New co-op to help special needs students from birth to 21
It’s a new day for rural students with special needs.
The special education co-operative between five local rural school districts will open a new transition program for 18- to 21-year-old special needs students this fall.
“This is huge,” said Dan Armagost, director of special education for LeRoy/Ostrander, Lyle, Grand Meadow, Glenville/Emmons and Southland Public Schools.
The new transition program will start this fall inside what used to be the Adams Drugstore in Adams. It’s the culmination of almost five years’ worth of specialized services for these five districts.
“When we first started, we didn’t have any of our high needs students here,” Armagost said. “They were basically shipped off to other districts. What ends up happening is you end up contracting with districts who have high enough populations of special needs students to hire a teacher.”
That changed in 2008, when each rural district started to specialize their special education programs as part of a consortium agreement. For example, Grand Meadow houses a Developmental Cognitive Delay student program while Emotional/Behavioral Disorder students go to Southland.
The one missing piece was a 18-21 program, which helps special education students transition from a school setting to learn work and life skills.
“The kids come in and they actually learn those skills, those traits, in a safe environment,” Armagost said.
Yet rural students would normally attend Austin or Rochester schools to get that kind of education. With a new program close to home, Armagost said, students will be able to learn those skills while at the same time get work experience with local businesses and hopefully get employed in Mower County, as opposed to moving elsewhere.
“We want them to be able to get jobs and future employment right here in their home communities,” he said.
The former drugstore is undergoing renovations for the new program, which will contain aspects of retail, a kitchenette, and office settings so students can learn what to expect. Staff and faculty will begin training in August, and Minnesota Department of Education officials will be in Adams Aug. 6 to inspect the new building and staff.
“After we get this, we’re able to take care of our students in the co-op from birth to 21,” Armagost said.