Education is the Best Medicine…


1 Alyson Stiles is the first Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital patient to use the smart board installed in the Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital classroom. Pictured with Stiles is OCM BOCES teacher Mary Ellen Michalenko.

when it comes to the ‘Staying Connected is Good Medicine’ program at the Golisano Children’s Hospital

School is a normal part of childhood. For children undergoing treatment, school can offer a familiar and reassuring routine, as well as a feeling of being in step with the outside world. School gives children a chance to keep a sense of identity and (provides) hope for the future (St. Jude’s).  Mary Ellen Michalenko, an OCM BOCES teacher who works fulltime in the Golisano Children’s Hospital, echoed this sentiment, “It’s essential that our patients keep up with their course work, because it makes returning to school that much easier.”  According to Shaw and McCabe, “current estimates indicate that 18% of all children have chronic illnesses, and 6.5% suffer an illness severe enough to interfere with normal school activities.”  In any given year, Mrs. Michalenko can work with more than 150 students, and the duration within the program for students can range from a few days to several months. “Children with chronic illness are absent from school for an average of 16 days a year compared to around 3 days absent for healthy children (McCabe, 2008).”

Table 1:
Examples of Chronic Childhood Illnesses, Treatment Regimes, & Range of School Absences



Common Side Effects of Illness and/or Treatment

Average Range of School Absences


Inhalant Medication

Malaise, drowsiness and fatigue, sleep loss, hypoxia

12-36 days


Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery, bone marrow transplants, medication

Nausea and gastrointestinal problems, fatigue, hair loss, pain, anemia, increased infections, skin irritation, loss of appetite

Dependent on the nature of the cancer

25 to 80 days.

Cystic Fibrosis

Nutrition monitoring, growth hormone, pancreatic enzymes, drugs for respiratory symptoms, chest physiotherapy

Stunted height and weight growth, pulmonary difficulties associated with excess mucosa, decreased appetite, fatigue, body image problems related to stunted growth

19.5 days

Sickle Cell

Medications to relieve pain; prevent infections, organ damage & strokes; blood transfusions; marrow transplants

Increased risk of infections, eye damage, strokes, respiratory problems

Frequent absences, duration of absences depends on the nature & severity of the disease

Insulin-Dependent Diabetes Mellitus

Insulin monitoring and injections, dietary management, exercise

Acute hypo or hyperglycemia , (keytocidosis), affecting attention, memory, learning and processing speed

14 days

Traumatic Brain Injury

Hospitalization, pain management, cognitive, behavioral and social emotional interventions

Broad range of deficits including speech and motor functioning, memory, sensory processing, cognition & social-emotional functioning

46 days

Adapted from similar table in Hospital-to-School Transition for Children with Chronic Illness (McCabe & Shaw, 2008)

Oh the Places You’ll Go…with Technology
The classroom at the Golisano Children’s Hospital has a plethora of technology to meet the educational needs of the students within the ‘Staying Connected is Good Medicine’ program.  Students that are patients at the children’s hospital have access to a Tandberg Unit, which is a distance learning device in the hospital school room, that allow students to teleconference with their scheduled classes back at their home school. There are also portable units that students can use from their hospital bed or from home if needed.  Mary Ellen Michalenko stated, “Continuing with their studies also provides a level of normalcy to a life that can for the moment be turned upside down.”  In addition to distance learning equipment, students also have access to a uniquely mounted Smart Board, pictured above.  The interactive whiteboard is mounted so that the height of the board can be adjusted for students who are too weak from their illness to stand for any duration of time.  Students also have access to audiobooks on iPods and electronic copies of books on the classroom’s ten iPads. Much of the funding for technology within the hospital classroom is due to the generosity of the Lukie’s S.O.U.L. Foundation.

Caption: 2 CNY Central News Clip from 5-7-12
Video link:


Communication is Key

The New York City Education Department Hospital Schools website recommends that parents do the following prior to a planned hospital stay or during their child’s admission to a hospital:

  1. Contact your child’s home school and inform them of your child’s hospital stay.
  2. Contact your child’s teacher and try to get the work that your child will miss while in the hospital for treatment.
  3. The child’s regular teacher can help to determine what material to focus on. If at all possible, bring your child’s books to the hospital.
  4. You can bring or have your child’s assignments faxed or emailed to the hospital after making contact with the hospital teacher.
  5. If your child has been identified as a special needs child you should make every attempt to bring their IEP to the hospital to share with the hospital teacher.
  6. Upon your child’s discharge, it is very important for the parent to obtain a medical note regarding the child’s hospitalization and his/her medical/physical/emotional readiness to return to school.
  7. Please make sure to see the attendance secretary, so that your child can be readmitted to their home school.

While the ‘Staying Connected is Good Medicine’ program at the Golisano Children’s Hospital is not a cure all for the chronic illnesses the students within the program face, it does help provide the comforts of home… or in this case school.


Rauch_MarkMark E. Rauch
OCM BOCES Instructional Support, Educational Programs
Administrative Intern

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