Six-year-old Hannah Ohm loves to read. She also loves math. But as she’s undergoing chemotherapy treatments to her brain, injected through a spinal tap, concentrating on her schoolwork can be difficult.
Hannah was diagnosed with leukemia on June 1 and has been in and out of Banner Children’s Hospital in Mesa — sometimes for a few days, sometimes weeks — ever since.
That’s why her mother, Samia Ohm, said she is grateful for a new program this year that helps children stay in touch with their school and on top of their studies while they are ill.
“She loves school, and she is so motivated to study,” Ohm said of her daughter. “My big concern when she got sick was that being in the hospital would take that away from her, that missing school would add one more thing to that feeling of being different from everybody.”
Last week, the hospital school at Banner Children’s Hospital at Banner Desert Medical Center was presented with a $150,000 donation from State Farm Mutual Insurance Cos. to fund start-up costs and first-year operating expenses for the school, a partnership between the hospital and the Mesa Unified School District.
The donation helps expand the program started in the fall when Mesa schools granted Banner a part-time educator to help hospitalized students keep up with their studies.
When the hospital completes its new children’s tower in 2009, staff plans to have a classroom dedicated to the program.
Susan Shuff, a 29-year veteran of the district, works in conjunction with the other school districts to teach students of all ages who are battling serious diseases such as cancer and leukemia.
“It’s a tremendous gift to work here. And for the kids, it’s almost magical,” Shuff said. “On the first day I was here, I went into the room of a kindergartner who was just sobbing.” She assumed it was because he had an IV in his arm.
“But then he said, ‘I miss kindergarten.’ When I told him I was a kindergarten teacher, all (of) a sudden the tears went away.”
Shuff also coordinates with school districts when children will be out of school for just a few days to make sure parents have information about homework and tutors.
“Before this program started, a lot of kids were falling through the cracks,” said Sue Eaton, senior manager of the hospital’s Child Life department.
There is already a program, Homebound, that aids students who are out of school due to illness for more than 90 days. But with parents worried about the diagnosis, insurance, missing work and a slew of other concerns that arise when a child is sick, sometimes school ends up at the bottom of the priority list.
Having a teacher at the hospital helps parents navigate school district bureaucracy and provides children with the consistency they need while recovering, Eaton said.
“School is part of a child’s normal life, and the goal of this department is to normalize their experience as much as possible,” she said. “They don’t know what a lot of things we do here are, but they know what school is.”