By Meisha Porter and Dr. Dave A. Chokshi
In early July, we were elated to welcome students to classrooms for Summer Rising, the City’s free summer academic and enrichment program. Children were clearly excited to be back with their teachers and friends, and those feelings have only grown over the past few weeks. In an elementary school in East Harlem, youngsters proudly displayed the solar-powered ovens they’d built to cook s’mores. In a school in Chinatown, students gasped with joy over the “magical” science experiments performed by Jason Latimer of YouTube’s Impossible Science channel. And in a school in the Bronx, students dove into their lessons and demonstrated an outdoor mindfulness activity.
Experiences like these are reflected in the smiles of hundreds of thousands of children who are in school to learn, play, connect, and grow this summer. Both children and their parents are grateful to have this bridge to the next school year.
We see the first day of school—Monday, September 13—as a homecoming. In fact, it comes shortly after NYC Homecoming Week, a five-borough celebration of the city’s resilience throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
As we think ahead to the fall, the health and safety of students and school communities are at the forefront of our planning. We are asking New Yorkers to help with a crucial part of this work: get vaccinated. If your child is between 12 and 17 years old, August 9 is the last day for your child to get the Pfizer vaccine in order to be fully vaccinated in time for school.
This date is important to remember because the vaccine for adolescents involves a two-dose regimen, and it takes two weeks from the second shot for someone to be considered fully vaccinated. So, think of this as your doctor’s orders: Schedule your vaccine today if you have not already.
Safely and fully reopening schools this fall is a milestone for our city, and we are eager to see students back in their school communities. We are doing everything in our power to create a safe learning environment—from disinfecting every school, to re-configuring classrooms and improving ventilation, to stocking up on face masks and hand sanitizer.
And last week, Mayor de Blasio announced that school staff must show a one-time proof of vaccination or weekly COVID-19 tests. The new requirement recognizes that the single most important way we can help our children go back to learning, and save lives, is with vaccination.
As parents ourselves, we know the decision to vaccinate is important, and we would do anything to protect our children. The vaccine is safe and very effective. Over 250,000 young New Yorkers have now gotten the shot.
At school, vaccination allows children to be in the classroom, participate in afterschool activities and sports, and gather with friends—safely. It also provides a more stable learning environment, (for example, students who are considered fully vaccinated are not required to quarantine).
Getting the shot has never been easier in New York City. Access to vaccination is widely available in all five boroughs, and the City is offering a new $100 incentive for anyone (including children) who gets their first dose at a City-run site. Nearly all New Yorkers live within half a mile of a public vaccination site, and everyone is eligible to request and receive at-home vaccination. Pediatricians and other health care providers can also help answer questions, and many are able to give the COVID-19 vaccine at a back-to-school check-up, along with other routine immunizations. If you need a provider, call 1-844-NYC-4NYC and you will be transferred.
We’re so excited to welcome all New York City students back into classrooms in September. Because of vaccination, our buildings will soon be fully open and our young people will be learning. We deeply appreciate the partnership of the city’s families and the commitment to keeping our school communities safe and healthy.
Meisha Porter is Chancellor of the NYC Department of Education
Dave A. Chokshi, MD, MSc, is Commissioner of the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene