Durham, N.C. — Teacher Amanda Headley can’t say enough nice things about her student, Stephen Kirchner. She describes the 14-year-old as one of the smartest students she’s ever taught.
Besides being intelligent, Stephen is memorable in another way – he is battling leukemia. When he feels well enough, Headley teaches him at his bedside at his temporary residence – Duke Children’s Hospital.
Since 1959, sick children admitted to Duke have been able to attend school at the hospital while receiving treatment for serious illnesses, such as leukemia. UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill also has a hospital school.
Duke's Hospital School is part of the Durham Public School system. Eight teachers cover pre-kindergarten through high school. About 30 to 40 students are enrolled at any one time.
Hospital School teachers use North Carolina education standards, even though their students come from all over the world.
Stephen and his family are American, but they live and work in London. His parents and older brother have made the trek across the ocean quite often since Stephen became sick and needed a bone marrow transplant.
“Stephen is a very focused young man and is very goal-oriented. The school has given him the ability to keep up with his studies,” said Robb Kirchner, Stephen’s father. "We can only say good things about this school. It gives him something to look forward to."
The school has given Stephen another opportunity – the chance to talk with one of his idols, Duke head basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski.
Stephen’s eyes light up when he talks about the surprise phone call he received from Coach K, who offered good wishes. Stephen said he hopes to meet Coach K when he feels better.
'I don't like being away from home'
Class work at the Hospital School helps Emily Beamer, 11, keep her mind off her brain tumor.
“When I get to go to school, it gets my mind off of thinking about what I’ll have to do next with my treatment,” she said. “Miss Trish, she would be my favorite teacher because she loves me and I love her back.”
Emily’s school routine provides her relief while she is far from her home in Hillsville, Va. She has been at the hospital since April and hopes to be well enough to leave soon.
“I don’t like being away from home this long,” she said.
Emily’s mother, Malinda Beamer, shaved her head to support her daughter, who has a large scar on her head from her brain tumor surgery.
When she returned home on Tuesday, Emily had proof of what she went through at the hospital. Whenever a child has a procedure done, the nurses give him or her a bead. Emily’s string of beads is more than 6 feet long.
White beads, for example, represent each of her radiation treatments. Black beads represent each time she had blood drawn.
Emily knew exactly what she wanted to do first when she got home.
“I’m gonna get in my recliner!” she said, smiling.