PedsAcademy: Future Teachers Serving Kids in the Hospital

Carlos Aleman knows what it’s like to endure long hospital stays as a child, missing Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations, family, friends — and even school.

He was diagnosed at age 4 with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and at age 7 spent nearly a year as an in-patient recovering from a bone marrow transplant. Today cancer-free and inspired to help kids going through similar hardships, Aleman, now 23, got some recent hands-on experience from an innovative internship program at Nemours Children’s Hospital, Florida.

Since 2018, our first-of-its kind PedsAcademy® has trained more than 120 student teachers who have completed undergraduate courses at the University of Central Florida (UCF). Over 12 weeks, the interns provide one-on-one and classroom instruction to young patients while learning how to support children with chronic health conditions.

“It takes a special kind of person to work with kids with special needs, especially if you don’t have someone in your family to learn from,” says Carlos. “A lot of patients may be tired, not feeling up for school, but you’ve got to meet them where they are. If they’re giving you 20 percent, you give your 120 percent.”

The interns’ energy has cheered children like Samai, a second-grader diagnosed with leukemia who worried about falling behind in school while confined to the hospital. During her recent stay, she and other kids in the hospital looked forward to visits from the young man they called “Mr. Carlos.” 

“We previously just had one teacher — me — to provide instruction for patients at the hospital, but having the interns means 15 extra teachers each semester, which makes a big difference for the children,” says Becca Grysko, coordinator of the hospital school program that encompasses the PedsAcademy.

We recently published a toolkit so that other U.S. hospitals might benefit from the success of this project. Five other hospitals that we know of, including Nemours Childrens Hospital, Delaware have been developing their own internship programs.

Creating more hospital-based programs for future teachers could help build skills in short supply. More than four of every 10 school-aged U.S. children today have one or more chronic health conditions, such as asthma, obesity and diabetes. Yet research shows teachers in general lack knowledge and confidence in supporting this population. “There really is a desperate need for increased attention and focus in this area,” says Grysko.

Following his internship, Carlos was thrilled to have found a job at our Orlando hospital, as head of a new program bringing video games, for fun and learning, into the hospital.

“It was always my passion to work in a hospital with kids who have cancer, but the internship helped me know it’s really for me,” Carlos says. “It gave me a lot of confidence in myself — I really do feel that I belong in this environment.”

PedsAcademy® is part of our Hospital School Program.

To arrange for your child to participate, talk to your social worker or our nursing staff. With your permission, our hospital-based teacher may contact your child’s regular classroom teacher to coordinate assignments during the hospital stay. Instruction can take place at your child’s bedside or in our hospital classroom. 

For more information on the internship, email, or see our toolkit for starting your own internship program.