When a child undergoes treatment at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, life as they know it often changes overnight.
One of the hospital's goals is not only to treat a child, but to help them lead a childhood that's as normal as possible. One of the ways they make that happen is through an education program to help children stay on track with their studies.
"St. Jude is not about just medical treatment and what is going on medically with a child. St. Jude is really about what the child needs," said Laurie Leigh, St. Jude School Program director.
The St. Jude School Program by Chili's helps students experience normal childhood milestones by continuing their education during their treatment and recovery.
"We have two classrooms. The K-6 classroom, the 7th - 12th grade classroom. And you look around and it looks like any elementary school classroom, you know, that you can see across America. And I think when children walk in here, you know, they immediately have some feeling of, 'Oh, okay, I know where I am. I'm in a classroom and this is where I should be.' A feeling of being welcome and comfortable," said Leigh.
St. Jude employs several teachers, ESL coordinators and a school liaison to help students of all ages.
"If they come to St. Jude, the first thing that we want to create is a sense of normalcy. So as soon as these kids walk through the door, they're automatically a student. They are no longer a patient," said Michaela Shurden, a teacher at St. Jude.
Teachers at St. Jude work with the child's teacher at home to create an individualized plan to help them stay on track.
"We call the school. We get their books, assignments. Some kids are just here for maybe six to eight weeks. They might just be doing radiation and that's it. Then they get to go home. But we have others who are here three to six months, others that are here for two to three years," said Shurden.
Each spring, St. Jude makes sure its youngest students don't miss out on a special moment: Kindergarten graduation.
"That's a milestone that these kids really need to feel like they're involved in," said Leigh. "I think it's important for kids to know, 'I've done that. You know, I'm here for treatment, but I can do these other things, too. And I can have my Kindergarten graduation. And I'm ready for 1st grade.'"
Tutoring services are available for students who need a little extra help. St. Jude also provides ACT and SAT exams for high school students.
When students finish at St. Jude, the school program helps parents and students transition back into their regular classrooms.
"When they get to go home, we help them with writing letters to accommodations, so that when they do put their kid back in school, they kind of have some ground to stand on as far as how they need to advocate for their kid. Because this is all new. They've never done this before," said Shurden.
Fundraisers like the St. Jude Dream Home help make the program possible.
"It's important for me to do my best, because we really only have three hours a week with these kids," said Shurden. "It doesn't seem like a whole lot, but in most situations it's one-on-one so you get a lot done. So it's just important that you utilize that time. Because our goal in the end is for them to go back to school, go back into their classroom, and everything that their friends are still doing, and just walk right in, be on the same page, not skip a beat."
You have the chance to buy a ticket to win the St. Jude Dream Home and support the education program and others at St. Jude. The $650,000 home is under construction in the Eagle Bluff Woods community off Highway 58 in Chattanooga. It includes four bedrooms and three and a half bathrooms, along with golf course access. All the proceeds from ticket sales go to help children fighting cancer at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.