T is for tutor
A tutor a day can't keep the doctor away, but for patients at Children's Hospital Boston, a visit from the teacher certainly makes their hospital stay seem a little more normal.
While their classmates look forward to summer vacation, hundreds of kids in hospital beds would love to return to the routine of school. At Children's, the Child Life Services Department and a company called Education, Inc. provide that opportunity.
For most of her 37 years at the hospital, Myra Fox, director of Child Life Services, has been doing her part to make sure sick students get an education in the hospital. She has hired teachers, fought legal battles and challenged the city of Boston to pay for the education of hospitalized children. Yet she was always met with roadblocks, and finally decided that enough was enough.
"The city dictates how many hours teachers can spend with student patients, and the teachers often had problems getting paid," says Fox. "I was getting complaints from the teachers who came here, from the nurses, social workers and Child Life specialists on the floors, and from the students themselves. I thought to myself, ‘There has to be someone doing hospital tutoring.’"
She contacted Ken Munies, a former Brockton, Mass., teacher who began tutoring on the side after the parent of a sick child asked him for help. "I started tutoring more and more often and it wasn't long before I realized I enjoyed the tutoring more than the classroom," he says. "So I left the school system and started Education, Inc."
What began as a two-teacher operation in 1995 has grown into a company with nearly 300 full-time tutors who provide 1,200 hours of education per week to students throughout Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine. Of the tutors, three work full-time at Children's so they can teach patients on short notice.
Munies says tutors will tailor the program to each student's needs. "No matter how long a child is out of school, our goal is that he or she will return at the same level as their classmates." In order to be eligible for tutoring, a student must be absent from school at least 14 days of the school year.
Helping students keep up with their classmates may seem impossible given the fact that schools only pay for seven to 10 hours of teaching time each week for students receiving outside tutoring, but Munies says teachers accomplish their goal by using the same or similar materials as their fellow students. "Instead of repetition, which is how most learning is accomplished, we work one-on-one with the child. We use existing materials and are able to cover subjects in greater depth than is possible in a classroom with 20 children. For example, we will have them study a Shakespearean sonnet rather than just memorize it so they understand the meaning and the nuance."
The system seems to be working for everyone involved. Pam Clarkson, the tutoring supervisor at Children's, says this is the best teaching job she has ever had. "I feel like I'm able to give individual attention and a quality education to each child."
The hospital is also pleased. The tutors teach only subjects in which they are skilled, and all teachers who come to Children's go through training and follow the hospital's policies and procedures. In addition, Education, Inc. provides the supplies, hires and pays the tutors and charges the school district where the child is from for the cost of the patient's education.
Susan Shaw, RN, MS, director of Clinical Operations, has seen the value of having a company dedicated strictly to the education of patients. "One of the things that differentiates us at Children's is our philosophy of caring for the whole child. Education is a huge part of their lives," she says. "This program is a tangible example of how we treat them as children first and don't define them by their illness."