Last Friday, several hundred Conway Public Schools teachers and staff received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, completing a massive collaborative effort to get educators in our community vaccinated against the virus that has wreaked havoc on nearly every aspect of this school year, our daily lives, and changed the world where we live. Right behind healthcare workers, educators are just the second group eligible to receive the vaccine. Many people could be waiting several more weeks or even months for their turn to get the COVID shot.

The reactions from CPSD employees as they received their vaccines have been meaningful and memorable. After months of uncertainty and a lack of control, I think this has finally given them something they could do. A way they could be proactive, and take a step forward. An important step towards a return to a “normal” life.

First and foremost, there has been an enormous sense of gratitude. Our staff is thankful for the opportunity to receive the vaccine, to be protected from the virus that has been deadly for thousands of people. They feel relieved that they will now have this additional measure of protection at work as they serve our students in classrooms and school buildings each day. This will ease their fears as we continue to see positive COVID cases in our area.

There is also hope. As a group, I believe staff are hopeful that the shot will signal the end of the trying circumstances of this school year. The workloads of our teachers this year have been significantly more, as have their worries about their students. Teaching both virtually and onsite, learning new ways to reach students, overcoming barriers of distancing and masks in building rapport and relationships with students and families, dealing with absenteeism as it relates to COVID- these are just a few of the obstacles teachers have faced. Support staff have increased their efforts cleaning and sanitizing. They work hard to ensure there are enough supplies and protective equipment. Food Service staff have distributed weekly food boxes for Friday’s Blended Learning days, as well as made sure full-time virtual students had the opportunity to pick up meals. Our technology and curriculum teams work tirelessly troubleshooting issues to keep everyone online. Administrators have vigorously contact-traced each and every reported COVID case and exposure, tracking these in a timely manner and communicating with parents. Everyone operates ready to pivot and change plans at any time.

Just like so many of our families and community members, some of our staff have been sick with COVID, or been personally quarantined themselves this year. They have worked virtually during temporary school closures. We’ve all worried about exposures and sickness, symptoms and test results. Getting the vaccine feels like a way to begin turning the “ship “back in the right direction.

And as we wait on the second dose, we pray this is also a beginning: the start of vaccine quantities becoming more plentiful so that more and more people can receive the shots. So someday, not too far in the future, we will be able to visit family and friends and enjoy group activities again. So hugs, handshakes, and high fives will return and bring with them vivid reminders of our joy, love for one another, and the many blessings we have taken for granted.

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