D228 Helps Vaccinate 2,300 People

D228 Helps Vaccinate 2,300 People
By: Paul Eisenberg, Daily Southtown

It was approaching midsummer last year before graduating seniors in Bremen High School in Midlothian were able to ceremonially celebrate their major milestone.

Like many of their counterparts throughout the country, springtime commencement exercises had been put off — the pandemic was only a few months old.

The eventual July graduation ceremony was unlike any in the school’s long history, but it was a way to give the kids a semblance of a proper send-off, reward their hard work with a bit of socially distanced pomp.

The effort undertaken to host graduates and their families for a safe ceremony last summer may have given Bremen’s Class of 2020 a touch of normalcy during one of the weirdest summers ever. And it’s also paying off as the community fights to get back to normal for good.

Over the course of three days within the last few weeks, 2,300 people from the communities served by Bremen School District 228, most age 65 and up, were vaccinated against COVID-19 at Bremen’s recently built field house in Midlothian.

That’s where the 2020 commencement experience from July helped, said Matt Meany, an associate principal at Bremen High.

“We leaned on that with how we utilized the lots and flow, and following CDC and IDPH requirements, and figuring out how to get a large amount of people into an area and give them a good experience,” he said. “Our graduation last year is how we modeled how we would attack it logistics-wise.

“We wanted to make it flow as seamless as possible.”

The effort started after district Superintendent Bill Kendall acquired doses from Jewel/Osco’s corporate offices as part of a wider effort to get teachers and school staff vaccinated, according to Jamie Bonnema, the district’s communications specialist.

“Our teachers are resourceful, and a lot of them had already went and found their COVID shots from places like the Cook County Department of Public Health,” she said. “Lots were already vaccinated, we discovered. So we decided to find a way to vaccinate our 65 and older community members too.”

Bremen has long had a good relationship with older residents. We’ve run several stories over the years about senior luncheons and other events at the district’s schools in Midlothian, Country Club Hills, Tinley Park and Oak Forest. It’s a way to engage with and thank people in the district who may no longer have kids at the schools for their continued support.

And the events are popular. Bonnema said she maintains a mailing list of about 800 people, and “these people come every year,” she said.

However, they’re less likely to have the resources to successfully track down a COVID-19 vaccine. So Kendall asked for, and received extra doses of the Pfizer vaccine — 1,300 in all — and the district went to work.

“Our goal was to get it to people in underserved communities and who are 65 and older,” Bonnema said. “They can’t sit on a computer and hit refresh over and over again. And some of our communities are severely missing out on the COVID shots — Posen, Midlothian, Markham. There’s a lot of older residents in Midlothian, like hundreds.”

Using their own mailing list as well as information gathered from the municipalities in the district about how to contact older residents, they put the word out about the vaccination opportunity. Many, residents, she said, were able to register on their own and just show up on the designated vaccination day, Feb. 11.

But many others needed a hand, and that’s where the district staff came in.

“Secretaries, administration, all different kinds of staff members were willing to answer phones,” she said.

And working in a school environment, they’ve been well practiced in patience and kindness.

“When you have to answer the phone 100 times and listen and fill out a registration form for someone and make sure they understand where to go and what time and what they need to bring and that they need to wear a short-sleeved shirt, that takes patience,” Bonnema said. “I didn’t have one person tell me that someone was mean to them. There was nothing but positive, positive feedback. People sent us thank-you cards in the mail.”

The Midlothian Police Department got involved too, she said, reaching out to lots of seniors in the area.

Within a week, they had 1,300 people registered to be vaccinated, all on Feb. 11 at the Bremen field house.

Meany, the Bremen associate principal, said that required an “all hands on deck” approach. Having the large field house building was a huge help.

“It gives us the ability to do something of this nature,” he said, allowing them to host 1,300 older people while staying within Illinois Department of Public Health and Centers for Disease Control guidelines and “making sure we were holding true to space requirements and stuff of that nature.”

Planning came down to the finest of details. Meany, Bonnema said, thought to make sure there were wheelchairs on hand in case someone needed one.

While pharmacy workers deployed by Jewel/Osco handled the actual injections, the effort required support from all corners of the school district.

School security guards helped guide people where they needed to go and answered their questions.

Administrative staff manned the registration tables.

Custodians helped set up and tear down for the events, and kept the area clean.

And school nurses stood watch in the areas where people waited for 15 minutes after receiving the vaccine to watch for any adverse reactions.

“It was nice because they get to talk to people,” Bonnema said. “Some are nervous or have questions after they get the shot and to have a nurse there who knows what they’re talking about helps with that.”

As the 1,300 community members got shots Feb. 11, and their second dose three weeks later, things went off without a hitch, Bonnema said.

“People were patient and kind and friendly,” she said. “It was really just a great representation of our community.”

It went so well, the Midlothian Police Department asked if the district would help again with distribution of an additional 1,000 vaccines. The process started again, this time reaching out to even more communities, such as Robbins and Blue Island, Bonnema said.

On Friday, the first round of those 1,000 vaccines was distributed, with the second dose set for a few weeks from now. As of right now, Bonnema said the district has no plans for another round of vaccinations at the school, but they’re glad they could do something to help fight the pandemic, and to help the community. She knows it made a difference.

“Just hearing them on the phone, ‘I tried to get a COVID shot, I don’t understand how to work the website.’ The only way to get it is through the website, and just calling them to tell them ‘I will register you right now,’ I think that’s so important,” she said.

Meany said one recipient in particular drove it home for him.

“When you have a senior citizen coming into the building that’s from the Class of ’66 and being able to come to their alma mater to get a shot because they live in the community and their kids went to Bremen High School and their grandkids go to Bremen High School ... it’s a great feeling. We were able to do this for us. Bremen High School is a tool for our community.

“It’s the best feeling in the world.”