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New building alleviates special ed space crunch

Transitions student Cody Dalton shows off Christmas cards and gift tags made by the students that will be sold at parent-teacher conferences.1 / 3
Transitions teacher Abbie Bohatta works with student Mack Hosley on a math project.2 / 3
Junior kindergarten teacher Donna Eiring tells her students a story in one of the classrooms in the new Learning Center building on the school district campus.3 / 3

An open house was held last week to show off the new Learning Center building in the Somerset School District.

The new building houses the district offices and a number of classrooms. By moving the district offices out of the high school, it created space for a rapidly growing special education population in the schools.

The former district office is now the home for the oldest special education students in the district. The former district office boardroom has become the classroom for the grade 9-12 cognitively disabled/autism program.

The former district office is the home for the 18-21 transitions program. These are special education students who have completed their high school courses. They are eligible to stay in the district until they turn 21, if they are still in need of skills that can help them become a more independent adult.

These classes can have a far ranging scope. The students are taught daily skills needed around the home like cooking and doing laundry. They also learn things like balancing a checkbook. They often go outside the classroom, to learn how to maneuver around a community or to be functional in a work environment.

Darren Kern, director of Pupil Services for the school district, said the special education population continues to grow and have additional space needs. He said the elementary and high schools have filled their special education spaces.

"At the elementary school we have a (special education) teacher working out of basically a closet," Kern said.

The strong autism program in the school district is drawing more students with special needs into the district.

"People are actually selling their homes and moving to the school district for the autism program," Kern said.

There are currently 16 autistic children in the elementary school. Kern said there is sufficient special education space at the middle school, but that will change when those 16 kids are ready to advance to the next level.

"Future space needs in all buildings will be intense," Kern said.

Dave Newman
Dave Newman has been the sports editor at the New Richmond News since 1988. He has covered the action in the Middle Border Conference, Dunn-St. Croix Conference and Big Rivers Conference for nearly 30 years.
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