Vaccine rollout prompts full-time return to school

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— Courtesy MVRHS

By Lily Sebastian and Lila Mikos

As Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) administrators, faculty, and staff prepare to welcome 512 students back into the building on April 26, the ongoing vaccine rollout has provided reassurance that the return to fully in-person learning will be safe.

Vaccines were made available to K-12 faculty and staff beginning on March 11. As of April 12, the majority of the MVRHS staff are fully vaccinated. Due to confidentiality requirements around personal medical records, the exact vaccination numbers of staff are not available.

For much of the MVRHS community, the widespread vaccination of staff felt like a harbinger of normalcy. “When [administration] told us the staff were finally going to be able to get shots, all I felt was sheer gratitude,” said history and women’s studies teacher Corinne Kurtz. “I’m not usually that person, but I was tearing up as I walked into [the hospital] to go get my vaccine.”

History teacher Lauren Goethals was one of the first teachers to get her shot. “I was ecstatic; I had no reservations about getting vaccinated,” she said.

Ms. Goethals also stressed the importance of continuing the random testing of students and staff for COVID-19. “The testing has shown that [MVRHS’ current safety protocols] are working, so having them and the vaccine is a huge step in the right direction,” said Ms. Goethals.

While most teachers are taking advantage of the high school’s vaccine clinics, some were able to get their shots earlier at other venues. Science teacher Anna Cotton received her vaccine in early February at Gillette Stadium when accompanying her mother to the vaccination clinic for individuals over age 75.

“It was great that [my mother and I] could go together. By me being there it made it easier for her,” she said. “I also figured that if I was able to get [my vaccine] earlier somewhere else and leave a spot for someone here on the Island, it was my best bet to go there.”

For some teachers, the vaccine was the reason they felt safe with students coming back into the school full time. “If I had to come back and teach without having a vaccine, I would have had a really hard time,” said Ms. Kurtz. “That was the deciding factor.”

Although the anticipation of an in-person leaning model is high, some teachers have lingering reservations.

“The only reason I’m a little nervous is that we are going to have a big adjustment period for [the teachers] and for the kids,” said Ms. Goethals. “We have gone over a year now where kids and teachers are able to pick when and how they want to do certain things online.”

Once students shift to fully in-person learning on April 26, students who opt into in-person learning will not be able to “Zoom in” from home unless they are quarantining. Attending classes via Zoom will only be available for the small cohort of students remaining home as part of Cohort D.

Ms. Goethals also pointed out that the vaccinations will offer up an opportunity to go back to a conventional school format: “I’m so over hybrid, so being able to have more kids in the building is going to be amazing. I’m all for it.”