Photo by The Trilogy School.

Trilogy Today

Today, Trilogy accommodates 75 students. At present, that is as large as it can grow. “We like it to feel like a family and to keep the classes really small,” explains Smith. Trilogy is dedicated to retaining a 1:4-6 teacher/student ratio, which limits the number of students the school can admit. Teachers work with kids who face learning and behavioral challenges such as ADHD, autism, dysgraphia, dyslexia and other difficulties. The small class size is an important way they help these students meet their goals. 

Trilogy is an academically-focused school accredited by Cognia, one of the nation’s major school accreditation organizations. So how does Trilogy help students with learning difficulties achieve academically as well as behaviorally and socially? “What we do is we meet the child where they are,” says Ashby. “And we build from that and we work with the parents and the students as to what their goals are.” The school communicates frequently with both the parents and the kids about what they wish to accomplish.

Many Trilogy teachers have a long history with the public school system. Some have degrees in special education or experience working with students with special needs. Some have all these qualifications. Put highly qualified, experienced teachers in a classroom with only around five students and they are able to build from those students’ particular needs toward the ends that student wishes to achieve.

Two friends pose for a photo op at Trilogy's anniversary party. Photo courtesy of The Trilogy School.

Making Kids Feel At Home

Trilogy’s goal is to create a safe, comfortable environment for kids with special needs, many of whom have faced bullying and ostracism in traditional schools.

“We’re that family,” says Patti Bulgin, whose son is a fourth-grader at Trilogy. “We’ve been here 3 years and my son has epilepsy and had some developmental delays due to the medication that he was on. And, when we came here, we didn’t have any other place to go. 

“Before coming here [Patti’s son] didn’t want to get out of the car. He didn’t want to go to school,” Patti says. “It was a major strain on our entire family. And I remember after the first week of school [at Trilogy]—it was Friday night— my saying, ‘This is what we’re going to do for the weekend.’ And he said, ‘I don’t have school tomorrow?’ I said, ‘No, buddy, it’s Friday. We have the weekend off.’ And he said, ‘But I really want to go to school tomorrow!’ That was life-changing for our family.” She adds, “He has flown here.” 

Surrounded by other kids who understand what it’s like to live with learning challenges, with social skills training opportunities, counselors who train kids in coping mechanisms and teachers who understand special needs, kids make friends and gain confidence as well as academic success. “A lot of the moms, we all say the same thing—prior to coming here, our kids didn’t want to get out of the car. They cried all the time. And [now] my son’s still with some of the same buddies that he came in with three years ago,” says Patti, visibly emotional. 

Trilogy students enjoy a recess game of beach volleyball. Photo courtesy The Trilogy School.

Next Step: Removing Barriers

Small class sizes and dedicated resources come with a price tag—one that not all parents can afford to pay. Trilogy administrators help direct parents to grants for students with special needs that can help make an education at the school affordable. “I think about 75 or 80% of our families get those grants,” says Smith. “So that helps a lot of families.” But sometimes, even with the grant, families struggle to pay the tuition. 

At their 25th anniversary event, Trilogy announced that the PTA had raised money for the Williams Wyatt Scholarship, named after the school’s founders. “The goal was to have scholarships,” says Ashby. “That was always in the works.” With the scholarship, the school hopes to extend tuition assistance to kids for whom money is a barrier to attending Trilogy. “We want to make Trilogy more accessible to everyone. We feel like the need is out there. We want people to be able to come regardless of their financial situation. So that’s a goal that we’re working on and that we’re very proud of.”

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