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Cleveland literacy nonprofit addressing vaccine hesitancy in its classrooms

Cleveland literacy non-profit addressing vaccine hesitancy in its classrooms
Posted at 5:00 AM, Aug 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-06 06:25:17-04

CLEVELAND — As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, many are concerned about the role vaccine hesitancy plays at this stage in the pandemic.

Now, businesses, offices and schools are considering the idea of vaccine mandates and the impact they’ll have.

Cleveland nonprofit Seeds of Literacy reopened its in-person classroom in July and in order for students to return, they must be vaccinated.

“Some of our students have underlying health conditions. A lot of our tutors are over 60, so we are erring on the side of caution, we are requiring that folks be vaccinated to come on site for class; the staff, tutors and the students,” said Carmine Stewart, vice president of programming at Seeds of Literacy. “And we're also continuing to mask because we just want every layer of protection as possible, so we can keep everyone safe.”

The mandate has come with mixed results. Some students, like Ricco Marbeury, got vaccinated as soon as it was available to them.

“I went down to CSU and got vaccinated, so I was happy to get through that and I just feel safe and comfortable, just a sense of security that I can protect myself and protect people around me,” said Marbeury, who is also a security guard at Seeds of Literacy’s West Side location.

Some others, like Marketta Simmons, have chosen not to get vaccinated.

“I'm just trying to do a little bit more research about it. With me having high blood pressure at a young age, I just want to be sure that it's safe for me to do,” said Simmons, “Other than that, I'm not really against it or anything like that. I just want to do a little bit more research and hear a little bit more about it before I get it.”

Simmons and Marbeury are both taking classes at Seeds of Literacy to improve their math skills and further their careers. Simmons wants to become a social worker, while Marbeury wants to go into physical therapy and personal training.

Seeds is meeting in the middle so all of its students can take advantage of its classes, but administrators said in-person class attendance is down as some students and tutors are hesitant to take the vaccine.

The West Side classroom is averaging nine students in-person per day, whereas back in 208 there was an average of 27 students in each of its three sessions every day.

“It's just very confusing for a lot of people and so there’s some fear, and a little bit of hesitance,” said Stewart. “But I think that in the individual conversations that the staff is having with students about why we've all chosen to get vaccinated or why we even have that policy in place. One of the things that we're learning is that when students understand why we have that requirement, they're more open to the idea of it.”

Stewart said they’re focusing on educating students who are hesitant to get vaccinated about the vaccine and its benefits. She said one of her students didn’t understand how the vaccines were designed to work and how they protect people against the COVID-19 virus.

“She talked about just being nervous about the fact that the vaccine was developed so quickly and we've heard lots of people say that. And so we just explained to them about the technology and the scientists who've been studying this for years and years and years, and that there was technology that already existed that they were able to build on,” said Stewart. “And so when she heard that she said, ‘Okay, well you know no one's really shared with me all this information, no one's really explained why they've gotten it.’”

“We just try to make sure that they have access to a reliable source of information and not just someone that they knew who knew someone who knew someone,” said Stewart.

Simmons said she’s pleased with Seeds of Literacy’s approach.

“I feel like they're doing a great job in a very timely manner, and they're not forcing us to come back, so I'm really happy about that, that they're still giving us an option to do it on Zoom. And I'm fine with that. I mean, I love Seeds of Literacy,” said Simmons.

She said she would be open to getting a vaccine to come back into the classroom, but right now, she’s satisfied with the classes on Zoom and actually prefers them because of the flexibility it gives her to spend time with her 10-year-old daughter.

“At the end of the day, I'm just going to take the shot when I'm ready to take it, when I feel comfortable taking it,” said Simmons.

Marbeury also thinks the vaccination policy is a good move.

“I thought it was more than fair. I think we all should get vaccinated right now. We'll be able to help each other, and move on in life,” said Marbeury.

He enjoyed the classes taught over Zoom, but he prefers the personal touch of in-person classes.

“It makes a world of difference besides a Zoom. Zoom is good too, Zoom is good, no doubt, but I just like the interaction. It just feels normal. It feels like it used to before all this happened,” said Marbeury.

He’s looking forward to learning alongside a classroom full of his fully-vaccinated peers sometime soon.

“That's what I'm hoping to see and I believe that will happen soon, it's gonna take a little time I guess,” said Marbeury.

More information about Seeds of Literacy can be found here.

Jade Jarvis is a reporter at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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