You can teach a student a lesson for a day; but if you can teach him to learn by creating curiosity, he will continue the learning process as long as he lives.” – Clay P. Bedford
“Despite their diseases, these kids are fearless,” says Brett. “They don’t dwell on death; they dwell on living and getting the most out of life while they are alive. But they often fall so far behind in their lessons that they get left back a grade or more. It becomes demoralizing when they see their friends moving ahead, and they’re not. In addition to dealing with their illness, which is of great concern to them and their parents, they begin to feel irrelevant.”
That’s why the Nevada Childhood Cancer Foundation, which was already providing other services to critically ill children and their families, decided a full-time K-12 classroom was needed at Sunrise Children’s Hospital.
When NCCF’s CEO, Jeff Gordon, presented the idea to the Clark County School District, he encountered a lot of red tape. After putting together their own budget that included hiring a Director of Education and a full-time teacher to work with CCSD to create an accredited curriculum tailored to each child, Jeff and NCCF’s board of directors realized they needed a generous benefactor to underwrite this ambitious and impactful program.
In 2008, Jeff went to his friend, Brett Torino, who was already funding Camp Cartwheel, and again without hesitation, Brett said, “Let me know what needs to happen and we’ll get it done.”
“It’s been said, it takes a village to raise and teach a child,” says Jeff Gordon. “Our village is anchored by the Brett Torino Foundation, who responded with a huge heart by offering to fund the entire program. That’s why NCCF named the 340-square foot educational facility on the 5th floor of the pediatric oncology unit at Sunrise Children’s Hospital the Brett Torino In-Patient Classroom.”
Thanks to the Brett Torino Foundation, the classroom which is open five days a week from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., is equipped with school supplies, computers, a DVD player, and iPads. If a child doesn’t feel well enough to come to the classroom, a tutor goes to the child’s bedside.
Approximately 180 children are enrolled in the program every year. Gordon says it is the only place in the nation where a full-time classroom in a hospital was started and is operated by a local nonprofit and funded by a private donor, something NCCF and Brett Torino are very proud of.
As Jim Henson, the creator of the Muppets said, “Kids don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.”
Brett is very clear that the reason these educational services reach far beyond the In-Patient Classroom at Sunrise Hospital is because of the generosity of others.
“The classroom is part of a broad overall strategy,” says Brett. “UNLV is involved with and supports the tutorial programs on so many levels. It’s not just classroom centric. There is an entire outreach program affiliated with UNLV that involve teachers, honor students who donate their time as tutors, and other people in a community-wide effort."
In addition to the In-Patient Classroom, the Brett Torino Foundation Education Services funds several other services through NCCF:
Students who have missed six months of school or more celebrate returning to class by receiving a backpack, school supplies, a gift card for new clothes, and a special lunch.
NCCF’s Director of Education, as well as its one and only teacher, a licensed clinical social worker, and each child’s doctor and nurse, work collectively with teachers, school nurses, counselors, social workers, psychologists and other staff members throughout the Clark County School District to facilitate each child’s return to the classroom.
Life-size puppets named Shane and Valerie help create a sensitive and understanding school environment for the children to return to by educating students and the school staff about the short and long term side-effects of cancer, sickle cell, hemophilia, and immunological disorders. They also learn the importance of acceptance and anti-bullying and appreciating people who are different and face challenges, a lesson that may have a lasting positive impact on them for the rest of their lives.
May 2019 will be the tenth anniversary of NCCF’s C.A.P.S. program that honors students who have shown Courage, Achievement, Perseverance, and Success in the Brett Torino Foundation Education Services Program. Every year Brett is the keynote speaker at the C.A.P.s Ceremony.
A quote by Shannon L. Alder says, “Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.”
That is certainly something Brett Torino does every day.
“One of the first students to take advantage of this program struggled his entire life with different cancers and immune related diseases. At age nine he got to experience the Brett Torino Foundation Classroom for a brief time before losing his battle. Before he passed, he said to his mother, ‘I knew school would be just like this. I have never had more fun in my life.’ What a testament to this wonderful program.”
– Jeff Gordon, CEO of NCCF
“I thought life was over. No more school, no more friends or teachers. That hurt because I thought everybody forgot me. But my teacher came into my room with books and said, ‘Let’s start school.’ From that moment on, I knew I would graduate with my class. I made two A’s, two B’s, and two C’s in the first quarter, and I became intent on graduating with a 4.0 GPA. There are not enough words to explain how Nevada Childhood Cancer Foundation and the Brett Torino Foundation Classroom helped me.”
- Tealan, age 17, AML Leukemia
“While doing chemo, I missed a lot of school. It was very hard not being a normal teenager. I had bad grades and lost a lot of friends. Nevada Childhood Foundation and the Brett Torino Foundation Classroom helped me with my education to the point where I got 10 credits ahead and received the NCCF Student of the Year Award.”
– Valerie, age 16, Stage IV Brain Tumor
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