ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona visited Rockford’s Beyer Childhood Center on Thursday to stress the importance of early childhood education.

Cardona is on a “Back to School Bus Tour” that intends to “raise the bar” of student learning, and tout the Biden Administration’s academic and mental health programs funded by the American Rescue Plan.

He was joined at Beyer Early Childhood Center, at 333 15th Avenue, by Rep. Eric Sorenson (D).

“When they’re in kindergarten, when they’re in first grade, in the same grade, they’re ready to learn,” Cardona said of his visit to the school. “The first class we went to, the students were learning and they were talking to me and to languages that were code-switching right away. That is just how they communicate. How powerful is that? Let’s continue to nurture that.”

Cardona’s visit comes on the same day the United Way of the Rock River Valley launched a new “United for Literacy” program aimed at addressing Winnebago County’s abysmal literacy rate.

Only 1 in 3 children (32%) in Winnebago County reads at or above grade level, according to the United Way.

Kim Nelson, the executive director of Early Childhood for the Rockford Public Schools says the school district has a goal of helping every child learn to grow effectively.

“We have worked really hard to make sure we’re maintaining the highest quality building relationships with our children, focusing on their social, emotional learning, and really staying true to the development of our young children so that they learn those foundational skills,” she said.

This week, the U.S. Department of Education launched its “Kindergarten Sturdy Bridge Learning Community Program,” a multi-state effort to transform how students experience kindergarten.

“I want to make sure that children and teachers, staff and volunteers all across my district have what they need the resources to be successful, because I believe it shouldn’t matter what zip code you’re born in or the zip code that you live in to determine your level of education,” said Sorenson.

The school district says it will continue to provide foundational opportunities for families and children as they enter the school system and will continue to raise the bar in education.

“The work that we’re doing in the Rockford School District is so important to help our children thrive, so all the work we’re doing right now is a great foundation, but we need to continue to do more to support all of our children and families,” Nelson said.

Cardona’s tour will include stops in Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Wisconsin and Minnesota.