FROM music to coding, graduations to play therapy, the principal of Cork’s only hospital school says providing structure and a sense of normality for young patients can make an enormous difference to the their hospital stays.
Laura Woods and her colleague — deputy principal Deirdre Murphy — run Cork University Hospital School, which provides educational support for children at the hospital ranging from primary to secondary school level. The pair are being praised for their dedication to children from all walks of life who — for varying reasons — require the service.
Ms Woods described how they recently held a private graduation ceremony for a little boy who had never seen the inside of a mainstream school.
“One child we had reached first-class without attending a school outside of hospital,” she said. “Deirdre did a graduation ceremony because that’s what many children in junior schools get to experience. He loved the ward and was delighted to say that he was going to school.
“We try to push the boat out as much as possible. Deirdre managed to source the hat, gown, and even a plaque. It’s lovely for the parents too because they often feel like they are missing out on these experiences.
“It’s emotional for everyone because you have built up a rapport with the student. It’s an achievement for you as well as them to see them experience something normal, similar to what their peers have. You would be a robot if you didn’t feel emotionally overwhelmed at times.”
Students attending the school can be in for any period of time.
“We had one long-term student last year, but we also have students who might only be with us for a few days,” Laura said. “They might be in for an appendix or newly diagnosed diabetes.
“There is quite a wide range of patients that we’re seeing. The parents are always delighted because a lot of people don’t know we even exist. Children love the structure and routine.”
Keeping up to date with schoolwork, Laura explained, can be important for the child’s self-esteem.
“We get in touch with their base school to see what they are covering,” she said. “Parents of the students are reassured to know that their child doesn’t have to fall behind in their school work.
“We have to follow the primary and secondary curriculum so we’re constantly trying to keep updated with both curriculums. We have to be quite flexible in our approach.”
She recalled one student who teamed up with them to create a robot.
“We had one student who was very interested in IT and coding so there was a lot of fun had building a robot and coding it to have different functions. We were trying it out in the classroom and the playroom.
“One of the benefits is the time we have to do projects that relate to the student’s interests. We try to integrate the child’s interests into their learning as much as possible.”
Laura and Deirdre also enlist the help of musicians who work with the children.
“We collaborate with a music therapist who we’re really lucky to be able to work with. Professional musicians come and work with the kids which is a great experience for them. It means they are not tuned in to all the negative aspects of hospital. When they come home they have something memorable to think about that is positive for them.
“The beauty of our job is that we get to see a side to the child that isn’t always seen by the doctors and nurses.”
The pair do their utmost to lift their students’ spirits.
“We’ve skyped children’s school so they know their friends are thinking of them,” Laura said. “These always throw up the funniest and most innocent questions from their classmates. One child asked if the students who come here have uniforms.
“Even though our school is in a hospital they were still surprised to learn that children get to come to school in their pyjamas.
“Before Covid, a number of children got to meet at a time which gave them a chance to be with other children their own ages. So many lasting friendships have come out of this place that have been maintained over the years.”
Laura and Deirdre have often held classes at a young patient’s bedside.
“We try to make it as inclusive as possible. There have been so many challenging situations where children can’t write or get out of bed. I remember one student who had a spinal injury and couldn’t move.
“If a child can’t come to the classroom we’ll work at their bedside. I try to work around any barrier as best as I possibly can. It’s important, with this in mind, that we keep up to date with the latest assistive technologies.
“One boy who was unable to move loved seeing us specifically because he thrived on having the routine.
“It was uplifting to see what a positive experience it had been for him. It’s great to get feedback from doctors saying that this is a core part of the patient’s recovery both socially and emotionally. It’s an escape from the clinical aspect of the care.”
The principal explained why the facility is about so much more than schoolwork.
“If a child has a particular worry we’ll talk to the play therapist about how we can overcome it. One parent of a child we had created a simulation MRI machine for the play specialist room to diffuse any negativity or worry for children waiting to go for an MRI. It was very inventive.
“He wanted to feel like he was giving back so this was what he came up with.
“You’d be surprised at how something like that can help so many other people.”
- To find out more about Cork University Hospital School visit: www.scoilcuh.ie