I grew up in Florida with three older brothers and a younger sister. I loved learning. My mother taught my siblings and I the importance of school and led by example, always seeking a new college degree and achieving two masters and a doctorate in my lifetime. With her example, I went into kindergarten eager to learn and loving school. As much as I loved learning, school became too easy and boring. My classes were very robotic. I’d go to school, take notes, listen to teachers talk at me, go home to do homework and repeat the next day. As a teacher my goal is to set the example of the importance of school that my mother instilled in me and to keep the love of learning going.
My motivation for entering the internship at Nemours was that the ultimate goal of each of these children is to be able to go back to school after their treatments at Nemours are complete. They will be going back into a classroom, potentially my classroom, with unique needs and I feel like I needed to know where they are coming from to know how to serve their needs in a traditional classroom. Beyond my initial motivation, I’ve learned how much these children crave learning. When I enter a room with a lesson, their faces light up. They are willing participants in their learning and it reminds me of why I wanted to become a teacher in the beginning. Children in the hospital face a lot of challenges and by providing educational services, I’m able to give them a distraction from some of those challenges as well as promote educational development and prepare them to eventually go back to school.
Greetings Families, Colleagues and Student Interns,
It is a distinct pleasure to welcome you to PedsAcademy at Nemours Children’s Hospital—the world’s first pediatric school program designed to provide children in hospitals with extraordinary, research-backed educational opportunities specific to their respective disease or condition.
Building PedsAcademy has been a dream of mine since I first walked into a children’s hospital as a volunteer teacher in 2012. At that time, I became aware of an entire population of children who were, by all accounts, invisible in the broader field of education. While every child’s education is important, our aim through PedsAcademy is to reduce educational inequality by improving the quality of education available to children for whom both health and education are already severely diminished and for whom the betterment of each is an absolute requirement of justice—children with chronic and complex medical issues. Our curriculum and teaching methods in PedsAcademy are primarily based in robotics and immersive virtual reality interventions, including the development of avatars for the children and other virtual humans to address their disease or condition specific needs such as neurocognitive deficit, physiological positioning, and socio-emotional health. Our aim is to go far beyond the minimum, to provide an extraordinary education experience at PedsAcademy so that children re-enter their school with a leg up as critical problem solvers, flexible thinkers, and irrepressible learners.
We’re also big! This is big, is an important phrase for UCF. As one of the largest universities in the nation, we are able to harness the power of scale to bring 54 UCF affiliated faculty and students on site to run PedsAcademy. PedsAcademy includes a semester long cohort internship for pre-service elementary teachers in order to prepare them to teach specifically to this population of students. This high impact experience intentionally combines several well-accepted high-impact practices that result in deeper learning and greater engagement, in addition to gaining real-world experience and developing professional competencies. Beyond our pre-service teachers, PedsAcademy provides an opportunity for UCF students from all colleges to explore the possibilities of collaboration with non-traditional school settings, vulnerable populations, and healthcare providers to discover how they can align themselves and their career aspirations with meaningful work now and in the future. Students from across UCF colleges gain an immersive view of educating high-needs populations through clinical teaching experience, academic courses, individual and collaborative research projects, and educational seminars provided by UCF and Nemours’ faculty.
Thank you for your role in helping making PedsAcademy a success.
Megan Nickels, Ph.D.
Faculty Director, UCF’s PedsAcademy at Nemours Children’s Hospital
Assistant Professor, STEM Education
College of Community Innovation and Education
School of Teacher Education
Assistant Professor, STEM Education
College of Medicine
University of Central Florida