Blythedale Children’s Hospital is no stranger to celebrating milestones. On Friday, June 23, four graduates received their diplomas from Mount Pleasant Blythedale Union Free School District. The Special Act school district which was created in 1971 to serve the patients of Blythedale Children's Hospital is the only one of its kind in country. Educating students from pre-K to 12th grade, hundreds of students attend Mount Pleasant Blythedale during the school year to learn while their bodies heal.
Sixteen years ago, Joey Mileti’s parents toured the School and Hospital when he was three years old at the suggestion from Joey’s neurologist. While touring with their dedicated social worker, Laura Alvarez, they knew Mount Pleasant Blythedale was the best place for Joey - who has mitochondrial disease - to learn.
“Coming to Blythedale is just a normal day,” said Gabby Mileti, Joey’s mom. “Joey has received an education while also receiving the medical assistance he needs. He’s also made lifelong friends. It was never a question of will he be the only one with a walker at school, there are hundreds of children like him.”
Jasmin Theeman's journey was different. Jasmin was born prematurely with hip dysplasia and scoliosis, that wasn’t corrected until she began middle school in 2018. She required multiple complicated surgeries to correct the hip dysplasia and scoliosis, as well as a limb length discrepancy.
“You can’t talk about Jasmin’s journey without talking about the five surgeries that began in eighth grade,” reflected Nancy Theeman, Jasmin’s grandmother. Jasmin was initially admitted to Blythedale for complex post-surgical rehabilitation. As an inpatient, Jasmin received therapies while also attending school, before transitioning back to her community school. For five years, Jasmin transitioned in and out of Blythedale after surgeries to recover. During that time, she attended Mount Pleasant Blythedale to continue with her studies so that she could stay on track. After her most recent surgery, Jasmin was able to attend Blythedale’s Day Hospital program so that she could live at home while continuing to receive her necessary therapies while attending school.
“The job of a child is to go to school,” said Dr. Emily Hersh, Superintendent of Mount Pleasant Blythedale. “Unfortunately, our children have learned that life happens and gets in the way sometimes. We have afforded that opportunity to allow that sense of normalcy so that they can continue their journey of education with us. Without us, they might be more isolated and feel less included in being a child and doing what children do, which is go to school, have fun, make friends, and learn.”
Students at Mount Pleasant Blythedale attend classes with their peers at the same grade level and engage in subjects such as English, Math, Social Studies, and Science. They take the required Regents exams for each grade, allowing students to pass and graduate from the School. This year, Joey and Jasmin advocated for a book club to engage with their classmates in discussion.
Discussions are part of the reason that Jasmin is pursuing a degree in Psychology at Hunter College this fall.
“I enjoy discussions and I enjoy understanding how someone's train of thought comes into play, how someone shapes their mindset or mannerisms, how that works,” said Theeman. “So, I chose psychology because I felt like it was an umbrella of all the things I might enjoy learning, like sociology, philosophy and then psychology as well.”
Mileti also has big dreams and can’t hold back a smile when he remembers seeing he was accepted to Westchester Community College. “I gotta say, it feels pretty good,” he shared.
Once the emotional ceremony concluded on Friday, staff at both the school and hospital lined the walls for a celebratory clap-out for the graduates. As they made their way to the main circle, they threw their caps in the air and prepared for their next chapter.