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Academics and mental health of local students is focus of U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona’s visit

The weeklong Road to Success Bus Tour with U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff stopped at the United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley Sept. 16 for a roundtable discussion focused on community schools helping students succeed.

It was one of 11 stops chosen from across the country.

When President Joseph Biden took office, less than half of the country’s students were back to in-person learning. As one of his first initiatives, Biden signed the American Rescue Plan, allocating $170 billion toward K-12, colleges and universities to help them open safely.

In order to help make the 2022-2023 school year a success, the Department of Education updated its resources with information to help families work with their districts to utilize the ARP funds to help students succeed, not only academically, but with mental health.

With this bus tour, Cardona is focusing on speaking directly with the key players in each chosen community and learn firsthand what they are doing to help students succeed with their return to in-person learning.

Accompanied by Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff, Cardona held a roundtable discussion with representatives of various community groups from the Lehigh Valley, members of the Allentown School District and Allentown Mayor Matt Tuerk.

Cardona started the discussion saying he began his career as a fourth grade teacher and was a principal as well as an assistant superintendent. He made it clear he and Emhoff were in Allentown to listen, as well as learn from what everyone was willing to bring to the table.

“We must re-imagine schools. We must fight complacency,” Cardona told the crowd.

Hemhoff, understanding the unprecedented challenges faced by everyone involved in education made the point of saying “thank you so much to everyone for all you do.”

The use of music, technology, concerns for academic performances and mental health were key themes voiced by those taking part in the discussions.

Allentown Mayor Matt Tuerk spoke about the importance of community partnership with schools, saying successful schools in Allentown not only benefit the city, but the whole Lehigh Valley as well. He also spoke about the importance of partnerships and how working together helps the kids succeed.

A perfect example of what Tuerk was trying to convey is what happens at Raub Middle School. Principal Jose Delagdo explained how everyone works together beyond the classroom to try and ensure students are provided with the support they need, be it academically, for their physical health or their mental health. Many after-schools programs, with organizations such as Community Bike Works, help achieve these goals.

After the roundtable, both Cardona and Hemhoff spoke to reporters, providing feedback on what both felt was a healthy and productive discussion.

Cardona made it clear he will go back to Washington voicing the concerns and issues they are hearing at these bus stops. “We will go back and fight for the budget,” Cardona said. “We are fighting for those people who are making a difference in the lives of children.

“We will continue to fight for children, fight to ensure the districts have the resources they need and that students’ basic needs are met.”

As for Hemhoff, he explained to reporters, “We talked a lot, we listened a lot. We will be bringing notes home.

“I’m going to focus on mental health because we have a mental health crisis in our country,” Hemhoff said.

Of importance to Hemhoff was to make clear his support for teachers who faced incredible challenges with virtual learning and the gradual return to in-person learning. “We need to support our teachers, treat them with respect and we need more teachers,” he concluded.

Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff and U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona prepare to engage in a roundtable discussion on re-imagining schools at the United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley Sept. 16. PRESS PHOTOS BY MARIEKE ANDRONACHE
A round table discussion is held about re-imagining schools in the Lehigh Valley.