AURORA | For the past year, the hallways at Rangeview High School have been mostly quiet, as the coronavirus kept students out of the classroom for long stretches of time and then limited the number of students on campus. But for two Saturdays in May, it was buzzing with activity as hundreds of people arrived to get the COVID vaccine.
Rangeview’s Social Justice Club organized the vaccine drive, the first in the state run by a student group, according to Gov. Jared Polis, who visited the drive’s first event on May 1.
More than 400 people got a first vaccine dose on May 1, and more than 500 people arrived on the May 22 for either a second dose or a first.
The student club was formed in 2009 as a general-interest politics club advised by Stephanie Walsh, who teaches political science. After the 2012 shooting of Trayvon Martin and the formation of racial justice organization Black Lives Matter students started to take more of an interest in social issues and so the name changed, Walsh said.
Club membership has fluctuated over the years, but it saw a resurgence this school year following the arrival of COVID-19 and the protests against police brutality over the summer.
Normally the club has meetings and events throughout the school year, but the pandemic and online learning made it harder for students to meet and plan activities. The drive brought students back together in person, and was the club’s last event before the end of the school year.
“This has been a great way to finish strong,” said teacher Sarah Gasior, who started co-sponsoring the club along with Walsh this year.
Club officers Joshua Alvarez and Yeabsera Fitsum, both juniors, got the idea for the clinic after getting more involved in community service over the past year.
Alvarez said he had been involved in a number of projects over the year through the Social Justice club and other organizations he’s involved in, and wanted to do something more direct.
“It’s a way for us to support the Aurora community,” Fitsum said.
The club partnered with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which has been working with community organizations throughout the state to host “equity clinics” to vaccinate people in low-income communities and communities of color.
The overwhelming majority of people who came to the drive were connected to the school in some way, either as a student, family member or an alum, Walsh said.
Having it at the school got families to come who might have been skeptical about being vaccinated at a mass vaccination site, Gasior said.
“Their parents know that they feel safe here,” she said. “They’re familiar with this place. People aren’t familiar with Ball Arena.”
Club members said drive was powerful because it gave them an opportunity to make an immediate positive impact on the people in their community.
“This was something that you could really put your hands on,” Alvarez said. “You see them walking out happy because they’ve been vaccinated.”