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      Special classroom at Upstate Golisano Children's Hospital connects patients with their teachers back home

      For GanLi Demyttenaere, a hospital room has become a second home. She was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia and has only left the Upstate Golisano Children's Hospital once over the past three months.

      A chain of beads represent all the treatments and milestones she has gone through. GanLi, a 9th grader from Cazenovia, has already been through more tests than many people see in a lifetime. Her beads represent everything from x-rays to a lumbar puncture and having her hair cut. Since she can't leave the hospital, GanLi hasn't been able to attend classes at Cazenovia High School but the hospital can bring her classroom to her.

      Two way videoconferencing in the hospital's specially equipped classroom allows her to be a part of her classes. Using a small remote, she can zoom in, pan around, ask questions and join in discussions.

      "It's just nice to hear the teacher instead of finding out what he means when he adds into the work he sends me or stuff," said GanLi after a Global History class on Monday.

      OCM BOCES teacher Mary Ellen Michalenko works with GanLi and other students at the hospital. There are portable video conferencing units for students who can't leave their beds but Michalenko says coming to the hospital's classroom provides a good atmosphere for learning.

      "This is the school and children come in here to do school work and it gets them out of their room but it also connects them to their school so they're doing their work for their credit," said Michalenko.

      "Over the past six years the 'Staying Connected is Good Medicine' program at the hospital has helped more than 25 students from Northern New York to the Southern Tier of the state.

      The technical capabilities of the hospital's special classroom are more impressive to adults than kids who have always had the internet. GanLi said it just seems natural but she's grateful for the chance to participate in classes.

      Her Global History teacher, Joe Schettine, said long distance learning would be extremely difficult without the video link. Schettine said that instead of setting up tutors and instructions, everyone at the school can still be a part of GanLi's education.

      "Everybody here has been super supportive of getting GanLi everything she needs in order to make her feel like she's just an average kid. Because even though she's battling through some things right now, we want her to feel as comfortable as she can," said Schettine.

      GanLi might need to stay in the hospital until at least the beginning of next year. She's taking everything in stride, staying positive and making sure she keeps up to date with all of her assignments.

      "I would still probably get through it but it would be a little harder. It just makes things go quicker," said GanLi.

      The hospital classroom was established with help from the Lukie's SOUL Foundation. The foundation was set up in memory of Luke Frechette who died of cancer at age four in 2002.