School– it’s a part of life most kids and families take for granted. Kids get on the bus, have classes during the day, do homework at night. But, what about children battling cancer, who are in the hospital for weeks, months, or more? How do they keep up with their education?
The School Program at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta has that issue covered. Twelve Georgia certified teachers bring the classroom to sick children, in kindergarten through 12th grade. Six of those teachers are specifically funded by Aflac to assist the patients in the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center.
Sometimes the students are well enough to visit the hospital classroom; sometimes the teacher takes the lesson to their room. These educators are trained to teach the children during treatment, as well as provide information to schools on their progress, and on special accommodations needed when those patients return to their schools. They are important liaisons between the families and the schools.
The teachers in the Aflac Cancer Center have an additional role, one they seem to cherish. They allow kids in the hospital long term, and their families, a sense of normalcy. The students are able to continue their education, and the parents get a sense of relief that their children aren’t falling behind in their studies. Teachers say their favorite part of the job is helping families whose world has been turned upside down keep the school piece “right side up.”
The teachers often say they “get” more than they “give” working with these kids, and many have stories that warm their hearts. Here are just a few.
“While teaching a bone marrow transplant patient, a hospital teacher used chart paper that stuck to the walls of his room. (BMT kids are in isolation and cannot come to the classroom.) He walked all around the room completing math problems on the chart paper. Afterwards, he wanted to leave the problems hanging on the wall so everyone could see. He also had his mom take a picture of him standing by his work to send his teacher. He was smiling so proudly in that picture!” Whitney Morrison/Egelston Teacher
“We had a 5th grade brain tumor patient who loved doing school work even when she was sick in bed and could not come to the classroom. We always played ‘multiplication war’ at the end of each school session. This became our routine and for her it was motivation to see how many times she could get a higher score than the teacher.” Michele Britt/Scottish Rite Teacher
“We had a high school oncology patient who spent a great deal of time in our classroom. One day he was in the classroom while several very young students were there. He had completed his work and was waiting to be picked up by his grandmother. While he was waiting, he came over to the big white board in the classroom and participated in an activity with the little ones. They had so much fun, and so did he! It was so cool to see this high school kid making the little ones smile! Another good day in the Egleston classroom!”
Uroni Macon/Egleston Teacher
Scottish Rite teacher Pamela Kinzly summed up the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta school experience. “For lots of kids, working on school work is a wonderful reminder that they are still part of their class at school and they will be back there again in the future. Overall, the kids we work with are still typical kids: they might be bald, connected to an IV pole, or sitting in a wheelchair, but laughter and learning are still readily available even in a hospital school classroom.”
From left to right: Whitney Morrison, Uroni Macon, Kelli Vernay
Scottish Rite Teachers
From left to right: Pamela Kinzly, Hollie Schofield, Michele Britt