HERMANTOWN, Minn. - MaKenzie Johnson was standing in the hallways of Hermantown High School on Friday when a student came up to her with a few questions.

That scene - a counselor and student conversing - is a rare thing in many schools in Minnesota and across the country.

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The American School Counselor Association says there should be no more than 250 students per one counselor. In Minnesota, the rate is more than double that.

One bill before the Minnesota Legislature would require school districts place a counselor in every building, which would go a long way toward reducing the student-per-counselor burden.

“One in five adolescents have a mental health diagnosis, and we’re kind of the front lines for mental health in our buildings,” Johnson said. “I think once a school had access to a school counselor, regardless of their experience, I don’t know if they would ever be able to get rid of that position once they realize the player that we are.”

David Thompson, a counselor at Hermantown High School, said he believes being proactive with mental health in schools could help prevent future tragedies.

“We firmly believe that when the really, really bad things have happened in schools in our country, it is almost always a kid that felt disconnected and we feel that the more mental health supports there are in schools, the more connected kids are going to feel, the more supported teachers are and the more supported families are,” he said.

‘A better job’

When John Engelking took over as superintendent in Proctor in 2009, he said the school district was 50th in the state for student-counselor ratios.

“I thought it was terrible,” he said. “We just had to do a better job.”

So Engelking’s administration and the school board made a commitment to increase the number of counselors. Today, they have two counselors at the high school, one at the middle school, one at Bayview Elementary and a part-time counselor at Pike Lake Elementary.

In the 2009-10 school year, Proctor’s counselor to student ratio was 1-to-452; that was brought down to 1-to-358 as of last school year.