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May 19 open house planned at Laker Transitions' new home

Since relocating to their new building on West River Road last fall, the students and staff at Laker Transitions have been busy making it into a home — and now, they want to show it off. A May 19 open house is planned for the facility and its programming, which is designed to assist adult-aged students with disabilities in making the transition from high school into adulthood, by teaching them job and life skills.

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Laker Transitions instructor Amber Colby, left, helps students Kaitlyn Ahles, center, and Erian Greydanus work on their driver education skills, in preparation for Erian's upcoming test to get her driver's license (Kaitlyn eventually hopes to get hers too).
Vicki Gerdes / Detroit Lakes Tribune
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DETROIT LAKES — The name outside the door, "Laker Transitions," says it all.

The program housed at 1102 West River Road in Detroit Lakes is designed to help adult-aged students with special needs in making the transition from high school to adulthood.

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The Laker Transitions program moved to its new home at 1104 West River Road this past fall, with a brand-new PAES (Practical Assessment Exploration System) Lab being set up next door.
Vicki Gerdes / Detroit Lakes Tribune

But until this past year, when the Detroit Lakes School Board approved the lease of the former Solutions, LLC building, Laker Transitions had been housed at the high school, which meant that special education students aged 18-21 weren't able to move off-site to receive their post-graduation education and job training.

"We've always offered transition services for our students, but it's been like they had a couple extra years of high school (before moving to the new building)," explained Wendy Fritz, the district's transition facilitator for special education students.

"Now we can truly be focused on post-secondary education," she added.

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"It's like a college that's individualized to their needs," added Karen Nudell, the district's director of special education services. "We are absolutely grateful for this space and the opportunities it's providing for the young adults in this community. It's opening up doors and paving the way for future success.

"It's been a long time coming," Nudell continued. "We'd been looking for the perfect space ... and this is it."

Now that the program is settled into its new home, the students and staff are excited for the community to see all that they've accomplished.

"We love to show our building off, so the more we can get the community in to look, the better," said Fritz. "We're proud of this space, and very thankful to our school board, our superintendent, our director of special education — we couldn't be here without them."

A public open house is being planned for Thursday, May 19, starting with a 10 a.m. ribbon cutting and continuing until 5:30 p.m.

What the public will see is a building that actually serves two functions: One, as the home for the Transitions program, and the other, as a Practical Assessment Exploration System (PAES ) lab, where students in the Transitions program are joined by special education students from the high school in learning work readiness skills.

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Student Grant Germundson works on his sewing skills in the PAES Lab at the Laker Transitions building on Tuesday, May 3, 2022.
Vicki Gerdes / Detroit Lakes Tribune

The PAES Lab focuses on five main skills areas:

  • Business/marketing
  • Computer technology
  • Consumer/service
  • Construction/industrial
  • Processing/production

"The students love the PAES Lab because it's all hands-on, for the most part," Fritz said. "They're here five days a week."
In addition to learning work readiness skills in the PAES Lab, students have other duties, some of them outside the building.

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"One student works at TEAM Industries, I have one student volunteering at the Humane Society, one working in the kitchen, one in the PAES Lab, and two working on their driver's test," Colby said, adding that there are currently six students in the Transitions program.

"Next year we'll have 12," she added. "They learn a lot of things. Work readiness skills, independent living skills ... they all work on becoming as independent as they can, in a living situation that makes the most sense for them."

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In the hospitality suite at the Laker Transitions building, students learn how to make — and strip — a bed, fold and put away laundry, and other life skills.
Vicki Gerdes / Detroit Lakes Tribune

Recently, Transitions students Erian Greydanus, Kaitlyn Ahles and Aubrianna Zacher worked together on completing four large storage cabinets.

"The first one took a whole day, the second one took half a day, the third one about two hours, and the fourth one about 40 minutes," said their Transitions teacher, Amber Colby. "The three of them worked so cohesively together, it was amazing to watch."

The students also have different chores to complete inside the building, she added, like working in the kitchen or taking out the trash. "We take care of our own space, because it's our home," Colby said.

A reporter at Detroit Lakes Newspapers since relocating to the community in October 2000, Vicki was promoted to Community News Lead for the Detroit Lakes Tribune and Perham Focus on Jan. 1, 2022. She has covered pretty much every "beat" that a reporter can be assigned, from county board and city council to entertainment, crime and even sports. Born and raised in Madelia, Minnesota, she is a graduate of Hamline University, from which she earned a bachelor's degree in English literature (writing concentration). You can reach her at vgerdes@dlnewspapers.com.
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