U.S. Secretary of Education Visits UVa

On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr spoke at Alumni Hall as part of the Walter N. Ridley Distinguished Speaker Series presented by the Curry School of Education.

As a former teacher and middle-school principal, King has experience in learning institutions. He assumed the position of U.S. Secretary of Education in January, 2016 and is “an exceptionally talented educator” according to President Barack Obama.

In his introduction, King commended the educational progress America has made with more students graduating high school and attending universities today. King acknowledged that there is still work to be done to create better learning environments.

The Secretary’s speech focused on the importance of establishing a strong foundation for the educational system, which begins with pre-kindergarten. King mentioned how kids’ brains are growing the fastest from birth to age three. Playing and learning are therefore crucial to development during this time.

King described a study, which took blood samples from those who attended preschool and those who did not. The studies proved that those who attended preschool were healthier overall.

Now families have more options when it comes to choosing a preschool for their children than they did in years past.

There are still shortcomings in the educational system however.

Children from African American, Hispanic, and low-income families are still underrepresented in schools. Kids with disabilities are often segregated from developing peers, which prevents them from interacting with more children.

“We know we can do better, we must do better,” said King.

He stated that expelling four year olds from preschools, especially boys of color, sends the wrong message. Discipline should be reasonable and teach children respect. Learning environments should be welcoming, safe, clean, and diverse so that students never feel threatened.

Many children come from different ethnic and racial backgrounds and are bilingual. King stressed that children should be proud of their home language and that it should be viewed as an asset and not something to be embarrassed about.

King recognized that many preschool teachers have to work a second job in order to be financially stable and should be praised for their dedication to ensuring children are thriving in their learning environment.

“The essence of quality is the relationship between teachers and students.”

King concluded his speech with a personal story about how his school and community helped get him through a difficult period when his parents passed away.

School was place where he was challenged and engaged. He laughed as he remembered playing a rose with petals in a school production of Alice and Wonderland. 

“It is not just about long-term economic development, it is about saving lives,” he explained.

Both UVa faculty and students appreciated King’s speech.

“As a future higher education practitioner, it was wonderful to hear from Dr. King on the investments being made in education from the very early ages. While there is work to be done, there is an exciting future ahead for all students,” said M. Ed. Higher Education student Audrey Hester.


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