A child’s hospital stay or regular visits can stop life in its tracks. Parents and guardians often have to adjust their schedules, take off work and put other plans on hold. Kids have to take a break from normal activities, too - most notably, school. To keep patients engaged in their studies, and to care for them throughout their stay, the UNC Hospital School offers educational support and a sense of routine.
Since 1965, the UNC Hospital School has helped students keep up with their studies, and offered fun and educational opportunities for patients grades PreK-12. When it was established, it was the first accredited hospital school in the state. It has a permanent staff of 17 and helps nearly 3,000 students annually.
School Principal Nancy Yoder, Ph.D. and her staff are always looking for new ways to engage and support students. In the past year, the school received donor support to expand its Academic Troubadours program, which helps students broaden their studies beyond traditional assignments.
“Thanks to donor support, we’ve been able to bring in new performers and presenters for students,” Dr. Yoder said. “Our newest addition is a yoga class that’s going to start this week. There is a lot of research around how mindfulness can help children with calming strategies and help them be more focused and comfortable, regardless of circumstances.”
Yoder added that the yoga instructor is also working with teachers on mindfulness techniques that can be reinforced with students throughout their hospital stay.
The school also received a donor grant to create a mobile Makerspace to support lessons and encourage creative thinking. Makerspaces are physical spaces where people can come to create and learn. Some include things like pen and paper, building materials, and different forms of technology.
“We wanted to add a Makerspace to the school because it’s such a great creative outlet for kids,” Yoder said. “In school, we’re so often drawing on one side of the brain, and the Makerspace is something that helps them think differently.”
The space is mobile so that teachers can take it to students who are unable to leave their rooms. Each time it’s used, there’s an accompanying lesson – sometimes it’s a challenge to build a particular thing, and other times it’s just to create. The space includes a 3D printer, various tools, building materials and items for more artistic projects.
“Two teachers recently did a lesson on international currency, and students were able to design their own personal currency and print it out on the 3D printer. It’s a great way to get students interacting and having fun, all while learning something new.”
Programs like Academic Troubadours and the Makerspace are coordinated by Hospital School teachers and complement the instruction provided in academic content areas. Teachers further support students by providing tutors as needed and communicating with each student’s community school.
“Our goal is to support kids while they’re here with enriching programs and services that keep them learning,” Yoder said. “But our work doesn’t stop when children are discharged – we work with each child’s community school to ensure the transition home and back into the classroom is as smooth as possible.”
The school is part of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School district and meets children’s educational needs through the neurosciences program, which serves students with psychiatric and emotional disorders, and the pediatric program, which serves students who are inpatients and those who visit the clinics on a regular basis.
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