NEW HOPE, Minn. - A teacher patiently guides a high school student down a specially designed pathway built right into the hall in the North Education Center for Intermediate District 287 in New Hope.
"Students that attend this program in our special education division really have very high needs and often that requires space for them to move in," said Superintendent Sandy Lewandowski.
Interest-free federal stimulus bonds enabled the district to purchase the old building that housed the North Education Center from the Robbinsdale School District and build a new building from the ground up.
The result is a forward thinking facility that houses many different programs, among them the district's SUN program,Students with Unique Needs.
Staff couldn't be happier with the results.
"Everything we were wanting and wishing for these students, we have," said Program Coordinator Teresa Cosgrove.
She and other staff worked with architects from TSP Planning, Architecture and Engineeringto build features into the SUN program wing that gives students every opportunity for success.
That includes break-out rooms where students can practice self-calming skills when the everyday bustle of a busy classroom could cause a major melt down for a student who has special needs.
The rooms include lights that can be dimmed or even change colors to help students self regulate. It allows some students just enough space they need to transition from a home environment into a learning environment.
"Mornings are hard for me," explained tenth grader Orion Setchell. "So when I get to school, I go to my break room and get myself ready for the day."
Movement is critical for students in this program. What seems like a simple thing is a big deal for staff who used to have to make do with an outdated building. One item that is especially useful for these students is a swing. The old building couldn't support the weight of a swing attached to the ceiling. The new building can and every classroom has a hook for a swing.
Students can spin, twirl or just sway. Whatever helps students deal with outside influences that can overwhelm a student with unique needs.
"This is something that we have wanted forever," said Cosgrove.
The school also features a sensory room with calming black lights, bubble tubes and contraptions designed by staff that look like dream decor for any teenager but here, help students self-regulate so they can learn.
Technology is also part of the puzzle here with interactive white boards where lessons can be tailored toward individual students to meet their needs and learning level.
Superintendent Lewandowski believes this kind of approach, building classrooms to meet the needs of the students, is a model for the future.
"Schools are doing more and more under that umbrella of mental health and special programming that previously weren't part of the schools' responsibility and that shift is evident in intermediate districts," said Lewandowski.
By using stimulus bonds, the district was able not only to build a new building, but come in at a price that is roughly what the school was paying to lease the old building.
"That outcome is successful for kids and it's a successful outcome financially for taxpayers as well," Lewandowski said.