Keeping Up While Getting Well

by Lauren Hoefert
OSF HealthCare

The School Program brings normalcy to students at OSF HealthCare Children’s Hospital of Illinois.

Many students would probably say they aren’t crazy about going to school. Homework, tests and studying don’t always top the “fun list” to most kids. But for the children and teenagers at OSF HealthCare Children’s Hospital of Illinois, the School Program offered at the hospital brings normalcy to sometimes-difficult days.

Opportunities to Stay Active
The School Program allows students to stay active in their schoolwork, offering both classroom and bedside tutoring options. The program has two full-time teachers, one classroom assistant and a core group of volunteers. The teachers and volunteers update each student’s school on their progress, while getting assignments to and from the school.

“We have a fabulous group of volunteers that range in backgrounds and are able to teach a variety of subjects,” says Rhonda Thomas, School Program teacher. “Without the volunteers’ help, we wouldn’t be able to tutor as many kids as we do on a daily basis.”

“The best part about being a volunteer is the opportunity to cheer up a child who's not feeling well,” adds Darrin Johnston, School Program volunteer. “Believe it or not, doing homework can perk a kid up and provide them with a constructive focus during those long hours in a hospital bed.”

Each morning, the teachers pull a census list. If they see a new patient who is physically able to do schoolwork, they visit the patient and his or her family to explain the program and offer an opportunity to participate.

“The students and their parents are always relieved when they find out there is a way to keep up with schoolwork as much as they are physically able to,” Thomas notes. “The last thing that we want them to worry about is falling behind in school while they’re trying to focus on getting well.”

Important Life Lessons
The nonprofit program is sustained through the generosity of donors and the annual Radiothon. Each student receives a backpack with school supplies and has access to laptops, iPads, calculators, books and much more.

“I love what I do because the kids look forward to tutoring,” Thomas explains. “We are usually the highlight of their day because we don’t have a needle—just homework.”

The program can assist students from any school district or those who are home-schooled. Last year, it tutored students from five states and nearly 300 schools. They even tutor the siblings of patients. And while the teachers and volunteers provide the education, the students are also teaching the teachers important life lessons.

“Many of the kids are dealing with more than their fair share of challenges to their health and other areas of their young lives,” Johnston says. “It's astounding to see them handle their treatments, stay optimistic and talk about their future plans.”

“Seeing the challenge these kids go through really does make you recognize all of the blessings you have and less likely to worry about the little things in life,” adds Thomas. iBi

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