Senator Jerry Newton: Minnesota kids are in crisis; school counselors can help

Recently, I had a powerful experience in which four young women shared their impossibly sad and painful stories with a small group of legislators and at-risk youth. These women were non-violent inmates, currently serving sentences at the Shakopee Women’s Prison. They spoke about violence and abuse that happened to them when they were still young girls, and the many wrong turns that led to their being locked up.

These stories were told to inform, to heal – and to help bring awareness to the importance of the choices adolescents make. The women were speaking to a group of young people taking part in the Youth Intervention Programs Association or YIPA. The group works with at-risk youth before they make dangerous decisions that could lead them down the wrong path.

The stories these women shared – of simply trying to forget the abuses that happened to them, were heartbreaking. And the clear need for someone – any adult to intervene and offer a shoulder to cry on was so evident, it reminded me that Minnesota’s 48th ranking for our student-to-counselor ratio is creating a notable absence in our schools.

The work YIPA is doing is absolutely essential. Just like the work of school counselors – being available to notice students’ problems, and being adept at seeing the warning signs students are leaving behind. Teachers and school counselors are often the first to notice missed homework, mood changes or bullying – and they can help solve a small problem – so it doesn’t balloon into a life-altering mistake.

I’ve talked about the need for more school counselors before, because the overwhelming evidence of their need is staggering. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in five children in the U.S. shows signs or symptoms of a mental health disorder. Our kids are in crisis, and school counselors are on the front line. The Minnesota legislature can help by allocating money to schools to hire additional staff. It’s a clear need, and one our children can’t keep going without.  

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Jerry Newton is a state senator who represents Blaine, Coon Rapids, and Spring Lake Park. He is the Ranking Member of the Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Committee and a member of the following committees: Family Care and Aging; and Higher Education Finance and Policy. Sen. Newton is also a member of the Legislative Permanent School Fund Commission and the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission. A high-resolution photo of Sen. Newton is available for download here.

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