U.S. Education Chief Swings By Burlington Schools, Vaccine Clinic | Off Message

U.S. Education Chief Swings By Burlington Schools, Vaccine Clinic

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U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona - COURTNEY LAMDIN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Courtney Lamdin ©️ Seven Days
  • U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona
Updated at 3:31 p.m.

U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona settled into a chair sized for a second-grader and told a group of Champlain Elementary School students that he was there on a special assignment.

Saturday is President Joe Biden’s birthday, he told the children huddled on the floor, and he wanted to bring his boss a card made by professionals.

“I was told this second-grade class is the best in Vermont. Is that true?” Cardona asked, to cheers. One student, Sophia, proffered a large red envelope adorned with gold stars. “Birthday Greetings,” their teacher had written in neat script.



“Thank you for helping me out,” Cardona said, handing out chocolate coins embossed with the U.S. Department of Education logo.

That was one stop Friday morning on Cardona’s whirlwind tour of two Burlington elementary schools. Hours earlier, House Democrats passed Biden’s Build Back Better bill, a $1.75 trillion spending package that would invest in health care and early childhood education — priorities that Cardona touted on his quick visit.
U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona in a classroom - COURTNEY LAMDIN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Courtney Lamdin ©️ Seven Days
  • U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona in a classroom
He made his first stop, which was closed to press, at the pre-K program at the Sustainability Academy at Lawrence Barnes in the city’s Old North End. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was scheduled to join but did not attend; a spokesperson said Sanders "stayed in Washington as the Senate considered amendments to a record-breaking defense spending bill, which ran late into Thursday night."

Cardona also spoke with directors of Champlain’s after school program, which serves 1,500 students. Cardona was impressed to hear that kids get the chance to try yoga, indoor rock climbing and various activities focused on science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM.

“We'd like to think that the kids are gonna go home raving about the reading lessons … but they're not,” he said to laughter. “When we talk to kids — 'How’s school?' — what they're talking about is those experiences that they had.”
A Champlain Elementary student gets vaccinated - COURTNEY LAMDIN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Courtney Lamdin ©️ Seven Days
  • A Champlain Elementary student gets vaccinated
Cardona then popped into Champlain’s vaccination clinic for students aged 5 to 11, the youngest demographic eligible COVID-19 vaccines. Some students clutched stuffed animals and fought back nervous tears as health workers swabbed their arms in preparation for the jab.

Cardona, an unfamiliar face to most kiddos, lightened the mood by asking them about their favorite hobbies and toys. He handed out more chocolate coins before speaking to a gaggle of media members by the exit. Cardona said Champlain’s school-based vaccine clinic is a model all states should emulate.

“Schools are the hubs of the community, and we know that,” he said. “Our students feel safe, our parents feel safe. And this is an example of what's possible.”