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Minnetonka program helps special education students live independent lives

Students who graduate from high school and are between the ages of 18 and 21 can learn life skills through Minnetonka's SAIL program.

MINNETONKA, Minn. — Setting the dinner table usually isn’t a favorite chore, but Lucas Hagen always does it with a smile.

Hagen, who has Down syndrome, is 21 years old. On Wednesdays, his job at Cast and Cru in Excelsior is to set up dozens of place settings to get ready for the crowd of audience members the next day.

“I love it,” said Hagen. “I love it here.”

“I describe him as very detailed,” said Marissa Frankenfield, the co-owner of Cast & Cru and the Old Log Theatre.

Frankenfield said that her only hesitancy in hiring Lucas was how he would be treated by customers.

“But he just smiles all the time,” she said. “And when someone approaches you with a smile, how can you go wrong?”

Lucas’ mom, Julie Hagen, said she has always been worried about whether or not her son would get the opportunity to have his own job.

“They took a chance on us here and I’m so proud that he’s proving himself,” she said.

Julie Hagen said she owes a lot of her son’s success to the Minnetonka Public Schools SAIL Transition Program.

That stands for Students Achieving Independent Life. Lucas was part of the first graduating class.

The building includes an apartment, a kitchen, a garden and more for students to learn life skills for students who graduate from high school and are between the ages of 18 and 21.

“Many of them continue on with us here on our sale transition program learning employment skills, independent living skills, how to how to live and be in the community,” said Christine Breen, Executive Director of Special Education at Minnetonka Public Schools.

Before last year, if they wanted to continue learning they had to go outside of their community.

“Some of the stereotypes are that these students will never live independently, that they can't live independently, they can't hold jobs,” said Breen. “And we want to change that we want the community to see them for their abilities not just their disabilities.”

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