Several high-ranking federal officials, drawn in large part by Mayor Chris Coleman’s influence as president of the National League of Cities, are beating a path to St. Paul this spring and focusing attention on the capital city.
U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell will be at Harriet Island on Monday to announce a partnership with the league and the YMCA to introduce more young people to outdoor activities. Examples include programs that St. Paul sponsors with private partners to help kids experience the Mississippi River.
Next month, U.S. Deputy Education Secretary James Shelton will visit at Coleman’s request for a conference on social and emotional learning. A few weeks later, U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez will tour St. Paul College and learn about the city’s Right Track youth job program. The administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency also may arrive in May.
Already, there have been visits this month from U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, who joined in a discussion on school nutrition, and Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, which oversees VISTA, AmeriCorps and Senior Corps.
And then there was the February whistle stop in St. Paul by President Obama, who used the renovated Union Depot to make his pitch for more federal and local partnerships to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure.
Coleman said Friday that his yearlong position as president of the league gives him a unique opportunity to link up with federal officials and provides St. Paul the chance to show a national audience how it’s tackled local issues.
“Having a federal partner is phenomenal, but at the end of the day these solutions have to be rooted in the communities where they occurred,” he said.
Most of the visits touch on youth and learning issues, which Coleman has made a priority for his administration.
Jewell, former head of REI who took office last year, on Monday will talk about connecting youth with the outdoors for educational, recreational and employment benefits.
She issued an order last month for the Interior Department to work with 50 cities in the next four years to create outdoor opportunities for 10 million young people.
Anne Hunt, Coleman’s environmental policy director, said that cities are trying to figure out how to be real-life outdoor classrooms for their students. In St. Paul, for example, kids learn about the river on the Jonathan Paddleford riverboat or through a canoe program sponsored with the National Park Service and other groups.
“We think we have a great story to tell here,” she said.
As president of the National League of Cities, Coleman has sought working relationships with both the Interior and Education Departments that can help students develop social and emotional skills to aid in learning.
In a recent speech in Chicago, he said that he doubted he would have become mayor but for early experiences at Glacier National Park and on an Outward Bound adventure that helped him grow.
“I learned that I had skills I didn’t know I had, and capabilities I didn’t know I had, and it helped me face formal learning situations with more confidence,” he said.