Bedside Lessons: Young patients head back to school too

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As kids head back to school this week, what about those who are sick? Just watch the way some public school teachers are extending their reach -- bringing lessons to the bedside.

Like most school kids, her day started with a test, but this one was a little different -- an echocardiogram to check the nine-year-old’s heart function. Keniya Noys has been a patient at Lurie Children’s in Chicago since July. She’s waiting for a new heart.

But today is a school day. And the lesson – though not in her fourth-grade classroom at Ashburn Elementary -- is one of her favorites.

Keniya Noys, Lurie Children’s patient: “I like math and science.”

Melanie Uczen is a public school teacher, but her assignment is to instruct patients in the hospital.

Melanie Uczen, Chicago Public School teacher: “We see our students on a daily basis, five days a week.”

Kenya Wright, Keniya’s mother: “That was a big thing because she was like, ‘Well we’re here, but by the time school starts I’ll be able to go back to school.’ So it was really hard for me to explain to her that you won’t be able to go back to school. But what helped was when she found out that she’d still have a teacher, that the teacher would come in and do activities with her. So actually she gets it a little better because she gets the teacher one-on-one to herself.”

Melanie Uczen: “They’re excited. They have a smile on their face. They are looking forward to it, and it really normalizes their days here.”

Upstairs, teacher Mary Vokoun works with Larry White. Instead of being stuck in class, the seventh grader from Yates Elementary School in Humboldt Park is stuck in the pediatric intensive care unit after an asthma attack. But he’s not really complaining.

Larry White, Lurie Children’s patient: “A little bad, a little bit good.”

Mary Vokoun, Chicago Public School teacher: “We teach them for about an hour a day, collaborate with the schools, seek out what they want to learn about.”

Together, the two Chicago public school teachers worked with 250 hospitalized children last year. They follow the same curriculum the students would learn at their schools but with a few adjustments as needed.

Mary Vokoun: “It’s a very atypical classroom. We try to engage them in activities that promote the excitement of the new school year, whether that be in the patient’s room, in the hallway or down in our classroom.”

Kenya Wright: “Some days are very hard. She doesn’t feel like other children, but this makes her feel like, ‘I’m doing what other children my age are doing, going to school.’ So it helps.”

This is all made possible through a partnership between Lurie Children's and Chicago Public Schools.


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