In mid-2013, a student from Berrinba East State School in south-east Queensland contacted MissingSchool about ways of supporting kids who missed school because of serious illness. Hayley had been told she would need a bone marrow transplant, and she and her family knew that she would be spending a lot of time in hospital and even more time at home recovering. Hayley was keen to maintain contact with her class and also to help other kids who might be having a similar experience.
MissingSchool had been talking to The Cure Starts Now, based in Townsville, about the “Monkey in My Chair” program developed for kids having treatment for cancer. The kids receive a Monkey, who can go to school when the kid is too sick to attend, and sit in the kid’s place in the classroom. The Monkey is an ongoing reminder to everybody of the class-member who is missing, and comes with its own backpack which can courier letters, cards, notes and even homework between school and home.
MissingSchool wanted to evaluate the program to understand how it might be used for all kids with serious health conditions which keep them out of school. The Cure Starts Now offered to provide a Monkey. Hayley, her family, and the Principal and teachers at Berrinba East State School agreed to trial the Monkey and share their experience in order to learn more about how it works.
In an extraordinary turn of events, another student at Berrinba East was diagnosed with a serious illness a short while later – and so a second Monkey was delivered. The two classroom teachers at Berrinba East are now working together to explore how best to incorporate the Monkeys into the day-to-day class routine.
The Monkeys have so far been a great hit with the kids and teachers. Hayley’s teacher comments that Fernando is a great prompt for students to take the initiative in sending cards and letters to Hayley, and they all love taking Fernando to different class activities. He even helped to present a report on a class science event. The other student’s teacher set up a roster of “Monkey Keepers” who take turns to look after the Monkey when the student can’t be there and write a Monkey update every day to send home to him.
This is an immensely valuable learning opportunity for MissingSchool and for all the parties who are working hard to support these two students. MissingSchool humbly acknowledges the generosity of The Cure Starts Now in providing the Monkeys, and applauds the leadership role which Berrinba East State School is taking in sharing their experience to improve outcomes for all sick kids. We believe this is the first time a school in Australia has had two Monkeys in the Chair at the same time. Special thanks go to Hayley, who wanted to use her story to help other kids like herself and got it all started.