SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — A local non-profit education co-op is helping students with special needs get a leg up in life.

Teachwell Solutions got its start in 1986 as East Dakota Educational Cooperative, a partnership of the Brandon Valley, Lennox and West Central School Districts. The organization adopted its current name in 2015 and now has no boundaries.

People with special needs are quickly finding their place in the world with the help of Teachwell Solutions in Sioux Falls.

“We’re a school. We help serve smaller school districts with individuals that might need a little bit more support, focused on behavior, IEP’s and transition,” Janae Sturma said.

Janae Sturma is the Transition Coordinator and Special Education teacher for the Strive Program, which focuses on career training and college readiness.

“We help with those transitions from high school to college to make that transition a little bit easier,” Sturma said.

The Strive Program got its start in 2020 through a Vocational Rehab Grant. The students split their time between Teachwell Solutions and Southeast Technical University.

“Typically they start with the same classes. They take one or two like the student success seminar and a couple generals before getting into the program of their choice and we just help them with those selections, those choices, the workload, help managing it, setting up the calendar, setting up their email address, making sure their bill is paid, doing all those things that they might just need a little extra support with,” Sturma said.

“I like to work hands on with stuff and build stuff,” Ethan Clapsaddle said.

20-year old Ethan Clapsaddle arrived at Teachwell Solutions wanting to pursue phlebotomy, but quickly turned his attention to construction. He started with the basics.

“One of my instructors was able to help me read a tape measurer, just the smallest ticks, from the 32nds to the 8ths to the 16ths, all that stuff,” Clapsaddle said.

Clapsaddle then put his skills to the test by helping build houses with Habitat for Humanity.

“It makes me a proud person knowing that I did something for the community,” Clapsaddle said.

He recently received his certificate in general construction from Southeast Technical University and is currently finishing his Individualized Educational Plan by working at Avera Home Medical Equipment.

“I put together walkers and wheelchairs and sanitize them for oxygen machines and then I stock the showroom,” Clapsaddle said.

Ethan hopes to pursue a job in construction come spring.

Teachwell offers three transition programs — Thrive, Search and Strive. Students also have the opportunity to intern through Project Skills.

“I actually have two internships, both are with non-profits, the Union Gospel Mission and then the Toy Lending Library,” Will Roths said.

Will Roths is 21 years old. He’s currently taking classes in economics and psychology relating to social media, and working toward an Associate’s Degree in Digital Media Design. He’s currently helping create billboards to promote the Union Gospel Mission.

“People getting involved and coming together, people supporting each other, that’s pretty much the ones we focus on is support and getting involved,” Roths said.

Will has found that same level of support in the classroom.

“It’s been a great experience. I’ve really enjoyed getting to go to Southeast Tech to try out the whole college experience. It’s been really great and has motivated me to continue working toward that degree next semester,” Roths said.

Once he has his degree…

“I’m hoping for a job in graphic design or something related to that field,” Roths said.

Sturma has no doubts that Roths and Clapsaddle will succeed.

“Any task that we give them, any challenge that we give them, they are up for the opportunity,” Sturma said.

And they’re paving the way for future Strive students at Teachwell Solutions.

“I just want to see this thing grow. I want to see people know about it so that they know it’s an option and can take advantage of what we have to offer and get these individuals as independent as they can be,” Sturma said.

If you’d like to learn about the other academies and transition programs at Teachwell Solutions, click HERE