Beloved Teacher Retires From Hospital School at Packard Children’s

Thayer Gershon retires from the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital School Program.

Having a really good teacher is rare. Most of us experience just one or two in our lifetimes. Thayer Gershon is one of those teachers—the kind that sees beyond academics and teaches to the whole child. The kind that won’t let a child fail. For 29 years, Thayer has served as the backbone of the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital School Program, a unique collaboration between the Palo Alto Unified School District and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford. The school provides a quality education to critically and chronically ill children while they stay at the hospital or while they recover at the Ronald McDonald House at Stanford.

Early in her career, Thayer taught special ed at local schools in the school district. Yet the moment she walked through the hospital school’s doors, she knew she was home. For the past three decades, she has mentored new teachers and served as the school’s sounding board for the small but mighty team of eight, which consists of two primary, two middle, and three high school educators, as well as the school’s secretary. Thayer taught high school, usually focusing on kids who had a terminal illness or were too sick to attend school in the classroom—kids fighting cancer, receiving organ transplants or dealing with chronic conditions like cystic fibrosis. She worked with them one-on-one at their bedside.

Thayer recalls working with a student who was at the end of his life. One day while teaching, she put aside his math and science books and said, “We don’t have to study these; what do you want to learn?” The teen said he wanted to learn how to drive.  

“We had driving lessons in the parking lot. After lessons, he let me talk with him about his funeral. It was important to me to help him close those doors at the end of his life,” says Thayer.

Thayer’s philosophy was to meet her students where they were. One of her main legacies was the habit of really listening to kids and tapping into their needs and wants. Besides teaching, Thayer served on hospital committees, including the palliative care and oncology support teams, and attended rounds with clinical psychologists. 

“Years ago, when I started as a volunteer, Thayer was my supervisor, so I can pretty much say she taught me everything I know,” says Kathy Ho, a fellow hospital school teacher. “Everything I do is based on her. Thayer has really shaped this hospital school and all of us teachers. She taught us that it’s not just about an education, it’s about the whole child and the family.”

Thayer has helped keep the school intact through major hospital transitions since her start in 1990, including the opening of the new hospital in 2017. She was committed to staying through that final change to ensure that the school was settled before retiring.

“Thayer was the school’s greatest advocate for kids and families. Families always felt like she was in their corner,” says Kevin Danie, a fellow teacher. “She did as much for her students’ socio-emotional growth as she did for their academic growth. Kids who come to us are often academically able but in a fragile place. Thayer tapped into that and supported them where they needed it most so they could confidently move up through the grades and even graduate.”

Students attend the hospital school for as little as a day and as long as a year. Some come back on and off during treatment or when waiting for an organ transplant. For example, kids who need a heart transplant stay in the hospital prior to getting the heart and for 90 days afterward.

“The hospital has a great rate of survival and recovery, so we tend to see a lot of kids come back and visit us. It’s really rewarding,” Kevin adds.

One such student is Danielle Ravetti. She was diagnosed at age 13 with a rare condition called erythromelalgia, which causes intense burning and pain in her feet and hands. For Danielle, it meant staying at the hospital on and off through high school.

“If not for Thayer, I wouldn’t have graduated. She tailored lesson plans to my interests and abilities. She consistently checked in to see how I was feeling and if I needed anything. But the greatest gift she gave me was self-confidence. She taught me that I can achieve my goals and overcome my obstacles. She even helped me with my college application process,” says Danielle. “My parents and I call her our guardian angel because she was always there for me. At 26, I still consider her a mentor and a friend.”


4 Responses to “Beloved Teacher Retires From Hospital School at Packard Children’s”

  1. Kaileigh Rocca

    IM GONNA MISS HER SO MUCH SHES THE BEST TEACHER I EVER HAD!!!! I wish her the best in life and thanks for teaching me here at the hospital

  2. Tom Spink

    Congratulations to Thayer for body of work that will be remembered for a long time. In addition, her inspiration and mentoring will ensure the worthwhile work at the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital School Program will continue.

  3. Michela Pilo

    You are the best thing could happen to us. Thank you for all your help and support on those tough times.


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