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Building a Better Minnesota: Governor’s budget makes a difference with school-linked mental health proposal

Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson looks at student drawings presented by Liz Lemke, a school social worker for the Carver-Scott Educational Cooperative, during a roundtable discussion on school-linked mental health services Friday, March 1, in Shakopee.

Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson is hearing first-hand how school-linked mental health services transform students’ lives. While touring the state in support of Gov. Mark Dayton’s budget proposal to increase funding for the program, she’s met with school staff, counselors and young Minnesotans who use it.

Jauntelle Kraus, a senior at Prior Lake High School, told Jesson Friday, March 1, at a roundtable in Shakopee that she didn’t know she needed help after her parents separated. When a school employee intervened, Jauntelle said she was glad she could access counseling services without having to rely on her parents for transportation and support.

“I realized how much I absolutely need it and it’s so important to me. I know it calms me down, it gives me something to look forward to and it gives me a reason to go to school,” said Jauntelle, who plans to attend University of North Dakota next year.

Jauntelle Kraus, a senior at Prior Lake High School, tells Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson that school-linked mental health services are crucial to her wellbeing during a roundtable Friday, March 1, at the Shakopee District Office.School-linked programs remove barriers to mental health care by providing diagnostic assessment and therapy during the school day in schools. Jauntelle receives services through Scott County Mental Health Center’s Connect Program, which operates at up to 46 sites in the Belle Plaine, Jordan, New Prague, Prior Lake/Savage and Shakopee school districts. In recent years, state grants have allowed the Connect Program to continue and significantly expand to students who would not otherwise have had access to mental health services.

Gov. Mark Dayton’s proposed budget would invest $7.4 million next biennium to double the state’s capacity for school-linked mental health, making services available in 840 schools to approximately 13,900 students annually by 2017. More than half of those students will receive mental health services for the first time.

“From Virginia to Shakopee, I have seen how school-based mental health services transform students’ lives.  This is particularly true outside metropolitan areas where children have to travel long distances to appointments.  They miss school.  Parents miss work and, frankly, often children do not receive the mental health interventions they need. Gov. Dayton’s expansion of school-linked mental health services will change that for thousands of children in need,” said Jesson, who also visited a school-linked program on the Iron Range in February.

Juan Ojeda (right), a student at Shakopee Junior High School, says his school-linked counselor Chester McCoy (left), a clinical social worker for Scott County Mental Health Center, helps him better understand and regulate his feelings.Juan Ojeda, a ninth-grader at Shakopee Junior High School, said the Connect Program has made a big difference in the way he approaches life.

“I know that most of my life hasn’t gone as well as it could because of my actions,” he said. “I’ve learned that through my actions, my attitude, my feelings, I can either bring myself down or bring myself up.”

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