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School Program Helps High School Patients Focus on Academics

January 23, 2014

High school patients who are recovering from a spinal cord injury or traumatic brain injury have a unique concern: homework. Keeping up with their schoolwork, at least in one class, can help youths feel connected to their lives and on track with their plans. For approximately 15 years, the Craig Hospital School Program has helped high school students with their studies while they’re in the hospital recovering.

For the last five years, Laura Magnuson has taught in the program. She has undergraduate degrees in education and in special education (in mental impairment), a master's degree in education (focusing on learning disabilities) and teaching experience at public and private schools. Magnuson’s background has prepared her well for her role, where she functions as teacher and advocate.

She meets with students and their families, school counselors, teachers and administrators. Ideally, Magnuson gets assignments in English, math, history, science or elective classes from classroom teachers and modifies them to meet students’ needs. Magnuson also has developed the curriculum for students when necessary.

While some other hospitals have tutoring programs, she says the Craig program is different because it’s an integral part of a high school student’s rehabilitation. Last year, 28 students were enrolled in the program, which lasts three weeks to three months depending on students’ injuries.

“We want the student to be able to transition back to school successfully and be current in at least one subject,” she explains. “Additionally, I create a thorough transition plan to help the student move back successfully.”

She examines the physical layout of the school and grounds if the student is in a wheelchair, and she looks at the curriculum to determine what kind of accommodations or modifications the student might need.

Forrest White was going into his junior year at Eaton High School on Aug. 7, 2011, when he had an automobile accident causing spinal cord injuries and traumatic brain injuries. During his four-month stay at Craig Hospital, Magnuson developed a comprehensive unit focusing on the brain and spine using White’s diagnosis and treatment plans for science credit.

“I learned about my brain and injuries. I learned the names for the parts of the brain and names for the damage,” White says.

Back at Eaton High School, White gave a powerful presentation about drunk driving to the freshman class. Magnuson stayed in touch, checking in to find out how school was going.

White earned his high school diploma in December 2013 and will participate in Eaton’s graduation ceremonies in May. He’s considering going to gunsmithing school.

Magnuson says her favorite part of the job is getting to know the students.

“These high schoolers are amazingly resilient. They’ve just experienced a life-changing event, and it’s not what they had in mind for any of their high school years. The Craig Hospital motto is ‘redefining possible’ and I have an awesome opportunity to help them do that and to identify and focus on their abilities as they move forward. It’s empowering high schoolers to be advocates for themselves,” she says.

By the Numbers

2013 enrollment: 28 students
18 with traumatic brain injuries
10 with spinal cord injuries
20 males
8 females
13 Colorado residents
15 from out of state
13 Craig Hospital graduates also were high school graduates