MANCHESTER, N.H. – As the calendar approaches the end of winter, Manchester School District (MSD) staff members now begin a process that could mark the end of required remote learning in the city’s schools.
Teachers and other personnel lined up outside Manchester Memorial High School on Friday afternoon to begin receiving COVID-19 vaccinations, the first step in bringing Manchester’s students completely back into the city’s school buildings.
“I am thrilled that our teachers and our school staff are starting to get vaccinated today. It’s really just a great day,” said Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig. “We’re starting to see a decrease on COVID-19 positive test numbers, and these vaccinations are just another layer of safety on top of that trend to ensure our students get back into school safely, which is what we all want.”
MSD Commissary Manager Ruth Howard was the first person of the currently 1,500 staff members signed up to get the vaccine through the district, with doses of the Moderna vaccine given on Friday.
Friday marked the one-year anniversary of Manchester’s schools going into remote status. Howard and her colleagues took up the challenge of providing food to students remotely, but she is ready for a return to normalcy and believes the vaccine to be critical to that end.
Howard doesn’t hold ill will against anyone who does not feel comfortable with taking the vaccine, but she hopes her example can inspire colleagues who might not feel comfortable with the process.
“If (the vaccines) are going to put an end to this, we need them sooner rather than later. We want our kids back in school. It doesn’t matter who you are, whether you are a school food person or an administrator or a teacher, we want them back,” she said. “If this gets them back sooner, I’d do this ten times a day. I really would. We miss them, the school isn’t the same without the roaring lunchroom and the cheerful voices in the hallways. We need to get things back to the way they were.”
Southside Middle School Eighth grade Math Teacher Melissa Valence received her dose of the vaccine later in the afternoon.
“I think it’s really going to help us get students back in the schools sooner and get us back to where we want to be with hands-on learning and have students participating beyond just computer screens,” said Valence. “As an eighth-grade teacher, it’s hard sometimes to keep my morale up knowing they’re going to high school next year, so getting this connection back to prepare them for their next great adventure is really special for us.”
Among district staff, there remains a realization that even when things get back to “normal,” vestiges of the pandemic will remain. Masks will likely be required and remote instruction will never fully go away even if it is no longer the primary method of instruction.
Still, Craig believes that the lessons learned during the pandemic will help the district going forward, ranging from lessons on hygiene to easier student-teacher conferences through Zoom meetings. She also wants to emphasize that even though Friday could mark the beginning of the end of the pandemic in Manchester’s public schools, the pandemic has not subsided just yet.
“I think there are many silver linings that will come of this when we look back,” she said. “We need to continue be vigilant, we have to continue to social distance, wear our masks, wash our hands and do other common-sense things to keep each other safe while we’re also running out more vaccines.”
News of the vaccinations’ availability breaking earlier this week prompted an emergency session of the Manchester Board of School Committee on Wednesday approving the amendment of the district’s re-entry plan, allowing additional days of in-person instruction starting in May. Schools are also now being allowed to potentially get up to four days of in-person instruction per week immediately provided that they can submit plans showing six feet of social distancing for students at all times.