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The ASPIRE partnership allows middle school students to see themselves as college graduates, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a media event Oct. 7 at Gus Garcia University School, partnered with Texas A&M University-San Antonio.
“They see themselves as students that are going to go on to college,” Cardona said. “There’s a mindset; you walk in the hallways and you see the beautiful murals and you see graduates that look like the students here ㅡ that sends a strong message to these students…”
The middle school is part of Edgewood ISD, one of seven districts in A&M-San Antonio’s ASPIRE network.
Cardona and Joaquin Castro, U.S. representative for District 20, toured the school and had a roundtable discussion with students in the cafeteria.
Cardona encouraged students to discuss their suggestions for improving schools nationwide.
Students suggested more individualized support, after school programs and more help with subjects like reading and math.
Cardona emphasized that he was going to share his notes from the roundtable discussion with the White House and shook the hands of students at the end of discussion.
At the media event, Castro took two questions from Jaguar Student Media reporters and one question from a seventh-grade reporter, along with questions from local journalists.
The seventh-grader asked Cardona what it would take in her education to have his position.
“Work hard and continue to find your passion,” Cardona said. “I always say ‘chase your passion, not the position, and good things will happen.’ And you’re doing it already. You’re in seventh grade interviewing me. When I was in seventh grade I was losing my pencils.”
Cardona said while meeting with students across the country, he’s heard everyone is still healing from the pandemic.
“We talk a lot about the digital divide, but there’s a relational divide that our students are keen on closing,” Cardona said. “We sometimes just need to take their lead… They’ve gone through a lot.”
Cardona said there also needs to be a focus on students’ holistic needs.
“That means making sure that they’re not hungry,” Cardona said. “That means we’re addressing housing insecurity. That means addressing how they’re feeling.”
Cardona said he wants to focus on increasing Pell grants so students can continue with college studies and get support for tuition and expenses.
Cardona also said it was important to support educators.
“We need to lift the profession and make sure we are honoring our educators,” Cardona said. “Coffee in the teacher’s lounge is great during teacher’s appreciation week, but so is providing a good public service loan forgiveness program that relieves their loan debt if they serve the public for 10 years…”
The Department of Education on Oct. 7 announced changes to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.. These changes, which are temporary through Oct. 31 of next year, will allow previous payments to federal loan programs or repayment plans to count toward the 120 payments needed for loan forgiveness.
Castro said he and Cynthia Teniente-Matson, A&M-San Antonio president, invited Cardona to the school to show him “the best of the Westside.”
Matson said having Cardona and Castro visit the school was special because it allowed them to see the partnership first-hand.
Matson, who had visited the school during the pandemic, said this tour was different.
“What was different today was the energy and enthusiasm of being together,” Matson said.
Matson said it’s important that A&M-San Antonio students are able to make a difference in their community.
“For me, it’s important that our students who identify or resonate with the community … are able to come back and make a difference in their hometown and be examples to other students,” Matson said.