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At Some Schools, Education Is A Path To Healing

At Some Schools, Education Is A Path To Healing
Credit: Courtesy of Stephanie Madole

Erika Shue, a teacher at UC San Francisco Benioff Children’s Hospital, and one of her students, Elizabeth Madole, 8.

Elizabeth Madole, 8, is a regular at UC San Francisco Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco. At least once a month, she and her family trek from Redding so she can get transfusions to treat a rare neuromuscular disorder.

It can be a painful, difficult time. But amid the IV tubes and machines, there is one bright spot: Miss Erika.

“We read ‘Narwhal and Jelly’ books. We do art. I like doing math, too,” Elizabeth said. “She’s just a fun teacher. … What I like best is that she loves me.”

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 Miss Erika — also known as Erika Shue — teaches in one of California’s most unusual public schools: the Marie Wattis School, a TK-12 school that exists within the walls of UCSF.

With an enrollment of about 80 students, the Wattis School serves children from throughout California and beyond who are grappling with serious health conditions such as cancer, spina bifida or cystic fibrosis — but who also want a “normal” school experience. Students learn geometry and history, do poetry slams and celebrate graduations, and even have a prom.

In a world where almost nothing resembles a normal childhood, the Wattis School provides structure, a connection to peers both in and out of the hospital, and perhaps most important, hope.

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“The message that students get is: School is important, we think you’re going to get better, your life will go on and you will need to learn algebra,” said Julie Pollman, the school’s head teacher and one of its…

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