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School Counselors Short in Supply in MN

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In a world of cyber bullying, school shootings, and broken families, life seems to be more complicated for kids nowadays.

Dakota Meadows Counselor Leah Shanks says, "Lots of stress on families regarding poverty and homelessness. Just lots of issues thy are impacting kids and can ultimately impact their learning."

On the frontlines are school counselors like Shanks, whose job is to help students with problems before a crisis occurs.

Shanks says, "If you have a student who has a pretty significant mental health concern kind the last thing they are going be able to do is come to school and perform."

Dakota Meadows Middle School Principal Strahan says, "As educators we need to make sure we address the whole child and so we, of course, try to take on the mental health components that help them become better students."

But that can be hard in Minnesota, which has one of the largest ratios of students to school counselors in the nation. Since 2000, Minnesota has ranked, at best, 48th out of 50 states in its student–to–school counselor ratio.

At just under 600 students per counselor, Dakota Meadows is doing better than the state average of about 800 students per counselor. But the recommended ratio is 250 students per counselor.

Strahan says, "Could it be better absolutely, but it all comes down to money, it comes down to taxes, it comes back to our legislators and where their priorities are."

Tragedies like Sandy Hook have brought a renewed focus to mental health issues by lawmakers, which could mean improvements in the future though.

Strahan says, "I hear the talk changing."

Senator Al Franken and governor Mark Dayton are both pushing to increase funding for mental health and counseling programs in schools.

Shanks says, "I'm hopeful that thing will continue to improve, local, and state, and federal funding to increase mental health services to students."

Because Shanks says the more that can be done to help kids now, the better students they can be, and the more crises that can be avoided in the future.