By Brian Rosemeyer
Sun Sailor Newspapers
Intermediate District 287 opened the doors of its North Education Center in late August 2012. And as the building eases into its plot in northern New Hope, the students and staff are settling in with it.
The almost $30 million development accommodates nearly 450 students on the former site of the Hosterman Education Center at 5530 Zealand Avenue North.
NEC was constructed to replace the outdated Hosterman in efforts to create an environment specifically tailored to meet the needs of 287’s students.
Supt. Sandy Lewandowski said staff and students are learning how the building can meet educational and social needs in a climate that hosts multiple learning center programs.
“It was a lot of changing; new people, new staff, new kids being around each other,” Lewandowski said. “Really, I think, things are pretty well stable now. Staff especially are growing in their fondness for the building and the opportunities it provides the kids.”
The center hosts a dozen different programs for special education students and students at risk of not graduating.
Kids of various ages and learning levels can come together and access hands-on experiential career tech opportunities such as a culinary program, certified nursing assistant program and working at “Jitterbug Latte,” an onsite coffee shop. Students can go through these programs, graduate and have a boost toward future careers.
The culinary program on the second floor of the NEC features a full commercially designed kitchen where students can learn cooking skills first-hand.
And Jitterbug Latte was built as a commercial-type café on the first floor that allows kids to work in a shop similar to a larger retail operation.
“Students can get a lot of work experience right here in the building,” said Lewandowski. “That’s one of the features we had planned for from the beginning.”
The center’s staff is at about 250 strong. Lewandowski said the level of experience the staff brings to NEC is one of the aspects that makes the center unique.
She said the building has a “critical mass” of experts where many teachers are very specialized in specific behavioral needs.
“If we get a very challenging student profile, and we have to figure out how to meet that student’s needs, we can tap into a lot of different kinds of experts in this building,” she said.
The building itself also helps to provide for students with different behavioral disabilities.
One program, “Students with Unique Needs,” serves some of the most complex learners, many with a severe autism component to their disabilities. Lewandowski said their behavior can escalate when they are frightened, and NEC has respectful and effective features to calm a student should they need it.
The rooms in the program have a number of large swings that can help calm them through motor activity. Each room also has calming rooms where, should behaviors escalate, a teacher can guide them to to relax and feel safe.
NEC has more innovative features, including extra-wide hallways, to allow for students in wheelchairs or pedaling large tricycles, and the walls of the classrooms can be moved and reorganized to fit the specific needs of each semester’s curriculum.
Aside from the customization to match academic needs, the center has a large number of sustainable building features and was built with modern and sensible development techniques.
“There are just so many more options with this building,” Lewandowski said. “I think that we’re able to provide more of a customized, individual approach students because of the facility and the amount of space that is available to us.”
NEC also features a nursery for infants, a large gymnasium that can be split three ways, a media center, playgrounds and sensory rooms. It was built with around 90 percent interest-free federal building bonds.
Lewandowski said the building has been in the works for more than a decade and was designed collaboratively. She said that while looking around the country for ideas, it became apparent that what District 287 was planning to build would be special in how it serves its students.
“We really found that we had to figure a lot of it out ourselves,” she said. “There just weren’t a lot of other places similar to what we had in mind. My guess is, we’re pretty unique in this regard.”
She continued to say that the NEC represents a step forward in the way special education is delivered, a step that provides more possibilities for students and a more positive and enriching environment.
“My early days were in special education teaching, where kids were just coming into the mainstream,” she said. “For a lot of decades, special education students were in the back hallways or the dark back room. For me, this is such a symbol of the advances in that education, and in having respectful environ-ments customized for special education needs. It’s a learning opportunity for everybody, and one that will expand everybody’s options.”
District 287 serves students from the following member districts: Brooklyn Center, Eden Prairie, Edina, Hopkins, Minnetonka, Osseo, Orono, Richfield, Robbinsdale, St. Louis Park, Wayzata and Westonka.
Contact Brian Rosemeyer at email@example.com