In the “Combatting COVID” series, 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.
LaSalle II Magnet Elementary School has COVID-19 testing down to a science.
“We test almost 500 people each week in our COVID testing program,” said Principal Lauren Albani, Ed.D – a remarkable feat given that the school serves just over 570 students. “80% of our students have opted in to testing.”
Dr. Albani and her staff have taken simple steps to make the process seamless.
It begins at home: The staff recorded a short video of a first-grade student completing the nasal swab. The point was to show students – and their parents – that the test is quick and painless. The kids are able to do the swab themselves, with the help of a trained professional. That transparency has encouraged parents to sign their kids up.
At school, Dr. Albani put a notecard system in place to speed up the testing process. Students get a card from their teacher with their name and birthdate before getting tested. They’re in and out of the center in less than a minute. It was cute to watch them struggle at first – for some of the younger learners, it can take a minute or two to remember how to spell their name or their birthdate – but now they’ve got the hang of it.
When school started in the fall, most of Dr. Albani’s elementary school students still weren’t eligible for the vaccine. She, like many other school leaders, had to think creatively about how to use existing resources to keep students and staff safe. Testing was crucial, and at that time, about 40% of students had opted into the school’s program.
Then, in late fall, the Omicron variant hit the country. Dr. Albani knew she needed to test more kids to keep her school community safe. The LaSalle II staff called every family – they only needed verbal consent to test students for COVID-19. They also tried other strategies: sending messages home with students, talking about testing and vaccines at meetings with parents, and encouraging families to do the take-home tests with kids so that they could see first-hand how easy it is to do a nasal swab.
The efforts have paid off: Today, 80% of students have opted into testing.
The number of students vaccinated is ticking up too. Dr. Albani has partnered with Instavaxx Pharmacy to host vaccination events at the school. This partnership made sure that students, staff, and their families have easy access to the vaccine without drawing district resources away from schools and neighborhoods with greater needs.
Peer pressure doesn’t hurt, either, Dr. Albani shared. The more kids see their friends getting tested or vaccinated, the safer they feel. At LaSalle II, testing is now part of the school culture.
Dr. Albani’s Word of Advice
“Any process that can make testing easier on the tester is helpful – they don’t know the kids. We do. That’s why we use notecards. We also rely on the kids to keep things on track. Since we have a regular schedule and system, the kids will flag for us when they haven’t been tested. It’s kind of amazing to see them take ownership over their health.”