Laker Transitions will soon have a new home. The Detroit Lakes High School program, designed to help adult-aged students with special needs in making the shift from high school into adulthood, will move from the high school into the former Solutions LLC building at 1102 West River Road this summer.

Laker Transitions is a program designed to assist adult-aged students with disabilities in learning employment and independent living skills, along with facilitating postsecondary education and training opportunities. It is open to students who:

  • are 18 - 21 years old;
  • have a variety of disabilities;
  • have a current individualized education program, or IEP;
  • have documented transition needs;
  • do not have a high school diploma.

"All school districts are mandated by law to provide special education services until students are 21 years old, if there is a continued need and goals have not been met in their (individualized education program)," explained Wendy Fritz, who acts as the district's transition facilitator for special education.

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Though these transition services have always been provided by the district, they have been offered at the high school, which meant that special education students between ages 18-21 weren't able to move off-site to receive their post-graduation education and job training. In effect, Fritz explained, they stayed in high school until they either received the education and training they needed to transition into the working world — a process that could take as little as two or three months — or they aged out of the program when they turned 21.

Even though Laker Transitions students won't officially receive their high school diplomas until they've completed the program, Fritz said, they will now get to experience getting their education and training in a separate facility, much like any other high school graduate heading off to college in the fall.

While there, they will receive assistance in gaining "independent living skills, transition skills, social and functional skills and self-advocacy in real-life settings," according to information available on the high school's website.

"It will help students to be as independently successful as they are able," Fritz explained.

The goal is to encourage them to be involved, engaged members of the community, while achieving the greatest level of independence possible in employment, daily living, postsecondary education and training, recreation and leisure.

In addition to housing the Laker Transitions program itself, Fritz added, the new facility will also be home to a PAES (Practical Assessment Exploration System) lab, for special education students in grades 8 and above.

A PAES lab is essentially a work skills development lab, Fritz said, adding, "It covers over 300 different jobs, in five different areas."

Those five areas are: business/marketing; computer technology; construction/industrial; processing/production; and consumer/service jobs.

"It's an amazing program," Fritz added. "We're really excited about it."

School board approves lease

The Detroit Lakes School Board approved a 15-year lease on the building at its May 17 meeting, with an option to purchase the facility when the lease expires.

The lease is for $96,000 per year (or $8,000 per month), and will be funded using the district's lease levy authority. Only board member John Steffl voted against the measure, citing cost concerns rather than any issues with the program itself.

"I think it's a great idea," Steffl said of the Transitions program. "I'm not against that, I'm just against the cost of that building."

He thought the district should have pursued a more cost-friendly solution, but Fritz noted after the meeting that the district's special education team had been looking at off-site facilities to enable them to expand their post-high school services for more than 10 years.

Also at the May meeting, the board approved the retention of an architect's services for completing necessary renovations to Laker Transitions' new home. As a condition of the lease, the district is expected to be responsible for all costs associated with the building and site.

"We're excited to expand our special education program," said Detroit Lakes Superintendent Mark Jenson, adding that there would be only minimal remodeling necessary to make the facility ready in time for the start of fall classes.