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Pupils at local primary schools have been visiting St Barnabas House hospice in Worthing as part of a pioneering project to learn about hospice care.
The ‘St B’s schools project’ enables schoolchildren aged 9-10 to explore concepts of life, death, dying and bereavement and introduces the children to hospice care in a safe and non-threatening environment.
Children visit St Barnabas House once a week for a three week period and are paired with a patient who they get to know and participate in creative activities with.
They are encouraged to ask patients questions about their illnesses and experiences under the support and guidance of hospice staff.
The course also includes a tour of the hospice and the children have the opportunity to meet staff from various different departments across the charity. Learning takes place through discussions, stories and creative exercises.
At the end of every three week course, children and patients enjoys a celebration, to which parents are invited, where they are presented with a certificate and a goody bag to take home with them.
Mrs Marion Smith, Head Teacher at Storrington Primary School, felt that the course was of huge value to the children who attended.
Mrs Smith said: “The course has been hugely valuable in developing the children’s ideas around empathy, mortality and the elderly. Our children have come back with so many fantastic thoughts and ideas about the course.
“Children were able to talk about older members of their families who had died and were also able to talk comfortably about this to their parents.
“Two of our children do not have grandparents so they have taken hugely from the experience of socialising with the elderly.”
Mrs Rebecca Jackson, Head Teacher at Holmbush Primary Academy, added: “The fab team at St Barnabas pick up the children and a couple of staff in the minibus and take them to the hospice. They have a tour and get paired up with a patient.
“They do activities together for three weeks and in the last week the parents can also come in and see what they have done.
“The hospice provides a workbook for the children and they learn about the hospice, acts of kindness, dignity, and much more.”
The project addresses national curriculum requirements such as health and wellbeing, relationships, living in the wider world, resilience, loss and transition. It also explores emotions such as loss and bereavement.
Project lead, Marcelle Palmer, said: “Across the whole of West Sussex approximately 2,830 schoolchildren aged 5-16 have been bereaved of a parent or sibling.
“One aim of the project is that children, parents and teachers feel better informed and more comfortable talking about death and dying.
“Children, parents and teachers will also have a better understanding of St Barnabas House and hospice care, while patients have reported improvements in wellbeing and reduced feelings of social isolation.
“The project is also important to the charity in terms of building links in the community and raising awareness of the hospice and its services.
“We have had some great feedback with some of the children saying they didn’t want to leave and they are no longer afraid of going to a hospice. Some parents who were initially apprehensive have said their perceptions of the hospice have changed.”
Places on the course during the 2018/19 school year are now fully booked, but if your school is interested in taking part you can be put on a waiting list.
Marcelle added: “The number of courses are limited but we have started a waiting list in case any schools drop out.”
If your school would like to find out more about the project or book a course, please email Marcelle.Palmer@stbh.org.uk or call 01903 706357.