A group of Oakland County students with special needs walked into a newly renovated school this fall – one designed just for them.
These 56 students are attending the Pine Tree Center, a new facility that opened in Lake Orion Community Schools in August 2018. It houses programs for children with autism and emotional impairment, along with a program upstairs for 18- to 26-year-old students with special needs.
The school is the first of its kind available to elementary-age students with autism in Oakland County. Some children from outside the district will attend – and for some Lake Orion kids, it’s a chance to come home.
“I have students that I had to send out of district because we didn’t really have the programming (they needed),” says Julie Gutman, the district’s special education director. “I strongly believe that whenever possible, kids should be educated in their own community.”
So when the building became available, Gutman asked the school board if she could offer specialized programs there.
“The board was very enthusiastic and they allowed it to happen,” she says, adding that the kids attending the school needed the kind of space that the new center offers. “They needed something of their own.”
The ultimate goal, Gutman says, is always to mainstream students in general education buildings whenever possible. But for some students, the Pine Tree Center is the perfect place to have a fresh start and work toward their individual goals.
“The whole goal is to have them back in a building with their peers,” she says. “But for some kids you need to start in a different environment.”
Features include a large sensory room and a track for adaptive bikes.
“We also have double bikes,” Gutman says, adding that she just recently took a ride with one of her students who uses a wheelchair.
“I got in the other seat and we went for a bike ride. He was just in heaven,” she says. “Those are some of the things that typically they wouldn’t be able to do. Here, we just ride them through the hallways, we ride them outside.
“It’s their space, it’s our space.”
Pine Tree Center is located at 590 Pine Tree Road in Lake Orion. For more information, contact the school at 248-693-5430 or visit the Lake Orion Community Schools special needs website.