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Normalcy through cancer treatment: A look inside the St. Jude School program

Posted at 7:49 PM, Mar 02, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-03 11:16:16-05

MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Missing school, especially in the early years, can often lead to lifelong learning difficulties. It’s the reason why those at St. Jude Research Children’s Hospital place an emphasis on access to education for its cancer patients.

Those at the St. Jude School program consider it more of a dedication to making sure kids are also caught up on their schoolwork.

“You see the kids smile because they are going to get to do school, and then they realize it's only three times a week. So they smile because of that,” said Randy Thompson.

Thompson serves as principal of the St. Jude School Program and says when children are busy fighting cancer, care comes in many forms.

“So really focus on the total child,” he said. “And what their actual needs for that day actually are.”

He says the slightest resemblance of home can make children fighting cancer feel normal and give them hope.

Thompson says the school program is K-12 with all the normal curriculum, giving each child a normal education while also working with their health care team.

And the best part, according to Thompson, is it takes the pressure off missing school back home, especially for the parents.

“You can see the parents’ relief because they don’t have to worry about school. It makes all the difference for them,” he said.

And perhaps the school’s most notable curriculum is music therapy, which is tailored to fit the needs of the patient and the family.

Thompson says not every day is a win, but that’s when the school adjusts.

“We know that if today is not a good day to do the math, we may do UNO and play math for the day just to help the kids,” he said.

Education is important. And there’s an unlikely dose of medicine found in the classroom at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

As patients attend school, it provides reassurance that the lessons they learn today they’ll use in the future after they beat cancer and get back to living a normal childhood.