One day to reopen school and rebuild community

George Vlahos

When Toronto’s Secord Elementary School once again had to close in spring 2021 because of COVID-19, principal George Vlahos said it wasn’t just a building closing, but a community hub.

So in late April when a local hospital inquired about setting up a school-based clinic targeting local demographics with low vaccination rates, he jumped at the chance to get his doors open.

“Then I started asking for more,” he said.

He asked if his students’ parents could come. Then his staff. Then the daycare staff. He received yes’ for all and his efforts eventually led to over 1,400 people getting vaccinated at the one-day clinic on May 4th.

This was at a time of stay-at-home orders, when community members hadn’t been allowed in the school in over a year and at one point the playgrounds and basketball nets had been taped up.

It was after he’d done everything possible to keep school going before it had to close; encouraging the use of rapid tests, configuring his outdoor space for learning areas and pushing fundraising for outdoor resources.

“I wasn’t going to sit back and do nothing, it was trying to find a way to help my community become safer,” he said.

The efforts of Vlahos and his colleagues to spread the word brought the school back to life, even if it was just for a day and set the tone for how important vaccination would be in the coming months to get ready for a new school year in September.

“It was amazing,” he said. “This gave me the opportunity to open up my school, to be there, to bring people together, get them vaccinated, rebuild the sense of community.”

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