School Staff, Students Dedicate New Lincoln Education Center – Brainerd Dispatch | Team Cansler

BRAINERD – “A safe environment for students and teachers is a prerequisite for learning.”

It is part of the Lincoln Education Center’s stated mission. Thanks to community support and a sizeable donation from Sourcewell, Wade Haapajoki and his fellow teachers have this environment for their students at Lincoln Education Center.

The new Lincoln Education Center is one of the final construction projects to emerge from the successful 2018 Brainerd Public Schools referendum. Now located on the former south campus of Brainerd High School, it serves special education students and provides transition programs.

“Every student has the right to learn and should be given the opportunity to do so,” Haapajoki said during an inauguration of the newly designed facility on Tuesday November 22. “This is us. Students must learn to be responsible for their own behavior and learning. Student needs are best met through program customization and flexibility.”
Haapajoki is the head special education teacher at Lincoln and on Tuesday spoke about the importance of what is going on in the non-traditional school.

Wade Haapajoki, principal teacher at Lincoln Education Center, speaks about the new school at a dedication and ribbon cutting ceremony on Tuesday, November 22, 2022.

Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Lincoln staff provide special educational services for students with emotional and behavioral disorders. They also lead transition programs like ATLAS – Area Transition Learning and Skills – which provides services for students ages 18 to 21 who have graduated from high school and are now working on the transition to life after college.
ATLAS teacher Kati Reynolds said Tuesday the facility is more of a community setting for students than a traditional school.

“They had all graduated from high school and we wanted them to feel like this was the next step in their educational journey,” Reynolds said.

Kitchen environments help students learn how to cook and plan their meals, while home environments allow them to practice household skills like vacuuming carpets and sweeping floors.

“This is an incredible facility,” said parent Derick White.

White’s daughter, Maddy, is an ATLAS student who benefited from the services at Lincoln. Lessons in cooking, grocery shopping, laundry, finance and job hunting have helped Maddy gain independence.

“I think all of us who have children with special needs want them to become as independent as possible,” White said. “We want to give them the best chance to live as independently as possible.”

Inauguration of the Lincoln Education Center

Parent Derick White recognizes his daughter Maddy as an example of a success story at the Lincoln Education Center dedication on Tuesday, November 22, 2022.

Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Thanks to programming at Lincoln, White said his daughter applied for a job at Ace Hardware in Crosslake last year, all on her own. She secured the job and worked there for a year before deciding to put her new skills to work and take a job at Andy’s Bar & Grill.

Students like Maddy White are the reason that institutions like the Lincoln Education Center exist in Brainerd and throughout the region.

Before the remodeled facility stood the Lincoln Education Center on South Sixth Street. The 1938 building originally served as an elementary school before becoming a special education program. This building was demolished as part of the school district referendum to make way for more parking at Brainerd High School and the new Gichi-ziibi Center for the Arts.

The original remodeling plans for the high school’s south campus were modest, but funding from Sourcewell made the project what it is today.

“We have heard that there is a significant need across the region. We’ve heard loud and clear that current special education facilities are simply not enough,” Sourcewell executive director Chad Coauette said Tuesday.

Coauette and his team contributed $5.2 million to the Lincoln project and more than $5 million apiece to similar projects at Little Falls, Wadena-Deer Creek and Walker-Hackensack-Akeley.

New Lincoln Education Center

The new Lincoln Education Center hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony on Tuesday, November 22, 2022.


All of these funds went to Level IV buildings, which are facilities for students who receive more than 50% of the school day of special education in separate school facilities.

“This is a great example of our board’s commitment to addressing the challenges within Sourcewell’s five-county service area,” Coauette said in a press release sent earlier Tuesday. “As an organization, we are service oriented and dedicated to reinvesting in our cities, counties, schools and nonprofits. Funding these facilities will make an impact across the region and we feel very good about that.”

Lincoln Education Center principal Amy Jordan sees this impact on her students.

“We meet them where they stand, academically, socially, emotionally and behaviorally, that’s what our programs are about,” Jordan said Tuesday.

A plaque commemorating the dedication ceremony was located at the Lincoln High School Tuesday night and served as a backdrop for Maddy White and ATLAS student Brandon Bartel to ceremonially cut a light blue ribbon to mark the building’s opening.

THERESA BOURKE can be reached at or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at

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