Woodridge, Tallmadge educators first to be vaccinated in Summit County

Krista S. Kano Phil Keren
Akron Beacon Journal
Tallmadge Schools Superintendent Steve Wood gets his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine from Akron Children's Hospital RN Janelle Heiser on Feb. 3. Staff received the second dose Wednesday, and so many required additional recovery time that the district remained closed on Friday.

Woodridge and Tallmadge teachers became the first educators in the county to receive the COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday, with other districts to follow in the coming days and weeks. 

Summit County schools have each been paired with either Western Reserve Hospital, Akron Children's Hospital, Summit County Public Health or Discount Drug Mart to administer their vaccines.

More:Summit County school districts hope to begin teacher vaccinations next week. Here's what we know

Both Woodridge and Tallmadge are working with Akron Children's Hospital and received the 21-day Pfizer vaccine. 

"Shipments from the state come Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, so we were kind of gambling to make sure we had the vaccine for today. But it worked out in our favor," said Michele Wilmoth, Akron Children's Hospital Director of Nursing, School Health Services. "We only have so many of us who can do this, so we can't do it all in one day. We're spreading it out throughout the week."

Akron Children's will administer vaccines Thursday to Stow-Munroe Falls and Copley-Fairlawn; Coventry, Holy Family and Akros Edge on Friday; and Akron Public Schools starting Saturday.

Akron Children's has not yet received the full allocation for Akron Public Schools. So far, they have 780 doses out of the requested 3,000 for Saturday's vaccination. 

A little more than 300 Woodridge staff members, approximately 80% of district employees, received their first dose at the middle school building. Everyone who signed up for a vaccine received the shot Wednesday, according to Superintendent Walter Davis.

Akron Children's Hospital RN Brook Baker administers a COVID-19 vaccination to 7th grade math teacher Hanna Rounds at Woodridge Middle School on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021 in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. [Phil Masturzo/ Beacon Journal]

Michelle Burke, the school health medical director for Akron Children's Hospital, said the administration of the vaccine was a smooth process at Woodridge. Wilmoth said the same of Tallmadge. 

"Everyone's been showing up early [for their appointment] and getting their vaccines rolling," said Burke as she supervised an area with three vaccine stations.

After receiving their vaccine, Woodridge employees were directed to the gym, where they were instructed to sit and wait for 15-20 minutes to make sure they were feeling OK before exiting the building. Employees sat in chairs in the gym and visited with one another, and could also enjoy some snacks and drinks.

An Akron Children's nurse was stationed in the gym to provide assistance if anyone began feeling ill.

Wilmoth said there were no reactions at Woodridge or at Tallmadge, where the same procedures were followed Wednesday afternoon. A total of 285 Tallmadge staff members, about 92% of all employees, were scheduled to receive the first dose.

About midway through Tallmadge's vaccination hours, Wilmoth said that there had been no missed appointments. Wood said any leftover doses would be offered to substitutes.

Step toward normalcy

Woodridge teachers and other staffers waiting in the gym's observation area Wednesday morning said they felt grateful to receive their first dose and noted it was a step toward returning to normalcy.

"I feel like I won the lottery," said Lauren Witsaman, a middle school business teacher, after she received her shot. 

She noted she feels "incredibly lucky" and added the district did "an awesome job" handling the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The kids have been really excited to be back in school," said Witsaman. "They've been following all the guidelines. Everyone just really wants to be together. Anything we can do to make it happen sooner is all right by me."

Akron Children's Hospital RN Brook Baker administers the COVID-19 vaccination to Woodridge High School baseball coach Dennis Dever at the Middle School on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021 in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. [Phil Masturzo/ Beacon Journal]

Jeff Walter, the high school's head golf coach and a middle school physical education and health teacher, added it "feels great" to receive the first dose. He noted he and his wife researched the issue and decided to get the vaccine.

"We think we made the right choice," said Walter. "I'm glad I did it and I'm looking forward to getting the second one."

Jennifer Tromp, an elementary school secretary, said she felt "grateful" after getting the vaccine.

"[We're] one step closer to putting it behind us, hopefully, [and] getting back to normal," said Tromp. 

Annie Travis, a school counselor at the elementary building, noted the process to get vaccinated was "very easy, quick."

She added it was "exciting" to receive the first dose of the vaccine.

Emotional day

Tallmadge school psychologist Emily Rinaldi contracted COVID-19 in early January and has since recovered, but consulted a doctor about whether she should get the vaccine.

"I definitely knew I wanted to get this," Rinaldi said. "It was terrible, and I never want it to happen again, and I never want anyone else to have it either."

Tallmadge physical therapist Greg Thomas was also eager to get the vaccine, and was the last member of his family to do so. 

Woodridge School faculty and staff received the COVID-19 vaccination at the Middle School on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021 in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. [Phil Masturzo/ Beacon Journal]

"[After the second dose] I'll still mask and social distance when I can," he said. "I don't see it significantly changing my job because I"ll still mask and social distance, but I'll feel better around other people that I'm not going to be carrying something to them. I'm fairly health, so I haven't been as worried about myself."

Tallmadge first-grade teacher Renea Kline-Lenkey said that Wednesday was an "emotional day."

"I'm just excited and very grateful to have this opportunity," Kline-Lenkey said. "This is the first step to getting back to the classroom and will just feel a little bit more normal. I'm hoping that i'll be not quite as scared, not quite as worried about going places and I'm that enough people do it so that we can get back to normal as soon as possible." 

Pamela Westbrooks, an Akron Children's Hospital nurse, draws a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in the mobile pharmacy for a teacher vaccination clinic Wednesday in the Tallmadge High School gym.

Woodridge and Tallmadge staff are scheduled for their second dose Feb. 24.

In-person classes did not occur in Woodridge on Wednesday and are not happening Thursday. Davis said students were doing "project-based learning" where they are working on assignments both Wednesday and Thursday.

Tallmadge continued school operations Wednesday and Thursday, but new Superintendent Steve Wood said families should prepare for a school closure the day after the second dose. More information will be shared at a later date, he said. 

Next districts starting 

Akron Children's will administer the first dose Thursday to about 750 Stow-Munroe Falls staff members, about 90%, with the second dose coming Feb. 25. Due to the high acceptance rate, the district has designated both dates as asynchronous learning days, with students staying at home. Extracurriculars are continuing as scheduled unless otherwise advised.

Discount Drug Mart is also beginning to vaccinate Medina County teachers Thursday.

Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at pkeren@thebeaconjournal.com, or on Twitter at @keren_phil. Reporter Krista S. Kano can be reached at 330-541-9416, kkano@thebeaconjournal.com or on Twitter @KristaKanoABJ.