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Education secretary’s Midwest tour stops at Saginaw Chippewa Tribal College

Brett Dahlberg
U.S. education secretary Miguel Cardona, right, talks with students at the Saginaw Chippewa Tribal College in Mount Pleasant on Thursday.

The U.S. secretary of education visited Mount Pleasant on Thursday. Miguel Cardona’s Midwest bus tour stopped at the Saginaw Chippewa Tribal College, where he promoted the Biden administration’s plan to welcome students back to their classrooms this month.

Saginaw Chippewa tribal college president Carla Sineway helped the secretary negotiate the narrow hallways and small classrooms, followed by an entourage of photographers and aides.

“As we’re walking and talking, I want you to tell me what I need to hear, what my agency needs to hear,” Cardona told her.

Like many tribal colleges, Sineway told Cardona, this one holds classes in old buildings with small rooms.

Brett Dahlberg
Miguel Cardona, the U.S. secretary of education, throws a spear after a brief primer on technique at the Saginaw Chippewa Tribal College in Mount Pleasant on Thursday.

Instructors suffuse their classes with elements of the Saginaw Chippewa tribe’s cultural heritage.

In Daisy Kosta’s herbal medicine class, tribal elders sang a welcome to Cardona.

Student Joseph Fisher told Cardona he’s taking the class because he wants to know how his ancestors used the natural resources of their land.

“Now you can identify individual plants, what they’re good for, how to harvest them, when to harvest them,” he said.

Another student, Kyle Shoman told Cardona that he never felt motivated in school as a child.

“I wasn’t a great student when I was growing up. I was probably a 1.8 to 2.0 [grade-point average] student,” he said. “Basketball kept me in school.”

Now, in his 20s, Shoman is taking classes at the tribal college -- which doesn’t have a basketball team -- and loving it.

“Just having that motivation to learn your language and culture and the opportunity to do it has been amazing to me,” he said.

Cardona said that’s what he wants to champion as the country’s education secretary: classes that reflect student’s lives.

“I wonder if people understand what you just said. You’re hooked on school because you see yourself in it,” Cardona said.

“There’s a lot of controversy around critical race theory,” he said. I think a lot of it is just a distraction.”

Outside the college, Cardona elaborated.

“Reopening schools is not about turning on the lights and making sure everyone has PPE and good ventilation. That’s basic,” he said.

“We really need to raise the bar and make sure that in front of every classroom, there’s a well qualified, caring teacher with enough support, and a school environment that welcomes all students and affirms who they are.”

Those priorities are now in the hands of Congress, as lawmakers continue to negotiate over trillions of dollars in spending proposed by the Biden administration.