NBC12: ‘They deserve to be in the classroom’: U.S. Secretary of Education visits Henrico as students prepare to return to school

NBC12, KARINA BOLSTER

The U.S. Secretary of Education took time Wednesday to visit a Henrico County school and see what measures are in place once students return to the classroom.

Miguel Cardona was joined by Representative Abigail Spanberger (D) and Governor Ralph Northam (D) for the tour of Glen Allen High School.

“I’m seeing signs of recovery as a country,” Cardona said. “You hear bands playing, kids laughing and giggling as they’re practicing volleyball.”

The tour was their chance to see how a large school district, like Henrico, plans to bring thousands of students back into the classroom.

However, even more, important was for these federal and state leaders to hear directly from students and teachers themselves.

“Thank you for what you’ve done, what you’ve sacrificed,” Cardona said to a group of students. “How many of you are excited for a school year ahead?”

“Wooo!” shouted the group of students in band practice.

The feeling of excitement is one many are looking forward to; just being inside the school and seeing fellow classmates.

“I’m really excited to be a part of clubs now and have that social interaction with others,” said one student.

Many teachers said virtual learning left them finding new ways of connecting with their students.

“The relationships were 100% the most important thing this past year and developing those and getting to know your students,” one teacher said.

However, now those relationships will happen face to face, even if they are behind a mask.

“Yes, we have masks on, but we want to keep you in person as much as we can,” Cardona said.

The U.S. Secretary of Education said the best way to do that is to get the community vaccinated.

“We’re all in this together,” he added. “Reopening schools means we’re lowering spread in the community. So, if we can control the community spread there’s a greater likelihood that we’re not going to disrupt the learning for our students. They deserve to be in the classroom, on the field without disruption. We need to do our part.”

However, after a difficult year, Henrico County staff also brought up the need for emotional support.

“I know as a father of two high schoolers, they’re very influenced by student leaders at their school,” Cardona said. “When you’re a student leader and you’re saying something – they listen. You have such an important role, but more important this year than ever before.”

“We have invested a significant amount of more money for more counselors in our schools, but to have that access where they are able to talk to other students peer to peer, it’s so important,” said Northam.

Spanberger spoke about the need for investments in different areas of the school building as well from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There are modifications that need to happen inside some of the schools in terms of ventilation systems,” she said.

Those modifications were made possible through funds from the American Rescue Plan. Roughly $4.3 billion was sent to Virginia, the General Assembly discussing how to utilize those funds during a special session.

Meanwhile, Henrico County received roughly $16.42 million through the American Rescue Plan. On Aug. 12, the Henrico School Board held a public hearing to discuss how to disperse the third installment of those funds totaling $78.32 million.

Those proposals include:

  • Renovation, replacement and improvements to the Campus of Virginia Randolph. These include creation of a hub to connect students with community services; new spaces for expanded special education programming and services; expanded career and technical education initiatives; more space and programming for alternative education; and space for HCPS’ adult learning program.
  • Continued funding of key positions funded through earlier installments of American Rescue Plan funding, including reading specialists, school counselors and library assistants.
  • Continue expanded Summer Academy offerings in 2022 and 2023 for all students in pre-K through grade 12.
  • Continue providing key instructional resources for teaching.
  • Expand opportunities for remediation programming.
  • Update and repair student laptops and devices.
  • Improvements to part of the former Highland Springs High School building to create space for a new hub, to open in 2022, that will better connect students with community services.
  • Expand divisionwide family engagement efforts, including replacing HCPS’ community engagement bus with three vans, funding family workshops, and better connecting families to community and division resources and initiatives.

The school board will vote on this proposal in the near future.

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