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Perham schools make post-pandemic plans, including upping mental health services

As the Perham School District shifts out of the COVID-19 pandemic era, it is shifting staff to meet new enrollment needs and planning to increase mental health services for students.

Exterior front entrance to Perham High School.
With summer right around the corner, the Perham-Dent School Board has been discussing plans for next school year, many of which relate to funding and mental health care changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Perham Focus File Photo

PERHAM — With summer right around the corner, the Perham-Dent School Board has been discussing plans for next school year, many of which relate to funding and mental health care changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The district funded several staff positions with federal COVID-19 relief funds over the past two years, including additional teachers to create smaller class sizes. But according to Superintendent Mitch Anderson, the district won't have access to those funds forever, so now they're reorganizing to keep class sizes as small as possible — similar to pre-pandemic sizes — while still staying on budget.

"I think whether it's here in Perham or anywhere, you want to keep your class sizes small because there's high needs," Anderson said. "The size of the classroom is critical."

With the COVID-19 relief funds, there are currently seven sections of second grade, with 16 students in a class. Next year, because of retirements, moving teachers, and a smaller overall class size, the district will be able to reduce the number of second grade sections to five — without terminating employees or risking any too-large class sizes.

The reduced classes would still meet the district’s goals of a maximum of 18 students in kindergarten to second grade classes and 25 students in third to sixth grade classes. Elementary enrollment is expected to remain stable over the next 10 years , while increases are expected at the middle and high schools.

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Enrollment was another major shift that impacted the Perham School District during the COVID-19 pandemic. During the 2021 school year, enrollment dropped by about 65 students.

"That was the first time in 10 years that we actually saw a decline from the prior year, and it was 100% attributed to COVID-19," said Anderson. "We have bounced back now this year. Enrollment is back up above where we left off prior to the 2021 school year."

With about 1,550 students currently enrolled, Anderson said the district expects to see a 15–20 student increase per year moving forward. Falling enrollment is no longer a concern, but future staffing shifts will need to accommodate this expected increase.

The COVID-19 pandemic also brought personal struggles for a lot of students, particularly those attending Prairie Wind Middle School. Lakeland Mental Health, which has a contract with the school district, told the school board that there has been an increase in hospitalizations due to mental health concerns among Perham area middle school students.

According to Anderson, schools all across Minnesota are seeing an increase in mental health concerns among students.

"This could be either ignited or enlarged by the pandemic," Anderson said. "COVID-19 does put a lot of people in disarray. Students were home for all of spring 2020 and back and forth with distance and hybrid learning."

The district plans to increase mental health services to accommodate students struggling, particularly in the middle school.

MORE EDUCATION STORIES
Essays and completed applications are due to Arvig by email before 11:59 p.m. on March 3.

The school board, on April 13, also discussed the following:

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  • An initial school calendar shows school from Sept. 6, 2022 to May 26, 2023. School breaks are scheduled the same as this year; parent-teacher conferences and trimester and quarter end dates will be updated. E-learning days will continue as an option for inclement weather days.
  • An additional junior high golf coach was discussed. With a higher number of students involved on the junior high, JV and varsity teams, many students are still practicing while other students compete at meets. The position is for this season and could be added again or permanently based on student involvement in future years. 
  • The elementary wellness color run, a mile-long run where runners get covered in colorful dye, will take place on May 16.
Rebecca Mitchell started as a Digital Content Producer for the Post Bulletin in August 2022. She specializes in enhancing online articles as well as education, feature and health reporting.
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