For many hospitals and care providers working with school-age patients, a quality hospital academic program can be a key differentiator; yet developing an academic program can be challenging—especially if it’s not your area of expertise. Navigating the design of the program, scheduling, building a curriculum, managing student needs, addressing parent concerns, and addressing local and federal requirements can quickly become overwhelming for hospital program administrators.
While undergoing treatment, your school-aged patients will experience school absences that range from a few days to a few months. It is important for these students to maintain as much academic consistency as possible. However, for many students receiving behavioral health treatment, school can be a trigger for their mental health challenges. Therefore, the in-treatment academic program—especially the relationship between the student and the teacher at your facility—is key to their healing process.
Working with an external partner that specializes in developing and delivering academic education programs for hospitals and treatment facilities may be helpful in providing guidance for how to best support your mental health school-aged patients. Regardless of how you approach the challenge, there are some key components that all play a role in the success of your hospital or treatment facility academic programming:
1. The Teacher
It’s important that hospital teachers have both the technical skills needed to deliver academics, as well as the soft skills needed to manage a non-traditional classroom. Because the duration of time a school-aged patient may require academics during treatment can vary greatly, there may be new students entering the classroom every day. This presents an even greater challenge given that every student may be also be working at a different ability level. The success of your academic program will be impacted by the teacher’s ability to quickly establish a relationship with the students in this environment, identify student challenges and skill levels, and be agile and resilient while managing a variety of classroom behaviors.
2. Patient Schedules
Academic programming plays a critical role in the students’ path to wellness and should be a key component to the treatment schedule. Unlike standard in-school education, hospital-based academic programs have to meet the varying schedules of school-aged patients. It’s important to develop a concrete schedule for “school” as it is a part of providing stabilization for your school-aged patients. Because the clinical schedule has many important components throughout the day, lessons need to be designed to achieve short “bursts” of engaging academic instruction daily.
While the best way to keep students engaged is to obtain and support progress on their schoolwork from their home district, often times that is not possible (based on decisions by the district or parent/guardian). Therefore, providing an engaging “in-house” curriculum that is age-appropriate, high-interest, and aligned with each individual’s development will be critical for supporting a positive patient experience.
Despite the importance of developing a quality classroom curriculum, this task can be challenging for hospitals and treatment facilities, and often is not a top priority. When developing curriculum for the treatment environment, it’s important to account for the wide disparity of student knowledge and skill gaps. Lesson material should be aligned to state/Common Core Standards and tiered in order to flexibly support these different abilities. This will help your school-aged patients maintain academic progress with their peers and ease the transition back into the school environment.
Academics are an important component of the treatment program, but unless parents/guardians consent to participation, your school-age patients are unable to benefit from this important element of their care. It is important to provide clear communication with parents/guardians about what takes place during academic programming and how their decisions impact communication with their child’s school district, including obtaining their schoolwork. Communication with parents/guardians should also explain the benefits of academic programming as part of ongoing treatment.
5. Your Patient’s School Districts
In developing a quality academic program for hospitals and treatment facilities, it’s important to have an established relationship with the surrounding school districts. Each district has an established process for approving payment for academic services and obtaining students’ schoolwork. Ongoing communication with each patient’s home district helps facilitate collaboration on each patient’s academic progress during treatment and support their re-entry into the traditional school classroom after discharge from treatment.
In conclusion, it is important to ensure your academic program is focused on these 5 key components to effectively support your school-aged patients. Developing an academic program to effectively support your patients can be challenging. Consider working with an experienced external partner to provide academic programming to your student population. Contact us to learn more about how LearnWell can partner with you to customize a program to meet your facility’s needs.