October 5, 2021
Teacher Heidi Hughes, left, works with her student Hari Sekar, 16. “For a child, being a student is their job description,” says Hughes, department head at the Stollery Children’s Hospital School. “So when a child is in hospital, going through a difficult time, it provides that stability, that normalcy, for them to continue what they are meant to do, which is to learn.”
“Many students would not have the opportunity to go to their original school,” says Hari Sekar, a Grade 11 student at Stollery Children’s Hospital School. This year marks 50 years of learning at the hospital – a proud partnership between the Stollery & Edmonton Public Schools.
Story by Marni Kuhlmann | Photo by Evan Isbister
Hari Sekar loves math and science. He always has. His brain tumour diagnosis two-and-a-half years ago didn’t change that. What has changed is the way he learns. Thankfully, he has a school that can support him.
“They go at my own pace and that’s the crucial thing about the school in the hospital,” says Hari, 16.
Hari first became a student at the Stollery Children’s Hospital School in 2019, when he was being treated in hospital. The school is a partnership between Alberta Health Services’ (AHS) Stollery Children’s Hospital and Edmonton Public Schools, under the direction of Hospital School Campuses. The program began in September 1971.
“For a child, being a student is their job description,” says Heidi Hughes, Edmonton Public Schools teacher and department head at the Stollery School.
“So when a child is in hospital, going through a difficult time, it provides that stability, that normalcy, for them to continue what they are meant to do, which is to learn.”
The school offers custom learning programs that allow students to continue their education at their own pace. The School Classroom Program takes place in one of two hospital classrooms (elementary and secondary). In the Bedside Teaching Program, a teacher works one-on-one with pupils at their hospital bedside. Teachers follow the Alberta curriculum, teaching students from K-12, including diploma exams, and sometimes, even hosting their graduation at the school.
In addition to the obvious academic benefits, the Stollery School provides social interaction and peer support. Having a routine can also help improve a patient’s healing.
“We see them getting up in the morning. They have a schedule, they’re getting dressed, they have breakfast, they take their medication, then they go to school. So this really helps us getting the patient back to a routine to them,” says Dr. Holger Buchholz, cardiac surgeon and director of the Stollery’s Pediatric Artificial Heart Program.
“That will decrease the risk for depression, and helps us with nutrition. If the patient is eating well, has a good night/day rhythm and a good sleep pattern, their medication will work better, so it’s a real big key factor of the success.”
Many students worry about falling behind in school while in the hospital. Stollery School teachers work closely with a student’s community school to ensure class requirements are met, so they can successfully transition back to their community school when the time is right.
“You can really get to know your kids quickly — what their strengths are, where they need help, so you can tailor your instruction to that which allows them to get through material quickly — and alleviate some of the gaps they might be experiencing,” says Hughes.
Hari has always been an honours student — and still is. “I probably wouldn’t have gone to school for a long time. Many years. Because normal schools are way too fast and I wouldn’t have been able to keep up. (But when) I go at my own pace, it’s very easy to accomplish.”
“The kids are amazing,” adds Hughes. “They’re resilient, they love to learn, they’re excited to be here and they accomplish great things.”
Learn more about Stollery Children’s Hospital School.