By Mark Rudi

From Patient To Pupil

Hospital program allows children receiving long-term care to attend school

For some kids school is a breeze. They spend most of their day looking forward to the upcoming pep-rally, gossiping with their friends or putting off the homework they should really have done yesterday. But for kids who are in and out of the hospital or receiving long-term medical care, attending school or keeping up with their classwork can be a major challenge.

A new program at The University of New Mexico Children's Hospital is aiming to change that. Mimbres School - a state-accredited, year-round school - has been at the UNM Children's Psychiatric Center for some time, but thanks to a donation from the Credit Union Association of New Mexico, the program has been extended to the Child Life program at UNM Children's Hospital to create the New Mexico Credit Unions Connected Academy. The credit unions announced last spring they would donate $81,000 per year for 10 years to fund the program - enough money to a hire a full-time teacher.

The new school, which is in its fourth week, currently has five children enrolled and serves elementary through high school students.

Monica Garcia Roach, the program's new teacher, seemed like a natural fit. She worked in Child Life as a Child Development Specialist for the past three years and prior to that, was a teacher for nine years for the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and Albuquerque Public Schools. Garcia Roach has taught second, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grades.

"The kids are excited and are like, 'I want to go to school,'" Garcia Roach said. "And they are excited to be a part of Mimbres School. I think the parents, they trust the hospital. Their kids are here for years, they are getting treatment and they have full trust in the nurses, the doctors and the staff. Being able to come to school here means a great deal to them. Everything is here for them, and they know they have the support they need."

Not only are the children excited to go to school, but it's also a relief for the parents, as their child can now stay on track with their schoolwork.

"When you tell them (the parents) what we have to offer, there is relief," Garcia Roach said. "Because they have a sick child and their focus is on that. But at the same time, they are trying to juggle . . . other kids at home, their work and now they have to become the teacher or provide the school for them because they cannot attend school. With this opportunity here, the parents are so happy because now that is taken off their plate. "

The program enrolls students throughout the year and students can complete their work at their own pace. And because UNM Children's Hospital - the state's only dedicated children's hospital - treats patients from all over New Mexico, the program covers the entire state.

Mimbres School principal Jeremy Abshire said the feedback for the new program has been positive.

"Hopefully, it's just the first pebble in the pond and we can grow from there and show how many kids are succeeding because of this," Abshire said. "It's life-changing for these kids. Every kid that is going to come through the program is going to have a future now they didn't have before. The chances of you missing one year of school and graduating are pretty thin, especially when you have other obstacles. For all these kids that come through here, it's completely life-changing."