While wandering the halls of a pediatric hospital on the East coast in 2008, UA graduate student and mother of four, Jackie Picton, was stressed and concerned having just seen her child hospitalized.
During this time, Picton saw her first hospital school where kids receiving treatment could go to get help with missed school work so they could keep learning and stay caught up with their peers. This memory would stay with Picton for a long time after.
In 2012, while Picton was living in Tucson and volunteering at Diamond Children's Medical Center, she met a 16-year-old boy who had recently been diagnosed with leukemia. While talking to the mother, Picton found out that the boy's biggest concern was that he wouldn't be able to graduate high school with his friends.
"I think I’ll never forget that because that’s when the light bulb really went on for me," Picton said. "That’s when I really realized what I wanted to accomplish here."
Picton wanted to bridge the gap between patients and schools, so when she was applying for graduate school at the UA, Picton mentioned to her advisor, associate professor of psychology, Michelle Perfect, that she wanted to help create a hospital school program at Diamond Children's.
Although Perfect had not heard of a hospital school program before, she said Picton sold her on it.
In an email interview, Perfect said she was "amazed by [Picton's] enthusiasm for the program and excited about the prospect of working collaboratively with healthcare professionals to bring educational and support services to youth who were in the hospital or receiving intensive outpatient services."
After three years of research and networking, the women are finally seeing their plan become a reality and through joint funding from Banner Health and the UA College of Education, a hospital program has been established at Diamond Children's. Extensive research has brought Picton to believe that this new program is the only university-affiliated hospital school in the nation.
On Aug. 15, Banner–University Medical Center Tucson hired Ashley Brock, a teacher of 17 years, as a full-time education specialist for patients needing help in grades K-12.
With her unique experience of teaching kids in kindergarten and first grade, as well as those in sixth grade, Brock feels up to the challenge. Despite the amount of work looming before her as she works to get this program off and running, Brock is full of energy.
“The first week I was just blown away, you know, because here you have this adorable little girl who’s been in the hospital for two months and school’s been started for a month and they were just handing her coloring sheets," Brock said.
As Brock spoke to the little girl, she realized that her learning level was much higher and she began to work with her at her ability level.
Over the past weeks, Brock has shadowed various hospital staff and last week she traveled to Phoenix to observe the hospital school programs already in Banner's two Phoenix locations.
Brock said that she has already realized what a deep emotional connection patients have with their school
"School serves as their job, it serves as their ticket for the future, it serves as their social circle, and it serves as a source of confidence and a source of pride," Brock said. "So you’re taking so many of those different avenues that are really crucial in their lives and you’re kind of making their whole life about the illness."
For now, Brock's job not only involves meeting with children and tutoring them one-on-one, but also serving as a mediator between families and schools who may be having communication disconnects. When volunteer positions are eventually added to the hospital school program, Brock will also coordinate those.
Picton calls herself the "guinea pig" intern, but said they hope to add many more internships to the program soon. UA students studying primary and secondary education and special education would be of interest. Students studying any subject area from science and math to English would make wonderful volunteers, according to Brock.
Brock said that one person cannot teach to every need and ability in the K-12 range, who already encountered a student with geometry homework that she herself could not teach.
According to Picton, she has already received an outpouring of offers from professors and fellow students asking to volunteer for the program.
While these positions are not yet available, people wishing to help the program can donate to the hospital school program through either the UA College of Education or through Banner.
To donate contact the College of Education Development Office at firstname.lastname@example.org or 520-621-3413, or alternatively contact the Banner Health Foundation at email@example.com or 520-694-6196.
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