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Schools, Allina take on elementary schoolers' mental health with new tools
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Faribault’s elementary schools now have a place to find calm.

Courtesy of $5,200 in grants to Faribault Public Schools from Allina Health, pre-made kits called “Calming Corners” are in every elementary school classroom, and principal and nurse’s office in the district.

The project was presented at the Faribault School Board meeting Monday, less than a month after the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Children’s Hospital Association declared a national emergency in children’s mental health, resulting in part from disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to an Oct. 20 release, the crisis in child and adolescent mental health is worsening and “is inextricably tied to the stress brought on by COVID-19 and the ongoing struggle for racial justice, and represents an acceleration of trends observed prior to 2020. Rates of childhood mental health concerns and suicide rose steadily between 2010 and 2020 and by 2018 suicide was the second leading cause of death for youth ages 10-24.”

“This outreach is just one way we’ve connected with Faribault Public Schools,” Natalie Ginter, Allina Health’s manager of community engagement said in a release. “Through our Change to Chill program we’ve also worked with Faribault High School to teach students stress management and coping skills as well as how to practice mindfulness. At Allina Health, we strongly believe we must put human relationships at the center of care and look at the whole person to truly address health care needs in our community.”

Joining Ginter at Monday’s Board meeting to discuss the implementation of Calming Corners and how it’s being used were Michelle Kaune and Kim Barry, social workers at Lincoln and Roosevelt Elementary schools, respectively.

Natalie Ginter, of Allina Health, left, and Faribault Public School social workers Kim Barry and Michelle Kaune presented the Calming Corners project, meant to help with elementary school students’ mental health, to the School Board on Monday. (Julian Hast/southernminn.com)

Kaune began the group’s presentation by explaining how Calming Corners works. Rather than operating as toys for students’ recreational enjoyment alone, Kaune said, the pre-made kits are tools that can help students get back to work.

“Sitting down and thinking about the problem can sometimes make it worse, so this helps them get their mind off of the problem so they can get back in control and back to work,” she said.

The kits are also useful for regulating young students’ emotions when teachers do not have time to sit down individually with an agitated student or students during school hours.

Calming Corners includes a number of different items, including helpful reminders that can calm and guide young students, fidget toys that use repetitive motions to alleviate anxiety and exercises that help users calm themselves by focusing on their breathing.

More than just toys, the items in the pre-made Calming Corners kits, provided to elementary schools in the Faribault district with a grant from Allina Health, are tools used by students to help them to reduce anxiety and regain control their emotions. (Photo courtesy of Allina Health)

Calming Corners is one of several projects being implemented through the collaboration between Faribault Public Schools and Allina Health, including the Change to Chill program which was created to teach students at Faribault High School stress management and coping skills in addition to practicing mindfulness.

The hiring of Janet Lewis Muth for the new position of mental health coordinator at Faribault Public Schools was also part of that collaboration.

After the presentation, School Board Chiar Chad Wolff asked presenters if they had received any early feedback on the Calming Corners’ efficacy from teachers or staff. Barry said the students seem to enjoy using the kits and teachers appreciate having “some tools at their fingertips.”

School Board member Richard Olson asked if the Calming Corners could only be used for elementary school students or if there had been any discussion on their use in middle schools as well. Presenters responded that the grant was for elementary school students and that the program is not being considered for use in middle schools at the moment.

School Board member Carolyn Treadway expressed her gratitude to Allina Health and Ginter on behalf of the board for supporting the mental health and social-emotional learning of Faribault’s elementary school students. Wolff echoed her sentiments.

“It’s just really, really cool to see the partnerships that are there and community partners step forward, so thank you, Natalie, for doing what you do for our students and our school and our community.”


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Looking to build a successful future, Ross steps into state DECA officer role
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Over the years, Paige Ross has looked for opportunities to set herself up for success.

Stepping into leadership positions in NHS, Student Council, DECA and serving as senior class president, the Faribault High School senior now has another role to add to her list of experiences — Minnesota DECA vice president of digital engagement.

Ross

While she got the job in January of 2021, Ross said things just started to kick off in August with training to brief officers on expectations for fall leadership and state/national competitions. There are a total of seven state officers, all who represent different districts around Minnesota. Along with Faribault, other schools in District 1 include Austin, Mankato East, Mankato West, Northfield, Owatonna, Pine Island, Sibley East and Waseca high schools.

Ross describes her role as overseeing all of the state’s social media accounts. Whenever events or announcements need to be posted on platforms like TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or Snapchat, they must first go through Ross. Typically for state officer applicants, there is a competition held with others in the district. But since no one else was running in District 1, Ross was automatically made the representative for the district.

So far, Ross has enjoyed the opportunity to make new connections, ones she knows will stay strong, even after she completes her term.

“I’m really excited to open those doors and see where it leads me from there,” said Ross of fulfilling the state officer position.

As for DECA, Ross sees a lot of value in the organization set out to “prepare emerging leaders and entrepreneurs in marketing, finance, hospitality and management.” Until she joined DECA her freshman year of high school, Ross admits she hadn’t ever considered business as a college major or a minor. After listening to speakers from different businesses at fall leadership that year, her mindset quickly changes with the conversations kickstarting the idea of incorporating business in her college plans. After participating in different events and finding success, Ross started thinking about the possibility of turning it into a career.

“That was really exciting for me to realize, ‘Oh, I do have potential here,’” said Ross.

Even for students not looking to go into business or related fields in college, Ross still encourages them to join DECA.

“It still gives you a lot of great life skills, teaches you how to speak to groups, how to conduct yourself in an interview, helps set up presentations and work with other DECA members in a group,” said Ross. “I think it’s really great.”

Along with gaining new connections, being pushed outside of her comfort zone and setting up for a successful future, Ross points out another unique quality of DECA — working with the community.

Ross appreciates that a lot of community members are very involved in DECA, and that business people from around the community come and help mentor members and help set the students up for success. Mentors will look through papers or projects and provide helpful feedback.

Personally, Ross is thankful for the help she got from Nort Johnson, CEO and president Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce, who was her mentor for her business start-up plan.

“That was super helpful,” said Ross of Johnson. “I like how involved the community likes to be involved with our DECA chapter.”

With community one of DECA’s four pillars, Faribault DECA Advisor Jared Kegler says they traditionally conduct a community service project each year. This year, they are working with Family Service Rochester through the Neighbor Helping Neighbors program, helping those in need with yard work. Along with community service projects, Ross says they are also speaking with alumni about past experiences and recruiting new members. Members will begin gearing up for district competitions in December.

The leadership program, Kegler says, has the ability to give students an advantage in a great number of areas.

All of these experiences and skills, he says, are a tremendous benefit, they impress colleges on admissions and scholarship applications, and help open the door for job interviews.


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2021 salary set for incoming Rice County sheriff
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One of the last pieces of business Jesse Thomas needed to settle before taking the Rice County Sheriff’s oath of office Friday was his 2020 compensation.

Thomas

The sheriff and county attorney’s annual salaries for the upcoming year are determined by the Board of Commissioners each December.

Thomas, who is the department’s second in command and doesn’t have the experience or length of service the current sheriff has, asked the board to pay him slightly less than his soon-to-be predecessor.

Sheriff Troy Dunn’s 2021 salary is $146,496. Thomas requested $1,688.40 per week for each of the remaining seven weeks in 2021. That equates to a yearly wage of $135,200, a figure the board approved 4-0. Commissioner Steve Underdahl was absent.

Thomas, 49, is a Rice County native who grew up near Dundas. He joined the department as a corrections officer in 1996 and became a patrol deputy in 1997. Dunn retires Friday with 33 years in law enforcement.

The board also OK’d Thomas’ request to participate in the county’s Sick Leave Trade-in program, and be paid for 164 hours of accrued vacation and 50% of his 366 severance hours for a total of almost $29,900.

Thomas was granted a year’s leave of absence from his job as chief deputy. While he’s said he plans to run for a four-year term as sheriff in 2022, taking a leave of absence now will allow him to return to his chief deputy job should he fail to win the election.

Third postponement

The board on Tuesday approved an extension of an agreement between the county and a former corrections officer who pleaded guilty to misconduct while on the job. The agreement allows the county to postpone hearing a request from the former officer, James David Ingham, of Dundas, to cover legal fees in a pending federal lawsuit. It’s the third extension of the the agreement, which now expires April 30, 2022.

In late 2020, County Attorney John Fossum denied Ingham’s request to indemnify him in two civil suits filed by county jail inmates injured by Ingham’s actions. One of the suits was dismissed this spring, the other, filed by Elizabeth Benjamin remains open, though Fossum believes an out of court resolution is possible.

Benjamin has alleged that she was injured in September 2019 while in the county jail. Ingham reportedly using a technique meant to subdue prisoners, flung her up against a wall, splitting her head open.

Minnesota district court documents have said Benjamin was argumentative and verbally aggressive just prior to Ingham’s use of force, and that Ingham claimed Benjamin lunged at him. Video of the incident reportedly shows Benjamin had backed away from Ingham. Benjamin was taken to the hospital where she required four staples to close a head wound.


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