A Legacy-Leaving Impact
Fourth Setting IV facility opens its doors
When Derick White moved his family to the area in 2020, he worried where – and if – his daughter Maddy would receive the level of support she needed to continue her journey and transition into adulthood.
Not only is Maddy, a student with special needs, on track to graduate this year from the Lincoln Education Center in Brainerd; but her dad was also selected as a champion of the program to speak at the ribbon cutting event for the new Setting IV facility on November 22, 2022.
The Lincoln Education Center is the fourth Setting IV building in as many years to open its doors in Region 5. The facility’s ribbon cutting also signified a culmination of several years of discussions, a significant financial commitment, and dreams realized.
Where it started
In 2016, special education leaders from around the five-county region – including Cass, Crow Wing, Morrison, Todd, and Wadena counties – met with Sourcewell leaders to discuss the growing need for Setting IV facilities. The group discussed possibilities that would provide local students with significant behavioral or mental health challenges access to programming in an alternate setting.
As a result, the Sourcewell board committed $21 million to come alongside school leaders and help build four Setting IV facilities throughout the region:
- Freshwater Education District in Wadena
- Mid-State Education District in Little Falls
- Up North Learning Center in Walker
- Lincoln Education Center in Brainerd
“Sourcewell's ability to walk alongside these organizations to provide state-of-the-art facilities for teachers to work and students to learn is our way of being a force multiplier for our special education partners,” explained Sourcewell Director of Regional Programs Dr. Paul Drange.
“Our communities are positively impacted when these students are better prepared for life after school and are able to better contribute to our communities in a positive way. These facilities help to ensure that.”
Building for the future
In 2017, the Freshwater Education District in Wadena and the Mid-State Education District in Little Falls were each provided approximately $5 million by Sourcewell to construct Setting IV facilities. Both officially opened their doors to begin serving students and their communities at the start of the 2019-20 school year.
Each facility was designed with students’ unique needs in mind to provide an environment that sets them up for success.
Freshwater Education District – Wadena
In 2019, more than 50 students became the first to occupy the district’s first and only Setting IV facility. The building serves grades 2-12 enrolled in Freshwater's Setting IV program and is also the main office for district staff.
Freshwater administration and staff worked closely with planners to design a building specific to the needs of the students, including:
- Connected classrooms offer better flow and easier transitions
- Lockers in the classrooms improve safety and supervision
- Windows above head height give natural light without outside distraction
- Small workspaces give students a break within the room
- Calm colors and dimmable lights ease tension
Mid-State Education District – Little Falls
Two days after its Wadena counterpart cut the proverbial ribbon to their new Setting IV facility, the Mid-State Education District welcomed the public to tour their 35,000 square-foot building – serving students in grades K-12 with unique needs requiring a specialized environment.
Located in Little Falls, the school serves the communities of Isle, Onamia, Pierz, Royalton, Swanville, and Upsala, and has a facility partnership with Little Falls Community Schools.
Through this new facility, and for the first time since its formation in 1971, all district programs were able to be located under one roof – enhancing efficiencies and collaboration.
With the help of a design and planning team, each ‘neighborhood’ within the facility was designed with age- and disability-appropriate areas for sensory and behavior regulation, a lunchroom, and spaces to meet recreation needs.
Also included was an area for transition-aged students between 17- and 21-years-old to participate in career exploration and job skills training and coaching.
Completing the big picture
In 2020, the Sourcewell Board of Directors voted unanimously to commit over $10 million to help construct two additional Setting IV facilities within its five-county service area. Based upon prior conversations with school districts and considering areas of priority, both Brainerd and Walker-Hackensack-Akeley were selected by the board to receive this funding.
Up North Learning Center – Walker
In August of 2020, Walker-Hackensack-Akeley Public Schools broke ground on a 17,000-square foot, Setting IV facility on 9.4 acres of land, then opened its doors to students in the fall of 2021. With $5.2 million provided by Sourcewell, the district was able to provide students a facility including:
- Six classrooms created specifically for children with autism and emotional behavioral disorders
- Multiple reflection rooms
- State-of-the-art technology
- A multipurpose room for meals, as well as large group activities
- A large playground
Lincoln Education Center – Brainerd
The Lincoln Education Center, dedicated November 2022, serves special education students and hosts transitional programming within the Brainerd School District. Features include:
- Classrooms all located on one level so students with mobility challenges have access to the entire building
- Facilities that students in the transition program (students ages 18-21) need as they prepare for life in the community (ie: laundry, kitchen, etc.)
- Small, quiet spaces where students can take a sensory break within the classroom
- Paint colors and lighting designed for those with sensitivity to sensory input
Present at the Brainerd ribbon cutting, Sourcewell Executive Director and CEO Dr. Chad Coauette verbally reaffirmed his organization’s vision and mission to reinvest in local schools and communities.
“As an organization, we are service driven and dedicated to reinvesting in our cities, counties, schools, and nonprofits,” Coauette said. “By funding these facilities, the impact will be realized by the entire region, and we feel very good about that.”