Give these high school students credit

November 9, 2015

High school students with chronic pain can now earn three credits through Chronic Pain 35 classes at the Stollery Children’s Hospital. Making the announcement are, from left, student Bailey Voltner, Drayton Valley-Devon MLA Mark Smith, student Emma Snow, Education Minister David Eggen and Health Minister Sarah Hoffman.

Program helps teens with chronic pain to graduate

Story and Photo by Sharman Hnatiuk and Shelly Willsey

Bailey Voltner will graduate from her Wetaskiwin high school this year with credits provided through a class at the Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton.

The 17-year-old was enrolled in Chronic Pain 35, a 10-week pain-management program, worth three credits at the Grade 12 level. The cognitive behavioural therapy class teaches students living with chronic pain coping techniques.

“Without this class, I’d be short credits to graduate,” says Voltner. “And I used to miss a few days of school a week but now I barely miss any.”

Chronic Pain 35 was approved by Alberta Education last February. The program is the first of its kind in Alberta; to date, 18 students have participated and all have received credits or are in the process of finalizing their course work.

“Courses like the Stollery’s Chronic Pain 35 program are great examples of how students, parents and teachers are innovating and developing solutions that help students reach graduation and improve their future,” says David Eggen, Minister of Education.

Kathy Reid, a nurse practitioner with Stollery Pediatric Chronic Pain Services, says students with chronic pain often struggle to accumulate sufficient high school credits to graduate with their classmates, and require summer school or online courses to get the bare minimum credits for a diploma.

“In our program at the Stollery, we estimate most of our students miss at least one day of school per week, and approximately 15 to 20 per cent of our adolescents are no longer attending school on a regular basis or in person at all,” says Reid.

Integrating Chronic Pain 35 into academic achievements is a creative strategy to help patients learn more about their pain.

The class teaches students how to manage their pain with relaxation techniques, pace their activities, deal with mood and negative thoughts, improve their sleep and diet, cope with stress and anxiety, improve communication, develop a setback plan, and talk about a life with pain.

The chronic pain curriculum lessons were developed and are delivered by a pediatric chronic pain clinic psychologist and nurse practitioner. Courses are taught at the hospital or in participants’ communities and schools via Telehealth videoconferencing technology, giving all Alberta high school students diagnosed with chronic pain the opportunity to benefit from the program.

Chronic Pain 35 students must attend all the sessions, complete weekly homework, and demonstrate their learning with a final project that demonstrates their scientific knowledge related to pain, their understanding and engagement in treatment strategies, and their willingness to advocate for themselves.

Reid has been leading the class for the past seven years but, until recently, the decision to award high school credits rested with school administration.

“The course and the credits are great, but what helped me the most was meeting people my age who have the same problems with pain that I do,” says Voltner.

“Your teachers or friends try to be sympathetic, but you feel like no one really understands what you are going through. Being in a room with other teenagers who can relate to you made me realize I am not alone, and the course has motivated me to deal with my obstacles in a different way.”

With graduation now in sight, Voltner has begun work on scholarship applications to study fine art next fall.