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Coronavirus vaccinations open to South Bend teachers

| Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Teachers around the country have been eagerly awaiting COVID-19 vaccinations. With new age groups and workers becoming eligible to receive the vaccine, the time has finally come for many in the South Bend area.

The state of Indiana had already opened vaccines to teachers over the age of 50. Sarah Wagoner, third grade teacher at Clay International Academy, said she and her colleagues discovered vaccines would be available to teachers under 50 on Tuesday, March 2.

She immediately rushed to Meijer, which she had heard was distributing vaccines. However, the store had already run out and told her to register online, which she had trouble with.

“The websites weren’t updated,” Wagoner said. “You had to use either Meijer’s, Kroger’s or Walmart’s, and Walmart’s was definitely not functioning. Kroger’s appeared to function, and then it would just shut down, and Meijer’s just put you on a waitlist. So I wasn’t getting anywhere.”

Just a few days after the original vaccination announcement, though, on Thursday, Wagoner said, Clay International told its teachers that members of the Meijer vaccination team would come to the school. Teachers were invited to sign up for a two-hour time slot throughout the day and show up any time during that period to get the vaccine, she said.

“It was the smoothest event,” Wagoner said. “I don’t think I waited in line more than 10 minutes. And then I sat and waited my 15 minutes to make sure I didn’t have any kind of reaction, and off we went — it was pretty cool.”

Michelle Conway, second grade teacher at Kennedy Academy, was one of the few teachers to be vaccinated that first day at Meijer. The entire process was surprisingly easy, she said.

“I just went because someone told me on a whim,” Conway said. “So I went on my way home from work, and it was awesome.”

Both Wagoner and Conway said they currently have hybrid classrooms. Wagoner has 23 students in person and eight online, she said. Conway said she only has four in person and another 24 online, but next week her in-person students will increase to 11, with 19 still attending online.

Parents decide whether their students attend online or in-person, Conway said.

Both teachers said juggling students online and in-person is often difficult.

“It’s kind of like being stretched because it’s one thing to teach kids at school, and another one to teach them online,” Conway said. “But you have to do both. It’s kind of like a juggling act to try to get everybody what they need at the same time.”

While Wagoner and Conway both said having the vaccine makes them feel safer, they said they do not ultimately believe teacher vaccinations will have any significant effect on COVID classroom protocols.

Kids often let their masks slip — not even to purposely be mischievous, but just because they forget, Wagoner said.

Conway said the vaccine adds a sense of protection despite the safety protocols in schools.

“I think it gives you a little more level of comfort, just knowing that you’ve been vaccinated, and so if anybody were to bring something in from the outside, you would be more protected,” Conway said.

Wagoner said she was hopeful for changes in her own daughter, who attends high school. Many of her teachers lead class from online, which would ideally change if they feel more comfortable teaching in-person after being vaccinated, she said.

Vaccinations may not mean an immediate return to normal for South Bend teachers, but it at least suggests hope for the future, Wagoner said.

“From here, we just try to go on as normal,” she said.

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