COSMOS – Children with special needs sometimes don’t do well in traditional school settings.
That’s when places like the Cosmos Learning Center step in. It’s a public school classified as a federal Setting IV facility, which works with students with serious behavioral issues.
The former elementary school in Cosmos, leased by the Southwest West Central Service Cooperative, will soon get a facelift thanks to $5 million in state bonding money from the 2018 Legislature.
The school will hold an open house from 5 to 7 p.m. Monday at 320 Saturn St. in Cosmos.
The bonding money will help make the building more student-friendly, according to Bailey Rettmann, regional director of Educational Learning Centers for the Southwest West Central Service Cooperative.
Students who attend programs like that in Cosmos need a smaller setting to be successful, he said. Many of the students have autism or emotional/behavioral disorders. Five Setting IV sites are operated by the Southwest West Central Service Cooperative, and a sixth is under construction in Montevideo.
Lest people think the sites are there to handle troublemakers, Rettmann said in a telephone interview, “we have a very detailed referral process” for admission. A team of school staff, families and other professionals work together to make the decisions, he added.
The improvements in Cosmos are part of a long-term plan to make improvements and develop more sites with the plan to cut students’ travel time by serving them within 45 miles or less of their homes.
There’s a waiting list for the programs, too, he said. The site on Willmar’s MinnWest Technology Campus is nearly doubling its capacity for the next school year and is already full.
Rettmann said the program has an average of 180 students at all sites, and it has seen a 16 percent growth in the past few years. “I wish I didn’t have a job,” he said. “I wish we could transition kids back to their districts tomorrow.”
Students stay for varying amounts of time. Some kids are there for years, others for shorter time. “Our goal for every kid is to get them to transition back,” he said.
The increase is probably due to an improvement in identifying students’ needs and perhaps because the conditions treated there are becoming a bit more prevalent, he said.
The state funding will pay for some updates to better meet the needs of the program, Rettmann said. Some things like wiring and windows will be updated, and fluorescent lighting will be replaced with softer lighting. Other improvements will address school safety.