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Teens grill Gov. Evers on student mental health issues


Governor Tony Evers listens to teens from Boys & Girls Club locations throughout the state

MADISON (WKOW) -- For about an hour Thursday, Governor Tony Evers answered to a group of Wisconsinites not yet old enough to speak at the polls.

Through the Boys and Girls Club, Evers took questions from teens in each corner of the state during a virtual session. 27 News was the only media outlet participating in the call.

The premise of the call was for the governor to hear teens' perspectives on how the pandemic has affected their learning as well as their mental health.

Through an agreement ahead of time, only the students' first names were disclosed on the call.

"How would you personally measure the success of these mental programs you're planning to fund and support," asked Vanessa from the Dane County location.

Evers did not directly provide metrics he would use to assess the effectiveness of mental health programs going forward. He told Vanessa, who said she would be starting at UW-Madison in the fall, that part of the issue is ensuring students feel comfortable speaking up to school staff they can trust.

"In order for mental health services to be helpful, we have- young people have to feel confident they can share, not only with their friends, but with professionals, how they're feeling," Evers said.

The Department of Public Instruction has requested additional funding for mental health services in the 2021-23 budget. Some Republican lawmakers, including Rep. Amy Loudenbeck (R-Clinton), have said they support increased funding for mental health.

Another area with bipartisan support is broadband expansion. Gideon, who said he lives outside of Wausau, told Evers he's struggled in school due to a lack of reliable connection.

"Especially if something like this happens again where kids have to work from home," the teen said. "I know, in the past, last school year, I was really struggling to get my school work done."

Evers proposes using $200 million from the American Rescue Plan Act on top of $200 million proposed in his state budget to expand broadband. Republicans in charge of the legislature have proposed using $500 million from the incoming stimulus money for broadband expansion.

Other students questioned why their curriculum does not include more real-life lessons.

"We don't learn about so many things that teach us with adulthood," said Jalliana from Berlin. "We don't learn about taxes, we don't learn about so many things we should learn and that's what I feel creates many things with mental health, that we're not prepared for it."

Evers, who was joined by First Lady Kathy on the call, encouraged the teen and others to bring issues like that directly to their educators.

"You should feel confident - you sound like a confident person - to share that with your teachers also," Evers said. "I think they would receive that comment well."

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