by Mike Knaak
The need for more and a wider range of counseling services topped the list of issues raised during the first listening session organized by the Sartell-St. Stephen school district’s new Educational Equity and Student Experience committee.
About 30 people, mostly adults, gathered at the high school’s Learning Stairs to share experiences and opinions during the 45-minute session led by Superintendent Jeff Ridlehoover on Sept. 20.
The session’s topic, Student Support Services and Mental Health, was chosen by the committee after its first meeting on Sept. 13. Future sessions will focus on other topics developed by the committee as it pursues priorities to deal with the district’s equity challenges.
Student mental health is the top issue for schools across the country, Ridlehoover said as he introduced the session topic. Speakers seemed to agree.
Opinions shared by session participants included:
• Counselors need time to engage with students on an informal basis, not just when there’s a crisis. There are three counselors for about 1,400 high school students.
• Counselors are, by training, focused on academics and deal with testing, academic progress and post-secondary education. Providing mental-health therapy is not a focus. Counselors need outside resources. Where do counselors go for help?
• There’s a stigma attached to visiting the counseling office. The office is adjacent to the commons/cafeteria and other students see who is coming and going.
• How can counselors and other adults touch base with students who aren’t seeking help and also have time to follow up and check in with families?
• There’s a need for a more diverse counseling staff.
• The curriculum needs a mental-health component that focuses on kindness and character and starts with the youngest students.
In summing up the discussion, Ridlehoover said “we want to support our kids when they are in our buildings so they don’t feel they are alone.”
Forming the Educational Equity and Student Experience committee was the district’s response to addressing equity issues following a controversial audit last winter. Although the district ended its relationship with the consultants who conducted the audit, the survey results revealed depression and pressure to excel concerned students.
The committee has 90 members. In forming the committee, district leaders aimed for approximately 50 percent student involvement, 25 percent staff and 25 percent parent/guardian/district residents. Of the more than 180 applications received from district students, staff, parents/guardians and residents, almost 50 were students, leaving less than 50 vacancies for the 130-plus adults who applied. Committee membership is approximately 50 percent students, 20 percent staff and 30 percent parents/guardians/district residents.
Overviews and notes from the committee and listening session information are available on the district’s Educational Equity webpage: www.sartell.k12.mn.us/EducationalEquity.
The next equity committee meeting will be from 6:30-8 p.m. Monday, Oct. 11. The next listening session will be Monday, Oct. 18, with a topic determined at the Oct. 11 committee meeting.