SPOKANE, Wash. – Inside Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital, there is a new program helping kids cope with being diagnosed with cancer.
It has nothing to do with medication or treatment but it is changing lives.
Inside the hospital, there is a classroom but it is not your typical classroom. It is designed for children battling what is often-times a life threatening disease or illness.
"It isn't a traditional classroom at all. Usually we have two to three kids in here at a time because we just never know who's well enough to come out of their room for the day," said Andrew Rypien School Program Clinical Social Worker Maggie Rowe.
Rowe is a social worker by trade and the driving force behind the effort to educate kids in the Children’s Hospital. The school program has been up and running for about year, but the classroom is brand new. Rowe said it is more than just a space to learn.
“It’s meant the world, I mean it’s just a lot better than being in a hospital room,” Logan Temple said.
Temple is now in remission and has his sights set on college. He is among the dozens of students served by the school program since its launch.
During the last school year, it served 230 kids with a medical diagnosis and 60 kids on the behavioral health unit. So far in the 2017-2018 school year, the program has helped roughly 70 kids. The program consists of just three full time staff, including a social worker, a teacher and an educator’s assistant. There is also a team of 10 volunteers who teach a variety of subjects to kids of all ages.
Ryker Hardy is in the sixth grade and is battling osteosarcoma. When he is not able to make it to the classroom, a teacher comes to him. He would rather be with his friends in school. But, he enjoys the lessons and his mom is thankful for them.
“I think it is an awesome program and I was really excited to hear about it and that was one of my biggest concerns when the doctor said he would not be able to attend school this entire school year,” said Ryker’s mom, Crystal.
The program exists in large part because of former NFL Quarterback, Mark Rypien. His foundation provided a grant to hire the staff and pay for the classroom. For Rypien, the goal is pretty simple.
“If they're in the hospital for a long period of time our goal is to make sure these kids get an opportunity for higher education," he said.
It is a cause that is close to his heart. He lost his son to cancer nearly 20 years ago.
“To honor my son Andrew this way is awesome, and I'm very grateful," he said.
As for Rowe, she is thrilled to now have a classroom and the equipment to engage students, like Ryker and Logan, and keep them focused on learning instead of illness or disease.
“So there's a huge body of research and evidence behind keeping kids mentally strong and focused and distracted in a lot of ways to help them cope with some of the worst experiences that they could have in the hospital,” she said.
Rowe said their program relies on volunteer teachers and they are always looking for people to help.
The hospital-based school is funded by a grant through the Rypien Foundation. If you are looking to donate to a local organization doing good things in our community, this would certainly be one of them.