Dr. Jill Biden returned to Nevada (virtually) to talk with Las Vegas area high school students about public education during this COVID-19 pandemic. As a community college educator herself, Biden sought to connect with the students, listen to their concerns, and encourage them not to give up hope during these trying times.
“Nobody wants to bring our kids back to school more than we do, but we need to do it safely.”
– Dr. Jill Biden
As we’ve been documenting for some time, Nevada and America overall have been stuck in such a severe COVID-19 outbreak that schools remain closed to in-person classes in most of Clark County and elsewhere across the nation. While President Donald Trump has been insisting on a rapid return to universal in-person school, it’s been clear for some time that Trump really wants in-person schools reopened in order to boost his reelection campaign, and that he doesn’t care about the public health ramifications of returning students to school without any plan to stop the spread of COVID-19.
During today’s virtual conversation with Dr. Sonya Douglass Horsford and several Clark County School District (CCSD) high school students, Dr. Jill Biden provided a concise contrast between her spouse Joe Biden’s approach and Trump’s: “Nobody wants to bring our kids back to school more than we do, but we need to do it safely.”
And echoing the sentiments of Rep. Susie Lee (D-Las Vegas) and the education experts who took part in Communities in Schools’ virtual briefing, Biden stressed the importance of wraparound services in providing a more holistic educational experience and developing more equity in public education.
“I’m scared for her health. I’m scared to go back to school and get exposed.”
– Paige Lawrie, Northwest Career and Technical Academy student, on protecting her grandmother from COVID-19
During her opening remarks, Jill Biden noted, “This year, for educators, parents, and students alike, this excitement has turned to anxiety, as bright smiling faces have turned into boxes on a computer screen.” She continued, “Here in Clark County, schools have started virtually. There will be challenges, especially for those who have trouble connecting virtually.”
The students then described some of their challenges. For Paige Lawrie, a senior and the student body president at Northwest Career and Technical Academy, that challenge is keeping her family safe. When it comes to Lawrie’s grandmother, “She has failing kidneys, and she has limited movement, so she requires 24 hour care. If she were to be exposed, it’s something we couldn’t keep her from. We couldn’t keep her safe.” She then added, “I’m scared for her health. I’m scared to go back to school and get exposed.”
For Aiden Western, the student body president at Liberty High School, his classmates face a daunting challenge in bridging the digital divide. As Western put it, “A lot of our communities don’t have adequate access to technology. Even in my school, which is all confined to one zip code [in Henderson], we have students who can’t afford [adequate digital infrastructure].”
For Bryanna Salazar, senior class president at Liberty High School, the isolation of quarantine life has proven to be a major challenge. “For months, I didn’t have anything to do at home. That made me a big procrastinator,” she explained. Yet even as Salazar has begun applying for colleges, she’s still anxious about what may lie ahead: “I have big expectations for myself. That put a lot of weight on my shoulders.”
“We haven’t given up. We just need leadership worthy of our nation, worthy of you.”
– Dr. Jill Biden
As Jill Biden listened to these students’ worries about the present, she also sought to reassure them that their future, and America’s future isn’t all lost. “This is hard, but students and the community are doing what they can,” Biden said. She continued, “We haven’t given up. We just need leadership worthy of our nation, worthy of you.”
In Delaware last Wednesday, 2020 Democratic Presidential Nominee Joe Biden described the challenge facing America’s public schools as a “national emergency”. And in contrast to Trump, Biden has released a more thorough safe reopening plan that includes a federally backed pediatric research program to fuel evidence-based guidance, a safer schools best practices clearinghouse, and federal funding for COVID-19-era essential supplies (such as PPE, sanitation items, and technology upgrades) to ensure schools are better equipped for in-person and/or virtual learning.
In addition to all that, Jill Biden promised that a Biden administration will do more to ensure more and better wraparound services for students in need, and that a Biden administration will take on the historic racial injustice that was leaving students behind pre-COVID-19 (and has only worsened since). As Biden described it, just like American families cope with loss and hardship, “It’s the same way you heal a nation: with love and understanding. You show up for each other, in big ways and small ways, again and again. And Joe will show up for you.”
“Your education and your future are on the line right now. As young leaders, you can do something for our future.”
– Dr. Jill Biden
Towards the end of their virtual discussion, Jill Biden asked the students what they’re hopeful for. Alex Gallegos, the student body president at Eldorado High School, spoke of how his classmates have broken through the stereotypes of American zoomers: “I’m hopeful for our future. […] During this pandemic, we grew into this world. There’s a real sense of comradery that we hadn’t seen before.”
Of course, Jill Biden expressed hope that America will reach a better place should her spouse become president next January. But then, she returned focus to the students: “Your education and your future are on the line right now. As young leaders, you can do something for our future.” And she added, “We’re going to build a better world, because we’re going to do this together.”
In a country that feels more polarized and divided than ever, it can be hard to imagine this country coming together for anything when seemingly basic matters of public health and national security have become political footballs. But at least at this virtual meeting place, these students and educators raised the possibility that maybe, just maybe, America might find a way out of this crisis of crises.
The cover photo is a screenshot from the event that was captured by me.