Many times, students face medical situations that make it impossible for them to physically attend school for a period of time. These students are typically referred to as the "hospital homebound" population. The reasons for the placement can be anything from a sports injury requiring rehab at home to very serious illnesses like cancer. Whether short term or long term, elementary or high school, federal law requires that these students receive an education and every district strives to have the student remain on track academically.
Traditionally, districts serve this student population by sending a teacher to the home once or twice a week. Additional support consists of a phone call. But this method, while it gives the student some support, doesn’t really address the daily need to be immersed into an educational environment. And honestly, the cost to the district and the resources to find the teachers to travel and tutor can be cumbersome and expensive. There is a more advanced method to meet the needs of the students and the district.
When hospital homebound students are in virtual school, they have access to teachers, classes, and schoolwork every day; they remain part of their school community and can participate in elements of classroom life, such as interactive discussions. Many students take their laptops to the hospital with them to work there. They no longer have to wait for a set time for the teacher to come out to answer questions and bring graded work with feedback. They have access to their teachers every day. It is simply a completely different way to approach serving these students.
Angela is a parent of a homebound student who is enrolled in a virtual program. She discusses the benefits, saying, “Plain and simple—I love it! My son has never been to school and has been a part of a homebound program his entire life. Now for the first time, we have the equipment we need to help him learn. He is a sponge and loves math, which had been a struggle. I did not like having a teacher come in and out of the house as it affected his immune system.”
Another parent points to the flexibility of a virtual program, saying her daughter’s “neurologist is really impressed with the flexibility in scheduling. I’m sure they’ll suggest it to other kids with migraines as well, being so many of them all miss a great deal of school.”
Below are the critical elements to consider when implementing online homebound solutions:
- Lay the ground rules – Students and parents must understand the policies and expectations prior to embarking on the program. These should be communicated clearly to the family during an orientation session.
- Set goals and measure – Individualized pacing and goals must be set at the onset of the program and agreed on by both the teacher and the student.
- Tailor the curriculum – Ensure that you can assign coursework that addresses the student’s grade level and interests.
- Assess – Continuous monitoring is required to determine if modifications are necessary, and interventions should be done quickly when an issue is identified to keep the student on track.
- Keep it flexible – Ensure there are options for the student that can work around doctor appointments, changes in location, and other health related issues.
- Engage – Student performance often changes dramatically when they lack the connection to their school environment. Keeping the student engaged online with teacher and student interaction is critical to success.
Kim Spencer is the Director of Homebound Education and Alternative Learning Programs for Fuel Education, where she oversees online programs in more than 100 school districts. Spencer is also a certified teacher in Florida.