Jill Biden Meets with Teachers & Students to Hear About COVID Safety and Share Her Advice

The first lady, who is also a community college instructor, said: "Teachers want to be back. We want to be back"

Jill Biden
First Lady Dr. Jill Biden (left) tours a Connecticut elementary school on Wednesday. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AP/Shutterstock

First Lady Jill Biden and newly minted Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona went back to the classroom on Wednesday, visiting a Connecticut elementary and a Pennsylvania middle school to focus on what is being — and can be — done to return to in-person learning amid COVID-19.

Introducing herself in Connecticut with a "It's so nice to be here. I'm Jill. Hi," the first lady met a teacher and kindergarten class — including, reported a member of the press pool, one young girl wearing a princess gown in honor of the occasion.

Cardona was also on hand at the tour of Benjamin Franklin Elementary School in Meriden, Connecticut, fist-bumping students and talking to them about the ninja turtles as the teacher explained that she kept extra masks on hand for the kids, who had been learning in-person since August.

The secretary and first lady then visited a sensory room that focused on social and emotional learning for students with special needs.

Jill Biden
Jill Biden and Miguel Cardona tour a Connecticut elementary school. Mandel Ngan/AP/Shutterstock

Gesturing to a range of play mats, yoga balls and other tactile items in the classroom, Cardona noted that "being at home and being on the computer doesn't access this."

The first lady, meanwhile, asked a teacher named Ms. Sullivan whether she had noticed "anxiety in children increasing" due to the pandemic.

"Children have felt unsafe at times," Sullivan said, according to reporters there. "Ensuring they feel safe .... having access to their routine ... has helped."

In remarks delivered after the tour, and to applause from staffers at the school, Cardona said that teacher vaccinations were his "top priority" as education secretary.

"We must continue to reopen America's schools for in person learning as quickly and as safely as possible," Cardona, who was confirmed for his new role on Monday, said from a podium. "The president recognizes this which is why he took bold action yesterday to get teachers and school staff vaccinated quickly."

President Joe Biden announced on Tuesday that, because of increased manufacturing, the U.S. should have enough vaccine supply for all adults by May, but he urged states that teachers to be prioritized and hopes to have them all receive their first shot by the end of March.

The White House said Wednesday's trip was "to see first-hand what safety and mitigation measures the schools have implemented in classrooms to be open safely for in-person learning."

Cardona said that safely reopening schools — which has been one of the most pressing and thorniest issues in the pandemic — was important for a range of reasons.

"It's critical that we do it as safely as possible and as quickly as possible. The year-long pandemic has led to fewer learning opportunities and more kids going hungry," he said.

Cardona continued, referring to the Hamilton creator-star: "Across the country future Lin-Manuel Mirandas are sitting at home instead of going to drama club. There's a lot of damage that happened for our students."

Jill Biden
Jill Biden tours a Connecticut elementary school. Mandel Ngan/AP/Shutterstock

In her own speech, Dr. Biden — wearing a lilac face mask and matching lilac blazer —described the day as a "lovefest," noting that the state clearly had pride for Cardona, who previously served as the Connecticut commissioner of education.

"Educators' favorite three words are not: 'I Love You.' It's going to be: 'Education Secretary Cardona,' " she joked.

Dr. Biden, a longtime community college professor who is continuing to teach during her time as first lady, echoed the need for teacher vaccinations and for in-person learning to safely resume.

"Teachers want to be back. We want to be back," she said. "Last week I said to my students, 'Hey guys how you doing?' And they said 'Dr. B, we're doing okay, but we can't wait to be back to the classroom.' "

Later Wednesday, Dr. Biden toured another Fort LeBoeuf Middle School, in her home state of Pennsylvania.

There she met with parents and the president of the country's largest teaching union, the National Education Association.

A parent opened up to her about the challenges of students learning virtually and how her two kids "were really struggling at first." "As a parent it was hard to comfort them because I didn't know what was going on from day to day," the woman said.

Returning to the classroom, with precautions, was a relief: "I have never seen my children so excited to go back to school. To see that experience through their eyes was phenomenal. They didn't even mind wearing a mask," the parent said.

Speaking with students, one told Dr. Biden that having her phone was a major distraction — and Dr. Biden could relate: "I know how you feel. As first lady, they took my phone away."

She told the students, like she said she told her own classes: "Reflect on this time and journal it somehow. We have to remember what this time was like."

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