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Care, support come first

Published January 6, 2007 at midnight

The Kunsberg School is the only school of its type in the country. It is a sanctuary to 80 kindergarten-through-eighth grade students who are enrolled because chronic illness has made things difficult for them in public schools.

The students are assisted by well-credentialed teachers - all have a master's degree in education - and three nurses.

Associate director of special events Kieran Nelson talked about the school, which is based on the National Jewish campus.

Her answers have been edited for space and clarity.

Give an example of a notable step The Kunsberg School takes to accommodate the students.

Children with health emergencies go to the nurses immediately for treatment. In extreme cases, children can be taken to the pediatric clinic at the hospital, just across the lawn from the school. Unless they require hospitalization, most students return to their classrooms as soon as they have received treatment.

What are the chief differences from a public school?

The immediate access to qualified medical staff who can individually treat the child and, in most cases, return them to the educational setting without the parents being involved. The school staff also works with each child's family to ensure that the care continues at home.

Do the children typically adjust well to the environment of the school?

The students at Kunsberg report being happy and comfortable around children who, just like them, suffer from chronic illnesses. At Kunsberg, the students are considered normal, not sick. Many former students return years later to say their days at Kunsberg are among their most treasured childhood memories.

Briefly describe an instance when The Kunsberg School truly made a difference.

Kyler has Cerebral Palsy and has limited mobility. Recently he had invasive surgery on his spinal column to give him a better opportunity to walk. Currently, he must ride in a wheelchair or crawl on all fours. He goes to physical therapy several times per week and is learning how to walk again. He functions well at Kunsberg because of the medical attention he receives, because of the small classroom size and because we individualize the instruction to accommodate his needs.

What would be the outstanding benefit of increased funding?

Kunsberg spends $1.4 million each year to educate its 90 chronically ill students. More than 50 percent of the students rely upon the Medicare program for transportation to and from the school; however, in January, Medicare no longer will fund the transportation to Kunsberg. Many of our students no longer will be able to attend Kunsberg because their families cannot get them here.

Have you seen an increase in the number of children entering the school?

Because of the size of our school, we can only provide education to 90 children each year.

We have a waiting list of children who qualify to attend Kunsberg but whose grades are completely full.

How long have you held your position, and how and why did you get into this line of work?

I have been in the Development Department at National Jewish for six years, and I have been in my current position since October.

I started in this department as an administrative assistant. The bottom line is that I love working with people.

The Kunsberg School at National Jewish Medical and Research Center

Mission: To address the needs of children in grades K-8 whose education is interrupted by chronic illness.

Year founded: 1977

Clients helped: 90 children for academic year 2006-07

Number of staff: 16

Number of volunteers: Six permanent, 15 as needed and 75 reading buddies

Annual Budget: $1,522,675

Web site: about/kunsberg/index.aspx

Post-News Season To Share, a fund of the McCormick Tribune Foundation, last year gave more than $1.73 million to 56 agencies serving children, as well as people who are hungry, homeless or in need of medical care. Donations are matched at 50 cents for each dollar, and 100 percent of all donations go directly to local charitable agencies. To make a donation, see the coupon on Page 30A of today's paper, call 1-888-683-4483 or visit seasontoshare.com.

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