A Bear, a Chair, and People Who Care
How can a child remain connected with her school friends when she is required to be absent from school for weeks due to a lengthy hospitalization?
A creative partnership between Cedar Elementary, Riley Children's Foundation, and Speedway has provided an ingenious and heartwarming solution that is helping one precocious first grader to remain connected to her friends in Mrs. Holly Clark's classroom as she recovers from surgery.
Being able to join her class via Zoom during the recent delivery of the Bear in My Chair, "made me feel really good and happy," says Charleigh. "I haven't seen my friends in a long time."
Riley Hospital's Bear in My Chair program was designed to help eliminate feelings of loneliness and isolation when a child is admitted to the hospital by maintaining a connection between the child being treated and their school. Riley Hospital's Child Life and School Programs deliver an oversized stuffed teddy bear to the child's classroom. Together, the hospitalized student and classmates give the bear a name, read a special book about the purpose of the bear, and place it at the student's desk. Until the student returns, the class includes the bear in all their classroom activities, bring it along to their specials, and even take it to lunch and recess.
They have fallen in love with our bear. She goes everywhere with us. Mrs. Clark
Charleigh's bear, whom the class named Harley, even got dressed up with Charleigh's signature style accessory — a hair bow. "They put a little bow on Harley like me," noted Charleigh. "I wear a bow every single day. Every! Single! Day!"
Cedar Elementary Assistant Principal Shelley Moyers was in Mrs. Clark's classroom for Harley's arrival. "Mrs. Clark's classroom is the perfect place for this program," says Mrs. Moyers. "She builds such a strong community that the students want to help and support their classmate as much as possible. This program is helpful not only to the child who is away from school, but it also helps the classmates feel connected to their friend. It's a great way to keep the school family connected."
"Mrs. Clark is so incredible," says Charleigh's mother, Kayleen. Because she is a social worker at Riley, she understands the stress a hospitalization can cause and the importance of being surrounded by caring people like Mrs. Clark. "She has been amazing with communicating about her medical issues all year, making sure Charleigh feels comfortable, always catching her up when she misses, and being so good to her during this time. Charleigh had a lot of anxiety leading up to her surgery. Any time that she was worried about it, Mrs. Clark always took the time to make her feel better. We talk about what a divine intervention it is that she's Charleigh's teacher this year."
"My teacher is a very nice, nice teacher," echoes Charleigh. "She has daughters that are just like me and she really likes them. I think that's why she loves me. She's just a really nice person."
The purpose of the Bear in My Chair program resonates with Mrs. Clark. "Many of my students have been very worried about their friend and truly miss seeing her each day in class," she says. "They have fallen in love with our bear. She goes everywhere with us."
My teacher is a very nice, nice teacher. She has daughters that are just like me and she really likes them. I think that's why she loves me. She's just a really nice person. Charleigh
Charleigh's parents Devon and Kayleen are aware that there a many other families in similar situations, experiencing the unique stresses of extended hospitalizations and the loneliness that results from being unable to participate in activities like school. "The Riley Foundation is donor funded," says Kayleen. "I think it's very important for our community to support them so kids like Charleigh can have this opportunity when they aren't able to be in school. It's also very important for the community to know that Riley not only supports physical health. They work hard to support mental and social health as well."
When asked what she's looking forward to the most, Charleigh says, "To have a celebration when I'm all better." She's lobbying her parents for a big party, "with a pool and bouncy houses."
"We're going to celebrate when you're all better," says Kayleen, smiling.
"It's going to be big. A very, very big celebration," says Charleigh, eyes wide.
Charleigh's classmates will be ready to celebrate, too. They'll celebrate on the day Charleigh returns to school to reclaim her place in a chair that's been kept warm by a bear and people who care.