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ECASD seeks space for new program to help special education students transition into adulthood


EAU CLAIRE (WQOW) - Transitioning from school to adult life can be a challenge, especially for students enrolled in special education programs, but the Eau Claire Area School District hopes to help smooth out the shift with a new off-site transition program.

District officials are eyeing a space in the EastRidge Center off Hastings Way for the program. Executive Director of Special Education Mandy Van Vleet said it would create a designated space students between the ages of 18 and 21, to help them gain independence, employment and social skills.

"You practice going grocery shopping. You practice making phone calls in real-life settings, and it's challenging to do that within the school setting," said Van Vleet. "We can set those types of experiences up on an off-site transition program."

Van Vleet said with the current programs at North and Memorial High School, 20-year-old students can sometimes be seated in classrooms alongside 14-year-olds, but the new space would allow young adults in the program to be around peers their own age.

She hopes the out-of-school setting will encourage students who may normally drop out of the program after age 18 to continue their education.

"Many of our students don't want to come back after five or six years [of high school], and so they don't," Van Vleet said. "Some choose not to, and then they aren't able to fully develop those skills."

Van Vleet said another goal of the program is to help create a smoother hand-off into long-term care services students may need when they age out of the program.

Leasing the space would cost the district just shy of $500,000 over the course of 10 years. It hopes to pay for the estimated $225,000 necessary to get the space up and running through grants and fundraising.

The district's Budget and Development Committee voted Wednesday to recommend the project to the school board, which will take up the proposal on Monday.

Jess Langlois

Jess Langlois is the weekend meteorologist and weekday multi-media journalist for News 18. She joined us in July of 2019.

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