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The latest: Jill Biden jets out of Salt Lake City after visiting a west-side school and vaccination clinic

Students at Glendale Middle School serenade first lady with ukuleles.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) First lady Jill Biden speaks to faculty and guests at Glendale Middle School, on Wednesday, May 5, 2021.

The first lady touched down Wednesday afternoon in Utah, on a visit where she thanked teachers and health workers for helping to get people vaccinated against COVID-19.

It was the start of a three-state tour that also will take her to Nevada and Colorado.

Jill Biden first visited Glendale Middle School then nearby Jordan Park for a pop-up vaccination clinic geared toward Utah’s Hispanic community.

Here are the latest updates:

4:04 p.m.: Jill Biden gets a quick photo with Salt Lake City’s police chief

On her way out of Utah, first lady Jill Biden met Utah law enforcement leaders on the Salt Lake City International Airport tarmac.

Biden stood for a quick, socially distanced photo op with Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown near the stairway to her plane.

She then boarded her plane, left Utah after a whirlwind three-hour visit and headed to Las Vegas.

— Matt Canham

3:37 p.m.: First lady visits pop-up vaccination clinic at Jordan Park

With a banner that read “Bienvenida, Dr. Biden” and “Welcome, Dr. Biden,” the nonprofit community group Comunidades Unidas invited the first lady to see their pop-up COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Jordan Park.

Biden watched two women receive their COVID-19 vaccinations at the clinic, operated in an RV owned and maintained by the Salt Lake County Health Department.

Biden said it’s time to move vaccination efforts from mass clinics to neighborhoods — something Utah is in the process of doing.

“It feels like there is hope,” she said. “Things are going to get better.”

Some 100 people were slated to receive doses of the Pfizer vaccine at the pop-up clinic Wednesday.

Biden talked with Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall, Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson and state Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City — whose district Biden is visiting — about vaccination efforts.

Mayra Cedano, executive director of Comunidades Unidas, greeted Biden, along with volunteers in red T-shirts, all spaced 6 feet apart.

— Becky Jacobs and Matt Canham

3:20 p.m.: Jill Biden thanks teachers for ‘illuminating our world’

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) First lady Jill Biden speaks to faculty and special guests at Glendale Middle School on Wednesday, May 5, 2021.

Jill Biden, an educator herself, commiserated with the teachers at Glendale Middle School over the struggles of teaching students during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“What’s it like being an educator this year? Well, it’s been hard, hasn’t it? There’s no denying that,” Biden said. “There have been losses that we’ll never get back. Loss of time with each other. Loss in learning. And the loss of so many that we love.”

She quoted the author Sandra Cisneros, who said that “once you can open yourself to joy, you feel as if you’ve transformed your sadness into illumination, which is really all that art is.”

Biden recited a list of policy proposals her husband’s administration is advocating, including competitive wages for teachers, efforts to hire more teachers of color, more recruitment and retention programs, and more opportunities to “grow your career” through scholarships, mentorships and other avenues.

She finished by offering her thanks to teachers. “Thank you for your optimism. Thank you for illuminating our world. We appreciate you,” she said. “And we will work to show you that with our actions every single day.”

— Courtney Tanner

3:11 p.m.: Utah’s teacher of the year says he’s watched students ‘do wonderful things’ during the pandemic

Before Jill Biden spoke at Glendale Middle School, John Arthur — Utah’s teacher of the year — talked about the strength of teachers.

“Look at us, we’re still standing almost to the end of this year,” Arthur said. “Anyone who is still in school teaching in person or online, we did it.”

Teaching school online, Arthur said, “was kind of like learning how to ballroom dance while holding a fish tank. Now, it’s like directing ‘The Matrix.’”

As for his students, Arthur said, “I’ve watched them do wonderful things on the computer. I’ve watched kids do math while holding a baby on their lap.”

Utah’s first lady, Abby Cox, praised and thanked teachers for their work during the COVID-19 pandemic. “You have been called heroes,” Cox said, “and that’s because you absolutely are.”

— Courtney Tanner

2:40 p.m.: School welcomes Biden with positive messages — and ukuleles

First lady Jill Biden toured Glendale Middle School on Wednesday afternoon and was serenaded by students strumming ukuleles.

Members of the school’s ukulele club performed a song — “House of Gold,” by Twenty One Pilots — for Biden. The first lady tapped her toes to the beat.

Jasmin Vazquez said she joined the ukulele club in January. Her knees bounced rapidly as she waited for the first lady to arrive. “It is cool,” she said, “but I’m, like, nervous.”

Students, teachers and staffers were eagerly awaiting Biden’s arrival. One teacher, Saineha Hiehiapo, said students have been excited ever since they learned Biden picked their school for Wednesday’s visit.

“They’ve been asking me all day, ‘How does Biden even know about us?’” Hiehiapo said.

Students posted portraits of themselves around the school, with messages of self-affirmation. One read: “Just because I am Mexican, I am not crazy. I am not stupid. I am not rude. I am independent and strong.”

Biden met with six students who shared their posters and messages. The messages inspired Biden to write her own on a white board. It read: “I am Jill. I am a mother, a nana, a teacher … who believes students can soar!”

One of the students asked Biden to “describe her life currently in three words.” She immediately said “exciting,” then thought for a second and added “healing and inspiring.”

— Matt Canham and Courtney Tanner

1:51 p.m.: Utah officials greet first lady at Salt Lake City airport

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) From left, Gov. Spencer Cox and Utah first lady Abby Cox welcome U.S. first lady Jill Biden at Salt Lake City International Airport, Wednesday, May 5, 2021.

First lady Jill Biden stepped from her plane onto the tarmac of Salt Lake City International Airport on Wednesday and was greeted by Gov. Spencer Cox and his wife, Abby.

The three spoke for a few seconds, and Abby Cox presented Biden with a small gift: a gold bracelet.

Biden also spoke briefly to Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall, Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson, and three members of Utah’s congressional delegation: Reps. Blake Moore, Burgess Owens and Chris Stewart.

Biden and her motorcade then left the airport.

After the meeting, Cox tweeted a thank-you to Biden “for choosing Utah to highlight our awesome teachers and amazing healthcare workers.”

— Matt Canham and Leia Larsen

1:44 p.m.: Glendale neighbors come out to welcome Jill Biden

Residents in the Glendale neighborhood brought signs and flags to their front yards.

“We had to show our support,” said Bob and Barbara Black, who live a few doors down from the middle school.

Another neighbor, Wendy Hernandez, 27, said she was glad Biden was visiting a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood. “We feel seen,” Hernandez said, “and heard.”

Maria Padilla came out to the street with her 6-year-old granddaughter, Kelly, in one hand and a small American flag in the other. Padilla praised the Glendale community: “The people work hard here. It’s a beautiful place.”

Two people showed up in Glendale in an SUV bearing a flag promoting former President Donald Trump, as well as a yellow Gadsden “Don’t Tread on Me” flag and other symbols associated with the conservative side of the aisle. The people with the SUV declined to speak to a Salt Lake Tribune reporter.

Another word against the Bidens came from Keith Schipper, a spokesperson for the Republican National Committee. In an email sent to The Tribune, Schipper raised the immigration issue and complained that “Jill Biden has no business heading west to Utah without stopping to visit the crisis the Biden administration has created at the southern border.”

— Courtney Tanner and Bryan Schott

10:39 a.m.: Pop-up clinic prepares to meet Jill Biden

Health workers and children at Comunidades Unidas are getting ready for Wednesday’s visit by first lady Jill Biden at a pop-up vaccination clinic in Jordan Park on Salt Lake City’s west side.

About 20 children and adults appear in a video posted on Twitter, giving a greeting in English and Spanish. The group is sitting and standing around a banner with the words “bienvenida” and “welcome” painted on it.

“We are very fortunate that we have been selected to welcome Dr. Biden,” a girl says on the video. A woman repeats the message in Spanish, then the people in the video give a brief cheer.

In a message posted this morning on the community nonprofit’s Facebook page, Comunidades Unidas said it was honored to have Biden “meet with the essential workers that are leading the fight against COVID-19 through Utah’s most diverse communities. We are excited to uplift our stories as immigrants, mothers and front-line workers.”

— Sean P. Means

9:30 a.m.: Meet the teacher who will escort the first lady

(Courtesy photo) Glendale Middle School teacher Dane Hess will escort first lady Jill Biden as she meets with two groups of students on Wednesday, May 5, 2021.

Teacher Dane Hess will be Biden’s chaperone during her visit to Glendale Middle School, accompanying her as she meets with two groups of students.

“It’s an incredible honor,” he said. And it is one that instantly makes him uncomfortable. Not meeting the first lady, just the attention.

Hess is a teacher and a social worker, and he sees his job as building up the students and contributing to the “unique hive” that is this school. Being singled out when he sees so many others worthy of the opportunity goes against the way he’s wired.

“I wish that there was a chance to have their stories elevated, too,” he told The Salt Lake Tribune. “I’m just one bee in the hive.”

And yet, he was selected because of the way he elevates the stories of others.

Hess, who has spent 10 years at this diverse west-side school, launched a project in which portraits of students along with statements they choose adorn the walls. Even after students graduate, their image remains in the hallways, at least until the glue fails and the posters drift to the floor.

Some students went with “I am” statements, such as “I am strong” or “I am proud to be from Glendale.” Some highlighted goals, starting their sentences with “I will.” A few sought to combat prejudice, with sayings such as “Just because I’m a girl doesn’t mean I’m less powerful than you.”

Hess spearheaded the project for a few reasons. The first is the school building was relatively new and that meant it didn’t have much hanging on the walls. Second, he saw the project as a way to empower students in an underserved area and build a sense of community.

“My big goal,” he said, “is just to cover any blank space in the school with positive things that are relevant to our students’ lives.”

To highlight this project, Biden will meet with six eighth graders chosen by Hess to explain their posters and the statements they chose.

“I want her to walk away and have a really positive experience with our students and see them how they want to be seen,” he said, “and see their beauty, their strength, their abilities, their potential for the future.”

Hess also leads the school’s ukulele club, which was inspired by student Lutua Asipeli 10 years ago. The ukulele is an important instrument in the Pacific Islander culture. Asipeli taught Hess how to play, and he now teaches others.

Biden will stop by as the club continues to practice, playing their ukuleles along with a video. She’ll meet with 12 students. Hess said he’s excited these students get to meet with the first lady during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and he’s planning to wear a hoodie designed by Sifa Heimuli, an area artist of Pacific Islander heritage, to continue the theme.

After the two visits, Hess will escort Biden to the commons area, where she’ll speak to a small group of teachers, thanking more members of the Glendale Middle School hive for their work during this tumultuous time.

— Matt Canham

9:15 a.m.: Gov. Spencer Cox and Utah’s first lady to greet Biden

Jill Biden left the White House at 8:24 a.m. headed to Andrews Air Force Base for her flight to Utah.

When she arrives in Salt Lake City this afternoon, she’ll be greeted by Gov. Spencer Cox, first lady Abby Cox and other dignitaries.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, tweeted a letter welcoming Biden to the state.

“I’m thrilled for you to see firsthand the strides Utah is making in getting our state back on track after the pandemic — to roll out vaccines, get our kids back to school, and our workers back on the job.”

He also said he has “no doubt that Utahns will give you [a] warm welcome today, and a taste of the hardworking, pioneering, and community spirit that helps our state conquer adversity and thrive. It’s an honor to have you.”

Utah’s other U.S. senator, Republican Mitt Romney, also tweeted a greeting, saying to Biden: “I hope you enjoy the beauty of our state and experience Utahns’ generosity and warmth.”

Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, also sent an advance greeting to Biden. In a statement posted on his Twitter feed, Stewart touted Utah for its “tremendous strides in restarting our economy, reopening houses of worship, and getting our kids back in the classroom since the outbreak of COVID-19.”

— Matt Canham




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