Local Charter School Becomes Vaccine Hub

Local Charter School Becomes Vaccine Hub

By: Taylor Torregano, Spectrum News

LOS ANGELES — KIPP SoCal Public Schools operates 23-tuition free, open enrollment charter public schools in Southern California.

One campus, [KIPP Philosophers Academy] in the heart of Watts, has become an anchor for the community for vaccines.

[To date] KIPP SoCal staff have hosted 17 vaccine clinics for students, staff and the public.

Bera Portugal is an LA native whose passion is bringing scarce resources to her community. It’s even in her job title. As a family and community engagement associate, Portugal works hand in hand with the people of Watts.

“I know what’s needed, I know what’s missing,” she said.

Here, it was vaccines. Portugal and her colleagues at KIPP SoCal went to work, finding a pharmacy to partner with to offer vaccines. She says this was the first site back in December to offer the pediatric dose in all of Watts. It remains the largest clinic in this community, open to anyone.

“It’s bringing that familiar face and the safe space and bringing it close to home, where they don’t have to travel far,” she explained.

She says many [community members] were having trouble finding vaccine appointments and here in Watts, it was crucial they provide the access to one of the neighborhoods hardest hit by COVID.

Over the last couple of months, Portugal says the case rate here has been 30% higher than the overall rate for Los Angeles with 125 deaths.

“Skepticism within our community is real and so it’s just been having to bring in the facts to them and bringing in medical professionals who can do that,” Portugal explained.

That hesitancy still causes division in families, even those that are at the clinic, to get the shot.

Belkis Enamorado says it’s a topic that has strained her relationship with her own sister, who refuses to get herself or her child vaccinated.

She says, ‘Oh, when all of you guys become zombies, I’m gonna have the cure because I’m not vaccinated,’” Enamorado said.

But even though that’s his aunt’s view, 10-year-old [KIPPster] Franklin R. feels confident that getting his shot was the right decision. It’s what allowed him to get back to playing soccer and shooting hoops with his friends.

“Maybe it will make you a little sick, but then it will just help you get a less percent of getting sick,” Franklin said. “So you should get the vaccine [so] you don’t get COVID and [don’t have] the risk of dying.

It’s a risk Portugal is doing all she can to mitigate. Of about [9,800] students enrolled at KIPP SoCal, [82% identify as Latinx, 16% as Black, and 2% as other].

“We know our families are coming from multi-generational households, we know they’re essential workers, so it was important for us to meet their needs and have this accessible to them and their neighbors,” she said.

KIPP staff also stressed the importance of having information ready and available from trusted heath care professionals to combat vaccine hesitancy.

They partnered with LA County Supervisor Holly Mitchell to host a virtual and bilingual information session called “Understanding COVID-19 Vaccinations."

[Join KIPP SoCal CEO, Angella Martinez, 2019 NYP Physician of the Year, Dr. Brad Rahaman, KIPP SoCal School Leaders and Family members in a Q&A conversation to help answer your questions about the COVID-19 vaccine! Please register here: bit.ly/3up2E8z.]

It’s open to the community.

This story originally aired and published by Spectrum News

About the Author: Taylor Torregano has a passion for connecting with the community and finding the stories that make an impact on every person who watches. She has reported on nationally covered wildfires, mass shootings, and hurricanes, but what motivates her most are the days when she can spend extra time crafting a report that will give a voice to those who are otherwise unheard or unnoticed.