HWRSD hears about youth vaccines and professional learning

Nov. 24, 2021 | Sarah Heinonen

HAMPDEN/WILBRAHAM – Dr. Amy Kasper, the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District (HWRSD)’s physician, spoke to the School Committee about the vaccines that were recently approved for children between the ages of 5 and 11.

The process for vaccine approval has four steps, Kasper explained. In the first phase, between 20 and 100 healthy people receive the vaccine. Scientists are looking for side effects and the efficacy of the shot during this phase. Once the data is in, the vaccine moves to phase two, with several hundred people. Phase three of the trail has thousands of participants. At this point, scientists look at if there are any long-term side effects. At phase four, the vaccine gets approval and the length of immunity is monitored.

The vaccine for COVID-19 went through each of these stages, Kasper said. Addressing the idea that the vaccine was “rushed,” Kasper said that is a misconception. She explained that the vaccine was built using prior research into mRNA technology, which has been used in chemotherapy and is the method of delivering the vaccine to the cells.

Epidemiologists were able to sequence the virus’s DNA early on and much of 2020 was spent by multinational scientists and pharmaceutical companies testing vaccines. The investment by governments around the world helped fund the science, Kasper said.

The doctor explained the prevalence of social media allowed trials to get the word out and recruit volunteers for the studies. She also said the rapid spread of the virus allowed scientists to see the results of the vaccine quickly. She added that Pfizer and Moderna anticipated approval and created stockpiles of the medicine to be ready for the green light from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Kasper also emphasized that the vaccine cannot change someone’s DNA. The mRNA vaccines do not enter a cell’s nucleus, where DNA is stored.

Despite being the same vaccine that adults received, children will get a third of the dose, 10 micrograms instead of 30. Youth will receive two doses, administered three weeks apart, just like the adult version. Kasper said that the immune system develops as people age and has little to do with size, so whether a child is big or small for their age will not matter.

Conditions that put children at a higher rate of complications from COVID-19 are similar to those in adults, namely, diabetes, asthma, obesity, immunodeficiency, sickle cell disease, congenital heart disease and chronic genetic, metabolic or neurological conditions.

Even if a child has had COVID-19, Kasper recommends the vaccine. She said, “Immunity wanes over time.”

Kasper talked about ways side effects are being tracked, such as the V-SAFE program, which allows recipients to report side effects over time.

Kasper finished her presentation with statistics. She said 8,000 children between the ages of 5 and 11 have been hospitalized with COVID-19 and more than 150 kids had died of it.
A vaccine clinic will be hosted at Thornton W. Burgess School on Nov. 30 from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. While primarily aimed at inoculating the 5- to 11-year-old age group, anyone can register for the clinic. The COVID-19 vaccine, booster and flu shot are all available.

Instructional Coaches

Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Professional Learning Lisa Curtain brought three instructional coaches to speak to the School Committee. Curtain explained that the role of instructional coaches is to gather data, help with curriculum and provide support for teachers though access to resources, data analysis, guiding instructions and facilitating professional learning.

When it comes to evaluating the tools and curriculum teachers are using, coaches use a “universal screener” to “cast a really wide net,” one of the coaches said. Fastbridge Fall subtests are used to help determine specific areas of improvement.

Another coach spoke about Tier 1 Instruction, which focuses on high quality. The district is “focusing on accelerating rather than remediating,” she said. In other words, instead of filling in the gaps in education that students have because of the pandemic-related academic interruption, teachers are being shown how to methodically design lessons to adjust for the gap and keep the momentum going forward. The coach said it was a misconception that students need to completely master a subject before moving on to the next one.

Grade level teams are working with teachers to develop instructional practices and goals with steps along the way.

When asked what the instructional coaches need, Curtain said, “We’d love more interventionists across the board. She said they are currently focused of emotional social learning as that is one area that suffered during the pandemic – the “soft skills” of how to behave in class and interact with each other. Curtain said that teachers are “doing some heavy lifting,” in building back academic fluency, but that the gap is not overly concerning.

School Committee member Bill Bontempi asked about Curtain’s budget needs for Fiscal Year 2023. “Investing in programs,” she told him. “Interventions will be huge.” She said math and literacy materials are needed, but training is the most important thing. Finance and Operations Director Aaron Osborne said all of the things Curtain mentioned are covered by the Elementary and Secondary School Relief (ESSER) state grants through 2024.

Stony Hill School

Stony Hill School Principal Monique Dangleis told the School Committee about the “Stony Hill Story Walk,” an event hosted at the school in place of the usual indoor Thanksgiving program. Pages from a book titled “Maddi’s Fridge” by Lois Brandt were blown up to poster size and hung around the outside of the school. Families were able to walk along and read the story together.

The theme of the event was “Help Fill the Fridge,” a reference to “Maddi’s Fridge,” which deals with food insecurity and poverty. The school hosted a food drive to go with the book and collected 700 pounds of food to donate.

The students took away lessons from the experience, Dangleis said. They wrote about a time they helped someone or were helped by someone and those stories have been shared during morning announcements. The school was also able to get the author, Brandt, to Zoom with students. “It was one of, if not the best author visits,” Dangleis said. “She really sparked [the students’ interest].”

Dangleis also told the committee about the renovated school library that was completed over the summer. She said the idea was simply to create a “cozy place where kids can curl up with a book.” She said kids are now telling her that they cannot wait to go back to the library.

Finally, Dangleis shared the news that Stony Hill School was named one of the best elementary schools in Massachusetts by U.S. News Report. Superintendent Albert Ganem added, “We’re really proud of Stony Hill.”

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