Arizona Giving and Leading: One Darn Cool School

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We’ll show you how “One Darn Cool School” is helping sick kids at Phoenix Children’s Hospital keep their grades healthy.

Ted Simons: Tonight's edition of Arizona "Giving and Leading" looks at how keeping up a normal routine can be critical for the education of a hospitalized child. Phoenix Area Hospital is one of the few around the country that has a school on its campus. Shana Fischer and photographer Scot Olson introduce us to One Darn Cool School.

Shana Fischer: It's the modern day version of a one-room schoolhouse but students here have unique challenges.

Michael Borum: They are functioning through medications, going through illness. Our kids are very sick but they are persevering to make sure they get their schoolwork done.

Shana Fischer: One Darn Cool School provides one on one classroom instruction as well as bedside learning. The school is open year round and students range from kindergarten to high school. There are the usual teaching challenges but the director Betsy Rosebrugh says they are magnified here.

Betsy Rosebrugh: A teacher has to be flexible, but I think when you work in a hospital you have to be even more flexible if that's even possible, knowing to go with the flow. It's not as if you have a classroom in a space or an area. You have to adapt constantly to what's going on around you.

Shana Fischer: The students can come to school as long as they need care at PCH. Buddy Padilla has been a student since he was seven years old. He suffers from burn syndrome which affects his digestive system. He has been in and out of the hospital his entire life. Now 17 and a junior, Buddy says thanks to the teachers he's only a year behind.

Buddy Padills: When you come here you get your homework faxed over. They help you with it, help you through it. I've had a lot of holes in my education. They have helped me fill those holes like math, reading and all that.

Shana Fischer: One Darn Cool School started in 1987, which was named by a student started with a single volunteer. Today it employs its own year-round teaching staff. All teachers have master's degrees and experience in special education experience. They work closely with the teachers, medical staff and the child's school to make sure education needs are met.

Michael Borum: The majority of what we do is all individualized with our students. Some of our students here receive individual education plans, based on what's established from their school setting. But we also work with them on what their needs are.

Shana Fischer: Medication and illness can wreak havoc on a child's cognitive skills. Successes no matter how small are celebrated.

Shana Fischer: When a child does well the teacher can reward them with school dollars. They can be cashed in for toys or books. It's the idea of still having a school life that is key in helping the kids stay focused and recover.

Buddy Padilla: You come down here and it doesn't really feel schoolish. It feels fun, like you're having a good time but still learning.

Betsy Rosebrugh: My bosses told me a story about a little seven-year-old who didn't know what was going on, and they were very scared about the hospital. And the teacher from the school came to see them. And their comment was I must not be dying because the school teacher was sent to me. So the whole idea of something normal for a child in a very unfamiliar atypical situation. Help keeping them on track and feeling good about who they are and what they are doing, keeping up with their peers. That's important.

Shana Fischer: But what may be even more important is the bond that develops between the teachers and the students.

Michael Borum: My relationship with the students, I think the kids have done more for me than I could ever do for them. You get to see kids go through some really difficult medical transitions. But to be with them and work with them is really a blessing to us as a staff.

Ted Simons: One Darn Cool School is funded 100% through philanthropic sources. To donate money or supplies visit the website

Ted Simons: Next on "Arizona Horizon," Wednesday it's our weekly update on what's happening at the state legislature. And we'll have the latest on local retail vacancy rates, that's at 5:30 on the next "Arizona Horizon." That is it for now, I am Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

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