Senator Menendez and Representative Pascrell Conference at KHS

Arwa Ouali

Senator Menendez and Congressman Pascrell held a roundtable discussion in the Media Center at Kearny High on February 7th was held by to discuss the progress and impact that funding from the American Emergency Plan (AEP) had on Kearny. In attendance were administrators, educators, and parents, as well as news reporters from CBS 2 News,  Channel 7 Eyewitness News, and others. The purpose of the meeting was to receive insight from parents and educators and to make sure the money distributed to schools in New Jersey is used effectively and quickly.

Senator Bob Menendez began the meeting by highlighting the Kearny School District’s use of AEP funding to address learning loss caused by the pandemic. The American Rescue Plan has allotted $1.9 trillion with $2.76 billion for elementary and secondary schools for Pre-K-12 public schools across the state of New Jersey. 

Of the $2.76 billion earmarked for NJ schools, the Kearny School District has received $11 million to mitigate learning loss. Some of the money has already been used to pay for chromebooks, instructional coaches, and before and after school programs for students K-8. The money will also supplement academics, social, emotional, and mental health needs of the students. Not only will the money take care of the students but also upgrade the infrastructure of the buildings and provide more resources for educators. 

Senator Menendez’s commitment to education began with his birth in Hudson County to immigrant parents. He noticed the disparities and believed in elevating his community. Senator Menendez specifically understands the situation at hand, as he sees the difficulties his daughter’s school aged children face. When the pandemic hit, students were forced to learn online, teachers had to adapt their lessons for remote learning, and parents had to adjust to their children being home all day. As in the past, he and Representative Pascrell have been champions for education.

Following Senator Menendez’s remarks, Congressman Pascrell described how he started out as a teacher before joining the House of Representatives and states that he recognizes that “teachers have done a Herculean job.” He believes “Money can not solve our problems, it’s what we do with the money and how we use it that matters.” Pascrell recalls January 6, 2021 when protestors stormed the Capitol Building and he states that he felt more fearful and more emotional than he had ever felt before. He saw the impact on his colleagues as they developed PTSD. Congressman Pascrell, who represents the 9th district, states that the believes the mental health gap is greater than the intellectual gap of students and he prioritized the need for counseling and assistance for students who are struggling with mental health issues.

After giving administrators, educators, and parents the opportunity to speak, Senator Menendez mentioned some data he researched to help people better understand the severity of the situation. According to his research, he states that “K-12 students are 5 months behind in math and 4 months behind in English. At least one third are performing below grade level in math and English. Unfortunately, more than 50% of black and Latino students are below grade level in math and English. In many cases he believes the staggering statistics may be a result of special needs students having less access to assistance and low income communities struggling due to the lack of access to technology.

Opening the floor to questions from the press, Senator Menendez ended by thanking teachers for going above and beyond and parents for their support throughout the pandemic and to the kids for their resilience.