Everywhere we look people are gearing up for Back-to-School once again. Any parent or teacher knows that this time of year can be both exciting and stress inducing, and proper preparation ensures a successful transition. However, there is a different type of Back-to-School that, while it doesn’t garner as much attention, is even more difficult for some students—the return of a student-patient from a hospitalization or treatment program back into the school environment.
When a student enters a hospital, behavioral health facility, or residential treatment program, they are removed from their normal routine and academic environment. Receiving educational services—such as hospital tutoring or more traditional classroom instruction in an alternative K-12 education program—can help a student maintain academic standing during their absences. However making the transition back to school after discharge can be challenging, nerve-wracking, and even embarrassing for students.
Creating a Transition Plan with the Student’s Team
It is important that families, facilities, and schools work together to create a transition plan for students that is supportive of both medical and emotional needs, anticipates challenges, and sets the student (and school) up for success. Each plan should be tailored to the individual student, and involve any personnel that will play a role in helping the student adjust back into the classroom. A student-patient might be nervous or worried not only about integrating back into school, including catching up on missed classes, but may very well be concerned about what others (peers, staff, etc.) will think or say about the reason for their absence, what type of attention they might draw because of it, or if others might treat them differently.
In order to create a supportive environment, it is essential to prepare staff for the student’s return as well. Teachers and other support personnel may not have received training on how to handle such transitions, and will need guidance for how to appropriately include the student or address the topic of their absence, particularly if it involved suicidal ideation or mental health challenges.
Tips for a Smoother Transition
- Understanding confidentiality and restrict gossip
- Involve the student in the transition planning and ask about what they feel would help the most
- Modifying work load while adjusting back into the normal routine
- Recognizing that schools do not need to be informed of all personal details (such as the extent of emotional distress) to organize a supportive transition.
- Utilize peer support groups, tutoring, and check in/outs as necessary.
Topics for Discussion at the Team Meeting
Whether your role is the teacher, hospital coordinator or medical personnel, a transition/discharge meeting is a vital part of creating a smooth transition back to school. Topics should include any emotional, behavioral, or mobility changes and modifications that will need to be made to support the student through these changes, as well as planning for emergencies and other vital components of a school plan. The Center for Children with Special Needs has a great list of topics to consider for a transition meeting.
With proper planning and a collaborative approach, the transition from hospital to school can be supportive, encouraging and successful, rather than overwhelming and stressful. By approaching the transition as a team, both the students and the schools will feel prepared for the tasks ahead.