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Education Secretary Cardona praises ‘college-ready’ mindset of Edgewood / A&M-San Antonio lab school

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona stands at a podium outside Gus Garcia University School while a 7th grader asks him an interview question at the start of the press conference.
Camille Phillips
Texas Public Radio
U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona answers a question from a 7th grade student journalist at Gus Garcia University School during a visit October 7, 2021.

U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona visited Gus Garcia University School in the Edgewood Independent School District Thursday as part of a tour promoting President Joe Biden’s education agenda.

While at the middle school, Cardona stopped by a classroom and chatted with students in Spanish before hosting a roundtable with 10 Edgewood students from Gus Garcia and Winston Intermediate.

“Just imagine for a minute, students, you have a magic wand, you can wave it and whatever you want can happen in a school moving forward,” Cardona told them. “What would you want schools to have across the country after the pandemic?”

One student told Cardona she’d like to see an after-school robotics program. Another said his classmates need more individual attention. A third said they could use some extra help with math.

In March, Congress approved millions of dollars in extra funding for schools to use on ideas like these over the next few years as part of the American Rescue Plan.

While students spoke, Cardona took notes on a piece of scrap paper. At the end, he held the paper up and told students he would take their recommendations back to the White House.

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona shakes hands with students after a roundtable discussing what they'd like to see in schools after the pandemic.
Camille Phillips
U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona shakes hands with Edgewood ISD students at Gus Garcia University School after a roundtable discussing what they'd like to see in schools after the pandemic.

During a press conference after the roundtable, Cardona said school visits like this one are important because they keep kids at the center of the conversation.

“I think sometimes we need to remind ourselves that we're in our positions because we serve them,” Cardona said. “And what I've heard loud and clear, not only here, but across the country (is) we're still healing from a pandemic… We talk a lot about the digital divide. There's a relational divide that our students are keen on closing.”

The education agenda Cardona is promoting is part of Biden’s Build Back Better Agenda, which includes funding for universal preschool and two years of free community college.

His San Antonio tour came a day after similar visits with students and political leaders in San Juan and McAllen.

Texas Public Radio is supported by contributors to the Education News Desk, including Betty Stieren Kelso Foundation and Holly and Alston Beinhorn.

Progressive and moderate Democrats are currently debating what elements to shave from a $3.5 trillion infrastructure bill that includes most of the Build Back Better Agenda.

Asked about how he would sell the high dollar bill to taxpayers, Cardona said it was a matter of sharing accurate information.

“Anyone making less than $400,000 is not going to see an increase in taxes,” Cardona said. “This pays for itself. Community college access for all means that children in this school don't have to worry about putting more debt on their parents when they go to college. And we know community college graduates have on average 21% more income than high school graduates. So that's adding to the economy here.”

Cardona said Edgewood families would especially benefit from the president’s plan to reduce the cost of child care and higher education.

“I've been in education over 20 years. I've talked to so many (middle school) students, who said, ‘I can't go to college, we can't afford it.’ They already turned that off in their mind as 12 (and) 13 year olds,” Cardona said. “Imagine if we remove that barrier, and so you have two years of college access, no charge, so that you can continue to dream big.”

Edgewood students already have access to free community college through AlamoPROMISE, if they enroll immediately after high school.

The Build Back Better Agenda also includes an increase in federal Pell grants, which would help students pay for college no matter where they attend.

Cardona visited Gus Garcia University School to see its partnership with Texas A&M University-San Antonio in action. Gus Garcia became a university lab school in 2020.

He said he was impressed with the student-teacher pipeline the university has brought to the middle school and would like to see it replicated across the country. But he said the thing that most impressed him about the campus was an intangible feeling when he walked through the school.

“The students see themselves as college-ready students. The students see themselves as potential graduates of Texas A&M,” Cardona said. “When you walk through the hallways and you see the beautiful murals, and you see graduates that look like the students here, that sends a strong message to these students that I believe in you, and you're going to go far.”

Christopher Bland, the principal at Gus Garcia, said the partnership with A&M has benefited his students because it has provided the school with more resources, including teacher training and modems for internet access while students were learning remotely.

“We also have a faculty in residence that is housed here but employed by Texas A&M, who is a think partner and a coach to me and my leadership team,” Bland said.

As a Senate Bill 1882 partnership school, A&M-San Antonio has oversight over the school, and Gus Garcia gets more state funding per student.

Bland said his students, who are more than 90% Latino, also benefited from the visit with Cardona.

“I think it means a lot, first off, that they can see themselves (in him),” Bland said. “He gets so engaged with them, like not most visitors do. You can tell that he's a teacher at heart.”

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