Christopher Harden used to teach math and reading in a traditional middle school classroom, but he wanted more of a challenge. Now, he works as a Hospital Teacher with small groups of students at Hughes Spalding who span a wide age range. Christopher also dreams up outreach programs to better integrate kids into the community—and set them up for life after graduation.
5:00 a.m. A runner, Christopher exercises in the morning before his wife, Regina, and 8-year-old niece, Indigo, wake up. After he’s home from his run, he’ll walk Indigo to the school bus stop, then enjoy a bowl of Honey Bunches of Oats before heading out the door.
7:40 a.m. Christopher catches a bus and rides the train to Georgia State—just a short walk from Hughes Spalding. “I like to use the time on MARTA to reflect on the day ahead,” he explains.
8:20 a.m. When Christopher arrives at work, he assesses which children he’ll be seeing today. The sickle cell patients who come for transfusions miss an average of eight days of school a year, spending four-to-six hours at the hospital for each appointment. The inpatient children might miss a consecutive week or two. The kids all have federal 504 plans that detail the medical reason for their school absences and outline how they’ll make up work they miss. Christopher helps maintain these documents.
10:00 a.m. For the transfusion patients, it’s time to begin lessons. “Once the nurses get the IV in and blood is flowing and vitals are good, they’ll say, ‘Chris, you can have them now.’” Today, the group includes two middle school students and a high school sophomore and junior. While the younger kids read a primer on the three branches of government, the older students read a speech by President Lyndon Johnson on voting rights.
11:00 a.m. A visitor from Georgia Tech’s Biomedical Engineering department arrives at the clinic to teach the kids about sickle cells. The guest uses a hands-on exercise with colored beads representing the components of blood. Christopher is responsible for cultivating partnerships with organizations like Tech, Fernbank Science Center and Georgia State to pair his kids with local experts and provide specialized, in-depth lessons.
12:00 p.m. Back in his office, Christopher receives a phone call from a patient’s mother whose son has been hospitalized with a sickle cell pain crisis. There’s a vast network of people involved in a child’s well-being. “I have to put my advocate hat on,” Christopher says. He follows up with the patient’s doctor to estimate how long the teen will be out, then calls the school counselor to make sure assignments are emailed to the hospital. Once his calls are done, Christopher takes a break for lunch and catches up on news with his officemate, Child Life Specialist Elnora Williams.
1:00 p.m. Christopher’s concern for his students go beyond the hospital walls. “Kids who have sickle cell are small,” Christopher explains. “They go through puberty late. The other kids ask them, ‘Why do you miss so much school?’” He spends some time researching anti- bullying policies to protect his kids.
2:00 p.m. Christopher heads upstairs to teach the inpatient children. In a hospital, it’s important to simulate a classroom environment, so he likes to teach the kids as a group. Another way he creates a schoolroom feel? Movement! “We go to the library and sit at computer stations, then I’ll get up and teach for a little while. After that, we stand up, walk in the hallway and come back,” he says. 4:00 p.m. Christopher follows up with some older students. “I start this journey with them. I want to complete it with them,” he says. Last year, five of his six 12th graders graduated high school. Four of them are going to college. “One is taking time off,” Christopher says. “I’m calling her to make sure she’s on a path.” In fact, he recently organized the first college fair at Children’s. “Meeting representatives from colleges and trade schools gives kids an incentive,” he says. “I don’t want them waiting until 11th or 12th grade to start performing in school.”
5:00 p.m. Christopher begins packing up for his commute home. Before he leaves, he writes about his day and creates tomorrow's to-do list. “I like to keep work at work, and I keep family with family,” he says. Taking stock helps him make that transition. 5:40 p.m. At home, Indigo is waiting with a snack to share. Christopher helps her get started on her homework. Afterward, the family eats dinner together and watches “NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt.” “I love the news,” says Christopher. “I’ll even tape the show if homework runs over.”
8:30 p.m. Tonight, Christopher tunes in to the Braves game, but his family will usually find him sitting down with a book. “Reading is an important hobby,” he says. It helps him recharge and give his mind a break before bedtime at 10:30 p.m. After all, he’ll have a brand-new group of students to teach in the morning.