At Flushing International High School, Principal Kevin Hesseltine said he’s ready for the vaccine mandate for city school staff to take effect Monday morning.
“I'm really fortunate and very happy. Our staff is 100% vaccinated. So the impact on our school is zero. You know, everyone's gonna be here on Monday, ready to work and teach our students,” he said.
The school has 40 staffers serving 400 students, most of whom are also new immigrants. It’s in a part of the city that was hit hard by COVID, one reason Hesseltine believes the vaccination rate is so high.
“I think our staff was educated and learned about the vaccine and and realized that this was the best step forward for us to get back into the classrooms and help educate the students,” he said.
But not every school will be in the same situation on Monday. As of Friday morning, 90% of all school staff citywide had uploaded proof of vaccination, including 93% of teachers and 98% of principals. If that number holds, it will mean thousands of teachers won’t be able to work — and won’t get paid — next week. But the mayor insisted he’s ready.
“We have many more vaccinated, ready, willing, able substitutes, than the number of people that we expect to be out — and by the way, that's across different categories, teachers, paraprofessionals, folks who do general education, special education,” de Blasio said during his weekly appearance on WNYC’s “The Brian Lehrer Show.”
At Flushing International, it’s not just the teachers who have embraced the vaccine, it’s the students. About 90% of them are vaccinated, too, in part due to the work of vaccine ambassadors, students who worked over the summer to call families and encourage their peers to get the shot.
“At the beginning, I was making fliers, to make students in our school to get involved with the vaccinations, but it didn’t seem to work out. So my principal bring an ice cream truck, and then it seems that students were getting excited,” vaccine ambassador Jose Montalban said.
There were also raffles and outreach on social media, and, of course, the promise of a more normal senior year.
“It feels cool because I can be at the building, and also we can have field trips, possibly we can have a prom, if everything stays as it is going now,” Jose said.
At this close-knit school, taking the vaccine was just another way to strengthen the sense of community for students and staff alike.
“Taking the vaccine is also helping the people around, like your family, your friends, everyone around you,” vaccine ambassador Yuhao Gao said.