The Montevideo South West West Central (SWWC) Educational Learning Center officially opened its doors last Wednesday afternoon, with a ribbon cutting ceremony and open house. It was attended by officials from SWWC, representatives from the construction firm NOR-SON, community leaders, and the general public.
The ELC was partially opened to students on September 10. The school was originally slated to open in August, but inclement weather last winter and spring caused construction delays. Students and staff were finally allowed access to the entire school on September 18.
SWWC operates several ELCs around the region, but the Montevideo ELC is unique in that the facility is the only one of those to be designed and built from the ground up to specifically address the needs of the students they serve.
Currently, the Monte≠video ELC has 12 students enrolled. Mindy Halverson, ELC Site Administrator, said: “There has been a steady number of referrals coming in since we opened on September 10, so I expect that number to climb steadily throughout the year until we reach our capacity number of 25 to 30 students.”
Staff for the school includes: five classroom teachers, one DAPE/physical education teacher, two school social workers, a transition case manager, a site administrator, a LPN, and 10 full time paraprofessionals.
“We also have other staff such as a speech/language pathologist, an occupational therapist, board certified behavior analysts, a physical therapist, and a due process specialist that are all in our building part time,” said Halverson.
Halverson described what the school does for the students they serve: “We are a setting IV special education school. We provide services to students K-12th grade through one of our two programs.
“The SUN Program is designed to meet the needs of special education students with severe disabilities. They may have a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder, Developmentally Cognitively Delayed (DCD): Severe to Profound, DCD: Mild to Moderate, or Severely Multiply Impaired. The students in the SUN program tend to have minimal to no verbal skills. Our focus in this program is provide behavior and communication skills.
“Our Bridges Program is designed to meet the needs special education students who are having behavior issues in their home school district. We focus on academics and social-emotional learning, provided by licensed professionals, in that program.
“Referrals to both of our programs are made by the school district.
“Our goal for students in each program is to provide the intensive services they need, whether it is communication, social, emotional, or behavioral, and when the student has improved in those identified skills, work with the student's resident district to transition them back to their home school.”
For years, there has been a need for schools such as the ELC, as local school districts struggled to accommodate special needs students. Halverson said: “The need for this school was identified about 5 years ago through a facilities task force that was put together by SWWC, led by Cliff Carmody, SWWC's Executive Director. We had some students, one that was early elementary age, that were traveling over an hour and a half each way to receive the programming they needed through one of our sites.
“That group's goal was to identify potential locations for a new setting IV building that would cut the travel time for students in our 13 county area. Due to Dr. Heller, Superintendent of the Montevideo School District, who was part of the facilities task force, starting a conversation between the city of Montevideo and SWWC, Montevideo was identified as a location for a setting IV program. This was due largely to the Montevideo Economic Development Committee's willingness to partner with SWWC to make this vision of a setting IV school, in this area, a reality.”
Halverson has mixed emotions and hopes for the Montevideo ELC in the future. “When the building was designed, it included blue prints for an addition on the backside of the building, to allow us to enroll more students. I have mixed feelings about the need to expand the building, because that means the number of students needing our services will increase.”
Halverson is excited for the coming year, and grateful for the support given to her students. “I am thankful that we have our board of directors, community, and districts that support our work and are passionate about giving the students the program and building that they need, so they can develop the skills needed to successfully transition back to their home districts,” she said.