“Vermont gets it,” U.S. Education Secretary visits Burlington schools, touts Covid-19 response

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Some Burlington students had a guest visitor in class Friday morning – the nation’s Education Secretary Miguel Cardona.

His tour began with a stop at Sustainability Academy at Lawrence Barnes and Champlain Elementary School. Cardona was joined by Vermont Education Secretary Dan French, Burlington Superintendent Tom Flanagan, and other school leaders (Senator Bernie Sanders was also supposed to participate, but his staff said he couldn’t make it back from Washington in time).

Cardona went from classroom to classroom, introducing himself and asking students what they enjoy most about their school. He also spoke with parents from the district.

“What I like doing most is just listening. You know, whether it’s a 10 minute conversation with my colleague, here (Secretary French), how things are going, what I need to know, so that when I make decisions in D.C., they reflect what the needs are. That’s what this is,” said Cardona.

With a translator, he spoke with a mother who has nine children, three attend Sustainability Academy. Cardona continued his tour by meeting with educators at Champlain Elementary.

“Afterschool programing needs to be a bigger part of school experience for students. We believe the American Rescue Plan funds should be used to support programming like that,” said Cardona.

Cardona concluded his visit by touring Champlain Elementary’s school-based vaccine clinic, where kids ages 5 to 11 were getting their first doses of the vaccine.  

“I’m so relieved. Three-fourths of our family were already vaccinated, and we were just waiting for them to open it up to the younger kiddos. Just grateful she is able to get it today, especially before the holidays,” said Shelburne mother Faith James, who took her 11-year-old daughter to get vaccinated Friday.

Cardona and French touted Vermont’s effort to use schools as a tool to boost vaccination rates among children. French says nearly 30 percent of parents registered their child for a vaccine and they’re trying to increase participation to 50 percent.

Burlington Superintendent Tom Flanagan says when students from Thanksgiving break, schools will implement the state’s test-to-stay program to maximize students time in school. He says the school will continue making school vaccine clinics in Burlington a priority for this newly-eligible age group. 

“I’m here, I have health officials here, volunteers, high school volunteers, EMT folks, coming together as a community in this school to provide vaccinations that will keep our kids safe. This is a model for what it should look like across the country,” said Cardona.

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