The Potluck

House education committee hears directly from high school students

By: - February 2, 2022 1:28 pm

The Minnesota State Capitol building in downtown Saint Paul, with snow on the ground during autumn. Photo by Tony Webster.

High school students from across Minnesota shared their concerns about school with lawmakers Wednesday, highlighting issues from mental health to career preparation.

Members of the House Education Finance Committee said they wanted to hear from students as they begin the 2022 legislative session and prepare to tackle such topics as school funding and teacher workforce challenges. Six students were asked to discuss their most urgent concerns at school and what they need from school to prepare for life after graduation.

Several students mentioned mental health as a major concern. Charlie Schmit, a senior at Washburn High School in Minneapolis, said students are struggling with major stressors — including the pandemic, impending graduations, rising violence and lingering effects from the unrest in 2020 — and don’t have enough support. 

“We need to make sure kids have good mental well-being to make sure they are getting the education they deserve,” Schmit said. “We need access to therapists for all students to reduce mental health disorders and make sure students can recover from these stressful times.”

The need to recruit and retain more teachers of color was also a common theme across student testimony. Adri Arquin, who attends St. Paul’s Central High School, said he has had only two teachers of color in his educational career so far — a common experience in Minnesota, where roughly 35% of students are students of color, compared to 5% of teachers.

“From my experience, teachers of color have a massive impact on ensuring success for students of color,” Arquin said. “We not only need to increase our teachers of color, but we also need to do a better job of supporting teachers of color on a daily basis.”

The committee is set to address student mental health during a hearing Thursday, with presentations from the Minnesota Department of Health and the National Alliance on Mental Illness MN.

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Rilyn Eischens
Rilyn Eischens

Rilyn Eischens is a former data reporter for the Minnesota Reformer. Rilyn was born and raised in Minnesota and has worked in newsrooms in the Twin Cities, Iowa, Texas and most recently Virginia, where she covered education for The Staunton News Leader. She's an alumna of the Dow Jones News Fund data journalism program and the Minnesota Daily. When Rilyn isn't in the newsroom, she likes to read, add to her plant collection and try new recipes.