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Associated Press, Published May 22 2012

Minnesota has high ratio of students per counselors

ST. PAUL – Minnesota has the second-lowest ratio in the country of school counselors to students, leading some in the profession to contend troubled students are being neglected.

The Minnesota Association of School Counselors says the average ratio of students to counselors in the state is about 800 to 1. Kay Hertling Wahl, a professor of counseling at the University of Minnesota, said that makes it difficult for counselors to be effective in dealing with depression, addiction or bullying in schools.

Suicides by two public school students in southeastern Minnesota this spring called new attention to what advocates say are gaps in mental health services in the state’s schools. School counselors are on the front lines, trying to help students to head off problems before a crisis occurs.

But “many students slip through the cracks because the school counselor is too busy,” Hertling Wahl said.

At Barack and Michelle Obama Service Learning School in St. Paul, counselor Beth Coleman said she’s “rarely sitting down.” A typical day starts with a morning of reaching students, talking to kids about bullying and anger management. The afternoon is filled with appointments dealing with everything from problems in class to homelessness and family issues. She often meets with parents, too.

Coleman is one of two counselors at the school for pre-kindergarten to 6th grade students and is responsible for about half of its 670 students.

“I try to do my paperwork, but a lot of times, that’s done at home at night because I’m too busy during the day talking to people,” Coleman said.

Minnesota state law does not require schools to have counselors, social workers or psychologists on staff. Administrators in each school district decide whether to do so.