Earlier this spring, First Book, a nonprofit social enterprise devoted to education equity, launched #GiveLearningaShot, a suite of resources that provides educators and families with trusted, accessible information about the Covid-19 vaccine. This clearinghouse of expert-based information debunks pervasive myths about the vaccine and answers many of educators’ and parents’ most pressing questions about it. One of the key elements of the effort is the Give Learning a Shot Covid-19 Vaccine Time Saver, a document that presents facts and essential information in an infographics-heavy format containing numerous links and complemented by a series of videos. The #GiveLearningaShot campaign was inspired by feedback from members of First Book’s nationwide network of 500,000 educators and practitioners who work with children in underserved communities.
According to Becki Last, chief programmatic officer at First Book, the organization surveyed educators in its network in early January and received 575 responses. “We typically do very large-scale quantitative surveys,” Last says. “But this one was a little different. It was more qualitative in nature and contained a significant number of responses to open-ended questions that we read through to really understand the themes. We wanted to take a very broad sense of what was happening on the ground for educators to see where they were at and what they needed. The idea for this vaccine campaign and these additional resources was born out of that survey.”
The results of the January survey further clarified some of the concerns that First Book had already been monitoring and confirmed the fact that the pandemic is a significant barrier to learning. And they revealed that this holds true regardless of the age of the students, or whether they are learning in the classroom or virtually. One of the results that stands out to Last is that just over half of students were back in school in person to some degree in early January; only 41% were fully virtual at that time. “We were surprised to see how many kids were at least part-time in school,” she says. “We were also surprised to see that whether you are physically in school or virtually in school, the trauma from Covid-19 is real. Everyone has been talking about the impact of Covid-19 on virtual learning, but the grass is not necessarily greener on the side of in-person learning.”
Survey respondents who have already returned to the classroom provided a snapshot of what it’s like. “Kids are not mentally focused on learning and ready to learn, and honestly, educators are not mentally focused and ready to teach, even if they’re physically present,” Last says. “A big part of the reason for that is that everyone’s preoccupied with getting sick or bringing home sickness to their families. Many don’t have health insurance; they may live in close quarters with multiple families under one roof or in close communities physically. There’s a lot of fear.” Last said that fear was a word used quite frequently throughout the survey—fear of getting sick and contracting or spreading the virus.
Being physically back in school posed other challenges for students and teachers alike, according to educators who responded to the survey. “Even when kids were in the class, there were a lot of interruptions and transitions that took away from learning and added to the stress,” Last says. “Kids were in one day, then out for two weeks. People were coming and going. It wasn’t the same. They can’t have lunch together in the same way, they can’t have parties or recess, there are no group projects. It’s just a very different environment, even in the school.”
Ultimately, Last notes, respondents to the January survey overwhelmingly emphasized that the biggest benefits of the vaccine are that it will result in getting back to school, and that it will lessen the fears associated with being in the classroom. “All of the research led to comments like, ‘We really are looking forward to the vaccine so we can get back to learning—not necessarily back to school but back to learning,’ ” she adds.
To that end, surveyed educators noted that they hoped people in their communities would be open or more open to getting the vaccine, and replied, “We’d love to share information about the vaccine,” Last says. “But while the vaccine information out there is plentiful,” she adds, “it’s not accessible for the families that we serve. It’s very wordy, there aren’t enough graphics or infographics, and it’s written at a high reading level.”
Survey respondents indicated that they wanted to see something that is expert based, factual, and coming from trusted sources but is more accessible, shorter, and with more infographics, according to Last. They also wanted resources highlighting stories from folks in communities that look like theirs, and highlighting stories of celebrities and other recognizable, trusted figures.
Kisha Dimbo, First Book’s senior v-p of strategic alliances, noted that creating a new resource for vaccine information was a vitally important undertaking because the organization largely serves people of color, who are disproportionately experiencing Covid-19 illness and death, as well as the challenges of vaccine hesitancy and inequitable access to vaccines. “We are very focused on breaking down barriers to education for kids in need,” Dimbo says. “And when you look at kids in need, we know that the majority of those children are kids of color. We also understood that in those communities of color fewer people are receiving the vaccine. For example, we know that in Black communities only 5%–6%, based on the metrics we have, of vaccines have gone to Black folks, and I don’t think the numbers are that different for Hispanic populations. We knew that getting back to school was critical, but we didn’t know how critical until Becki and her team did the survey.”
When the survey findings revealed that serious challenges existed whether kids were in or out of school, Dimbo says, “we realized we needed to do something to address this specific issue, because all kids are falling behind, but the kids that we serve are falling further behind faster.”
Effectively addressing rumors and misinformation about the vaccine was another driver behind the #GiveLearningaShot campaign. Seventy-one percent of educators who responded to the First Book survey said people they know are concerned because of the speed of development and worry the vaccine is too risky. And two-thirds of respondents reported that they had heard of resistance to taking the vaccine in their communities. The Time Saver debunks various myths about the vaccine with additional information from the National Institutes of Health, Johns Hopkins, and the District of Columbia Department of Health, among other outlets. Celebrities who appear in photos taking the vaccine or who share their vaccine experiences include actor and director Tyler Perry, politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and actor Randall Park. And #GiveLearningaShot provides access to additional relevant resources from First Book, including a Trauma Toolkit, the discussion guide “Using Books to Support Students Through Grief, Loss, and Healing,” and “Empowering Educators: A Guidebook on Race and Racism.”
To roll out the #GiveLearningaShot resource, Last says that First Book will rely heavily on its nationwide network of educators. “They are the child advocates on the ground,” she notes. “They are incredible activists in their own communities. Throughout the pandemic, they have done everything from collecting and delivering resources—including books and food—to their kids on their doorsteps to taking extra care to print out and drop off information for kids who may not have access to the internet or electronic devices. Our hope is—and all indications are—that these educators will share #GiveLearningaShot with the families that they serve. We would like to reach millions of families, specifically in communities of color, with these resources.”