The Esko School District added an additional counseling position this year, which has allowed counselors to reach out and provide support to more students than they could in the past.

Superintendent Aaron Fischer said the district has seen, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, an increased number of students reporting levels of concern and anxiety.

“This provides us an opportunity to try and meet those needs for our students, working in conjunction of course with our families,” he told the school board at its meeting Monday, Nov. 22.

Fischer has been hearing anecdotal evidence from parents and teachers about the positive impact of the new position.

High school Principal Greg Hexum said officials have been able to gather data from students to do proactive things in the classroom.

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“This is a time where we need it more than ever,” he said. “What I got back was really, really interesting on the kinds of things we’ve been able to do, because we have had that person.”

The focus for the new position has centered around the well being of Esko’s grade 6-8 students, as their data has shown the need is higher than it has ever been.

Since Esko does not have a middle school, Hexum said students tend to have a big change right at seventh grade as they go into high school, or as the district calls it “high school lite.”

“Most of the students in the state of Minnesota go to a middle school. For us, it is this pretty hard transition,” he said.

As the district gets information on each student's needs, whether it be emotional or academic well being, officials then pair that with what the teachers are seeing to develop a plan for the student.

“The individual check-ins, the group interventions, the collaboration with all the important people in those kids' lives, the teachers, the adults, the parents, etc. has been really impactful,” Hexum said.

Educators have been very pleased with the impact the new position has made so far and are impressed with the number of students they have been able to help.

The position was created with the use of COVID-19 relief funds, but Hexum is planning to apply for grant money to make sure the position is secure for the future.

This story was updated at 6:38 p.m. Nov. 24 with the correct date of the meeting. It was originally posted at 5 p.m. Nov. 24. The Pine Journal regrets the error.