Jari Dawson administers a shot to Colleen Nowak

Jari Dawson, with Sinks Pharmacy, administers a first-dose Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Colleen Nowak, a homebound educator with the Washington School District, at a vaccination event for Washington School District and St. Francis Borgia faculty and staff April 1 at Washington High School. Hundreds of employees attended the event, which lasted six hours.

Hope amounted among the 400 teachers, administrators, bus drivers, custodians and other school staff members filing through Washington High School’s gym Thursday, April 1. 

Over the course of six hours, the hundreds of employees at the Washington School District, St. Francis Borgia Regional High School and the YMCA’s Y Club Before and After School Enrichment Program received their first doses of the Moderna vaccine.

“It really is a relief,” said Rachel Thacker, Borgia school registrar and administrative assistant in the counseling office. “It really is.”

As they waited the required 15 minutes post-shot to check for adverse reactions, many staff members said the immunization event provided reassurance that life could, potentially, return to the way it was before the pandemic.

“I’m relieved because I’m hoping to get back to normal,” said Ashley Brockmann, first grade teacher at August Elementary School. “The mask wearing in school is really, really, really hard, especially for the little ones, and if this is a step in getting past that, I’m all down.”

Long-term substitute teacher Maddie Fleer, who is teaching fifth grade at South Point Elementary while the permanent teacher takes her maternity leave, agreed.

“I feel like it’s a constant battle of saying, ‘put your mask up, put your mask up,’ and we’re supposed to be teaching, but we’re constantly having to remind them,” she said.

But the vaccination event did more than stir up hope for a maskless classroom next year, the instructors and employees said.

The vaccine signified the possibility of choir, orchestra and band concerts occurring once again, Borgia music director Robert Jasper said.

It meant students one day could reconnect with their bus drivers, who have had to keep their distance on the compact vehicle, Washington bus driver Debra Lick said.

The kids could someday return to socializing naturally, especially in groups, Fleer said.

Academic achievement could rise, Brockmann said, after a year when it dropped in general.

Teachers could gather in the lounge, she added. The students have faced feelings of isolation, and “teachers feel that way too,” she said.

And to surpass a hopeful outlook and discuss a legitimate reality, fully vaccinated teachers who come into close contact with the virus won’t have to quarantine, Washington’s health services coordinator Chris Redd said. The district will only ask employees with symptoms to stay home.

The school employees still expressed their hope with hesitancy, though. After seeing a year of canceled plans, a return to normalcy sounds wonderful, but its actualization remains uncertain, they said.

Some, such as Lick, expressed worry because experts are still determining the effectiveness of the vaccines on a long-term scale. Brockmann said people could still catch the virus, though it is much less likely, once vaccinated.

“It’s nice to know that we might be able to come and go freely, but I don’t want to put false hope in it either,” Four Rivers apprenticeship coordinator Cynthia Walker said. “We still have to be safe and healthy.”

Despite these worries, Redd said the event would increase students’ and teachers’ comfort inside the classroom following a challenging year.

Redd also said 80 percent of Washington School District teachers confirmed they would be interested in getting vaccinated. Another 20 percent would opt out, she learned from a survey she handed out this spring.

The Washington district does not keep track of who has been vaccinated, so Redd does not know what percentage of the staff are immune to COVID-19. Employees are not required to get vaccinated, she said.

“After we do get the vaccine out to the masses, I’m hoping things go back to normal,” Jasper said. “The kids, they’re very resilient, but kids can only take so much isolation.”