PAWTUCKET — The woman whose signature is reproduced on dollar bills and who also oversees the printing of all U.S. currency spoke to students at Slater Junior High School on Monday to talk about the importance of math, science, and pursuing higher education.
Treasurer of the United States Rosie Rios, toured the Pawtucket junior high school with U.S. Congressman David Cicilline as part of a small business roundtable and tour. Other stops included Woonsocket Family Resources Community Action's Financial Opportunity Center and a tour of Advanced Distribution and Warehousing in North Smithfield.
Rios, as a representative of the White House Business Council, was in the Ocean State to discuss some of the federal approaches to assisting small businesses, and to listen to the views and concerns of Rhode Islanders as these relate to supporting “Main Street” economy. According to her biography, Rios developed a strong background in business and government in Northern California and is known as an expert in economic development.
Yet, in her visit to Slater Junior High, Rios' focus was on the 7th and 8th students and trying to instill in them the importance of embracing math and science as a means to get ahead. Especially for young girls, she noted, this is an age when students choose not to participate in these sometimes difficult subjects or question their value in everyday life. However, Rios pointed out, “there is not a day when you don't have to use figures in your head.” Whether for a job or running a business or for personal finances such as balancing a
checkbook or buying a house “math is so important,” the treasurer stressed.
Rios, along with Schools Supt. Deborah Cylke, toured a brand new “SmartLab” that had been created with federal funds in the junior high school. Students in teacher John Martenelli's technology class demonstrated some science and digital media projects they had done on the computer equipment that included a video tape of an experiment, a narrated report about the experiment, and the various careers associated with the project.
Twelve-year-old Caitlyn Menard showed Rios her video on what makes a piston work, while 13-year-old Kevin Charron demonstrated a project he did using the PhotoShop program and photos of classmates. Charron added that he did not have a computer at home and had learned his skills at school.
Rios also conversed in Spanish with two students who are currently English Language Learners about the video project they had come up with on the SmartLab equipment.
Cylke told Rios how important such an infusion of technology is to an urban school like Slater where a significant number of students do not have access to home computers. She said that technology centers such as the SmartLab help to “connect the dots” between subjects such as math and science and applied learning.
The schools superintendent also stressed upon Rios and Cicilline, as the First District's congressman, the need for federal funding for upgrades in a school district like Pawtucket, where most of the school buildings are over 30 years old and several, like the circa 1914 Slater building, are 70 to 90 years old.
Cicilline responded that a bill he co-sponsored last month called the Fix America's Schools Today (FAST), is designed to upgrade existing K-12 public school buildings and to modernize facilities at community colleges. If enacted, Rhode Island stands to receive $85.6 million for K-12 public schools and $12.7 million for college facilities.
Rios also spoke at an assembly of 7th and 8th grade students at Slater, where she urged them to not only achieve a college education, but to also aim for graduate school. She spoke of her own background as a first-generation Mexican American and one of nine children who were raised solely by their mother after their parents divorced.
Rios said that she and her eight siblings had all worked full-time jobs while in high school and that all nine had attended college. She added that while she had not majored in math during her undergraduate years, she ended up pursuing a business degree from Harvard University. “You can be anything and do anything that you set your mind out to do,” she stated.
Rios fielded some questions from students about her high-profile job, including the way new money is printed and its relationship to the ups and downs of the economy. She also relayed some of her personal experiences, including trying to balance her busy career with the parenting of her 15-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter. That day, for example, involved her waking up at 4:30 a.m. so she could have breakfast with her children before her morning flight and then taking an evening flight home so she could arrive before their bedtime. She also said she did most of her reading after her children were asleep.
Rios, appointed by President Barack Obama as the 43rd U.S. treasurer, told the students that her duties include overseeing the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the U.S. Mint, and the U.S. Savings Bonds Division. She also acts as a senior adviser to Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner and serves as a representative of the Treasury in the areas of community development and public engagement.
Rios credited her mother with stressing the importance of education to her children, and said that where her own youngsters are concerned, “college is a given and graduate school is not an option.” She added that she doesn't care what kind of advanced degree her son and daughter pursue as long as they achieve one. “It's so important in this day and age to continue your education,” she told the students
Rios again urged students who don't particularly like math and science to keep their minds open to the subjects. She told them they need to stimulate both the left and right sides of their brains. “I know that sometimes, math and science doesn't seem fun. But try to make it fun...take it to the next limit,” said Rios. “Because really, there is no limit.”