Perth Children’s Hospital school helping students stay on track and smiling
Sienna Martucci has Ewing’s Sarcoma and is undergoing treatment at Perth Children’s Hospital. (ABC News: Rebecca Carmody)
Sienna Martucci was, until recently, like any other 16-year-old girl. She loved going to school, hanging out with friends and playing basketball.
She had been dealing with persistent back pain for about a year, but for the most part was able to shrug it off — until August, when her suffering became unbearable.
A shock diagnosis followed and before the teenager could fully digest the news, she was in Perth Children’s Hospital (PCH) undergoing chemotherapy to treat Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare type of cancer that occurs in and around the bones.
Not surprisingly, the Year 10 student from Woodvale Secondary College has missed a lot of school, with multiple rounds of chemotherapy required to rid her of the cancer.
But instead of feeling stressed about missing so many lessons, she is grateful that she has been able to keep somewhat on track, with the help of the hospital’s very own teachers.
The hospital’s classrooms provide children with the next best thing to their own schools. (ABC News: Rebecca Carmody)
PCH has the equivalent of 30 full-time teachers spread over eight classrooms throughout the hospital, working for the Education Department’s School of Special Education Needs: Medical and Mental Health.
“I enjoy school and I get really bored when I have no school to do … so I actually like coming to do school here,” Sienna said.
“It’s fun and the teachers are nice. I like it.
“Yesterday, I did a whole day of maths but on my other days I’m not feeling too well to do school.”
‘She just wants normality’, mother says
Sienna wants to study a Bachelor of Nursing or Midwifery and does not want to fall too far behind.
Natalie Martucci is pleased her daughter is able to keep learning despite chemotherapy. (ABC News: Rebecca Carmody)
“I just like how they’re helping people. That’s what I want to be able to do, help people,” she said.
Sienna’s mother, Natalie, said the teachers at PCH had been in regular contact with Woodvale Secondary College, to give her daughter up-to-date work.
“She probably has missed out a lot at school, but knowing we’ve got this facility, I feel like at least she’s getting something [and] she’s not missing out completely,” she said.
“For Sienna, she just wants normality, and I think this is the best way to keep it sort of normal for her.
“You know if she didn’t have the schooling here, she’d probably be pulling her hair out.”
Hospital teaching has long history
While PCH was only opened this year, the school has existed in one form or another since 1943, when teachers first provided in-hospital support.
Acting Principal Caleb Jones said he had noticed a big difference in students’ willingness to engage, since moving from Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH) to PCH in June.
He said larger classrooms featuring views of Kings Park and cheerful decor gave them extra impetus to get out of bed and come to class.
“The facilities are so up to date and fantastic that you’ve always got this sense of fresh light and airy space, and it gives you a positive feeling about where you’re working,” Mr Jones said.
Acting Principal Caleb Jones says the idea is to keep students connected with their old school. (ABC News: Rebecca Carmody)
“Most of our classrooms have a really open outlook to the outside world, so it’s a beautiful place to work.”
Overall, the school has 83 full and part-time staff, and while the bulk of those are based at PCH, there are teachers at hospitals statewide.
Mr Jones said his teachers would come into contact with up to 450 students per week and as many as 6,000 students per year, ranging from kindergarten to Year 12, in hospital for both short and long-term stays.
The PCH school has larger classrooms with bright decor and views of Kings Park. (ABC News: Rebecca Carmody)
When students can not get out of bed — which is often the case, especially in the oncology ward — teachers will go to them.
The school is also using robot technology to link students with their enrolled school classes if required.
“Our hope is that young people engage not so much with us, but with their enrolled school, and that in the long-term they can maintain and continue their participation and learning from their old school and have an identity there,” Mr Jones said.
Angela Scott is one of 83 school staff based at PCH and hospitals statewide. (ABC News: Rebecca Carmody)
Angela Scott, who has been teaching at PMH and PCH for more than two years, said the job brought special rewards.
“We see students come in who are really quite unwell and often a lot of them don’t feel like they can cope with their education,” she said.
“So the small things we do here make a big difference to them.
“Often they’ve missed out on a lot of schooling, so it’s great to see how they are very encouraged by the teaching we do here and feeling a real sense of delight in taking those educational steps that perhaps they wouldn’t have done in a large mainstream school.
“My biggest reward in working here is the fact that I can leave the classroom and see each individual student put their shoulders back, head held high, because they’ve actually mastered something they thought they couldn’t master.”
Pre-primary student Yonatan is among thousands who benefit from hospital teaching statewide. (ABC News: Rebecca Carmody)
‘Hopefully I’ll become a doctor’: Patients inspired
Guilford Grammar student Vishal Pindoria has a vestibular disorder which affects his inner ear and has caused him to miss school intermittently for a number of years.
15-year-old Vishal Pindoria has been forced to take time off school due to illness. (ABC News: Rebecca Carmody)
Time spent in hospital watching doctors help others has inspired the 15-year-old to study medicine and ultimately become a paediatric adrenal surgeon.
Vishal is acutely aware he will need to do well at school to achieve his dream goal.
“I’m in Year 10 so I’ve got ATAR next year, so this is a very big help and especially for kids who come here and they’re not very well,” he said.
“I’ve got quite a bit of pain so coming here is a massive distraction … so that’s quite good.
“They’ve got a whole range of teachers here which is good, so you can have help in anything.
“Hopefully I’ll become a doctor and work hard.”
There are a total of eight classrooms at Perth Children’s Hospital. (ABC News: Rebecca Carmody)
School facilities world class, Minister says
Education Minister Sue Ellery recently toured the school at PCH and was impressed with what she saw.
“The school facilities at Perth Children’s Hospital are among some of the best in the world,” she said.
“It is so important students have access to high quality education, regardless of their circumstances or where they live.
“This school and its fantastic staff are very unique — not only are they teachers, they are carers, friends, and smiling faces during what can be a very challenging and difficult time for students and their families.
“For those students who are staying at the hospital for an extended period of time, the lessons are a welcome respite, and it was incredible to see how it adds a smile to their faces.”
After three weeks at PCH, pre-primary student Savannah is still smiling. (ABC News: Rebecca Carmody)