The teacher is in

The teacher is in

Alachua County teacher helps Shands patients keep up with school

 By Meredith Rutland

Steve Boissoneault, a hospital/homebound teacher for Alachua County Public Schools, teaches Taron Robinson, 16 at Shands at UF./Photo by Maria Belen Farias

Taron Robinson, 16, stared at an equation and furrowed his brow.

For about five seconds, he didn’t say a word. A dialysis machine hummed next to him, cleaning his blood.

Steve Boissoneault, Taron’s teacher while he’s a patient at Shands at UF, sat next to him, hands folded. Taron picked up his pencil and scratched out the answers.

“There you go,” said Boissoneault. “Now you’re cooking.”

Boissoneault works for the Alachua County Public Schools as a teacher for homebound and hospitalized students. He’s been doing this job for 26 years. He comes to Shands at UF three days a week and visits homebound children two days a week.

“It’s to support the kids,” he said. “I think it does provide a bit of normalcy to their life.”

There used to be three or four people teaching Alachua County students at Shands. Now, he’s the only one. He’s one of two full-time homebound teachers in the county.

After earning his bachelor’s degree in religion from Florida State University and his master’s degree in education from UF, Boissoneault started out as a special education teacher at Bradford High School. He applied for his current job when he saw there was an opening to teach children in hospitals.

When he gets a new student, he checks with the teacher to get the class assignments he or she will be missing. If the student will be missing months of class — perhaps due to a transplant or another procedure — he’ll ask for a syllabus of concepts that he’ll need to cover before the student returns to school.

He spends some time with Taron on a Wednesday morning while the teenager is hooked up to a dialysis machine. They go through his worksheet of equations step-by-step. Boissoneault brings his iPad to graph equations so Taron can visualize them.

“I wish I could say it’s easy,” Boissoneault told Taron about a particular question.

They work on it for a bit, but Taron struggles.

“It’s always going to go, just like the alphabet, x and then y,” Boissoneault said.

Boissoneault picks up the paper and leans toward Taron, pencil in hand. He angles the paper so it’s directly in his line of sight and points to the numbers as he discusses them. Taron starts to work out the problem, erasing answers he knows are wrong. Boissoneault repeats parts of the lesson, and Taron starts easing toward the answer. Then, he gets it.

Boissoneault said he gets children who want to learn and keep up with their classmates, and then he gets children who don’t care about school. He said he’s learned to manage both personalities and everything in between.

He teaches math, English, science, history — all of the basics — and Spanish. His students range from elementary school to high school.

The purpose of his effort is simple, he said. He wants these kids to keep up with their schoolwork. Being in a hospital can push students back weeks — or months — in their curriculum. He’s there to make sure they can feel like a normal kid when they go back to school.

“When they go back to school, they should be able to pick up where they left off,” he said.