When kids do their homework – in hospitals

More youth have been employed or doing their national service in hospitals, under a new framework.

CLASS IS in session at Shachar, the Rehabilitation Educational Medical Day Care Center at Jerusalem’s ALYN Hospital.  (photo credit: NOA ARAD)
CLASS IS in session at Shachar, the Rehabilitation Educational Medical Day Care Center at Jerusalem’s ALYN Hospital.
(photo credit: NOA ARAD)
‘One of our goals is for Ori to be able to get up from the bed by himself and walk out of the room,” says Tili Gamlieli, whose seven-year-old son, Ori, has cancer. “Also, we want him to be able to connect with how he was before his life was turned upside down. One day, all of a sudden, he was told, ‘You’re not going to be able to go to school anymore.’”
Unlike other children his age, who are now in the second grade, Ori didn’t get to go back to the school he learned at last year. Instead, since being diagnosed with cancer, he’s been a student in a school that meets in the oncology unit at the Dana-Dwek Children’s Hospital at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv.
Speaking to The Magazine late last year, Gamlieli said, “Ori was hospitalized in April, and has to go there for treatments until at least the end of December. Every two weeks he undergoes treatment that lasts between three to five days. During the treatment, whenever he feels well enough, we make sure that he gets at least one of two one-on-one lessons. He participates in this school only on the days when he has to be in the hospital.”
“I really like it when the bnot sherut girls [national service volunteers] play with us,” says Ori. “I was very excited when the school year started again since my favorite teachers are always making sure that I didn’t miss out on anything that’s going on. They are very sensitive and they’re always trying to make sure that we’re not in pain. I love learning with them.”
There are currently 40 schools operating under the auspices of the special education division within hospitals. One new framework was initiated at the start of this academic year. Of all the schools that are currently in operation, nine of them are located in psychiatric hospitals; five are in hospices; and one is in a rehabilitative hospital. The rest are situated in general hospitals.
Every year, 60,000 children on average in Israel receive some sort of schooling services in the hospital. Some years, this number can even reach 80,000. The Education Ministry offers these services to children who are admitted to the hospital for stays as short as three days.
“The fact that Ori spends his day in a learning environment is very significant. It gives him the feeling that he’s accomplishing something,” explains Gamlieli. “Of course, it is extremely helpful that when he goes back to school in January he won’t be behind the rest of the kids in his reading and writing skills. Ori loves the idea of being able to go to school in the hospital. He’s doing lessons in English, Hebrew language and math, and also they give him lots of extra-credit projects to work on. The staff are very sweet and encouraging, and they are in touch with his teachers at his regular school. They also make sure to give him instruction on his level.
“Last June, they even gave him a certificate at a festive graduation ceremony, certifying that he’d completed first grade in the hospital school. The teachers wrote comments on it, just like they would have in a normal school. As his mother, I’m so grateful that he feels like he’s accomplished something and is constantly engaged in interesting work. It’s so easy to just stay in bed all day and not do anything, which can quickly lead to depression. It’s important to me that he keep up at the level of his class back home. It gives him great confidence.”
“Schools that operate in hospitals help keep children emotionally stable, happy and confident that they will be able to integrate smoothly back into their home school when they regain their health,” says Orit Luchtenstein, the director of the Dana Educational Center at Ichilov Hospital. “And parents are happy that their children are continuing to learn and play and carry on feeling relatively normal. We work with children from age three to 21.”
What’s a typical school day like in the hospital?
“We begin the day at 8:30 am by making rounds of all the hospital rooms and inviting the children to come to the kindergarten or school room to take part in the fun activities. If they’re not well enough to come to us, they can do some of the projects in their room. Our curriculum has been approved by the Israel Ministry of Education, and was especially adapted for kids who are in the hospital.
“We have a special class to prepare kids for first grade, and another to help prepare high school-age students for their matriculation exams. Each kid does however much work they have energy for. Our program is multicultural and multilingual – we can teach in Hebrew, Arabic and Russian. And for kids who want a little more, we also offer robotics, silver crafting, and comics. We also try to connect the children with each other.
“We have children suffering from a variety of chronic problems who are well enough to live at home, but they still need educational intervention to keep up with the schoolwork,” explains Tal Cohen, director of the Shachar Department (Rehabilitation, Education and Medicine) at ALYN Hospital in Jerusalem.
“We currently have 70 children enrolled in our scholastic program. Young children from six months to three years old are in the daycare, and from age three to 21, they learn in our school. Our goal is to make sure the children can integrate back into their regular school as soon as they are well enough, and for their home schools to be equipped to take them back.”
Do the children look forward to coming to your school?
“The kids pretty much get excited about our school the same way they do about their schools back home. For toddlers, many times this is the first time their parents can get back to any sort of regular routine. Many of them spent the first few months of their lives in the hospital undergoing complex treatments, and this is their first time being in a daycare setting with other children.
“It’s scary for them, but also exciting to be with people who haven’t been with you during every minute of your medical saga. It’s not easy for parents to trust us with their children, but we are very skilled at dealing with everything. We have social workers, educators and nurses to help make the process smooth. Some of the children are connected to a ventilator or other medical equipment, and so of course the parents are eager to understand exactly what type of medical staff are on site to offer emergency care if needed. But we make a huge effort to make the kids feel like they’re in a regular school. We welcome them with smiles and anyone coming into our school will see lots of exciting and original activity taking place.”
You’ve probably encountered many amazing cases.
“Oh, yes. We had one little girl who came to us when she was 18 months old. She was almost completely immobile and on a ventilator. By the time she turned three, she was pushing herself around in an electric wheelchair. She felt very independent, although of course there were always staff people around to supervise her. It was wonderful to see how proud she was that she had control over her body, that she could choose herself where to go.
“It’s very important to us to create a personalized curriculum for each student,” continues Cohen. “For example, we provide computers for children who can’t talk with their mouths. This way, they learn how to formulate full sentences. We have a lot of experience and determination, and we try to come up with solutions that will satisfy each child’s needs.”
“Yael, who is nine years old, has been at ALYN for two years now,” explains her mother Stefanie Maimon. “She has a serious muscle disorder and is on a ventilator. Physically, her body does not work so well, but cognitively, she is great – she talks, reads and understands everything. She learns grammar, math, and science on a first grade level. She’s in second grade here at ALYN. Last year, she would study in the school at ALYN all week, and then on Fridays she’d go to her regular school at home in Jerusalem in a class of 13 girls. Her friends would come over to the house to see her. It was absolutely amazing.”
What’s the plan for her in the future?
“Well, she’ll continue learning and preparing to integrate back into a regular school. If she’s unhappy there, we can always move her back to the school at ALYN. Right now, we’re hoping that she’ll do three days a week at ALYN and three days a week at her regular school.”
Does she manage to get all the homework done?
“She gets homework just like any regular student, but because she can’t hold a pencil, she writes on the computer using a joystick. My daughter has a chance to have a great life all because of ALYN. Yael was so excited to go back to school this fall. She may not be like most kids physically, but she still has a lot of capabilities.”
“I love the physical education class where we played soccer,” adds Yael herself. “I have lots of friends there and I love seeing them every time. I also really like the bnot sherut who help us in class.”
Nicole Segal, the director of the Educational Center at Soroka Hospital in Beersheba, says that they began the school year with 230 students.
“We have a staff of 35 teachers, plus the bnot sherut and [other] volunteers. You need to be an emotionally strong person to work with these kids. Thankfully, most of the kids get better and are able to go back to their regular schools, but some of them unfortunately don’t, and that’s really tough on all of us.
“We get very attached to our students, and when one dies, we gather everyone together, have a good cry and then offer each other supportive words so that we can move on and help the rest of our students. On the other hand, it feels so good to know that we’re helping all these kids to retain a bit of normalcy in their lives.”

Translated by Hannah Hochner.