The Impact of the Covid-19 Vaccine on 5 and Under in Schools this Fall 2022
Covid-19 has been a burden for all of us: from parents to students to frontline workers. We educators have been particularly impacted by the pandemic as we continue to adapt to a dynamic set of teaching challenges. Public health is fluid and therefore we must be nimble and pivot frequently to balance the needs of our students with ever-evolving public health mandates.
Children of all ages have been negatively impacted by Covid-19 both academically and socially. Countless birthday celebrations with cupcakes and classmates have been missed. Lifelong friendships have been lost before they ever had a chance to blossom. Children have missed out on simple human contact like the comforting hug from a friend or family member not living in their household. The very schools these young children loved and felt safe in were suddenly taken away, replaced with a screen at the kitchen table or bedroom desk. Educators have done our best to bridge that gap, but Zoom lessons are restrictive even for older students in middle school and high school.
Explaining the threat of Covid-19 to young children is particularly challenging since a global shutdown of such magnitude has not occurred in two hundred years, even during SARS, H1N1, and the Spanish Flu. This once-in-a-century pandemic has created once-in-a-century challenges for educators already used to working with limited resources. There is no lesson plan available to provide comprehensive answers to inquisitive children that are often scared of the unknown. And yet, we educators adapt as best we can.
I (Dr. Susan Kumar) run a private preschool called the United Children’s Learning Academy (UCLA) that focuses on STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) -based education. Our advanced students learn alongside, and assist, our special needs students, leaving no students behind. Beyond the financial impact on our bottom line, the rigorous academics we pride ourselves on suffered during the pandemic since our program works best with in-person learning. Once in-person restrictions were lifted, UCLA moved expeditiously to protect our staff and students. We clean the school campus regularly with Orkin hospital-grade disinfectant Vital Clean every four to six months. And during the uncertain depths of the pandemic, our school adhered to a strict masking policy.
Masks allowed us to reopen our school and we were fortunate that there were no Covid-19 outbreaks. As an added bonus, the spreading of the common cold and flu were drastically reduced. But the mask mandates created an outsized impact on the education of our children. Our special needs students suffered more because masks restrict their sensory inputs such as reading facial cues. Students with health conditions like asthma struggled to breathe. And students that wore face shields over their masks struggled to even see past the fog.
The struggle was particularly acute for one of our students who was at the time a 3 ½-year-old with high-functioning autism. She developed severe anxiety from wearing a mask. This young girl was scared to wear the mask, in part because she was preconditioned from popular culture to associate wearing masks with bad guys and boogeymen, or doctors in hospitals. Seeing her family and friends masked up makes it hard to read the room and curtails her education. This particular student’s struggle inspired me to create a solution in the form of our books geared toward young children. Her psychologist mother informed me that our first book “But Why… Do I Have To Wear a Mask?” calmed her daughter down by providing simple reasoning for a complex issue.
We apply a STEM-based learning system to the issues related to Covid-19 and, through STEM, provide concrete and simple answers without getting bogged down by big words and concepts that intimidate young children. Children are naturally inquisitive and we encourage our teachers to nurture that curiosity by explaining the pandemic, and beyond. UCLA applies simplified STEM research and applies it to the simple act of washing your hands. The students gather samples from their hands before and after they wash up, and then they examine the germs under a microscope. Suddenly the abstract concept of harmful germs becomes visible and they dance around on the slide at one hundred times magnification. The result is our young students are now eager to wash their hands for twenty seconds in order to protect themselves and others.
The world has STEM to thank for modern medicine including the Covid-19 vaccines. In-person learning is once again possible. All members of our staff are vaccinated to protect our students that are primarily younger than five-years-old who were ineligible. But now the FDA and CDC have given the green light to young children to get vaccinated so that their education never again gets interrupted wholesale. Vaccination can prevent future disasters and preventable outbreaks of long-dormant diseases like measles and polio. We hope that through our book “BUT WHY…Do I Have To Get Vaccinated?” well-intentioned, but misguided vaccine hesitancy in both parents and children can be addressed with simple STEM-based reasoning.
As we begin to prepare for the Fall semester, there will be more responsibility for parents to check their child for symptoms and administer Rapid Antigen tests when they suspect that their child may have Covid-19-like symptoms. There will be far fewer school districts and schools going into the Fall semester that plan on offering the tests onsite. Therefore, it will become more critical that parents stay informed, know how to administer tests, and the next steps on how to care for children when they are sick with Covid-19. This is a critical time when parents need to educate their children on the importance of still wearing a mask, washing hands frequently, and the importance of vaccinating their children in the elementary and preschool grades.
Dr. Susan Kumar and Spencer Walker, authors of the But Why STEM Children’s Book Series have provided answers to your questions below. Dr. Helen Kim, one of the co-authors of the But Why series, was a mom of a teenage daughter and an educator for 23 years.