Equipping Students and Families with Vaccine Programs and Resources

By Katie Rankin, Communications Specialist, Communities In Schools of Chicago

This spring marked two years since COVID-19 shut the doors to Chicago schools; and while the public health community has made great strides in combating the virus, schools are still helping students and families navigate the vaccination process and stay healthy.

CIS of Chicago’s Partnership Team is supporting school communities with this important task. Our team is amplifying the efforts of Chicago Public Schools and equipping students and families with vaccine programs and resources.

When schools returned to in-person learning last fall, Mary, CIS of Chicago’s Health Partnership Specialist, focused on sharing information about vaccine access. She connected school staff with mobile vans that visited school campuses and delivered the vaccine directly to students.

Now that the vaccine is available for ages 5 and up, “it’s not an issue anymore of where to get vaccinated,” Mary said, “but rather, continuing to provide schools with COVID information that comes from trusted professionals within their community.”

Mary worked directly with CIS School Partnership Specialist Dan, who communicated directly with CIS schools and listened to their specific concerns. Schools shared a need for education about the COVID-19 vaccine.

Vaccine education is particularly important for CIS of Chicago’s network of 175 Chicago Public Schools. Many of CIS’s partner schools are located in the city’s most underserved communities — communities where vaccination rates are lower than those areas with an abundance of resources.

To support schools with vaccine education, Mary sent webinars and videos to school staff that demonstrated the vaccine’s effectiveness, but she quickly realized that she needed a different approach. “Videos are easy to send over, but the chance that you’re going to change someone’s mind is slim,” Mary said.

Mary then tailored her efforts for each school and each community area. She started reaching out to on-the-ground, community-based coalitions, to see the types of vaccine education they offered. She built relationships with organizations like Enlace, Esperanza Health Center, and Vaccine Brigade, who offer vaccine support, to better understand the approaches that they have taken.

Through these partnerships, Mary has found greater success than just connecting a school with a mobile vaccine van. The community-based coalitions are able to visit the school for a Q&A session with parents and answer their questions directly. They can address the hesitancy and concerns some parents feel and combat myths about the vaccine. Then, the organizations follow up with a vaccination event at the school that same week.

In June, Mary and Dan connected a CIS school partner — New Sullivan Elementary School — with Vaccine Brigade and Loop Medical. Through this connection provided by CIS, New Sullivan Elementary was able to share information with their community about the efficacy of the vaccine, answer questions from trusted medical professionals, and host two vaccine events, where both students and parents got vaccinated or boosted.

Mary also created a community-based resource guide, which shares services and details by community area — the West Side, Southwest Side, South Side, and North Side. With this resource on hand, CIS’s Partnership Team can easily connect schools with organizations that serve folks in their community.

“COVID is a public health issue that relies on collaboration with families, community leaders, school administration, advocates, and trusted medical professionals” Mary said, and with these new partnerships in place, CIS of Chicago is providing schools with resources for students and families to lead healthy lives.

Our team believes that when students are leading healthy lives, they are better able to focus on their learning and growth. We’ve been supporting schools with health resources for over 30 years and will continue to do so, throughout the pandemic and beyond.

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Communities In Schools of Chicago

Our mission is to surround students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life.