Monthly Archives: June 2011

Eight Year Old Boy Attending Second Grade Via Skype™

This is a story about the amazing collective empathy and adaptability of seven year olds. It is also a story of the innovative way a school administration is teaching a second grader his full curriculum entirely remotely via Skype™. It is about the extra efforts and hours, creativity and dedication of a group of grade school teachers. This story is about a community that unifies to help a family during a challenging year. It began nearly a year ago with a then seven year old boy. Nick and his family’s challenges during the last nine months are far from over and treatments will continue through the summer. Fortunately  he is currently N.E.D. (no evidence of disease). There is a fifty percent chance his disease will return. We will periodically provide updates.

Nick Barabaro, a second grader at Golden Brook School, is in months-long isolation at his home following a stem cell transplant to treat Neuroblastoma. Last July Nick visited the family doctor with a sore stomach. Within twenty-four hours he was diagnosed with Stage 3 Neuroblastoma, a cancer caused by a nerve cell abnormality. On August 2nd, Nick began a series of chemotherapy treatments as an inpatient at Children’s Hospital. He has thus far completed six chemotherapy cycles and a stem cell transplant following surgery to remove the tumor. Nick’s immune system is at risk as his body cannot produce antibodies, resulting in his isolation which began January 19th.

Last fall the hospital arranged for Nick to be tutored while hospitalized and he attended GBS when we was well, which was not often due to the treatment’s awful toll on his little body. In February GBS administrators coordinated with Sally Hunt, GBS guidance counselor, Nick’s teacher, and Nick and his parents to allow him to continue his full second grade curriculum via Skype™, believed to be the first endeavor of its kind anywhere in the country at the grade school level. Many staff members were involved in determining how best to execute the remote initiative. Team meetings are still held each Monday and are attended by all educators participating in Nick’s curriculum including Ms. Morris, Nick’s teacher, Melissa MacDonald, Nick’s tutor, technologist Pam Hathaway, music teacher Eric Graff, art teacher Jen Proulx, physical education teachers Laurie Putnam, Ryan Bartlett, librarian Katie Smith and guidance counselor Sally Hunt.

Second grade classmate Cassie Fischer oversees Nick’s Skype ™ sessions, ensuring connectivity, proper camera angles and microphone placements as well as troubleshooting and fixing technical issues. Cassie and Nick reside in the same neighborhood and have a strong connection. Ms. Morris said, “Cassie volunteered to help Nick. She initially offered to bring his homework to and from school for him. She is a very strong student. This extra responsibility does not impede her own learning.”

His classmates, all of whom adapted and acclimated to Nick’s situation very quickly, empathize with the detachment Nick feels while in isolation. The staff and students are trying to make Nick a part of the class, as if he were physically there. Classmate Joey Pallaria, who was in Nick’s class last year, sits with Nick during snack every day. Students eat their lunch with Nick one-on-one. Upon learning of Nick’s illness, Abby Husson, a classmate and friend, was “upset and scared because cancer can do bad things”. When Nick returned to class via Skype™, Abby was “excited that he was back with us”.  She said it was good to see him and that he was still him, just changed a bit because he had no hair. On Abby’s birthday, her mother brought Nick a few of her birthday cookies so he could share what the other kids were eating. He told Abby he loved the cookies.

According to his teachers and guidance counselor Nick may be the ideal child for this type of learning. He is not at all shy and will yell out if he can’t see or hear them. He is still a young boy and for all he has endured, he maintains quite a sense of humor. A few weeks ago while Skype™ing with one of his physical education teachers, Nick began playing peek-a-boo with him- in the frame, out of the frame, in the frame, out of the frame., all the while giggling like the eight year old he is.

From an administrative perspective, remote teaching has required innovation and creativity. To enable Nick to meet all his Grade Level Expectations (GLE) required to pass second grade, it was first necessary to obtain a 504 extenuating circumstance exception from the state, tailoring Nick’s second grade requirements without affecting his classmates’ education. Assistant Principal Michaud said, “We will do whatever it takes. These kids are our customers and we need to serve our customers. It’s just the right thing to do.” Indeed there have been unforeseen circumstances, some large and some small, and each issue is promptly addressed. For example the teachers discovered dead zones, areas in which the wireless networking required for Skype™ were not functioning properly, in the cafeteria and the music room. The school district sent over technicians to install new routers. Mrs. Michaud continues, “What everybody is experiencing takes the words right out of you. The value this brings to the children. They are learning progressive thinking skills.”

Each day Nick’s tutor, Melissa MacDonald, spends two hours with him administering tests, delivering homework assignments and classroom assignments. She is one of the few able to visit Nick, which is medically permitted because he had interactions with her prior to his illness and had developed pre-existing antibodies specific to her. Melissa has been Nick’s tutor since last fall, working nights, weekends and holidays to accommodate the family’s schedule. She admits it is challenging for Nick. She said, “When he is sick he can’t participate in school or homework. He loses time and it needs to be made up. There are times when he’s well he doubles up on classes and homework.” Melissa also writes out Nick’s lesson plans and provides class documents prior to week-long treatments during which Nick is hospitalized.

Windham resident Beth Lippold is interning with the school district as part of her Master’s degree program at Rivier College. Her internship recently ended and she is volunteering her time to the district until the end of the school year. She said, “It’s amazing what this school district has done with this. I’m getting THE BEST education!”

The community helped the Barbaro family from the beginning. Heather Petro created a Care Calendar, detailing which days or weeks the family needed assistance. ( Neighbors the family didn’t know offered support and donated meals. Debbie Barbaro, Nick’s mother, Said, “I think it’s great that people are willing to help out. I’m a believer in pay it forward. I asked one of my neighbors why they were doing this. She told me she thought it was important to help someone who needs it now. You expect family to be there when you need them, but people we didn’t even know, the whole town…”