A young child in a mask looking at a tablet while their getting an infusion
By El Gibson

Patient Pupils

UNM Children’s Hospital Mimbres School Receives Funding to Develop STEM Programming

Torc Robotics and Virgin Galactic recently donated a total of $7,500 to develop child-friendly fun and educational programming to the Mimbres School at The University of New Mexico Children’s Hospital.

Mimbres School educator Jennifer Jung connected with the UNM Foundation soon after she joined the team in 2022 to increase hands-on educational programming for students. Jung worked with Audriana Law from the UNM Foundation on the grant applications, citing the need to launch a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) program at the school.

“With STEM, you can bring in all the curriculum areas a child needs,” Jung said. “We’re doing really well with the beginning steps and I’m excited to see where it goes from here.”

The school received a $5,000 grant from Torc Robotics and $2,500 from Virgin Galactic. Items purchased with grant funds include transportable STEM carts, which hold child-friendly STEM-related activities that can be transported to bed-bound patients, hospital classrooms or the Child Life area.

It’s fun, but it’s also a great way to learn. It’s something that they can do if they’re sitting in a chair or a bed, and they’re still able to participate
Jeremy Abshire, Mimbres School Principal

“It’s fun, but it’s also a great way to learn,” said principal Jeremy Abshire. “It’s something that they can do if they’re sitting in a chair or a bed, and they’re still able to participate.”

The state-accredited year-round school serves the educational needs of the hospital’s pediatric patients, from elementary through high school. The Mimbres School currently enrolls about 20 full-time patients who are unable to attend their home schools due to extended stays in the hospital or ongoing treatments for a chronic illness, such as chemotherapy or dialysis.

“We found that we had a lot of kids who, because of their conditions, weren’t able to physically attend school,” Abshire said. “We have quite a few kids we work with in the infusion unit who are missing school twice or three times a week. That’s a significant amount of school to miss, so we’ll work with them.”

Some other items purchased with the grant money included an introductory mechanical engineering kit with a step-by-step illustrated storybook manual, guiding the construction of eight different robots, Jung said. This kit was provided to one young patient in the infusion unit, where he is being introduced to engineering concepts, developing fine motor skills, working on his reading, and having fun while building the large, cubic pieces.

“We have to find things that are good for him to be able to do in his lap or on a tray table,” she said. “He’s been really enjoying it.”

The school began at the UNM Children’s Psychiatric Center, but was expanded in 2019 to the Child Life program at UNM Children’s Hospital after the Credit Union Association of New Mexico provided the school with a 10-year, $810,000 grant. That money was used to hire a full-time teacher.

“As we developed and took on more kids, the school expanded beyond what one teacher could cover,” Abshire said. “We’ve changed every year, and the pandemic definitely caused us to take a significant left turn, but now it’s going in the right direction.”

Each patient receives a custom-tailored curriculum, depending on their needs and capacities. Some students are enrolled full time, while others receive supplementary education while still attending their home schools.

“We try to serve all kids in the hospital the best way we can based on what they need,” Abshire said. “The kids that we see don’t fit the traditional role, so we don’t want to force them into a traditional program. Every kid has a unique program set to their needs.”

The eventual goal is to collaborate with the UNM School of Engineering to encourage Mimbres School students to explore STEM subjects.

“It’s good for the students to see what’s out there and see what they can do as far as career choices, as far as the limitations they may have,” Abshire said. “We’re a small group, so we don’t pretend to be the experts on everything.”

Abshire said there are also opportunities for other community partners in the future.

“There really is no limit to how the community could be involved,” Abshire said. “We can’t do this with just a few of us, so we really embrace the ‘it takes a village’ mantra.”

Categories: Children's Hospital, Community Engagement, Education, News You Can Use, Top Stories, UNM Hospital