By Ethan Weinstein
Lt. Gov. Molly Gray kicked off her Recover Stronger tour in Rutland on Wednesday, June 16. Her goal: learn what Vermonters learned from the pandemic, and what the state should do as it eases back to pre-pandemic life.
Stopping at Rutland Intermediate School, RRMC, and the Village Snack Bar, Gray chatted with local residents to hear stories from the last 15 months. She will spend the summer traveling the state doing much the same. With $2.7 billion in federal funds allocated to Vermont from the American Rescue Plan Act, as well as the passage of the state’s $7.32 billion budget, Gray hopes to learn how working people want Montpelier to spend that money.
Arriving at Rutland Intermediate on the last day of school, Gray visited the fourth grade classes of teachers Sally Stacom and Phoebe Forman, both of which had participated in the virtual Lt. Gov. for a Day program this spring.
“What did we learn from this pandemic?” asked Gray. “I’m here to actually listen to you and listen to your teacher. Listen to your principal, and administrators to try to understand like, what are we going to do differently?”
“We had to work together,” said one fourth grader.
Some students praised the lack of sickness that came with masks. Others breathed a sigh of relief at the demise of masks. One shared his tried-and-true hand washing method. Most agreed that online learning in one form or another is here to stay.
According to fourth grade teacher Sally Stacom, the pandemic brought students closer together. Students would arrive at school “early just so they can talk to each other. So we got to use the Google Meet a little bit like that, where at the end of the meeting, I would just stay. I would stay and observe and chat.”
Lt. Gov. Gray encouraged students to dream big, but as far as careers, she stressed STEM and the trades.
“We really need young people to stay in Vermont and stay connected to Vermont, which is why it’s super important for me to see you and for you to know you can be lieutenant governor in this state. You can be an engineer, you can be electrician, you can be a plumber, you can be an incredible teacher,” she said. “Fortnite is not a career option” — though some in the audience corrected her that there are in fact professional YouTubers.
Later that afternoon, Gray ordered an obligatory maple creemee at the Village Snack Bar, meeting up with State Senator Cheryl Hooker.
While there, Gray chatted with locals about everything from electric vehicles to healthcare access to rural broadband.
“I was just at the Rutland Regional Medical Center,” Gray said. “I’m recognizing now that telehealth is in Vermont to stay. Telehealth is not a pandemic-only healthcare offering. Vermonters now expect to be able to access to health care from their home,” she said. In order for that to happen, the state will need to invest further in broadband. “Vermonters can’t wait five years or three years or arguably even a year for broadband access. And I think our next investment has to be in providing immediate tools for providing immediate access right now. Looking at the tools beyond fiber, so that kids can get online. I was at the elementary school this morning, they’re still going to be using online learning, telehealth, remote work, mental health and support services — everything is moving, has moved, into broadband spaces.”
Just a day into her month-long tour, Gray is praising Vermonters and the pandemic lessons they have learned, like the vital intersection of health access and Internet access. “That’s not something I learned from being inside the State House, it’s being in contact with communities directly,” she said.