Keeping teacher and classmates involved

While your child is hospitalized, it is vital to his well-being to stay connected with his teacher and classmates. Children attend school not only for instruction, but also to develop communication and social skills.

The teacher should be getting updates through the advocate, but the parent can help by calling the teacher periodically and bringing notes or taped messages to the classroom. The following are suggestions for keeping the teacher and classmates involved:

• Visit for a comprehensive list of appropriate, teacher-friendly publications.

• Have the pediatric oncology nurse or social worker come to class to give a presentation about what is happening to their classmate and how he will look and feel when he returns. This should include a question and answer session to clear up misconceptions and allay fears. All children, especially teenagers, should be involved in deciding what information should be given to classmates.

• Encourage classmates to keep in touch by sending notes, calling on the phone, sending class pictures, or making a banner.

Communication was the key. I wrote weekly updates and made copies for each teacher, put their names on them, and delivered them to school. I learned that a single copy of the letter didn't get passed around to everyone. (Joel was in high school.) Some classes used a tape recorder; they all kept a record of what he'd missed. His math teacher got together with the librarian and arranged to videotape his math classes. They did so much on the board, on overheads, and with discussion in that class that an audiotape would not have helped. All teachers were willing to meet with him after or before school to essentially reteach the concepts that he had missed.

I also told his teachers it was okay to discuss Joel, his leukemia, and his treatment with the other kids in the class. They would never have done it without my okay. I tried to phrase things in my updates in a way that the kids would understand what was going on. I knew that in the absence of information, there would be rumors flying. This might not work for everyone, but it served us well.

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