U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona was so inspired by a Broward College program that helps people find new jobs through its free courses that he wants to replicate it across the country, he said Monday during a visit to South Florida.
“I’m really happy to see what’s happening,” said Cardona, who visited Cypress Bay High School in Weston as part of his mission to “reimagine” the education system after the pandemic disrupted the nation’s schools. “I’m inspired.”
Cardona heard from people who attended Broward UP, which Broward College started in 2018 and has since helped more than 3,200 through its free classes, workshops and partnerships with more than 25 organizations.
Broward College President Gregory Adam Haile spearheaded the program, which aims to retrain people who’ve been laid off or help those get promoted by furthering their education. The program also works to eliminate obstacles like transportation and childcare.
Nadine Plunkett, a 38-year-old single mom who has a 5-year-old daughter, enrolled in a Broward UP course shortly after getting laid off at the onset of the pandemic in the spring of 2020.
When a friend mentioned the class, she couldn’t believe she wouldn’t have to pay for it. After studying for about eight months, she received a certification in medical coding and billing. And while she’s not working in that field now, that’s her long-term plan.
“Me losing my job and getting depression and not having any hope, you think you want to go back to school but you don’t want to accumulate any loans,’’ she said. “But as I was taking that course, it gave me hope. I thought, ‘This is a sign from God, telling me it’s OK, it’s going to be OK.”
“Now I’m going to push myself and try to get my foot into the health industry.”
Cardona toured Cypress Bay High, one of the largest high schools in Florida with about 7,000 students, with Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Broward. While at the school, he was treated to a rousing welcome from the jazz combo of the Cypress Bay Sound of Thunder Marching Band.
Cardona, 46 and a Connecticut native, said that before the pandemic, schools suffered a disconnect between the pre-K-12 and the higher education system, and a disconnect between the education system in general and workforce needs.
“But we have an opportunity across the country to reset things that didn’t work in education … So what are we going to do?” he said. “This is our moment. We have a short window to disrupt.”
Criticizes Florida’s law restricting LGBTQ discussions
While at the school, at 18600 Vista Park Blvd. in Weston, Cardona weighed in on the Florida Legislature’s passage of several bills affecting classroom curriculum, including the controversial “Parental Rights in Education” law, which critics have dubbed the “don’t say gay” bill.
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The law, which Cardona condemned, bans teacher-led discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in K-3 grades. The law is deliberately vague when it comes to these types of discussion in older grades.
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Critics contend the bill will take away safe spaces for LGBTQ+ students to discuss issues with teachers and can endanger them. Supporters argue the bill will grant parents more say in their children’s education.
READ MORE: What’s ahead for parents, students after passage of bill in Florida
“It’s shocking to me with leaders that are so against masks that they expect students to mask who they are,” Cardona said, referring to Gov. Ron Desantis’ order banning schools from adopting mask mandates during the height of the deadly delta COVID-19 variant last summer. “It’s unacceptable.”
Cardona, confirmed last March, launched his career as a fourth grade teacher. He then went on to become a principal before working his way up to assistant superintendent at Meriden Connecticut Public Schools.
“As politics rears its ugly head in this, let’s never forget we went from 47% of our schools open a year ago to 100% of our schools open now, and the smiles on our students’ faces and the engagement of our educators is what we should be celebrating,” Cardona said.
“It’s easy to focus on the negative but there are 50 million reasons why I’m proud of what our schools are doing.”
This story was originally published April 4, 2022 8:09 PM.