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Many patients are away from home for months at a time in order to receive treatment at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. That makes it impossible for them to attend their local schools and participate in traditional activities such as graduation and high school prom.
The Child Life Program and the St. Jude School Program presented by Target help them to continue their normal educational activities and celebrate important milestones in their lives by hosting events such as the Teen Formal and the kindergarten graduation ceremony.
Child Life has hosted the Teen Formal each spring since 2006 to create a sense of normalcy for teen patients. The School Program held the first kindergarten graduation in 2008 to give the budding scholars the same rewarding experience as their peers back home.
The St. Jude medical team, staff, guest speakers and proud parents gather annually to witness the graduation ceremony, which features a processional of the graduates, the presentation of certificates and a graduating class slideshow.
The activities are more than celebrations to recognize the academic accomplishments of St. Jude patients. They also acknowledge their ability to achieve such a feat while overcoming medical obstacles.
“One patient was newly diagnosed just days before our graduation, which also happened to be the same day hers was going to occur at home,” says Michaela Shurden, kindergarten–6th grade teacher. “Both the parents and the patient were thrilled and appreciative that she was able to participate in graduation after all.”
Before graduation, there is the Teen Formal. Hospital staff decorates the venue with balloons, themed props and other party essentials each year. Thanks to the generosity of volunteers and local businesses, the girls receive beauty treatments for their face, hair and nails while the boys are fitted for tuxedos. When preparations are complete, teen patients and siblings are chauffeured to the campus in stretch limousines as cheering families and St. Jude employees greet them at a red carpet entrance.
Organizers in both departments continue to tailor recognition programs and services to meet the ever-changing needs of St. Jude patients. For example, plans are underway in Child Life to develop a semi-formal dance and other social activities for adolescents ages 10 to 13.
“One of our goals this year is to look at the needs of our preteen population,” says Shawna Grissom, Child Life director. “We recognize how important it is for them to have their own space and celebrations similar to those available to teens.”