It’s a one-room schoolhouse that serves students in kindergarten through 12th grade, but there is nothing old-fashioned about it.
Attached to one wall is a large-screen TV for watching science shows or communicating via Skype with classes around the country or even around the world. There are two computers, bookcases full of reading material, shelves of school supplies and a large work table in the center of the room.
Another thing about this school: Called the NIH Children’s School, it is in the pediatric unit of the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center in Bethesda. Besides tissues and a box of face masks plus the IV poles the students often drag in with them, there is no medical paraphernalia to be found.
“The school here provides an important service to pediatric patients,” Dr. John I. Gallin, director of the NIH Clinical Center, said in an email.
“It contributes to their care as these young patients aren’t forced to choose between falling behind in their education or their treatment,” Gallin said. “They keep a familiar routine, connect with other children who face similar challenges, and transition easier when they get home — all of which supports their healthy development, well-being and continued participation as patients in the life-saving research happening here.”
Since 1953, the year the center opened, teachers from the Home and Hospital Instruction Office of Montgomery County Public Schools have tutored patients up to age 18. The school system works under 10-year federal contract worth up to $2.8 million.
The workload varies from week to week, said Julianne Fuchs-Musgrave, director of the school and one of its two teachers. Sometimes there are as few as five patients and some weeks there can be 14, but she and fellow teacher Ann Malo annually work with about 100 students from across the country and around the world.
“It’s a wonderful place to work for me personally,” Fuchs-Musgrave said. “We are incredibly well supported: academic support from [the county school system] and support within the clinical center. Both entities really want us here.”
Jameire Covin, 10, who was diagnosed with aplastic anemia when he was 2, is a fifth-grader from Long Branch, N.J. He has been a patient at the clinical center since October and studies with Malo most days.
Jameire’s favorite subject is math, but on April 11 he and Malo were working on his book report on “Dinosaurs Before Dark” one of the “Magic Tree House” series by Mary Pope Osborne.
Dillon Papier, 11, of Frederick has Niemann-Pick type C disease — an inability to metabolize cholesterol that leads to neurological impairment — and spends one week each month at NIH, said his mother, Darrile Papier. He was working with Fuchs-Musgrave on reading and telling time.
“Having Dillon maintain the school work through the week he is here is helpful,” Papier said. “His teachers [appreciate] that he is not behind.”
Another bonus to the program is that it is a change of routine for both the patients and their parents, Fuchs-Musgrave said.
“Some [kids] see this as an escape, they enjoy being here, to be able to get out of their rooms,” she said. “It’s a break from medical procedures and the medical atmosphere. It offers them continuity and, in some cases, a sense of normalcy.”