A young kid waiting to get his vaccine
Daymon Gardner

A Morning At The Vaccine Clinic At KIPP Central City Primary School In New Orleans

“If you get it, it's going to be OK. It doesn't hurt, but my advice is that you just breathe in and breathe out and keep calm.”

Close your eyes and imagine an elementary school. What do you see? For most of us we see a school we attended when we were kids. When I imagined going to KIPP Central City Primary, I imagined my old New Orleans elementary school: McDonogh 39. Saw the green windows and muted incandescent light; smelled the cigarette smoke from the janitor’s closet and Estee Lauder Beautiful from the teachers passing by; heard the clacking of jump ropes and singsongy double Dutch rhymes.

But I had to remember that it’s been 16 years since Hurricane Katrina, 16 years since all our public schools changed. It took me driving across town to the wrong schools twice before I decided to just GPS it, since the schools I knew just no longer existed. KIPP Central City Primary, known to native New Orleanians as “the old Sylvanie Williams,” is a new age, model charter school that’s retained ample traditional features to keep pre-Katrina New Orleans public school alumni at ease. There’s a Little Free Library outside but also murals of Mardi Gras Masking Indians inside. Public relations staff on hand but also parents in their work uniforms carefully observing. Kids who are handling the Covid-19 pandemic with flexibility and grace, while also, of course, being far more interested in class parties and candy.

This perfect combination of new-school efficiency and old-school comfort could be a factor in why KIPP Central City Primary, out of all KIPP schools, had the highest initial percentage of kids taking part in on-campus vaccination events.

John, Tia Fortune, and Mayson Grace, sitting under the mural at KIPP Central City ElementaryDaymon Gardner
“I feel so excited! Yeah, I feel so excited. So, so, so excited. I'm like 100 excited!” — Tia Fortune, first grade
Zoe Roscoe is readyPhoto by Daymon Gardner
Daniyah Blazio, an inspiration to us all
“Hurricane Ida got in the way a little bit there, but we've vaccinated thousands since September. Parents don't want their kids to have to quarantine, and they want them to be protected for the holidays. The schools that have made it really fun, made it a whole event, we've found the kids are more excited about it and less scared. They've got their teachers, the principal, all sorts of people being really motivational and encouraging, and that has made a huge difference in terms of how many kids you get. Some of the schools have given away T-shirts, pizza parties, ice cream, nachos, doing different things to try to make it not scary but instead very exciting and fun for the kids.” — Katie Conner, Covid-19 vaccination program manager for CrescentCare
KIPP student Vishaunn Lewis flexes his newly-vaccinated muscles
“I was excited because I want to be like my sisters and my mother. And I decided that I want to get it because I just felt like I was being left out because I didn't have it. They told me that it wouldn't hurt because they just put it in, you wouldn't feel it. It's just a little needle. It's going to get onto you and they're going to go straight out and it's fast. If you get it, it's going to be OK. It doesn't hurt, but my advice is that you just breathe in and breathe out and keep calm.” — Codi LeBlanc, third grade
Zyon Moore, first grade
“I like the shot. Corona makes you sick and you can't go back to school. My brother has coronavirus right now. He can't go back to school. He’s 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.” — Zyon Moore, first grade
Zyon Moore, first gradeDaymon Gardner
“When they just put the little thing in, I was crying. I was just feeling like I'm going to do it, but I'm actually scared because I'm going to cry and I'm going to be embarrassed. I don't like being embarrassed.” — Noah Marshall, first grade
Mayson Grace squeezes a pillow, and his eyes shut, while he bravely gets his shotDaymon Gardner
“When it went in, I felt the needle, but it didn't hurt, and now I feel good.” — Tevian Fleming, second grade
Jafep Suazo
Tevian Fleming, second grade
“In New Orleans, you don't really have the community school as much anymore; we’re a true community school. So our kids stay here, they go to KIPP middle school, they go to Booker T. [Washington High School], so our parents are invested in us as a school. Our relationships are really strong and parents trust us. They do what's necessary to keep the relationship strong, so if something happens, if they get exposed from outside sources, they call and say, ‘Hey, my kid got exposed. What do I need to do?’ Our parents are very open with us and I think that has helped our relationships because we've been here so long. Thirty-three of our founding kindergartners graduated from Booker T. last year. They love us, we love them; it’s a family.” — Seleigh Taylor, director of school operations at KIPP Central City Primary
Najary Perlata flexes for the cameraDaymon Gardner

Photographer: Daymon Gardner