Clinic cultivates sense of hope

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By Elio Gugliotti, Editor

Region 16 staff receive COVID-19 vaccine

Ralph Riello, an applied technology teacher at Woodland Regional High School, receives his first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine from Kim Stram, a registered nurse and volunteer with the Naugatuck Valley Health District, during a vaccination clinic March 17 at the high school in Beacon Falls. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

BEACON FALLS — On March 18, 2020, Vicki DeLucia closed the door to the nurse’s office at Woodland Regional High School and wrote on a sign, “I have no idea what it’s going to look like when I’m allowed back in this building.”

The feeling nearly a year ago to the day DeLucia wrote that message was more hopeful.

On March 17, more than 200 Region 16 staff members received their first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic at Woodland.

“That moment a year ago, 364 days ago, felt very gloomy,” said DeLucia, school nurse at Woodland and co-nursing supervisor for the region, in between administering vaccines at the clinic. “Today, 364 days later, feels very bright and happy. So, I think everyone has a positive outlook of what we’re moving toward.”

School staff and volunteers worked with the Naugatuck Valley Health District to host the clinic.

By coincidence, the clinic fell on St. Patrick’s Day. To keep the mood upbeat, Irish music played in the background as nurses administered vaccines, and green attire was the norm.

“It’s been a hard year and I wanted to bring some light and hope,” DeLucia said.

There are about 460 staff members in the region, which is comprised of Beacon Falls and Prospect. After adding in school bus drivers and workers with United Day School, which provides a before- and after-school program in the region, nearly 500 people were eligible for a vaccine, officials said. About 260 people received a vaccine at the clinic.

The vaccine wasn’t mandated for employees. Some school employees were eligible for a vaccine before the clinic and have already been vaccinated. It’s unclear how many employees were vaccinated before the clinic.

Vicki DeLucia, co-nursing supervisor for Region 16, right, talks with Woodland Regional High School English teacher Paul Geary after giving him his first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine during a vaccination clinic March 17 at the high school in Beacon Falls. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

Ralph Riello, an applied technology teacher at Woodland, was among the first staff members to get a vaccine March 17. He has Type 2 diabetes and is more at risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

“It’s been a little bit of a nerve-racking year,” he said.

Last week’s vaccination clinic couldn’t come fast enough for Riello, who was profuse in his gratitude to the region and health district for organizing the clinic.

“Couldn’t be happier. This is a good day,” he said.

The Moderna vaccine requires two doses to be effective. Staff members vaccinated last week are scheduled to receive their second shot on April 23.

“I think this is a sign of hope,” Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin said as he walked into the clinic to get his first dose.

Yamin said vaccinating staff supports the region’s efforts to get students back in school five days a week. Officials will discuss increasing in-person instruction time for students in late April, he said.

Colleen Gabriel, a second grade teacher at Laurel Ledge Elementary School, receives her first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine from Kim Stram, a registered nurse and volunteer with the Naugatuck Valley Health District, during a vaccination clinic March 17 at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

Elementary and middle schools students attend school in-person four days a week. High school students attend in-person two days a week. All students virtual learn at home on Wednesdays.

Families also have the option to have children remote learn full time. Yamin said the number of students who distance learn full time has dropped from almost 300 to about 180.

“I think parents are feeling safer and kids want to be in school,” he said.

The impact of the pandemic on education is evident, Riello said. He likes to patter around the classroom and talk with his students. Being stuck behind a desk and teaching a class with some students physically present while others virtually log in doesn’t work, he said, or mesh with his style.

“For a lot of us teachers who are really good at classroom management and interpersonal relationships, they’ve taken our best tool out of our toolbox,” Riello said.

“You can’t interpersonally relate to boxes on a screen,” he added.