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Project TEACH Volunteers Create Interactive Science Modules for Children in Hospitals

Explosive milk fireworks, bridges built from gumdrops and suspenseful egg drop competitions: they may sound like wacky science experiments gone awry, but these are all fun and educational activities for children that may soon be coming to a hospital near you.

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Yosefa Schoor, left, and Laura Taieb, right, work with children in Columbia University’s Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital to create a volcano.

Welcome to Project TEACH – Together Educating All Children in Hospitals, a joint initiative from Yeshiva University undergraduates and students at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in which volunteers design, develop and implement a series of science and humanities modules for pediatric patients. The program currently operates in eight hospitals in New York, with over 270 volunteers running informational and recreational activities for children and their families. Its largest event took place this spring, when more than 30 YU students constructed volcanoes with patients at Columbia University’s Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital.

Yosefa Schoor, now a senior at Stern College for Women, and Yair Saperstein, a Yeshiva College graduate who is studying at Einstein, co-founded the program last spring. Last fall, Rachel Leah Victor, also a senior at Stern, joined the team as co-director.

“After shadowing a pediatric neurologist, I saw that the kids in hospitals, both patients and their siblings, were kids who lacked social interactions,” said Schoor, explaining the impetus behind the creation of the program. “There were so many of my friends interested in teaching who wanted to help, so we decided to do something.”

Dr. Edward Burns, executive dean at Einstein, personally funded the pilot program and later assisted in securing funds from Einstein’s Community Based Service Learning, which helps students who serve vulnerable populations and have an impact on health and social justice issues through community engagement.

“Our hopes and dreams for all YU students is that they internalize the lessons of our timeless Torah both in their personal behavior as well as their contributions to society,” said Dean Burns. “The students who dedicate their free time to educating hospitalized children as part of Project TEACH personify the melding of Torah values, compassion and a commitment to tikkun olam [repairing the world]. I am very proud of them as representing YU’s finest.”

2712 Yeshiva U-7654Schoor also credits Dr. Brenda Loewy, clinical associate professor of biology and director of pre-health advising at Stern and Dr. Karen Bacon, Dr. Monique C. Katz Dean of Stern, for helping to get Project TEACH off the ground by offering their guidance and providing contacts at various local hospitals.

Project TEACH volunteers reach out to child life specialists at different hospitals to explain the rationale behind the program and why it would be valuable for each specific hospital and its patients.

“By utilizing the altruism of university students to help provide for the children who are confined to a hospital, both sides benefit: the students eager to volunteer and the children in the hospital, eager for social interaction,” said Schoor. “TEACH is that and more, as it unfolds these benefits within an environment of teaching and learning.”

The response at participating hospitals has been overwhelmingly positive.

“Project TEACH has been a wonderful addition to our Child Life Program,” said Carla Pratt, Child Life director at Jacobi Medical Center. “Our children have certainly been impacted by this unique program and look forward to the wonderful and creative events Project TEACH offers during each of their visits. We are thrilled to have Project TEACH and appreciate their selfless contributions.”

There has been such a high volume of interest from YU students that there are often more volunteers signed up than the hospitals can accommodate.

“We have a great network of students,” said Saperstein. “That’s what’s really unique about YU—the enthusiasm that students have. We used to run modules just once a month and now we have them as often as 14 times a month because student interest is incredible. This project lets us reach out to so many people beyond our immediate community—to all patients and their families in need.”

The project also appeals to students because it doesn’t require them to have a background in a specific discipline, regardless of whether the module is focused on a topic in science, art or the humanities.

“It’s an opportunity for university students to make a difference, and it’s unique because it has an informative angle and tries to incorporate education,” said Schoor.

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Project TEACH volunteers at Columbia University’s Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital

For Victor, it’s all about the happiness she can bring to the children she visits.

“It’s so gratifying to be working with these kids—who are struggling with difficult things on a daily basis—and being able to penetrate their tough shells and crack them open,” she said. “When I can see that smile, I know I got through to them.”

In addition to the fulfillment the TEACH participants get from seeing the children respond positively, it’s equally rewarding to witness the exponential growth of the program, which started out on a much smaller scale and now sends hundreds of volunteers each semester to work with patients all over the five boroughs.

Project TEACH eventually hopes to expands its programming to include students from other universities and is exploring additional ways to grow and secure grants and partnership opportunities with other hospitals and organizations.