MN Educators Amplify Message on Mental-Health Demands in Schools
Wednesday, May 4, 2022
This story is part of our continued look at mental-health demands playing out in Minnesota schools.
It's Teacher Appreciation Week, and Minnesota educators say the public should pay closer attention to their efforts in meeting kids' mental-health demands in schools.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has noted nearly half of U.S. high school students have reported feeling persistently sad or hopeless. Becki Church, a crisis interventionist with the Freshwater Education District cooperative serving multiple districts in western Minnesota, said there's more anger and violence, too. Her program includes behavioral services provided on a designated site for students experiencing higher levels of distress.
Amid higher demand, Church said, staff members are stretched thin trying to help students make it through the day.
"They're burning out on the constant behavior management, and working short-staffed and getting called into this room, then that room, then this room and that room," she said. "We're ping-ponging here, and it's a big struggle."
With a large budget surplus, state lawmakers are being asked to set aside more funding, but they're at odds as they negotiate spending bills. President Joe Biden has called on Congress to approve $1 billion for more mental-health staff in schools. However, with elections looming, it's unclear if the request will be approved.
Jena Osberg, a Level IV site manager for the behavioral program, which has about 25 staffers, said it isn't uncommon now to be short-staffed about five or six people a day, and added that it's hard to attract licensed individuals with the proper training.
"I can't even believe that, in five years, we're going to be able to staff - to get anyone to come in anymore and work," she said, "which is just one more thing that we're failing for these kids."
In addition to extra funding, both educators said a more streamlined licensing process could help recruit personnel to help manage the staffing shortages. Church said partner agencies, such as the state education department and corrections officials, need to bolster communication with schools.
"We have these separate silos that are not talking to each other," she said, "and we need to be more of a community, helping kids."
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