A school away from school

When David Llano was diagnosed with leukemia at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford just before his senior year of high school, his world was turned upside down. Among his concerns about his disease, David worried that he would fall behind in school and wouldn’t be able to graduate on time. Then he found the Packard Children’s Hospital School.

PBS recently featured the Packard Children’s hospital school and Hospital Educational Advocacy Liaisons program (HEAL) on an episode of Inside California Education.

For patients like David, the Hospital School provides four hours of class every day for students in kindergarten through twelfth grade, taught by accredited teachers as part of a unique collaboration between the Palo Alto Unified School District and Packard Children’s Hospital. In addition to daily classes, the Hospital School offers enrichment programs in art, science, and drama and hosts an annual prom for patients and their families.

Hospital School

“Our patients might be sick for a very long period of time and we still want them to feel like they have a future, and we want them to have as normal a life as possible. For a child, normal means going to school,” Kathy Ho, a high school teacher at the Hospital School, told PBS. “Sometimes we see them in their rooms and they’re sad, or they’re upset, or they’re scared, whereas in the classroom they can be kids, and we really just try to treat them like they’re kids.”

High schooler Ryan Sathianathen has been attending the hospital school full time since February 2017, during which time he received treatment for chronic myeloid leukemia. Ryan has since finished his cancer treatment and returned home to Fremont, but his immune system isn’t yet strong enough for him to go back to regular school, so he comes back to the hospital every day for class in the Hospital School’s clean and controlled environment.

Ryan Sathianathen

“They take care of these kids,” Ryan’s mom, Dilani, told PBS of the teachers at the school. “They treat them like they are their own kids.”

For many patients, the transition from the hospital back to regular school during or following a chronic illness can be difficult. To help, the hospital created the HEAL program, which works with patients’ home schools to help ease their reentry to “normal” life and education.

“Oftentimes, the teachers may see some of the behavioral difficulties or think the child is not trying hard or not listening or not doing well or could work faster,” Christian Ambler, PhD, explained to PBS. “And it’s really trying to understand that this child has had some exposure to medications, treatments or surgery procedures that has left them a little bit slower… and to help [the teacher] understand they really are trying their best and doing what they’re capable of.”

A serious illness is very disruptive to all aspects of a child’s life and development. Programs like HEAL and the hospital school keep patients engaged in the normalcy of education, in a manner that coincides with their healing process.

In 2015, David walked across the stage as a high school senior to graduate with his classmates at Fremont High School – a moment he had feared wouldn’t be realized when he was diagnosed with cancer the previous fall. He credits the hospital school with not only bridging the school gap, but changing his perspective on education.

“I can say I became a better scholar by coming here,” David says.


One Response to “A school away from school”

  1. Jenny Rooney

    I spent most of last year with my baby at LPCH. As a school teacher, I was so interested in the school and took a tour. How does a CA public teacher apply for a job at the hospital school? With a special needs baby, I would love to work with similar children.


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