The usual school shopping list of crayons, glue, uniforms and protractors has been joined this year by the heavy topic of childhood COVID-19 vaccination – and last week NEW Health and the Eliot School took the opportunity to help incoming students over the ages of 12 get vaccinated before coming back to class.
On Aug. 16, at the Eliot School on Commercial Street in the North End, NEW Health and Boston Public Schools held a COVID-19 vaccine event for students 12 and over. On Aug. 18, in Charlestown, they held a similar event at the NEW Health Clinic on Tufts Street for students 12 and over.
Principal Traci Walker Griffith said getting the vaccine is something they are hoping students will do prior to coming back to school, and it’s why they offered the first does on Aug. 16, and then will have a similar event in early September just before school starts to make sure children are vaccinated fully when they come through the doors for the new school term.
“We have to thank our partners at NEW Health, Boston Public Health Commission and Boston Public Schools,” she said. “It has really taken a village to mitigate this virus.”
School is ready to start in all Boston Public Schools on Sept. 9, and it looks as if teachers might be mandated to get the vaccine, but students 12 and over face no mandate, leaving parents with a decision to make and schools like the Eliot and health organizations like NEW Health with a mission to convince parents that might be hesitant.
Dr. David Roll, a primary care doctor practicing with Cambridge Health Alliance, said COVID vaccination has been a hot topic with parents who are coming in and discussing the idea of vaccinating their children, but he also said in going back to school he can see very little down-side to vaccinating those 12 and up.
“There’s a lot of interest out there about vaccinations and questions about vaccinations now,” he said. “I’m definitely spending a lot of time talking with my families here about getting their kids vaccinated and doing that before school. I’m encouraged to see the number that are eager to get the shot because I think it’s very safe and effective vaccination for the age groups that have been studied so far.”
Those with children 12 and up can have them vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine, and that’s widely available in Boston and at events like the Eliot School held. But the decision likely will soon spread down to lower age groups.
Dr. Roll said there are ongoing studies right now for ages 5-11 and they’re expecting a report on the safety for that age group by September. Also, he said, studies on ages 2-5 should come soon after.
“It won’t be long before the vaccine will be available to all ages of kids,” he said. “There’s even studies of six months to 2 years going on. I don’t think it will be long before the shot is available to all ages soon. It could be before the end of the year.”
That means parents of all ages by the end of the year will have a decision to make. Dr. Roll said he doesn’t think it should be as hard a decision as many might think.
“These are really life-saving vaccines and it is one of the most impressive accomplishments I’ve ever seen in health care to get this safe a vaccine to the public,” he said. “I did not hesitate to give the vaccine to my own kids. They got vaccinated and they would probably recommend that to other parents.”
Beyond the vaccines, schools like the Eliot and other Charlestown schools will be seeing a different rhythm to the school year. In general, Supt. Brenda Cassellius said during an August School Committee meeting, students will have more time devoted to social-emotional issues, and a major cut-down on time spent in front of a computer. She said the focus will be discovering the “joy” of school in the fall of 2021.
Walker Griffith echoed the idea of joy within the school day coming up this year at the Eliot School – something likely to be in place at other elementary schools as well.
“For us, our big thing being deliberate about our schedule to ensure there is flexibility and joy,” she said. “There will be an emphasis on teachers and students. Things we did to stay socially distant are now being kept in our school so our students have unstructured joyful times with teachers…In grades K-4, they’ll have extended recess and eat with teachers. There are little tweaks to a school day that will try to provide social-emotional access. A lot of the things we have planned are with a lens focused on equitable access to more quality instruction and joyful learning experiences. We’ve always been about playful learning and keeping six-feet apart was hard, but our amazing community helped lift everyone up.”
At the Eliot School, this year will – hopefully – be the first year they start and finish the school term in their three-building campus. Construction and COVID-19 disruptions have prevented that up to now, even though the Commercial Street building opened in 2019.
“For us, this is the first year we’ll be able to being and end in all three buildings,” said Walker Griffith. “We opened on Commercial Street in September 2019 and closed the doors on March 11, 2020. We re-opened for hybrid last spring and then came back in person on April 26 and had eight weeks in the classroom.”
The beginning of the school year schedule is as follows:
•Sept. 6: Labor Day
•Sept. 7-8: Teachers/Paras Report to school.
•Sept. 9 (Thursday): Grades 1-12 first day of school.
•Sept. 13 (Monday): Pre-K and Kindergarten first day of school.
•Oct. 11 (Monday): State Holiday, no school.