CORPUS CHRISTI – It’s back-to-school season for children and teachers across South Texas, including the teachers at Driscoll Children’s Hospital School program.
Located on the eighth floor of the hospital, Driscoll’s Hospital School program allows hospitalized children to continue their education while undergoing treatments. Teachers at Driscoll work closely with patients to keep them connected to the classroom during their hospital stay, providing a sense of normalcy.
Lead Teacher Marie Soza knows firsthand the importance of a school program for pediatric patients. Her son was an oncology patient at Driscoll and she saw at that time the need and the value of having children continue their education and normalize their lives. With help from Director of Patient and Family Services Robin Smith, Soza collaborated with Corpus Christi Independent School District (CCISD) to re-establish Driscoll’s Hospital School program in 2008.
“Since that time, the program has been highly successful, serving more than 200 patients each year,” said Smith.
Soza, who has been a CCISD teacher for 20 years, and associate teacher Sumer Duhon follow CCISD’s curriculum and modify lesson plans to fit each patient and their needs. It is a task Soza says is challenging yet rewarding work.
“We plan for each individual child, teaching everything from pre-K to 12th grade. It’s important to keep the kids on track and caught up so when they go back to school, they’re not behind and they know what’s going on.”
Patients enrolled in the school program typically get two to four hours of either one-on-one or group instruction each day, contingent on doctors’ orders. Soza and Duhon keep in constant communication with physicians, nurses and parents to ensure the patients’ medical needs come first.
“We always check with their medical team before bringing them to the classroom,” said Duhon. “We ask questions like what time do they need medicine, will they need a snack, and can they have water? In a traditional school setting, the teachers don’t always understand what children with chronic illnesses are going through. It’s important for us to advocate for our students.”
Duhon added the kids enjoy coming to the classroom because it allows them to interact with other patients going through similar situations, and focusing on schoolwork provides a distraction from what is happening medically.
“Being able to attend school with their peers is often the best part of the day for these children,” said Jesse Munoz, RN, 4th Tower Clinical Coordinator.
Although Soza and Duhon are employed by CCISD, the two are very much a part of the Driscoll family, embodying The Driscoll Way and often including friends and family who come to visit.
“We couldn’t do it without the support from Driscoll,” said Soza. “They’ve given us a beautiful classroom with a good atmosphere. One of the best things a student told me was, ‘You come here and you laugh, it makes you feel so good.’ That’s why we do it.”