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USC board gets update on new Arise Academy

By Staff | Feb 23, 2020

Dr. Sarah Mittelstadt, director of Southern Plains Educational Cooperative, above far right, addressed the United South Central School Board last week.

Dr. Sarah Mittelstadt, director of Southern Plains Educational Cooperative (SPEC) made an appearance at the United South Central School Board meeting last Tuesday, Feb. 18, to give a slide show presentation of the new SPEC Arise Academy facility in Fairmont.

Arise Academy serves five local school districts including United South Central, Blue Earth Area, Granada-Huntley-East Chain, Martin County West, and Fairmont public schools and provides special education and alternative learning programs to the districts. Dr. Mittelstadt shared that a number of their students deal with autism and sensory issues as well as other hurdles, both physical and mental, that could diminish a student’s progress in a regular classroom.

This school, based in Fairmont’s old Lincoln School building, is now home to Arise Academy and has several different programs to fit the needs of their 90-plus students. Dr. Mittelstadt went over some of the key programs with the USC School Board.

The ALC, or area learning center, services a large majority of their students in high school who are at riskof dropping out of school. With smaller class sizes and personalized education plans, students here have the opportunity to achieve greater success in their graduation process.

For students K-12, SPEC’s Bridges program helps students with social and emotional deficits with behavioral issues through a structured classroom setting and diligent staff.

“Our goal with the Bridges program is to help these students develop important behavioral and emotional skills so they can continue their education in their own school district,” shared Dr. Mittelstadt.

Arise Academy’s PALS, or Positive Approach to Learning Services program involves students who are non-verbal, have autism, or need help with sensory issues. The PALS program has a number of specialty classroom items to help with sensory needs including rocking chairs, swings, harnesses, weighted blankets, as well as muted colors and individual work stations where students can work without being overstimulated.

The Practical Assessment Exploration System, or PAES?lab, helps students with career goals.

“In the PAES lab, our students learn skills and interests with full support from the staff. They are given opportunities to explore careers and work with tools in those trade areas to become successful,” says Dr. Mittelstadt.

She shares students are “paid” with PAES?cash in order to help them learn about money management.

“When students save their money, they can choose to purchase products in our little student store. They can buy snacks, supplies, or other incentives like headphones,” she shared. “From there, they have to decide how they want to spend their hard-earned money.”

The director went on to share a success story of a student who was able to learn manufacturing skills with SPEC’s PAES lab and when he turned 18, applied for a job in the manufacturing business and continues to work at the local manufacturer, based in Winnebago, to this day.

“That student will be a taxpayer for the rest of his life instead of a tax user,” said Dr. Mittelstadt.

She also commented on the building’s color scheme, with lots of grays, blues, and neutral green tones. She shared these colors are calming colors for students and are less distracting.

“This is a building where our students can feel valued in,” she shared with the USC board. “Some of our students are homeless, so our facility has a shower room, kitchen area, and laundry facilities to help students with those basic needs. We also have an audiology booth that helps us test students for hearing issues. The gym we had was one fairly small gym, but we broke it up into two smaller gym so the echo of the room and the size of the room can be more suited to students with sensory issues. We also have a weight-lifting room.”

“This building is a lot nicer than when we toured it last year,” said School Board member Brad Heggen. “Congratulations. It looks great.”

“We are very grateful to all of the school districts who helped us with this facility project, and we are excited to continue serving the USC?School District,” replied Dr. Mittelstadt.

Other items the USC School Board discussed includes:

Approval of the final 2019-20 seniority list which was given. A motion to approve the list was made by Diana Brooks and seconded by Tom Legred, which was passed unanimously by the board.

A motion by Brad Heggen and seconded by Brooks to approve option B for the 2020-21 academic calendar was made, which the board also passed.

Renewal of an agreement with Teachers On Call to assist with substitute teachers was unanimously agreed upon by the USC School Board after a motion was made by Mike Schrader and seconded by Dale Stevermer.

In their reports to the School Board, high school principal Kelly Schlaak informed the School Board of an upcoming performance of “Pinocchio” by the eighth grade students, with help from the Prairie Fire Children’s Theater, scheduled for Feb. 28, with performances at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. The high school also celebrated National FFA week with dress-up days and a host of agriculture themed activities. Elementary school principal Nick Jurrens shared the elementary is still continuing to improve on the new reading curriculum. March 6 is the annual Green Eggs and Ham breakfast scheduled for 7 a.m. that Friday.

The next USC School Board meeting is scheduled for March 10.