Kaitlin McGill, who is a middle-school science teacher in Yuma, Arizona, said vaccines meant school could resume in a more normal fashion. "Having a full classroom fills my heart," she said. (Photo submitted)

Together Again

by Kaitlin McGill

Yuma, Arizona, where I live and teach middle school science, is a typical rural town. Neighbors know one another, people worship together, and we have fun together. You can find us many weekends on the Colorado River, enjoying the sun and clear skies.

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit Yuma, our schools went virtual like so many others around the country, to keep students and staff safe. Parents struggled to balance their work and supervise their children’s learning. Students fell behind not only academically, but socially as well.

Kaitlin McGill

The community of Yumans, as we affectionately call ourselves, recognized the need to get our students quickly and safely back to in-person learning. One way was to encourage teachers to be among the first people to receive Covid vaccines, alongside doctors and nurses. This showed how much the community valued teachers and wanted them protected from Covid, not only for themselves, but also for their students.

My district gave me paid time off to get vaccinated. Like so many others, I was fearful of the unknown. But as a science teacher, I understood the validity of the vaccines. I also greatly appreciated being able to get vaccinated because I missed having my students sitting in front of me. I could tell from the faceless squares on Zoom that they were not engaged and did not learn as much.

Eventually, as students and their families started getting vaccinated, my classroom seats began filling up. I taught my students how the vaccines work and why we should all get vaccinated, which helped calm the concerns of nervous students who had seen and heard so much misinformation.

When students would get vaccinated, I celebrated with them. Having them back in the classroom gives a sense of normalcy, happiness, and consistency needed not only for the students, but for me, too. Having a full classroom fills my heart. 

As of August, nearly 9 out of 10 eligible Yumans were vaccinated, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. My classes are full again. I get to enjoy student chatter. And, again, I get to help my students grow into educated young adults.

I am thankful to my community for educating themselves and others on the effectiveness of the Covid vaccines. Thanks to the vaccines, we are together again. 

Everyone 6 months or older is eligible for a Covid vaccine. Getting vaccinated and staying up to date with your Covid vaccine is the best way to protect yourself from getting very sick from Covid. You can find Covid vaccines near you by going to vaccines.gov.

Kaitlin McGill is an educator in Yuma, Arizona.

Taking Care of Each Other

by Erika Sanchez

Erika Sanchez

I am a fifth grade teacher with 25 years of elementary school experience. Currently, I teach at a rural school in Gila Bend, Arizona. I am fortunate enough to have 12 students in my class. Working close to students every day puts me at risk of contracting Covid-19.

Even though I encourage my students to sanitize, wipe down their desks, cover their sneezes, and wash their hands frequently while at school, I do not know if similar precautions are taken at home. I do what I can to keep this illness at bay for the sake of my students, my family and myself.

There’s something to be said about being part of a small community. There is heart. There is a sense of safety and caring for one another.

Last year, there was a devastating flood in our area. Families lost their homes, and a number of students lost family members. The community came together in the blink of an eye to provide shelter, basic needs, food and help for the families affected. This was a demonstration of the level of caring that exists within the Gila Bend community.

Getting vaccinated is another great way to show how much we care for each other.

Most of my students have been exposed to Covid-19 or have contracted the virus. This has kept them out of school for days or even weeks. Students are missing out on academic instruction that is crucial to their growth and education.

I am concerned about the learning students lost when schools went remote due to lack of devices, internet issues, or the unstructured environments students were expected to learn in while they were at home. It is evident through test scores that the students are behind and they are not at grade level.

We need to get back on track, making sure the students and their families are staying healthy.

With vaccinations available for children ages 6 months and up, it is time to take charge of this situation as best as we can, for our students and our community. This is something our small community can do to protect one another against Covid-19.

Getting vaccinated can slow or even stop the spread of Covid-19, research shows.

This vaccination is new to all of us, and we have all heard the debate of whether to be vaccinated. I listened as students had similar discussions. As a teacher, I have an opportunity to turn these conversations into teachable moments. We can explore where reliable information comes from and encourage students to do their own investigation without relying on what a parent might say.

When we have discussions regarding vaccinations in class, I encourage my students to do their own research. I empower them to speak with experts who can provide facts. I inspire my students to discover the truth for themselves. Students become lifelong learners who seek facts and become better decision makers. This is an important step in the lifelong journey to attain wisdom. Ask the doctors that we see about getting vaccinated. Doctors are the ones that help us stay healthy; they are the ones we trust with our lives.

We have lost too many people to Covid-19 in our small rural community. What if we could have done something to save their lives? Would we do it? The answer for those who have lost a loved one is, undoubtedly, we would. What is it going to take? It’s time to get vaccinated and keep our families, communities, and schools healthy.

Erika Sanchez is an educator in Gila Bend, Arizona.

These commentaries were provided courtesy of the National Rural Education Association.

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