Upstate News

January 4, 2004
Doretta Royer 315 464-4833

SUNY Upstate, Syracuse University researchers develop program to help teachers support the needs of students with cancer

Researchers at SUNY Upstate Medical University and Syracuse University are developing a course for school teachers that will provide them with the skills to better support children with cancer in their classrooms. The project is funded through a one-year, $35,000 grant from Hope Street Kids, a children’s initiative of the Cancer Research and Prevention Foundation.

According to the project’s co-investigator, Ava Kleinmann of SUNY Upstate, many children with cancer, or who have recovered from cancer, experience cognitive changes related to their treatment. These changes may be observed as difficulties in school, such as a decrease in mental stamina, possibly making the child appear inattentive or unable to complete class assignments, she said.

“One role of hospitals is to provide comprehensive neuropsychological assessments of students with a history of cancer,” said Kleinmann. “However, consumers of these reports may not understand how to interpret these assessments in order to make the appropriate modifications in their classrooms. Our project aims at bridging the service delivery gap between hospitals and schools to ultimately benefit children with a history of cancer.”

Teachers may need to develop different learning techniques for students with cancer. Some modifications, Kleinmann notes, may include more frequent repetition of coursework, reduced courseload, prioritization of assignments, more time for transitions, use of more memory strategies and an alternative response format for tests.

Researchers are expecting to have the course designed by the fall of 2004. Content will focus on increasing educators’ knowledge of the cognitive effects of childhood cancer and its treatment; explaining neuropsychological reports; making educators better able to adapt their classrooms to accommodate the cognitive needs of the student; and in changing attitudes regarding educators’ competency in working with children with cancer.

Approximately 50 teachers from Onondaga County elementary, middle and high schools will be recruited to complete the course and be tested on their knowledge of the neurocognitive effects of cancer and its treatment and on content of interest before and after completing the course. In addition, they will complete questionnaires regarding their attitudes toward working with children with cancer, their perceived competency in understanding the recommendations of neuropsychological reports and using them as the foundation for planning classroom modifications and strategies.

If the course content and acceptability are successful, additional funding may be sought to modify the course for use by other school personnel, such as school nurses and psychologists, as well as by families of children with cancer.

Principal investigator of the project is Ronald Dubowy, M.D., director of the Center for Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders at University Hospital. Co investigators include faculty from SUNY Upstate’s Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and psychology and education faculty from Syracuse University.

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