Hospitalized youngsters given chance to catch up

| Sunday, March 24, 2013, 8:28 p.m.

Emery Do didn't care much for reading.

Then the youngster started using an iPad provided through a Children's Hospital school program.

“He didn't want ABCs,” said his mother, Thu Huynh, 49, of Mt. Oliver. “When Mr. T. (his teacher) showed him ‘Green Eggs & Ham,' he loved it.”

Emery, 5, a kidney transplant patient, is one of 45 students who used iPads the hospital school program bought with a $60,000 grant from Wal-Mart Foundation.

A special needs student with motor skill issues who attends Pittsburgh Pioneer, Emery took to the touchscreen computer with enthusiasm.

“It's unbelievable how quickly he learned,” said teacher Lu Taleb, 54, of Highland Park.

“The kindergarten kids know more about it than you and I.”

The school program at Children's is designed to fill gaps in the school year that could result from an extended hospital stay. The free program provides education to students in kindergarten through 12th grade, including special education, through teachers from Pittsburgh Public Schools.

“They're trying to provide some sense of normalcy. ... Some kids are very seriously ill,” said Dalhart Dobbs, coordinator of homebound services, who oversees the district's participation in the program.

“It's important to give them a sense of being normal.”

The hospital's newly redesigned classroom features state-of-the-art technology — an interactive SMARTboard, iPads, video conferencing and desktop computers. For those who can't get to the classroom, a mobile SMARTboard and the iPads allow five teachers to bring the classroom to them.

The time students spend in school is dictated by their medical needs.

“We individualize everything around their medical schedule,” said Raeanna Paterson, 24, of Leechburg, who coordinates the program. “We give them a chance to catch up. ... For some kids, it's the difference between passing and failing.”

The hospital school program follows the Pittsburgh school calendar, making teachers available Mondays through Fridays between 8:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. Students typically spend 60 to 90 minutes a day in the classroom.

That day-to-day school activity can calm them and provide a sense of familiarity, hospital officials said. It enables pupils to do work from home and earn attendance credit, making the transition back to regular school easier.

In-hospital school programs are offered at medical facilities across the country, from Philadelphia to Seattle.

The Children's Hospital grant was awarded through Wal-Mart's State Giving Program, which has an annual budget of about $1 million and is designed specifically for Pennsylvania organizations, company spokesman Bill Wertz said.

“They are chosen by Wal-Mart employees within the state and reflect the needs of the community,” he said. “In general, we try to impact programs in hunger, job development, education and hospitals.”

In Pennsylvania, Wal-Mart stores, Sam's Club locations and the Wal-Mart Foundation gave more than $17 million in cash and in-kind donations to organizations in 2011, the latest figures available.

Craig Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5646 or

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