W.A Wright fourth graders George and Michael Hamelburg pose with new school mascot PALS the Puppy at the school’s Open House. The school is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.

W.A. Wright Elementary plans to celebrate its 30th anniversary year to the fullest despite the uncertainty of a pandemic-impacted schedule.

The school’s PTO PALS President Melissa Zimmerman said it’s been a pretty rough start, but she is hopeful and ready to preside over ongoing salutes to the school’s legacy.

“It was an ‘oh my gosh’ sort of mentality, we get to go back to school,” she said. “Kids looked forward to seeing their friends and celebrate and we plan to capitalize on 30 years of academic excellence and standing strong and meeting the needs of the students.”

This year W.A. Wright plans an academic year of ovations to three decades in Mt. Juliet with a new mascot (PALS the Puppy) and a motivated second-year principal, Wilma Hawkins. There’s also a time capsule in progress, as well as Spirit Nights and other events.

“This is a great school and I like the challenge of keeping the momentum going,” said Hawkins, who was the principal at Elzie Patton Elementary for eight years. “I told the system director I like to try new and different things.

“I plan to continue the things Veronica (Bender, the school’s first principal) started. This school has produced such great leaders. So many have come out of W.A. Wright. Veronica is a good friend, and an encourager.”

“When I first started teaching at W.A. Wright, 28 years ago, I lived about a 40-minute drive away,” said teacher Julie Davenport. “People kept telling me I should switch schools and teach at the school that was a three-minute walk from my house. What they didn’t understand was that WAW quickly became a family to me. That’s not something you find at every school. There’s nothing like the faculty, staff, students, and families of the Wright Knights.”

Sherrie Hyder on the staff the day the school opened 30 years ago. “I literally came with the school,” she said. “I’ve always called it mine because I spent more waking time there than I did in my own home.”

Hyder was not only the school’s secretary, but also the attendance secretary and bookkeeper. There was no assistant principal at first.

“Veronica and I worked hard and were rewarded big,” Hyder said. “We knew we had something special from the get go. There was much love in that building. We always knew God was there with us every step of the way. We called ourselves a ‘mission school’ because we took on every need of not only our families, but our community as well. We were blessed with several benefactors to help meet the needs. We clothed, fed, and paid to have electricity or water turned back on. Whatever was needed we found a way to make it happen.”

Bender radiates love when she talks about her time at W.A. Wright. She was the school’s first principal in 1991 and currently is principal at Friendship Christian School.

“Even though it was a public school, we were also a missionary school,” said Bender. “It was such a special school to me. I was able to pick out the school’s colors and named it ‘Home of the Knights.’ ”

Wilson County Schools dedicated the school’s gym to Bender in 2017, putting her name on the floor there.

“To think it’s been 30 years since we built that school, and were the first to walk the halls and teach the students in inaugural classrooms is humbling,” she said. “It has a great legacy and such a bright future.”

Recommended for you