Families & the Community

N.Y.C. Schools Restarting Critically Needed Blood Donation Drives Stalled by COVID

May 02, 2022 3 min read
Phlebotomists Willie Grant, left, and Tawana Liggins, right, prepare sophomore Isaac Brown and junior Kendra Gillenwater to donate blood during a blood drive at Eastbrook High School east of Marion, Ind., on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Before the pandemic, whenever blood donations dipped, school blood drives served as a steady supply for the New York Blood Center, accounting for roughly a quarter of the center’s reserves and helping cultivate a lifelong habit of donating blood among teenage participants.

But that source ran dry during the pandemic as schools shuttered and moved to remote learning, and COVID-19 restrictions limited in-person gatherings at schools. The Blood Center went from hosting 61 drives at city high schools between January and March 2019 that yielded more than 3,000 blood donations, to just three school-based drives for a total of 182 donations during the same period last year, according to the organization.

The shortage of banked blood has had critical short-term consequences for hospitals and health care providers who rely on donations for a range of medical procedures, and demand for blood is even higher now than at the start of the pandemic, according to Andrea Cefarelli, the executive director of the Blood Center.

The slowdown of school drives could also have a long-term effect on blood supply, with fewer teens getting the chance to build the habit of giving blood while they’re young, Blood Center staffers say.

Now, as COVID-19 restrictions loosen in city schools, teens, educators and Blood Center staffers are scrambling to bring school-based blood drives back to pre-pandemic levels — working diligently behind the scenes to organize events, mobilizing students and teachers to participate, and trying to spread the word to still-wary kids and adults.

“We felt compelled to do it,” said Pat Fasano, the director of the nursing program at Curtis High School in Staten Island, who, alongside her teenage students preparing to become nurses, has organized three blood drives so far this school year.

“Nurses go in when no one else will,” she added. “We figured it would start a domino effect with other schools opening up as well.”

Cefarelli said the number of school blood drives has begun to rebound, but still remains far below pre-pandemic levels, with 26 city high schools holding drives between January and March of this year for a total of 1,212 donations.

But students and staffers said there are still formidable obstacles.

See Also

Phlebotomists Willie Grant, left, and Tawana Liggins, right, prepare sophomore Isaac Brown and junior Kendra Gillenwater to donate blood during a blood drive at Eastbrook High School east of Marion, Ind., in 2017.
Phlebotomists Willie Grant, left, and Tawana Liggins, right, prepare sophomore Isaac Brown and junior Kendra Gillenwater to donate during a blood drive at Eastbrook High School east of Marion, Ind., in 2017. Donations from high school students make up a significant share of the nation's blood supply.
Jeff Morehead/The Chronicle-Tribune via AP

At the beginning of this school year — the first with full-time, in-person learning in city public schools since the start of the pandemic — many teachers and kids were still wary of a COVID-19 risk, or just preoccupied with more immediate concerns, Cefarelli said.

Restrictive visitor rules at some schools also made it difficult for the Blood Center to come in and host drives, which must take place indoors per federal Food and Drug Administration guidance. Some of the staffers who ran point on the drives before the pandemic left their schools between March 2020 and September 2021, Cefarelli added, forcing the Blood Center to rebuild relationships with new educators.

“The blood drives were just one extra extracurricular activity they couldn’t commit to in the middle of dealing with everyone else,” Cefarelli said.

Just as the Blood Center was beginning to rebuild momentum with schools, the winter omicron surge hit, keeping kids home in droves and scuttling plans again.

At Curtis High School, however, students in the nursing program were determined to get their blood drive up and running, despite the challenges. Eighteen-year-old seniors Marco Kua and Arlinda Lajci took the lead on organizing, fanning out across the 2,400-student school to encourage students — who must be 16 or older to participate — and staff to give blood.

They posted flyers, made announcements over the P.A. system, and answered questions from students — most of whom had never donated blood before.

“It was difficult trying to get students to participate,” Marco recalled. “They’re worried about getting sick.”

Arlinda added that some students told her “they were scared of needles from all the vaccines.”

Seeing how nurses work and operate during the pandemic, they’re always the first one in line, and I want to be part of that.

But the teens persisted, launching three blood drives so far this school year, and they’ve seen participation steadily increase from the first event in October to the most recent earlier this month.

The student organizers weathered some of the challenges that come with any blood drive: kids turned away because their blood didn’t meet the bank’s specifications, and several donors who fainted. But with the help of the medical staff on hand, the events ran smoothly, the teens said.

And despite all the obstacles the pandemic threw at them, the teens said the experience has only strengthened their convictions about the importance of blood donation — and their commitment to working in the health care field.

“Seeing how nurses work and operate during the pandemic, they’re always the first one in line,” Marco said, “and I want to be part of that.”

Related Tags:

Copyright (c) 2022, New York Daily News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Budget & Finance Webinar
Innovative Funding Models: A Deep Dive into Public-Private Partnerships
Discover how innovative funding models drive educational projects forward. Join us for insights into effective PPP implementation.
Content provided by Follett Learning
Budget & Finance Webinar Staffing Schools After ESSER: What School and District Leaders Need to Know
Join our newsroom for insights on investing in critical student support positions as pandemic funds expire.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Achievement Webinar
How can districts build sustainable tutoring models before the money runs out?
District leaders, low on funds, must decide: broad support for all or deep interventions for few? Let's discuss maximizing tutoring resources.
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Families & the Community Q&A How These District Leaders Turned Family Engagement on Its Head
Two Leaders to Learn From share insights on what family and community engagement entails.
7 min read
Families & the Community Video ‘A Welcoming Place’: Family Engagement Strategies for Schools (Video)
Schools that enlist parents as partners see positive results. Here's how to do it.
1 min read
Families & the Community Bring Back In-Person Field Trips. Here's Why
School field trips took a hit due to the pandemic and are still recovering. Educators and experts explain why they should come back.
4 min read
Students from Piney Branch Elementary School in Bristow, Va. arrive at Elizabeth Furnace Recreational Area in the George Washington National Forest in Fort Valley, Va. on Tuesday, April 23, 2024 for an outdoor education field trip. During the field trip, students will release brook trout that they’ve grown from eggs in their classroom into Passage Creek and participate in other outdoor educational activities.
Students from Piney Branch Elementary School in Bristow, Va., arrive at Elizabeth Furnace Recreational Area in the George Washington National Forest in Fort Valley, Va., on April 23, 2024, for an outdoor education field trip.
Sam Mallon/Education Week
Families & the Community 5 Ways to Get Parents More Involved in Schools
Schools don't need an influx of money and resources to have effective family engagement, experts say.
9 min read
Various school representatives and parent liaisons attend a family and community engagement think tank discussion at Lowery Conference Center on March 13, 2024 in Denver. One of the goals of the meeting was to discuss how schools can better integrate new students and families into the district. Denver Public Schools has six community hubs across the district that have serviced 3,000 new students since October 2023. Each community hub has different resources for families and students catering to what the community needs.
School representatives and parent liaisons attend a family and community engagement think tank discussion at Lowery Conference Center on March 13, 2024 in Denver. One of the goals of the meeting was to discuss how schools can better integrate new students and families into the district.
Rebecca Slezak For Education Week