St. Jude education program helps children undergoing treatment stay in school

St. Jude Dream Home

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — The St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is known for treating and defeating cancer, while families never have to worry about a bill.

For children undergoing treatment, that includes participating in St. Jude’s fully accredited K-12 school on campus.

Teachers at the school program work to make learning seamless so children don’t fall behind.

“The initial shock of being told your kid has been diagnosed with cancer, you can’t even fathom what that would mean to a parent,” Academic Coordinator Justin Gardener said. “When that initial shock wears off, they start to worry about these normal, everyday things that their kids are going to miss out on.”

Gardener started teaching at St. Jude in 2002. He says school offers a familiar and reassuring routine for kids.

“Sometimes kids are here for two, three, four months at a time, and that’s a long time to miss school,” Gardener said. “So I think it’s a reassurance that we’re really trying to treat the whole kid and take care of them.”

St. Jude has 10 teachers on staff who each instruct about 20 children with lessons from their own schools or curriculum developed in-house.

“We stay in close contact with their community teachers. We share curriculum, we share grades and assignments and things. We want them to still feel plugged into their friends back at home,” Gardener said.

For students not able to get to St. Jude’s classrooms, the teachers will instruct at their bedside. Gardener says his favorite part of teaching kids at St. Jude is celebrating their academic milestones.

“Celebrating milestones with our kids is one of the best experiences here. It’s what we look forward to,” Gardener said. “When you think about all the little things that our kids might miss, St. Jude really tries to provide those. We’re talking about prom every year, high school graduation, kindergarten graduation.”

Gardener says he sees the classes giving kids hope every day that they’re going to get better, and when you buy a ticket for the St. Jude Dream Home, you’re not only contributing to children’s treatments, but you help kids stay in school.

“When they walk in the door, we want them to have that normalcy and be students and kids and not patients,” Gardener said.

To further benefit families at St. Jude, the annual Dream Home contest is ongoing now. Only 7,000 tickets are available in the local contest.

Georgia residents have two ways to enter: you can reserve a ticket online or call 800-383-9844 to reserve your $100 ticket. South Carolina residents must call the number to enter.

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