This piece is part of the “Combatting COVID” series, in which we’re asking principals about COVID-19 mitigation strategies that are working well at their schools. The hope is that their experiences will help other school leaders make decisions for their communities.
Social media is the key to students’ hearts — or at least their attention. That’s something Corliss High School Principal Ali Muhammad knows all too well. So when Muhammad started working with the Far South Side Community Action Council to encourage Corliss students and families to get vaccinated, it didn’t take him long to realize a simple solution: Ask students to promote an upcoming vaccination event.
“We have a student who has 70,000 followers on TikTok,” Muhammad said. “I guess you’d call him an influencer.”
The student, Danny, was more than happy to pitch in. He posted videos with details about the event in the days leading up to it. The hype paid off: On the day of, Corliss’ stadium was full of students, families, and community members ready to get their shot. Danny even showed up to share updates with his followers, despite already being vaccinated.
Corliss High School is a fixture of Chicago’s historic Pullman neighborhood, where the COVID-19 vaccination rate continues to hover around 54% — lower than the city average. Muhammad said he has encountered vaccine hesitancy from Corliss families. His approach has been to open Corliss’ doors.
“I always ask myself, ‘How can I support what’s going on in the community?’” Muhammad shared. “The more exposure we have to resources to fight COVID, the better.”
In addition to hosting vaccination events at the school, Muhammad has encouraged people to get tested regularly. That option puts people who don’t want to get vaccinated at ease — and keeps students and staff safe.
“I have students who test every week,” said Muhammad. “We’re always in line together. You’d expect it would be playtime for high school students, but there’s no ruckus.”
Still, even weekly testing hasn’t assuaged some parents’ fears. Corliss parents sometimes choose to keep their kids home beyond the recommended five-day quarantine after a potential exposure or if, say, a relative is visiting.
Muhammad works to share accurate information with families, but his biggest ally is — and always has been — his students.
“The majority of students have their masks on — and you just need to remind the others to pull theirs up,” said Muhammad. “They’re mindful of it. They sanitize their hands. They wipe down their seats with disinfectant wipes. I don’t think adults always see all that kids do.”
Principal Muhammad’s Word of Advice
“You can’t control everything. You just want to make sure to keep everyone mindful. I go visit teachers’ classrooms, and if I see students aren’t wearing their masks, I’ll motion to them to pull them up. You create the situation yourself. Communication is key. They listen to me because I communicate with them.”