Marlene Huggins can count on her hand the amount of times she’s left home this past year, but one of her most recent trips away from quarantine may allow her to return to the classroom and see her students face-to-face once again.
With one sleeve rolled up to her shoulder, Huggins barely flinched when a registered nurse from Newton Clinic plunged the first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine into her left arm.
“I know that this is going to change my life,” Huggins said.
More than 300 teachers and staff of the Newton Community School District and DMACC Newton Campus on Thursday, Feb. 18 received their COVID-19 vaccine at an immunization clinic in the district’s administration center.
Huggins, who has been employed with the Newton school district for 26 years, was first in line to receive the vaccine — and for good reason.
The eighth grade teacher at Berg Middle School has two underlying illnesses: a heart condition known as paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia (PSVT) and asthma. Doctor’s orders were to stay away from school, to quarantine.
Ever since Iowa’s school districts closed their doors in March 2020 and cancelled any further instruction until the following school year, Huggins has used her 180 days of built-up sick days “to stay home and stay safe.”
While students were adapting to hybrid learning models, Huggins was forced to primarily communicate with students through email and Zoom. Per the district’s rules, she was not allowed to teach through Zoom.
“So I’ve had a long-term sub in my classroom and I’ve been writing substitute plans for her every day,” Huggins said. “I’ve also been checking student papers. They drop them off at my front door, then I put on a mask and check ‘em.”
Huggins anticipates all of that might come to an end soon when she receives her second dose. If all goes well and her doctor gives the OK, the middle school teacher hopes to see her students in-person before the end of the year.
“I’m nervous, but I have faith that this is going to go well,” she said.
Newton Clinic and the Jasper County Health Department facilitated the two-day immunization clinic at the E.J.H. Beard Administration Center. Newton Superintendent Tom Messinger said sessions were split to 160 people per day.
Most of which were comprised of teachers, but the vaccine could be distributed to other staff working for school district. Some DMACC educators that instruct college-level courses to Newton teachers also signed up to receive the vaccine.
“Anybody that’s actively employed to work with kids in the Newton Community School District,” Messinger explained. “So we have substitutes on the list, custodians, cooks, teachers, para(professionals) and then also we have some of the area education agency employees that serve our school district.”
John Whipple, a substitute teacher who has taught in Newton campuses, admitted he was nervous to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. In the past, he was hesitant to even get a flu shot, but that changed this past year.
“That went well, so I guess I felt OK (with the COVID-19 vaccine) more so because the flu shot went so well,” Whipple said. “There is unpredictability to how you might react to it, and that’s kind of what I was concerned about.”
Even after receiving the vaccine Whipple was still concerned how he may react. During the pandemic, Whipple limited himself to about two substituting jobs a week; whereas in a normal year he’d likely be working four times a week.
Perhaps that will change by the time he receives a second dose.
“Not until things are pretty clear about what’s going on and until I feel a little safer,” Whipple said. “Until I have the second one, I’ll feel more comfortable being in the classroom for sure. I’ll be open to taking more assignments.”
Knowing how stressful and difficult this past year has been for the district and the community, vaccinating teachers now is a “big step” for Newton, Messinger said.
Last week, about 20 or so bus drivers were scheduled to receive their vaccinations at Newton Clinic. There was a lot of “excitement and smiles,” Messinger said.
“Here, you’re looking at 300 people, so I think there’ll be more smiles and more sighs of relief than what we had that day,” Messinger said.
Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or firstname.lastname@example.org