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Queens charter school partnering with Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine on COVID-19 prep

Kids at play at Challenge Charter School in Far Rockaway, Queens. (Photo via Facebook/Challenge Charter School)

A Far Rockaway charter school is partnering with faculty from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine to educate parents, students and teachers in one of the pandemic’s hardest-hit communities on the science of COVID-19. 

On Tuesday, Aug. 25, Challenge Charter School Founder and CEO Rev. Dr. Les Mullings will host a back to school forum with Assistant Professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos, MHS, New York City Councilmember Donovan Richards and Representative Gregory Meeks on Zoom. 

Panelists will discuss the status of new infections in the country and whether it is safe to reopen schools in New York City for blended learning given the available building space and in-stock personal protective equipment. Listeners will be allowed to ask questions towards the end of the town hall. 

“This pandemic is going to be here for quite some time,” said Dr. Galiatsatos. “So, how to phase in and assimilate for these times is going to take a lot of effort from all of us.” 

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza are still set on reopening school buildings on Sept. 10 to allow for in-person classes as a part of the fall semester’s blended learning model. 

On Monday, officials announced that school principles could apply to use schoolyards, streets, and nearby parks as classroom space as the push to delay in-person learning increases. Last week, the United Federation of Teachers promised to stick by striking teachers if the city did not delay school openings. 

Challenge Charter School’s 750 students and faculty will begin their fall semester virtually. School leadership is in no rush to send anyone back to the four campuses until they “know everything they need to know” about the virus, said Mullings.

Although the school does have two tentative dates for the start of staggered in-person classes, Oct. 19 for elementary school students and Oct. 28 for middle and high school students. Currently, the Challenge Charter Schools serve kindergarten through 9th-grade students. As a community school, Challenge has a bevy of partnerships with city, national and international organizations World Vision, St. John’s Episcopal Hospital, the New York Food Bank, Queens Borough College. The school also has a partnership with a current Far Rockaway affordable housing development overseen by Kingspoint Heights Developers on Central Ave. 

“We are not pushing one way or the other, we are saying come out and listen to an authority on the virus and make your own decision,” said Mullings. The forum is meant to provide worried parents and staff with answers to questions on the potential consequences of reopening schools since the city has done little to assuage fears. 

The forum is just one way that Challenge Charter School and Johns Hopkins will work together to help protect the at-risk home of large pockets of Black and Hispanic nursing facility and hospital workers.  During the outbreak of the coronavirus in New York City in March, out of every 100,000, there were 443 deaths, according to a data crunch from Politico. 

John Hopkins faculty are also working in collaboration with school teachers and administrators to create a curriculum of workshops on health and wellness during the ongoing pandemic to turn student into advocates in ways to stop the spread of the virus. 

The university launched a series of online COVID-19 classes earlier this summer in Baltimore and plans to share the 12-lesson curriculum in schools in 24 states from Hawaii to Rhode Island. 

The series is made up of 12 30-minute-long lessons that cover topics like COVID-19 terminology, the process of virus reproduction, vaccines, and how face masks stop the spread of air-born microbes. At the end of each lesson, students are given a call to action and taught how to make a new tool to fight the spread of the virus like hand sanitizer, cloth masks or a social media campaign to educate family and friends on how to protect themselves and others from the virus. 

“Young students have just as much capability to spread this virus as an adult which means they have just as much potential to stop the spread of the virus as an adult,” said Dr. Galiatsatos. “It’s intention is to disseminate what students can do so that they can have some level of power at a time that they feel powerless or some level of hope in a time when they feel hopeless.”

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