The UNC Hospital School is a one-of-a-kind school in the Chapel Hill Carrboro School district. Founded in 1965 as the result of fruitful collaboration between the school system and North Carolina Memorial Hospital, it has grown from a staff of two serving approximately 50 patients/students to a staff of 17 serving over 2700 students annually. The school provides year-round PreK-12 educational services to school age patients through age 21 if they have not graduated from high school so they will be able to continue their studies with as little interruption as possible.There are two departments in the school. The Neurosciences program serves students with psychiatric/emotional disorders. Primary, Middle School and High School classrooms operate Monday through Friday with the goals of diagnosing learning difficulties and/or school-related problems, providing liaison to the student's community school and advocacy for appropriate services, and delivering individually planned education in a small-group setting.
The Pediatric program serves students who are inpatient as well as those visiting clinics on a regular basis. Educational services include assessments, direct instruction either at bedside or in the classroom, special needs referrals, and liaison between the Hospital and community school. Instruction is based on the community school's assignments when available and the NC public schools curriculum.
The UNC Hospital School began with a few local educators, realizing a need to help bridge the education gap during students’ hospitalizations. In 1961, pioneers Nathalie Harrison, Mary Milam, and Margaret Herrington began tutorial services for pediatric patients, teaching students at bedside. In 1963, Mrs. Herrington and her husband, Dr. Robert Herrington, established a classroom on the 7th floor of Memorial Hospital in memory of their daughter, Kristen Herrington, who died in a tragic auto accident. The classroom was adjacent to the Robbie Page Memorial Playroom. The Herringtons’ generosity is remembered today with a plaque with Kristen’s name in the pediatric classroom on the 7th floor of the Women’s Hospital. The state's first hospital-based school was established in 1964, with two teachers, Nathalie Harrison and Lillian Lee, providing school services to children who were in Chapel Hill for the Cleft Palate Program - a joint program between Oral Surgery in the Dental School and NC Memorial surgery/speech therapy. Children came for weeks or months at a time, and were taught in the Memorial Hospital School. Mrs. Harrison and Mrs. Lee became the first public school teachers paid by the state at the Memorial Hospital School in 1965. By the early 1970's educator numbers grew in order to serve the Child Inpatient School, with funding mainly by the hospital system. This program served school age psychiatric patients ages 3 years to 14 years. In 1978 their classroom, with adjacent grassy, tree-filled school yard, was located in the Clinical Center for Development and Learning (CDL). Year-round instruction was provided by educators Sally Wenstrand, supervisor; Barbara Tyroler, teacher; and Sharon Kirk, Education Therapist. A work-study student from UNC helped with research and office work. There was also a class for adolescent psychiatric patients located in South Wing, the Psychiatry building. Hospital School teacher, Jean Plow, taught the class and recalls the small room allocated for teaching students which doubled as a room for residents to sleep, complete with a bed. If students could not come off the unit, the teacher taught in patient rooms. Major Geer joined the faculty in 1970 and became a support and an inspiration for male students, at a time in history when most teachers and nurses were female. Mayor Rosemary Waldorf proclaimed August 22, 2001 as Major Geer Day in appreciation of his leadership of 31 years in the Hospital School. When the NC Children’s Hospital opened in History of the UNC Hospital School 1961 2015 2002, a plaque was dedicated to Mr. Geer in the media center of the Hospital School on the 7th floor, for his leadership in the development of technology skills for hospitalized students. In the early 1980’s, local students attended the school in an additional classroom in the CDL. Not all the students were hospitalized. Some rode a CHCCS bus to and from the classroom to benefit from physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech/language therapy, in addition to their studies. By 1987, there were 3 hospital paid educators and 4 Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools (CHCCS) teachers, a part-time secretary, and Principal Robin McCoy. The two groups of staff met as one for the purposes of faculty meetings, staff development, budgets for supplies, etc., coordinating educational services for children with medical needs. The CHCCS teachers were funded completely by the NC Department of Public Instruction Small School Allotment until the school system began funding one teacher position, based on enrollment. In 1988, Principal Nathalie Harrison began working toward expanding services for hospitalized children by beginning a preschool program for 3 and 4 year old patients. The school’s first preschool teacher was Annette Clyde. Through the years, additional teaching positions were added based on hospital expansion in the following areas: NC Jaycee Burn Center, Child and Adolescent Inpatient Psychiatry, Eating Disorders Unit, Pediatric Hematology-Oncology, Pediatric Pulmonology, the Pediatric Lung Transplant program, Pediatric Nephrology, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, and Pediatric Bone Marrow Transplant program. Principal Delores Paylor was instrumental in securing school system funding for an additional teaching position and educational supplies based on an increase in enrollment. In 1996, the Neurosciences Hospital opened, and the Hospital School gained 4 new classrooms and 2 offices for the principal and the administrative assistant. In addition, two diagnostic offices were allotted for primary and adolescent psychiatric assessments. Three helipads were built on the top of the building to enable helicopters to transport patients to and from UNC Hospitals. During one of teacher Carolyn Inselmann’s art classes in 1998, a 10 year old boy with initials “J.T.” drew a clever picture of the UNC Hospital helicopter that he saw outside his window. The logo has since been used on the Hospital School t-shirts and brochures to represent the creativity and spirit of the students in the Hospital School. History of the UNC Hospital School 1961 2015 In 1997 the two groups of faculty were combined under the administration of the local school district during Flicka Bateman’s second year as principal. As technology became increasingly important in education, Dr. Bateman hired a media specialist. Funding the Hospital School remains a shared endeavor among UNC Health Care, NC Small School Allotment, and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools. Additional funding has come from the Addie Armfield Memorial Fund, the UNC Dance Marathon, Volunteer Services, the Goodnight Foundation, and Google Grants. Various programs throughout the years have provided enriching classes for hospitalized students. NC Children’s Promise provides funds for musical, magical, and artistic programs to patients. Wonder Connection brings weekly hands-on science opportunities to students. Two more Hospital School classrooms, a media center and office space were all added with the opening of the UNC Women's and Children's Hospitals in 2002. Seven years later, in 2009, the NC Cancer Hospital opened with a classroom in the pediatric clinic area dedicated to UNC Women's Basketball Coach Sylvia Hatchell. As of 2015, in its 50th year, the UNC Hospital School has three classroom locations: second floor of the Neurosciences Hospital, 1st floor of the NC Cancer Hospital, and 7th floor of the Women’s Hospital. The Hospital School teachers number 14, and additional staff include a testing coordinator, an administrative assistant, and a principal. Students come from all corners of NC, from many other states, and from other countries. All Hospital School teachers have had experience in public schools prior to working at the Hospital School. Initially, hospital volunteer tutors were retired teachers. Now most of the volunteer tutors are students from UNC-CH. For many years the NC Teaching Fellows Program provided tutor volunteers until that program ended in 2013. The Hospital School has trained student teachers from various programs through the years. One of the programs in the late 1980’s specifically trained hospital school teachers and was directed by Bobbie Boyd Lubker, Ph.D, in The Center for Educational Management of Chronically Ill Children and Adolescents at UNC-CH. In addition to teaching hospitalized students, Hospital School teachers have been and are participants in school reentry programs, providing specialized medical and educational plans for students returning to their community schools, making presentations to school History of the UNC Hospital School 1961 2015 nurses, guidance counselors, social workers and teachers throughout North Carolina regarding the educational needs of children with chronic illnesses, and participating in parent education meetings and in specialized camps and programs for hospitalized children. Teachers have always been active participants in multi-disciplinary team meetings across medical services within the hospital. UNC Hospital School teachers are certified in Exceptional Children’s Education and must continue their training to keep their certifications. One source of continuing education is teacher membership in a national organization, the Association of the Education of Children with Medical Needs.The state organization, NC Association of Educators of Children with Chronic Illness, was active for many years and was a source of collaboration and education for teachers throughout the state. Teachers are able to award college scholarships annually to high school graduates who qualify for the Rob Gothson, Jr. Scholarship which was begun by the NC Association of Educators of Children with Chronic Illness and named after one of the organization’s presidents.