Returning To School
For most children, going to school forms the backbone of their daily routine: normal, everyday activities like catching the bus, greeting their friends, completing in-school activities, and doing nightly homework are so regular that most of us don’t even think about them. For a family coping with a diagnosis of cancer, handling the daily routine of school can seem like just one more insurmountable challenge. Yet for school-age children, and especially middle- and high-school children, taking the time to think through how to approach school-related issues both during–and after–treatment will play a critical role in ensuring your child’s academic success once treatment is complete.
Whether your child can go to school intermittently during treatment or whether treatment has required a long absence from school, returning to school can be emotionally challenging for many parents, who face serious concerns about the potential for illness, whether their child has the physical or emotional stamina to cope with a long school day, and whether they will face teasing from uninformed peers. Yet at the same time, maintaining a regular school-related routine as much as possible can offer your child, and indeed your family, emotional stability and regularity during a difficult time, and will help reassure your child that they have a future that is bright and strong.
Communication is the key to your child’s educational success
Although at times dealing with school-related issues can seem like just one more “to do” on your growing list, opening an early dialogue with the educators in your child’s life will help ensure your child’s educational success both during and after treatment. The first step is alerting the school about your child’s diagnosis and treatment plan, the expected duration of the treatment, and the extent to which he or she will be absent. Notifying the principal, your child’s teacher(s), and the school counselor quickly will not only keep them informed of expected absences, it will also enable them to work with you to ensure that your child does not fall behind academically during treatment and keep the school informed about potential limitations that treatment places on their ability to complete certain types of activities or work while in school.
Of course, for many parents, ensuring that your child will not “fall behind” will be a priority. Helping your child stay up-to-date on school work will require that he or she complete assignments while at home or in the hospital. Your school should be able to provide lesson plans and assignments for completion, and may even be able to offer academic assistance in the form of tutoring for older children with more complicated workloads. Many hospitals now also offer academic support for children struggling to complete assignments while in extended hospital stays. By supporting your child and encouraging them to stay on top of their school work as much as treatment allows, you are offering him or her the best possible chance to return to school as smoothly and seamlessly as possible.
Perhaps more importantly, however, maintaining excellent communication with your child’s school will activate additional resources that may be available to help you and your child as they balance the difficult bridge between school and treatment. Most critically, of course, is ensuring that your child receives academic support, including additional assistance if necessary, to stay as close as possible to grade level. However, schools also offer emotional support as well; the school counselor can help your child cope with the emotional stresses he or she is facing. And last, but not least, the school can help guide and manage social interactions as well, working with other students to help them understand what your child is going through and ensuring that your child receives support and friendship from his or her peers as well as from school staff.
For additional information on coping with school-related issues and establishing communication with the educators in your child’s life, we encourage you to obtain a copy of Educating the Child with Cancer: A Guide for Parents and Teachers, 2nd Edition, edited by the American Childhood Cancer Foundation’s own Ruth Hoffman, and available through the ACCO (www.acco.org).