Helping Mott patients get back to school
It’s back-to-school time, a chance for children to reacquaint themselves with friends, tackle new challenges and — of course — learn.
For some patients at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, physically going back to school may not be a viable option. That’s where two UMHS employees step in.
Brenda Henne and Beth Stuchell devote their days to supporting school engagement and academic progress for Mott patients.
“Our patients were students before coming to Mott, and they will be students after leaving the hospital,” said Henne, an educational specialist for pediatric hemodialysis and the comprehensive eating disorders program. “We provide an opportunity for our patients to be students while staying with us as well.”
‘The ultimate team players’
Henne provides direct academic instruction to patients, often sitting in while they get medical treatment.
“I’ve sat in with a child while he or she gets dialysis,” Henne said. “School is such a normal thing for families who have now been handed a new normal. We use academic instruction and support to bring them back to that comfortable setting.”
On top of individual instruction, Mott’s team of educators — which includes learning specialists in the child and adolescent psychiatry unit and a teacher at the pediatric rehabilitation center — also provides small-group instruction.
At all times, the focus remains on the well-being and health of the patient.
“We work incredibly closely with our psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers,” said Stuchell, a school intervention specialist for pediatric hematology, oncology, blood and marrow transplants. “We’re fully integrated with the medical team so we know where our patient’s health lies. Because of that, we understand when it’s time to step up and when it’s time to step back.”
If a patient is having a rough day, instruction can wait, Stuchell said. “We move and flow with our medical teams. We’re the ultimate team players.”
Stuchell and Henne don’t just play an important role within the walls of Mott; they go out into the community as well.
“We do extensive re-entry services,” Henne said. “Beth and I go out to schools and we help them prepare for a return of a patient and family.”
Why is this so important? Some students treated at Mott will be returning to school with changes to their hair, skin or weight. They may be predisposed to feeling ‘different’ from their classmates.
Therefore, Stuchell and Henne will educate kids and teachers about the medical treatment the student received and prep them to be a strong support system once the patient returns to school.
If old enough, the re-entry meetings sometimes include the patients themselves.
Stuchell said the meetings are some of the most satisfying parts of the job. They represent her team’s ultimate goal — and part of UMHS’ mission — to help a patient gain the strength and confidence to head back to school and take control of his or her future.
“I’ve gone to re-entry meetings where the student does all the talking,” Stuchell said. “And we’ve empowered our kids to do that. It’s truly amazing.”
Henne agreed. To her, a child’s future is why she remains so dedicated to her patients.
“I’ll sometimes get high school graduation photos from some of the students I used to work with,” Henne said. “That’s profound. That’s as satisfying as it gets.”