Experts worry about lack of school counselors [UPDATED]Published 9:47am Thursday, May 24, 2012 Updated 11:51am Thursday, May 24, 2012
After two public school students in southeastern Minnesota committed suicide this spring, with bullying a factor in each death, experts expressed concern about gaps in mental health services in Minnesota schools.
On the front lines are school counselors, whose jobs is to help students with problems before a crisis occurs.
But that’s difficult in Minnesota, which has one of the largest ratios of students to school counselors in the nation – and a shortage of community counselors who treat children.
According to the Minnesota Association of School Counselors the average ratio of students to counselors in the state is about 800 to 1.
“Minnesota is second to last in the nation as far as the ratio goes,” said Kay Hertling Wahl, a professor of counseling at the University of Minnesota.
The lopsided student to counselor ratio makes it difficult for counselors to be effective in dealing with things like depression, addiction or bullying, Herting Wahl said.
“Many children slip through the cracks because the school counselor is too busy,” she said.
At Barack and Michelle Obama Service Learning School in St. Paul, counselor Beth Coleman usually spends the first part of her day reaching out to students. She talks to them about bullying and anger management.
Coleman’s afternoon is a flurry of meetings. Sometimes she talks with students who’ve caused trouble in class. At other times, she checks in with a student who is homeless or one who’s having problems at home. Parents often set up meetings to talk about their child.
“I’m rarely sitting down,” she said. “I try to do my paperwork but a lot times that’s done at home at night because I’m too busy during the day talking to people.”