Teacher aids students with serious illnesses

Published February 14, 2006

GRAND RAPIDS (AP) - When Jami Hoeksema started working three months ago as a teacher whose students cannot attend school because of serious illness, she knew right away that the job always would tug at her heartstrings.

"Initially, there were days when I said, 'I don't know if I want to be able to handle this,'" said Hoeksema, a 39-year-old mother of two small children who is on the staff at DeVos Children's Hospital.

But she soon adjusted to regularly seeing youngsters hooked up to IVs and machines. She has learned to focus on the good she is doing by helping them catch up with school work they are missing while undergoing treatment at the hospital.

"It's an incredible privilege to be able to work with kids who are going through health issues," Hoeksema told The Grand Rapids Press for a story published yesterday. "Giving them education gives them a little control over their lives."

A grant from the Children's Miracle Network funded her job at DeVos as an educational liaison and hospital teacher.

Her students range from elementary-school-age to high schoolers. All of her teaching is done one-on-one.

Before Hoeksema started making rounds, 12-year-old Allison Hunt, of Montague, was falling further behind the rest of her fifth-grade class. Her dialysis treatments made her miss 31 to 35 schooldays each semester.

Hoeksema helped her last week with a math worksheet.

"This has been really good for the kids," said the girl's mother, Tina Hunt.

Hoeksema recently received a valentine from one of her youngest students, Brent Rogers, of Eau Claire.

Denise and David Rogers learned their 6-year-old son had a cancerous tumor Dec. 7. Brent had surgery to remove it the following week and is now undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

The first-grader is working with Hoeksema on his phonics book to catch up with his classmates.

"All of his friends think he's just having a ball outside of school," said Denise Rogers. "But he wrote back and said, 'I still have to go to school.'"