Survey: MN students learning more, but mental health concerns growing

Teachers and students both say they want more manageable workloads and assignments

A sign reads "Mental Health" on a wooden shelf with books.
A shelf at the South High School library are filled with books about mental health. A new survey from the University of Minnesota shows that both students and educators believe mental health is a top concern.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News 2020

Minnesota K-12 students, their families and their teachers all agree that mental health is a top concern. 

That’s according to the latest results from the Minnesota Safe Learning Survey, from the University of Minnesota which polled tens of thousands of educators, students and families in the winter, spring and fall of 2021. 

“The findings across all three surveys are actually pretty consistent with the number one concern being mental health,” said University of Minnesota Principal in Residence, Katie Pekel.

While mental health has always emerged as a top concern in the survey results, that sentiment appears to have grown as time has gone on. 

Half of Minnesota teacher respondents said taking care of their own mental health was a top priority one year ago. But by the start of the 2021 school year, that number had grown to 71 percent of teachers. Minnesota students reported similar concerns. In the fall of 2021, close to half of student respondents said they worried about their mental well-being. 

“Moving forward, schools will no doubt continue to seek innovative ways to engage and support students. However, they will be doing it amid a tremendous amount of stress on the system, and the educators in it,” said Pekel.

Survey respondents indicated they wanted to see schools do more in terms of prevention and intervention in cases of harassment, self-harm and suicide. Adults in schools said they wanted more manageable workloads for school staff. Students said they wanted more do-able assignments.

The survey also revealed that students believe they were learning more in the fall of 2021 than they had since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020. 

“Students had a pretty significant switch from winter and spring to the fall…that’s a pretty exciting finding for us. We see that that went up pretty steadily for educators and it steadily went up for families as well, but it really made a jump for students,” Pekel said. 

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