Thursday, September 22, 2011

School in hospital

Bountiful hospital harbors school for disabled children
Bountiful • Oxygen flows, ventilator alarms ring, IV pumps hum and lunch is served through a feeding tube in the classroom at South Davis Community Hospital. Each school day, children in wheelchairs gather to learn in the day room that also serves as a classroom. It is a school with no sign, no name and no mascot.
South Davis Community Hospital provides long-term, rehabilitative and palliative care to children suffering from many conditions, including acquired brain injuries, spinal cord dysfunction, neuromuscular conditions, genetic syndromes, congenital anomalies, critical illness, severe trauma and disabilities. Currently, 25 children call the facility home. Ten of them attend public schools while six are educated within the hospital. The others are too young for school.
CJ Benson, the hospital’s community liaison, explained the in-hospital school began in the early 1980s. “Because some children are medically fragile or attending school outside the facility would be too stressful, the administrators identified the need for a school and worked with the district to provide one.” Since that time a teacher, aide and resources have been supplied to the hospital through the Davis County School District.
Yvonne Mellinger, 62, has worked as a teacher in the Davis County School District for 35 years and has taught the children at South Davis Community Hospital for 18 years. She earned her bachelor’s degree and teaching certificate from Brigham Young University and attended graduate school at Utah State.
Mellinger looks around the room and describes her students as “the most beautiful children in the world.” Their needs are diverse. All are in wheelchairs; none can communicate through speech.
Mellinger is a hands-on teacher who gets close to the children when she interacts. Since most suffer from cortical blindness, they have limited or no vision. Mellinger’s students communicate through eye movements, a shrug of the shoulder, or a leg movement. But she is able to interpret physical cues others would miss. One child’s slight finger twitch means she doesn’t want to participate; a moan from another indicates he is over-stimulated.
Each child’s learning goals are developed with the school district using an Individualized Education Plan. Most are working on the five senses. Sight in a child with cortical blindness is stimulated by holding bright colors before their eyes and observing response.
“Even a child with cortical blindness can have a favorite color,” said Mellinger.
Hearing is stimulated through reading, talking and music, and Mellinger stimulates her students’ sense of touch by placing different types of fabrics or objects in the their hands or touching their faces. She holds scented markers under their noses for them to smell, and staff make popcorn and bake cookies so the children can enjoy the aromas.
“The most rewarding aspect as a teacher is when students break through the impossible, they respond and I see understanding in their eyes. These kids work harder than any other students,” Mellinger explained.
The hardest part of the job for Mellinger is losing a child. “The hardest part is when they pass away. They say your heart grows and there is space in there for every single child. It’s true and it’s not a little space, it’s a big one. I quit counting after I lost 50 children but I remember each one. They are a part of me,” said Mellinger.
Margo Evan, a certified therapeutic recreational therapist, works with the children arranging field trips, pet therapy and activities.
“We took the kids roller skating. We pushed them in their wheelchairs and they enjoyed the music, and the disco ball and the feel of movement. We make sure they have a good quality of life. Just because they live in a care center doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have all the opportunities of other children.”

© 2011 The Salt Lake Tribune

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