When a child or teen is diagnosed with cancer or a serious hematologic condition, they often must be out of school for a period of time. School is the work of a child and teen, and a large part of their social connection to the world. Therefore it is important to address school needs from the the beginning at the time of diagnosis.
Many students who receive care from the hematology/oncology division at Nationwide Children’s Hospital will need to be out of school and on home instruction for some period of time. Others will need a shorter school day or will be absent a lot. Home instruction is a form of school that happens in the child’s home or the hospital. It is one-on-one instruction from a licensed teacher. Medical documentation is required for home instruction to be initiated by the child’s home school district. In Ohio, each child receives one hour of home instruction for every day of school missed during long periods of absence. Home instruction should help a student stay at grade level so he/she can continue forward with classmates. The family does not pay for any costs related to the home instruction, as it is the responsibility of the home school district to provide that service.
Private schools are not required to provide home instruction by the education laws. Sometimes private schools are able to provide the service and sometimes there must be coordination with the child’s home school district.
When a student is in the hospital for a long or frequent stays of a few days over the course of several months, the hospital teacher can provide help with school work. Columbus City Schools has assigned one full time and one half time teacher to the hematology/oncology unit at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Those teachers help the student work from their home school and coordinate instruction with the teacher at home. Hospital school can occur in the patient’s room or in the H12 Classroom. It may be individual instruction or sometimes a small group can learn together. We also have access to virtual field trips and other similar experiences through technology and resources on the hospital unit.
During the first admission at the time of cancer diagnosis, a student and family should expect to meet one of our school liaisons. There is no charge to the family or home school district for the services of the school liaison. The role of the liaison is to help facilitate school services and be a link between the hospital, family, and school to promote academic success of the child or teen who is undergoing cancer treatement. The school liaisons sometimes work with patients who have hematologic disorders that require a bone marrow transplant or an extended time away from school. The social workers in the division of Hematology/Oncology can help with school concerns for patients who might be struggling in school but who are not out of school for extended periods related to their illness. The social workers and the school liaisons often work together with the family to manage school concerns.
The school liaisons are available to visit a child’s classroom and speak with peers. A discussion of the diagnosis and treatment can reduce fears and anxieties of peers and adults at school. This helps promote the social connections between the absent child and school. For elementary age students, the liaisons can deliver a ‘Monkey in My Chair’ and backpack. A large monkey is given to the classroom so it can sit in the patient’s chair at school. The backpack can carry notes, cards, homework, and other materials from school to home and back on a consistent basis. The patient also receives a small monkey and backpack to keep at home. The monkeys and backpacks are provided to the Hematology/Oncology school services program from TheCureStartsNow Foundation.
When school visits are appropriate for middle school age students, the liaisons will usually visit a science classroom for the day and provide information about diagnosis and treatment. All students from the patient’s grade level are generally included in the special instruction session.
School visits can occur at the time of diagnosis, when the student is ready to return to school, or sometimes both. The school liaisons also attend school meetings to discuss needs and services of a student.
The school liaisons are also available to provide ongoing support for patients and their families in regards to school needs. Children who have received certain types of cancer treatment are more at risk for the development of cognitive late effects. These late effects can interfere with school success and may require extended support services for the student at school. The liaisons can help the family understand the process of pursuing services and can attend any school meetings to support the patient and family.
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