Moving Ground and Changing Lives
Community gathers to commence construction of Brainerd school facility
When moving to the area in 2004 with her son Ben, Michelle Stanek was nervous knowing her child had special needs but not knowing where to turn.
It wasn't long before Stanek met people who helped open doors and introduced her to programs for children like Ben, offered through the Brainerd School District.
Ben was just two years old and completely non-verbal when he first began receiving special education services from the district. In the fall, he will complete his final year in the Students Transition and Reach Success, or STARS, program - an opportunity for students with disabilities, ages 18-21, to transition from the school setting into the mainstream.
STARS is one of three programs that will come together under one roof when a new Setting IV facility is built south of the Brainerd High School. On Monday, May 24, 2021, school staff, community leaders, building officials, and others attended a groundbreaking ceremony at the construction site and witnessed history in action. Among those wielding a shovel to dig in to the process was Lincoln Education Center Principal Amy Jordan.
Jordan said this new Setting IV facility will house more than 120 special education students from grade 2 through age 21, with room for future expansion. Doors are anticipated to open September 2022.
Setting IV refers to programming in a separate school setting for students with significant behavioral or mental health issues. Students receive additional academic, behavioral, and mental health programming in this alternate setting.
The building, located on the site of the current South Campus facility, will be 64,000-square-feet and will house students from the Lincoln Education Center, as well as the STARS and Paul Bunyan Transition Plus programs.
Brainerd School District will receive $5.2 million for the project from Sourcewell, the local regional service cooperative. The funds will help with construction costs and turning the building into a state-of-the-art facility.
In a five-year period spanning 2018-2023, Sourcewell's board of directors earmarked more than $20 million for the construction of four facilities for students with special behavioral and mental health needs in Wadena, Little Falls, Walker-Hackensack-Akeley, and Brainerd.
In 2016, special education leaders met with Sourcewell staff to discuss possibilities and partnerships in regard to schools' growing need for Setting IV facilities.
Freshwater Education District in Wadena and the Mid-State Education District in Little Falls officially opened their doors to students at the start of the 2019-20 school year. Later this summer, the Walker-Hackensack-Akeley School District will open the doors of its new Setting IV facility.
Paul Drange, Sourcewell director of regional programs, says the financial contributions are all part of Sourcewell's strategic reinvestment in the five-county area - working with schools and communities to solve regional challenges.
“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,” Drange explained. “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.”
What makes this facility unique?
- It is one of only four facilities like this in the region designed for students who need to spend the majority of their school day in a special education setting.
- All classrooms are located on one level so students with mobility challenges have access to the entire building.
- It will be built with the facilities that students in the Transition Plus program (students age 18-21) need as they prepare for life in the community (ie: laundry, kitchen, etc.).
- Many classrooms will have small spaces where students can take a sensory break but still be in the classroom. They are quiet and dark, but the teacher can still see in to them.
- The paint colors and lighting are designed for those with sensitivity to sensory input.