WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, during a hearing of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), U.S. Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV) questioned Dr. Miguel Cardona, President Joe Biden’s nominee to serve as Secretary of Education, about support for STEM and Career and Technical Education (CTE), as well as the need for mental health resources for students. A transcript of the Senator’s full exchange can be found below, and a video of the Senator’s full exchange can be found here.
ROSEN: Dr. Cardona, thank you for being with us today and for your commitment to serving our nation, our families, our students, particularly now through COVID. I appreciated our productive meeting that we had, and look forward to learning more about your plans to expand access to high-quality education, break down barriers for girls and students of color, support our nation’s amazing teachers and educators, and re-open our classrooms in a safe way, based on the best available science and the incredible strain COVID has placed on all of us. I urge this committee to facilitate a swift confirmation so that Mr. Cardona can get right to work.
I’d like to talk a little bit about STEM and CTE. As we discussed during our meeting, one of my top priorities in Congress is supporting STEM education and the STEM workforce. My Building Blocks of STEM Act, which was signed into law last year, expands the National Science Foundation programs to increase the participation of girls in computer science. I am glad this new law was funded in the last omnibus, but there is more work to be done, particularly in breaking down barriers that stand in the way of students of all ages, from pursuing STEM careers. In Nevada, those barriers include difficulty establishing STEM and Career Technical apprenticeships, and grow our teachers who are certified to teach this.
So, Dr. Cardona, what changes can the Department of Education implement under your leadership to help remove these barriers and increase access to STEM so that we can prepare these students to enter the workforce? There’s hundreds of thousands of jobs available right now in the cyber and tech fields. So how do we go about doing that?
CARDONA: Thank you Senator for the question, I agree that the fields of STEM are growing, there’s greater need. The better we can provide guidance and exemplars of where STEM courses and content is integrated into good quality core curriculum, the more likely we’re going to get all students to have access to it.
I was fortunate to participate in different programs such as the Connecticut Girls Who Code program and be a part of efforts to increase participation from girls in programs of STEM, and it’s something that we need to do not only as an agency, but really as a country to show that computer science is a part of so many of the jobs of today and tomorrow. It’s really important that all of our students, including our girls, are getting into that field, and having more exposure to it earlier. I think that’s a big part of everyone’s work, and I look forward to working with you and others, if confirmed, to make that a reality.
ROSEN: Well, I appreciate that. I look forward to that too, and I want to build a little bit upon what Senator Smith said about the mental health of our students. We’ve been battling the coronavirus for over a year now; recent studies have found a dramatic increase in the anxiety and depression among children and young adults. One recent study found that nearly one-third of surveyed high school students reported feeling unhappy or depressed in recent months, and more than a quarter of those students felt disconnected from teachers, classmates, or their school community. Unfortunately, in Clark County [Nevada] – we have the 5th largest school district in the nation -- 18 students have taken their own lives since March of last year. Tragically, this is one of the highest number of student suicides in the nation. It’s a list no one wants to be on top of. This is absolutely devastating for their families, classmates, and the entire community. Our school district has partnered with non-profits, we’re doing everything we can for suicide prevention to get to these kids with pilot programs.
So, how can we prioritize mental health for our students as we try to reopen schools – our students, our teachers, all those wrap-around services that we may need – particularly now, as we hopefully come out of the pandemic and during these challenging times?
CARDONA: Thank you for that question, Senator. I, first, share my condolences for those 18 students and their families.
You’re absolutely right. If we’re not thinking about reopening our schools with mental health support for our students at the core of how we’re planning, then we’re missing an opportunity. Even prior to the pandemic, the mental health needs of our learners, of our students, was increasing, and a lot of the time that we spent in our schools was to support students from an emotional perspective, from a mental health perspective, so they could be successful academically.
Let’s not lose this opportunity post-pandemic to redesign to make sure that the mental health needs of our students are first and foremost, that our educators have the training that they need to meet [students’] needs, and that our schools serve as the hubs of our community to make sure that not only do the students feel that they’re a part of the community within the building, but that the school is a bigger part of their community at large, making sure that they have the wrap-around services and support that families also need to help their children be successful. I’m pretty passionate about that, and I look forward to working with you and others, if confirmed, to move this along in our country.
ROSEN: Thank you very much.