NEWS: Sanders Hears Directly from Vermont Students at Virtual Town Meeting

WASHINGTON, Feb. 17 – As the world faces the third year of the coronavirus pandemic and a growing crisis in schools around the country, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Wednesday evening held a virtual student town meeting to hear directly from young people about the challenges they are experiencing today and how the federal government can begin to address their needs.

Watch the full town meeting here.

“The bottom line is the pandemic has had a huge impact on every person in Vermont and I think every person in America,” said Sanders in his opening remarks. “Many working people have lost their jobs. Many college students have seen their education disrupted. Many elderly people, who are most vulnerable I think to the virus, have been isolated, unable to interact with their grandkids, their kids, their friends, and their family…But sometimes when we talk about the impact of the pandemic we are not focusing enough on young people, who perhaps have been hardest hit by what is going on today. And tonight, basically what we’re going to do is have young people from throughout the state of Vermont…just talk about what their experience has been…during the pandemic, and what they think federal, state, and local governments can do to improve the situation.”

Joining the town meeting as panelists were middle and high school students from towns across Vermont, including Brownington, Duxbury, Proctor, Burlington, Newport, Bennington, Fairfax, Winooski, Bellows Falls, Morrisville, Twinfield, Rutland, and Barton. A number of adults with experience on issues from health care and mentorship to education, jobs, and after school programming, also joined the event to help provide resources and support for students.

Jayda Perry, a 7th grader at Proctor Jr./Sr. High School, said, “It’s so hard personally because with the beginning of 2020 we had so much time taken away from us. I personally had a giant drain in my mental health, as well as my peers, with not getting that social interaction. I don’t think many people realize how much of an impact that has two years later. It just took so much that we can’t get back.”

“I became a freshman at the beginning of Covid. This was a struggle because I have not had one full year of normal high school at all,” said Joey Jacques, a junior at Bellows Falls Union High School.

The student panelists spoke about a broad range of issues, including how the pandemic has affected social life, learning opportunities such as studying abroad, and remote versus in-person learning, as well as mental health challenges and services. The discussion ranged from inadequate curriculums and plans for college, to increased stress, anxiety, isolation, and depression, as well as affordable housing, civil rights, standardized testing, climate change, and power and money in politics.

After each panel, the discussion opened up to questions from online and phone participants, that focused on how the federal government can address the needs of young people.

One participant asked how ordinary Vermonters can make their voices heard to ensure the U.S. does not create a climate disaster for future generations. Other attendees asked questions about how to get more involved in government, how to access mental health services, the status of mask mandates, as well as raised concerns about not having enough teachers and guidance counselors and wanting more summer and after school opportunities.

Sam Blackman, a senior at Mount Anthony Union High School, asked Sanders: “As a generation we’re being thrown into the teeth of multiple different crises…We got covid, we got economic turmoil. Our government system seems like it’s becoming more unstable by the minute. There is just a lot of instability that this generation is coming of age in right now. My question is, what do you think that we can do ourselves, and what do you think that people in government can do to try to set us up the best to be able to deal with the coming crises – because this isn’t going to stop. We’ve got all sorts of stuff that we’re going to have to deal with. It’s just a lot that comes down on our generation right now.”

“You’re absolutely right. I wish I could tell you something else,” said Sanders in response. “A lot, a lot is coming down on your shoulders…What I would say is, as hard as all of this stuff is, and it is. It’s one crisis after another…We got to understand the reality and then we have to be as strong and as tough as we can be. But one of the things we don’t do is start blaming everybody else…That’s what we don’t do. This is hard. We’ve given your generation just an enormous number of crises to deal with. And we’re going to have to figure out our way through them. All I can say is that here in the Congress, some of us, have worked very, very hard trying to figure out how do we make it easier for you to go to college and not leave school deeply in debt? How do we make sure that your family has good quality health care and can afford the prescription drugs they need? How do we make sure moms who give birth have access to good quality child care for their kids? How do we make sure that the planet we’re leaving you is a habitable and healthy planet? We’re working on those issues and we need you to be involved, your generation to be involved, in helping us to address it, to understand why things are the way they are, and how we can improve it.”

Additional Vermont student panelists included Lee Blanco, an 8th grader at Brownington Central School, and Grady Hagenbuch, an 8th grader at Crossett Brook Middle School, who both spoke on the Middle School Panel. Additional high school panelists included, Ella Ambroggio of Burlington High School, Callie Beloin of North Country Union High School, Hunter Cargill of Bellows Free Academy-Fairfax, Khellmar Daring of Winooski High School, Max King of Peoples Academy, Ana Lindert-Boyes of Twinfield Union School, Gabriella Olsen of Rutland High School, and Grace Wilson of Lake Region High School.

To learn more about future events, interested Vermonters can sign up for Senator Sanders’ official newsletter – the Bernie Buzz – at