By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
Earlier this week, Milwaukee received a special visitor when First Lady Dr. Jill Biden visited Milwaukee before continuing onto Des Moines.
Biden made an appearance at Marvin Pratt Elementary School, 5131 N. Green Bay Ave., where she made some remarks and spoke with parents and teachers during a roundtable discussion.
“The school year always brings this new mix of emotions,” she said. “All at once we feel the anticipation of new classmates and new teachers. And for parents it’s the relief of not having to hear, ‘I’m bored,’ again and again, you know the anxiety of juggling your family’s complicated schedule and that was before the complications of COVID-19.”
When the pandemic first began in March 2020, schools across the nation went virtual. Last year, many chose a hybrid option but this year, many have re-opened their doors to offer in-person teaching five days a week.
Biden noted that while this year brings new complications, students benefit from being in a classroom.
“As a mom, I’ve seen that classrooms are so much larger than places where our children learn math and reading,” she said. “We’ve all seen it. When our kids make friends that lasts for years and years, when they learn to settle disagreements or find the confidence to try out for sports teams.”
Parents who work rely on schools too, she said, knowing that when they head out to their jobs their children are in an environment that can be trusted.
“And that’s why I’m so grateful for the educators like those here at Marvin Pratt Elementary who helped us through the last year,” Biden said. “When families needed help, educators answered the call.”
Biden also remarked on the American Rescue Plan funding. It provides funding for broadband, tech resources, learning opportunities outside of school and more mental health support, she said. “I’m here today because your children matter to me and they matter to the president,” Biden said. “We can’t know what the future holds but we know what we owe our children. We owe them a promise that we’ll do all we can to keep our schools open and as safe as possible. We owe them commitment to follow the science and we owe them the unity so we can fight the virus and not each other.”
During the roundtable discussion, parents and educators discussed returning to the classroom, the COVID-19 vaccine and safety measures.
One educator remarked that online teaching gave students and teachers an opportunity to bond and each caught a glimpse into the other’s world. This helped alleviate the stress, she said. This year, she’s focusing on boosting self esteem and letting children and their parents know they’re OK where they’re at.
Carol Johnson, who has two great-grandchildren at Marvin Pratt Elementary, noted that her 9-year-old was excited to be back in school and be back with other kids.
“I enjoyed watching TJ being happy about coming back to school,” she said. “I was a little concerned about the safety with things inside the school, but I was able to see that they have the partitions and all of that and a lot of distancing. I was very impressed by that, and I hope they can keep it up.”
She said that at-home learning was boring for the children and stressful for her. While she hopes schools will remain open, she noted that they if they close, they will adjust to the change.
Jessica Davis, who has two scholars at the school, expressed her hope for a COVID-19 vaccine for children.
“That’s what we’re hoping for,” Biden said.
Mary Wall, a senior policy adviser for the White House COVID-19 Response Team, said the Biden-Harris Administration is offerings its full support to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration concerning the research on COVID-19 vaccine for children.
Biden ended the roundtable with the promise to share these stories with the president.
“He will hear your stories,” she said. “That’s why I appreciate what you all have said today.”