Newswise — (MEMPHIS, Tenn. – August 13, 2014) Across the country, students are heading back to school this month. For teachers at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, working with patients in the classroom is a year-round focus.
“Going to school is a normal activity for children. When children are diagnosed and come to St. Jude, their world—including going to their own school—gets put on hold,” said Laurie Leigh, director of the St. Jude School Program Presented by Target.
Treatment for cancer and other life-threatening diseases lasts for months or years. Young patients may be challenged to keep up with their school work. Teachers at St. Jude help children continue their regular educational activities while going through treatment. The teachers are an integral part of the child’s health care team.
“When patients come in, they often can’t do everything their peers are doing in the classroom,” Leigh said. “We have to modify the amount of work that they have and even modify how to present it. We follow patients where they are to make sure they receive the services that they need, and we adjust what we do based on how the child is feeling. If a child is inpatient for a week, then that’s where our teachers go, if the child feels like it. If a child has to be in the Medicine Room for the day to get chemotherapy, then that’s where the teacher goes.”
St. Jude teachers also work closely with the patient’s home school, often using the same books, curriculum and materials.
Cancer is a complicated topic no matter the age, but for children returning to school after treatment, putting the experience into words can be difficult. Through the school program’s reintegration process, patients are supported by teachers and Child Life specialists to make re-entering school easier. On request, hospital staff members visit local schools to talk with classmates about diagnosis, to discuss treatment and its side effects, and to answer questions. For those students from other cities across the country, teachers can provide information and materials for school staff to present to classmates.
“Education is an important part of these kids’ lives,” said Justin Gardner, a teacher at St. Jude. “They can’t control what’s going on with their treatment, so school can offer a familiar and reassuring routine, which brings a sense of normalcy.”
Laurie Leigh, the school’s director, leads a team of teachers who work year-round to provide opportunities to continue normal educational activities through homebound or hospital bound educational services. Her team also provides school re-entry services to ease the transition back to the community school.
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St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is leading the way the world understands, treats and cures childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases. It is the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center devoted solely to children. Treatments developed at St. Jude have helped push the overall childhood cancer survival rate from 20 percent to 80 percent since the hospital opened more than 50 years ago. St. Jude is working to increase the overall survival rate for childhood cancer to 90 percent in the next decade. St. Jude freely shares the breakthroughs it makes, and every child saved at St. Jude means doctors and scientists worldwide can use that knowledge to save thousands more children. Families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing and food—because all a family should worry about is helping their child live. To learn more, visit stjude.org or follow St. Jude at @stjuderesearch.