Apr 3, 2019, White Bear Lake (MN) Press Pub: Mental health, special ed highlighted on commissioner’s visit https://www.presspubs.com/white_bear/news/mental-health-special-ed-highlighted-on-commissioner-s-visit/article_3373330c-5647-11e9-8a50-439a9a68acb7.html In the Otter Lake Elementary resource room for students with autism, fifth-grader Dominic Stetz stood up to greet Minnesota Department of Education Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker. “I have autism,” he confidently told the commissioner, and proceeded to discuss his reading and writing assignment. Dominic was just one of about a dozen students in the room getting extra help from paraprofessionals on assignments. He spends much of his day in his regular classroom; this room is where he can come to focus on his work. But this year, the room also means something more to Dominic. “Sometimes I get angry,” he explained. This room is where he has learned how to respond to his feelings and emotions through self-talk, which is part of schoolwide social-emotional learning program implemented this year. “I just tell myself to calm down,” he said. All teachers and paraprofessionals at the school now wear lanyards outlining the steps any student can take to react to their feelings, said Principal Cynthia Mueller. The Second Step program teaches students how to stop a disruptive outburst, name their feelings and calm down through breathing, counting or self-talk. When Mueller became the principal at Otter Lake two years ago, she noticed that a substantial number of students were struggling with misbehavior and friendships, early signs of mental health needs. She determined to start a social-emotional learning committee, on which 15 teachers volunteered to participate. Their research led to implementing Second Step schoolwide this year. It’s resulted in students being able to identify and understand their feelings. … Commissioner Ricker came to Otter Lake Elementary to tour its special education facilities because the school is known in the district and the area for its programs. It has several rooms for both functional skills and academic learning for students with special needs. Families from outside the district seek to open enroll in the school because they have heard about it through the grapevine, Mueller said. About 20 percent of the district’s open enrollment students receive special education services, said Superintendent Wayne Kazmierczak…. She saw the passion of the special education staff to provide the students with what they need. She said her office plans to work on increased resources to meet those needs. “We really want to be able to add the funding for special education,” she said. Many districts across the state, including White Bear Lake, borrow money from their general fund to cover the cost of special education. … … Costs for providing special education services continue to rise. “It’s been a growing issue for districts all across the country,” Collins said….