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Hospital teacher helps ill youngsters keep up with school work

By Staff | Sep 29, 2010

A teacher with almost 40 years of experience joined the Lee Memorial Health System as the Children’s Hospital school teacher two years ago to help children who are hospitalized for long periods of time.
When a child is absent from school for 14 consecutive days, they are assigned a home-bound teacher by state law.
Michele King, director of the Child Advocacy Program for the Children’s Hospital, said they began the hospital school program six years ago to prevent children from falling through the cracks with any school work they have missed.
She said the hospital staff approached the school district because they felt their hands were tied with the guidelines that need to be followed for the homebound school teachers. King said they wanted to have a full-time school teacher as a hospital employee to help the children when they were hospitalized for consecutive days in a row.
The Lee County and Collier County School District, along with the Lee Memorial Health System Foundation, pitched in about a third to initially fund the hospital school teacher program.
Mary Tlachac, executive director of the Suncoast for Kids Foundation, said due to its 20-year partnership with Lee Memorial Health System, it came as a perfect fit to form that partnership with the Children’s Hospital for the teacher program.
About four years ago the Suncoast for Kids Foundation decided to support the school program at the Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida. The foundation decided to designate a portion of non-member ATM fees collected at the facilities to be donated to the program.
She said the mission of the foundation is to “support education, health and emotional well-being of children.”
“It’s a win-win situation for the hospital, kids and foundation,” Tlachac said.
The Suncoast for Kids Foundation provides about two-thirds of the funding or approximately $65,000, Lee County offered about one-third of the funds or $18,000 and Collier County provided approximately $7,800 last year.
King said the funds go towards Children’s Hospital School Teacher Tom Mango’s salary, materials, books, laptop and educational games.
She said the hospital school program provides the kids who are hospitalized with an opportunity to keep up with their classmates.
“We are trying to avoid a child repeating a year,” King said.
Mango has been in education for almost 38 years, previously in Ohio in Newton Falls. The graduate of Youngstown State University began working for Lee Memorial two years ago on Sept. 29.
He said he was ready to teach the kids because he is a school teacher, but he was not ready for the emotional aspect of the job.
Mango said his shift begins by visiting the second floor of the Children’s Hospital and going through a list of names. He says he then picks out those who are age appropriate for the program and finds out the current condition they are in, along with seeing if they are able to work on their schoolwork.
He has access to developmental activities for all the subject areas, so he has the materials he needs to work with the kids.
Some children he works hands-on with and others he provides the materials for them to work by themselves. Mango said the kids who are in high school are pretty savvy with the labtops and are are good at finding the resources they need to do their homework.
Wednesday afternoon Mango helped 5-year-old Koreeanna Myers with her math skills. The two sat next to each other, counting and coloring in circles with gold and red. When Myers needed help with drawing the number, Mango drew a dotted number for her to trace.
Myers said she looks forward to seeing “Mr. Tom” while at the hospital with her favorite subject being reading.
“I get excited,” Myers said about his visits.
LaBelle resident Marbella Bustamante’s 8-year-old daughter, Nayeli, also reaps from the benefits of having an in-house hospital teacher at her side. Her daughter, who attends Country Oaks Elementary School, was hospitalized on Sept. 17 due to a chronic illness, which is the second time she has been admitted for a long stay.
Bustamante said it is terrible and hard to watch your child go through an illness, but she is thankful for the help Mango provides to her daughter while she is in the hospital.
She said Mango helps her daughter a great deal because when someone comes in to her room it makes “her happy.”
“I believe it helps her to get caught up with school, so she doesn’t have to work harder and feel overwhelmed,” Bustamante said. She said Mango helps her achieve the level she needs to be at, so she does not feel overwhelmed when she goes back to school.
Mango said thanks to the program he can help enrich the lives of the children. He said he enjoys working with the children because he reminds them of the world they live in outside of the hospital.
Mango said he can change the attitude of the children while they are in the hospital and make it a brighter day for them.
More than 1,300 students benefited from the Children’s Hospital School Program last year.