By: Maria Peterson, NBCT
I’m a Spanish teacher in Montgomery County, MD. Our 160,000 students come from more than 50 countries and represent hundreds of languages and cultures. This diversity is one of the reasons the district has been an ideal place for me to teach for more than 28 years. Coming from the small island of Puerto Rico, I was ready for the range of perspectives in a large district.
Though I’ve faced challenges in my nearly three decades of teaching, I wasn’t fully prepared for the Covid-19 pandemic when I went virtual. Though I have developed great skill in the classroom, including earning National Board certification, changes in March 2020 helped me realize how much I had to learn.
With the onset of the pandemic, I learned new tricks and made the best of the challenging situation for me and my students. But, this story is less about teaching than it is about the impact on teachers.
In January 2021 teachers in Maryland became eligible to get their Covid vaccine. As a social butterfly, I posted my proud picture with the vaccine card on social media. Soon, friends who were struggling to find the vaccine turned to me for help getting vaccinated. This led to a group of eight friends – all teachers, including two NBCTs, developing a network that guided them to find vaccine appointments. We united and conquered!
We became the go-to support for local educators seeking the vaccine and looking to have some normalcy in their lives. At least that’s what we thought would happen! This is how I became one of eight Vaccine Hunters recognized repeatedly in the Washington region and national press!
Throughout our journey in early 2021, doctors learned of the Vaccine Hunters and sent patients our way to secure appointments using a simple system we created. We created a document in partnership with local vaccine clinics allowing senior citizens and others to share their basic information; we would set appointments on their behalf.
You may recall that during that time, many people struggled to find vaccines due to age, lack of technological savviness or language skills. We were able to help more than 30,000 people secure vaccine appointments.
Fast forward to January 2022 and we have learned and done so much in this process! Our group of educators has been featured on Good Morning America, local television, Telemundo, Washington Post, CNN, among others. Having a voice through the media outlets has allowed us to reach out to vulnerable communities, closing this equity gap that exists when it comes to getting Covid vaccines.
As a native Spanish speaker, I was able to connect with parents in the community who perhaps didn’t understand how to secure vaccine appointments. Others in the community lacked the trust needed in order to go to a clinic set up by the county or state. Language continues to be a huge barrier, but by translating documents to Spanish, we help to close that gap. We have helped former undocumented students who needed reassurance in order to get vaccinated.
Our greatest accomplishment has been being able to help families in our school community, especially those in the black & brown communities. The disparities are still there, and we cannot let our local officials look the other way. Even now, as we partner with the largest hospital facilities in the region, we are targeting the hardest hit zip codes because residents are still in need of support. My hope, just like the other Vaccine Hunters in the group, is to bring vaccines to those who are still hesitant and/or lack trust in the system. Our children deserve to be healthy at school and having access to vaccines is key during this pandemic.