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First Lady Jill Biden Shows Support for Educator Wellness Efforts During Visit to Utah
A group of students and educators from Hunter High School had the honor of hosting first lady Jill Biden during her visit to the school on Tuesday, as part of her busy trip to Utah.
Most of the students at Hunter High were dismissed in the afternoon, but some stayed behind to perform or meet the first lady. The Madrigals choir group and student council members proudly wore their school T-shirts and jackets for the occasion.
Jill Biden, who is not only the first lady but also a teacher, focused on the importance of educator wellness during her visit to the diverse community of Hunter High. She delivered her message in front of 140 school employees, with the school’s commons adorned with posters expressing appreciation for teachers.
During her brief visit to Utah, Biden toured Hunter High School in West Valley City alongside U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy and Utah’s first lady, Abby Cox. She also had plans to attend fundraising events in Park City for President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign.
“Today, first lady Cox and I are here to let you know that you are not alone,” Biden assured the school employees. “We understand your challenges and we are working to support and honor your profession.”
Biden acknowledged the heavy burden that educators across the country have felt, especially after the pandemic, as they have had to provide support for students dealing with various issues in addition to their academic performance.
She commended President Biden’s initiatives aimed at addressing mental health and academic needs of students, including the passage of a bipartisan gun safety law and a program for student loan forgiveness.
“But he cannot do this alone. And here in Utah, he has allies in your governor and first lady,” Jill Biden said, acknowledging the state’s efforts to ensure that teachers are fairly compensated.
The first lady also praised the work of Utah’s first lady, Abby Cox, who is also an educator, in tackling the issue of exhaustion and burnout among teachers and school staff.
One of Cox’s initiatives is to prioritize the wellness of educators. The state of Utah is collaborating with communities that support foster care children and those with intellectual disabilities to ensure their success.
“Dr. Biden and I share a passion for educators. She has been an advocate for teachers for a long time, given her own teaching experience,” Cox shared. “I love having this opportunity to come together with her to uplift and support educators, making sure they have the necessary tools and resources to be successful.”
Biden’s arrival in Salt Lake City was met with cold temperatures as she quickly made her way to her motorcade. She arrived an hour later than planned but humbly attributed the delay to an inch of snow in Washington D.C., finding amusement in the contrasting weather of Utah.
Upon her arrival, Biden was greeted by first lady Abby Cox and her 17-year-old daughter, Emma Kate, at a private hangar near Salt Lake City International Airport, where local media were present.
Following her visit to Hunter High School, Jill Biden had fundraising events scheduled in Park City.
“It’s incredibly special that our school was chosen,” expressed Jordan Martinsen, an English teacher at Hunter High. “The fact that she is a teacher herself makes her message more genuine because she understands the realities we face.”
Although receptive to the message, Martinsen is still hopeful for more concrete actions from the state to address the well-being of educators.
“I am committed to this school and district, so I’m not going anywhere,” she clarified. “They talked about many wonderful things today, but sometimes the day-to-day reality can be different. However, I appreciate the reminder that there are people on our side.”
Located in West Valley City, Hunter High School is part of a minority-majority community, according to the 2020 census. The school has a predominantly diverse student population, with 66% being students of color, including a 50% Hispanic population, as of 2022.
Additionally, approximately 48% of the students are reported to be economically disadvantaged, according to the Granite School District.
Granite School District superintendent Rich K. Nye emphasized the importance of not only fair compensation for teachers but also instructional support. This includes having specialized professionals, such as literacy paraprofessionals, interventionists, school psychologists, and licensed clinical social workers, to meet the various needs of students.
The district has expanded its mental health resources available to teachers through insurance plans and wellness clinics. They have also prioritized retention strategies for teachers, focusing on the recruitment of educational support professionals who represent the diversity of the communities they serve.
According to her biography, Jill Biden has been a strong advocate for educational initiatives that aim to provide equal opportunities to all students. Her efforts include advocating for universal preschool and more affordable access to higher education, including free community college.
In her previous visit to Utah in 2021, Biden visited Glendale Middle School in Salt Lake City. The school is known for its rich ethnic diversity and was chosen as a place to discuss raising teachers’ compensation and increasing the recruitment of staff from diverse backgrounds.
The first lady was set to depart from Utah on Tuesday night and continue her journey with fundraising events and community meetings in San Francisco, Healdsburg (California), and Columbus (Ohio).
McKenzie Romero contributed to this report.