Rochester Public Schools receives nearly $2 million in federal funding for mental health initiatives

Referencing the Minnesota Student Survey, a district press release said "32% of of RPS 11th graders have seriously considered suicide and 11.2% have actually attempted suicide."

Rochester Public Schools Superintendent Kent Pekel speaks during a school board meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023.
Jordan Shearer / Post Bulletin

ROCHESTER — Rochester Public Schools has received nearly $2 million through a federal grant that it will use for mental health initiatives in the district.

The school board approved the acceptance of the grant on Tuesday and will discuss the topic of mental health further in an upcoming study session.

"This is tightly aligned with our strategic plan," Superintendent Kent Pekel said. "We are very fortunate to have the grant support for the development process."

The grant from the U.S. Department of Education amounts to $1,929,949.

According to information provided by the district, the funding will be used to create the School Based Mental Health Scholars program, which will be a partnership between the school district and Winona State University.


"This project will fund recruitment and retention efforts over the next five years by providing scholarships, district internship placements, and ongoing supervision and support to incoming masters level social work students at Winona State University," documentation from the district said.

The program will award up to 30 scholarships. The initiative will place an emphasis on "participants from diverse backgrounds or experiences."

The grant funding also will pave the way for the addition of "at least" four social work staff members over five years, which would be an increase of roughly 10% from the current number.

The district's website says there are 32 mental health practitioners working throughout the city's public schools. The overall student population is 17,729, as recorded Oct. 1.

In addition to briefly discussing the topic at school board, the district issued a press release about the new grant funding. Referencing the Minnesota Student Survey, the press release said that "32% of of RPS 11th graders have seriously considered suicide and 11.2% have actually attempted suicide." Both of those figures are higher than the state average.

“We’re aware of, and now have data to prove, that the pandemic and the aftereffects have greatly impacted the mental health of our students, and for most, it’s unfortunately impacted them negatively,” Pekel said through the press release. “This program will help us solidify the steps we are taking in our strategic plan to not only address the mental health needs of our students, but also increase the diversity of staff within Rochester Public Schools.”

What happened: Rochester Public Schools received nearly $2 million in federal funding to support mental health initiatives.

Why does this matter: Mental health is a major issue among students, which ultimately impacts their learning.

What's next: The Rochester School Board will host a study session on mental health to further discuss how to serve its student population.

Jordan Shearer covers K-12 education for the Post Bulletin. A Rochester native, he graduated from Bemidji State University in 2013 before heading out to write for a small newsroom in the boonies of western Nebraska. Bringing things full circle, he returned to Rochester in 2020 just shy of a decade after leaving. Readers can reach Jordan at 507-285-7710 or
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