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Now, the work begins.
Thousands of girls and young women gathered yesterday around screens to watch Kamala Harris sworn in as the first female, first Black and first Indian American vice president.
We also have a new president. And he has made school reopening across the country a priority of his first 100 days in office.
New York City has been one of the country’s first big cities to reopen. But high schools remain closed, and as many parents can attest, it’s on again-off again depending on cases. Meanwhile, many families of color are choosing to keep their kids at home.
One thing that might speed the Great Reopening up: If more teachers get vaccinated, they’ll feel safer in school.
Today we bring you a conversation with Trevor L. Charles, a teacher at Queens Collegiate, to tell us what it was like getting vaccinated.
Stay with us through the end. We have some thoughts on tech that might put you at east. And at The Unmuted — and our sister newsletter Epicenter NYC — our goal is to help you help each other. This week, a special guest shares tips on how to best be an ally for students.
Note: At the time of publication, many NYC hospitals have been cancelling vaccination appointments due to unexpected changes in supply.
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What it’s like to get vaccinated as a teacher
Trevor Charles teaches high school English at Queens Collegiate, which is in the Jamaica High School building. The comic book and anime nerd focuses on media literacy and exclusively uses graphic novels to show students how to understand and analyze images, and how “words form meaning in literature and the world, especially in the age of social media.”
The Unmuted: Is there anything else you want our readers to know about you?
Trevor Charles: I’m a Black man with a little brother who is a professional ballet dancer born in Baltimore and raised in the suburbs by Caribbean parents from Jamaica and Guyana and finally I made my way to NYC for college and St. John’s and found a new home here.
Thank you for all you do. What’s your life as a teacher like now? How often are you going into school? How has that felt, this year?
Truthfully, this is less than ideal. We aren’t in school at all. Presently we are 100% remote. Usually my response is ‘this sucks’ since I have always felt my best asset as a teacher is my ability to build and foster relationships with my students but that’s a lot harder through screens.
Nevertheless, there are some bright spots. I get to be more experimental in what I teach, along with seeing what to weed out as being busywork. I get to implement a lot more visual media with the kids, which can feel like “a waste of time” to some folks in a regular school building but I don’t much worry about that because the proof is in what the kids walk away with.
How did you learn about your eligibility for a vaccine?
Group chat with friends from work. I can always rely on one of my friends to be up on all the latest important information even if I’m not.
What was your experience scheduling an appointment like?
Tried seven times. Six appointments were unavailable by the time I finished making them. So seven was my lucky number.
How did you feel when you learned you had your appointment? What was on your mind?
Happy but also a tiny bit dejected only because I am hyper aware of all the issues surrounding the vaccine. The politicization, the hesitancy amongst my community to trust doctors especially given history, my folks not being able to get one (I just learned they are eligible for vaccines today), and also there just not being enough.
Sitting there getting the shot was almost surreal. It was over in 30 seconds and then I waited for another 15 for observation and then I went about my day knowing I have this thing that so many people need, want and are afraid of or distrust. It’s befuddling to say the least.
Where did you get your shot/s?
Kings County Hospital Center in Brooklyn.
What did it feel like when you got there? What was the line like? What was the vibe?
A lot of waiting. It felt pretty calm. I felt like I could tell people were both excited and relieved. There was a lot of friendly banter happening between the patients and medical professionals. It all felt very run of the mill and organized. They definitely knew what they were doing and had a well-oiled machine going. They also should be commended for the staff’s bedside manner. EVERYONE was super friendly and helpful. It took all the edge off.
What did getting the shot feel like?
Like a shot. Quick, prick followed by regular arm soreness.
What were you thinking when you left?
Relieved and befuddled, especially knowing my parents can get it. I haven’t seen them in a year. Honestly I feel like things will get better once more people get it and we start to see shifting trends in these cases. But I’m a pragmatic optimist. My hope is tied to the reality of where we are. We have a lot of work to do to improve this situation and restore some semblance of our prior world. I won’t use the word ‘normal’ here because I think things are too different that a new status quo will have to emerge after a year plus of living like this.
What do you want people to know about this process?
The process is easy. The real difficulty is deciding what you believe and how to reconcile that with what you want. For me it’s easy. I trust science and medicine despite its marred history against people of color in America. However, I want to go to the movies. I want to eat at a restaurant, I want to hug my parents without fear of killing them or my 100-year-old grandmother for that matter. I want to see my students’ faces. I want to go to Japan with my girlfriend.
So choosing to get a shot of a vaccine developed in a little less than a year is small compared to the amount of processed foods, sugars and adult beverages I have willingly put into my body, knowing full well what it does to it: Destroy it. And I say that not to shame anyone, I’m saying that as a person who knows they want to go outside and play in the world and that is worth it tenfold.
The New York Times had a recent front-page story about parents’ despair over kids’ exposure to screens. It starts with a father saying he’s failed his kid. (And extensive Twitter discussion over the use of the kid’s photo and how he might look back on this … fame.)
Don’t worry too much about screen time
We’re here to tell you that this is one thing you don’t have to worry about. Being a parent at any moment is taxing, let alone parenting through a pandemic.
Instead of stressing over the amount of screen time — which, let’s be real, is inevitable given quarantine and online or hybrid school – pediatricians are beginning to recommend focusing on the quality of those interactions.
Another tip is to think about how you can increase the quality time you spend away from screens. How are you eating and sleeping? Are you able to have deep conversations, undistracted by the digital world?
Also: A lot of the research that the country’s first anti-screen time messaging was based on… turns out to have been culturally inappropriate. More on that here. And you can find some tips on creating meaningful screen interactions here.
How you can become an adult ally
— from Neve Wallace
In the wake of the Black Lives Matters protests, everyone is talking about how to be a better ally. In NYC, it’s hard to know where to begin. The Bell, an organization empowering NYC student leaders fighting for education equity wants to help adult allies who “want to act.”
The Bell runs two organizations: the Miseducation podcast and Teens Take Charge In the wake of the Black Lives Matters protests, everyone is talking about how to be a better ally. In NYC, it’s hard to know where to begin. The Bell, an organization empowering NYC student leaders fighting for education equity wants to help adult allies who “want to act.”
The Bell runs two organizations: the Miseducation podcast and Teens Take Charge (TTC). Written and produced by students, Miseducation features first-person accounts from NYC high schoolers that expose how the city education system really treats low-income students of color. Student-founded, TTC hosts events, fundraises, and gives a voice to current students in order to advocate for change.
In a Zoom info session for adult allies last week, the Bell outlined some tough realities about NYC schools and how allies can help empower students. Here are their top three suggestions.
Amplify teen efforts:
Subscribe to the Miseducation podcast on RadioPublic — The Bell makes a profit here — and share it with your network. For TTC, sign and share the petitions posted on their website. Even better, host a house meeting (over Zoom, of course) or a fundraiser for potential allies. And don’t forget to contact your elected officials to encourage change in the city’s schools. Contact Thiviya Navaratnam, Operations Manager at email@example.com to get to organizing.
Tap your network.
Offer connections like internships for high schoolers or college guidance resources. Offer student the Bell staff speaking gigs at your organization or company ($50/hr is The Bell’s recommended starting rate). Suggest culturally competent mental health resources for students. Donate here and encourage your network to do so. To get more involved, email Taylor McGraw, Executive Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stay in the know.
Follow these groups on instagram and twitter: @BellVoices, @TeensTakeCharge, @MiseducationPod and sign up for The Bell’s newsletter here.
The next meeting is April 8. Look out for the Zoom link on the Bell’s Twitter. Written and produced by students, Miseducation features first-person accounts from NYC high schoolers that expose how the city education system really treats low-income students of color. Student-founded, TTC hosts events, fundraises, and gives a voice to current students in order to advocate for change.
Neve Wallace is a senior at Wesleyan University who lives in New York City.
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