Project TEACH Makes Waves Across Campus

By: Yael Farzan  |  March 17, 2014

Project TEACH, or “Together Educating All Children in Hospitals,” is a new club on campus that seeks to reach out to young children in the hospital by teaching them lessons in science and the humanities. TEACH is a program co-run by Yeshiva University undergraduate students – both on the Wilf and Beren campuses – and Einstein Medical School students, and is under the guidance of Dr. Edward Burns, M.D. and dean at Einstein. The project was founded in the spring of 2013 with the intention of having students lead educational and recreational activities in inpatient hospital playrooms. To date, the program has recruited over 250 volunteers and has expanded to the following hospitals: The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore, Long Island Jewish Medical Center, Beth Israel Medical Center (EEG Unit), Jacobi Medical Center, NYP/Weill Cornell Medical Center, and Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. The Observer recently had the opportunity to interview the founders of project TEACH: Yosefa Schoor, Stern ’14 and Yair Saperstein, YC ’12. We also had a chance to speak to Jackie Benayoun, one of the TEACH volunteers and hospital leader.

O: What gave you the initiative to start this program?

Schoor: The project began from a love of children, medicine, and having fun. After shadowing for a Pediatric Neurologist and seeing how many children were stuck in hospitals with minimal stimulation or excitement over the course of their lengthy visits, I decided that something had to change. After speaking to Dr. Loewy, the pre-med adviser at Stern, I realized last year that we could make a perfect match between children in hospitals and smart college student. After some research, Yair Saperstein =–a current AECOM student – and I realized that there was a niche within hospitals that Yeshiva University students could fill: an opportunity for YU students to help out the community in a way that has heretofore not been addressed.  When a child is in the hospital, it is often as if the whole family is in the hospital. The sick child and his/her accompanying siblings are often in need of resources that cannot be adequately supplied by the hospital, whether it is caring visitors, “recreational” education, or warm companionship.

With this in mind, Yair Saperstein reached out to the staff at Montefiore and secured an opportunity to run a pilot program of TEACH. Additionally, I started speaking to students on campus. The magnitude of interested volunteers was incredible. It seemed like every student I spoke to expressed his or her profound interest at the thought of the idea and the opportunity to service these children in such a momentous way.

Saperstein: We also reached out to Dean Edward Burns, the Dean of Yeshiva University’s AECOM, who extended his financial support and full encouragement of the project. He has been an integral adviser to our efforts and has offered much helpful guidance and advice throughout our project.

According to Dean Burns, “Our hopes and dreams for all YU students is that they internalize the lessons of our timeless Torah both in their personal behavior as well as their contributions to society. The students who dedicate their free time to educating hospitalized children as part of Project TEACH personify the melding of Torah values, compassion and a commitment to tikun olam. I am very proud of them as representing YU’s finest.”

O: Where do you see Project TEACH in a year from now?

Schoor: In short, we hope to expand TEACH to many universities and hospitals throughout the United States. Ultimately, our goal is to expand to Israel as well. There, we hope to implement TEACH throughout the universities and high schools in order to enable healthy Jewish children to provide their assistance to their fellows brethren in-need.

Saperstein: Even as we expand, we treasure the hospitals we are in now, and the children whom we have the opportunity to reach out to.

O: What distinguishes TEACH from other similar programs (i.e. Project Sunshine)?

Saperstein: What we provide is experiential learning in the form of recreational-educational activities. It’s recreation with a higher purpose. It’s education while it’s fun. No other programs provide this unique of fun, education, and warm, friendly companionship rolled into an organized set of modules.

O: Jackie, can you describe a typical TEACH visit at the hospital?

Benayoun: A typical TEACH visit involves meeting with the child life director at the hospital and being directed to a location— either a playroom area or patient bedside. Then, the TEACH volunteers explain a science concept and do a hands-on project with the kids. This gives patients the opportunity to learn and play in an interactive way, since they are the ones doing the module, which is really neat. The volunteers and leaders are there to answer questions, and engage the patients and their siblings with the task at hand.

O: What do you like most about your interactions with the patients?

Benayoun: I really enjoy watching a child’s face [and often his or her parent’s] light up as the volcano “blows up” and the experiment works as planned. The hospital environment can often be draining and tiring so it’s exciting to provide the kids and their families with an educational and fun distraction. Many of the patients we work with in the program are connected to I.V. poles and monitors, so it’s really important to get their minds off of things. I’m glad we are able to do so.

O: What motivated you to be involved in the program and assume a hospital leader position?

Benayoun: I was very drawn to the program’s message; the fact that in combined education with recreation. I’ve also noticed that there’s a lot of wait-time in hospitals, which isn’t always easy— especially for kids. The fact that this was a program founded by YU students inspired me to join, because it showed me how a little initiative and vision could come a long way. I strongly believe that this program can reach many hospitals and recruit volunteers from various universities in the years to come. That’s why I became a hospital leader; I wanted to expand the program and make it as far reaching as possible. To do so, I contacted the child life department at Columbia Presbyterian, the hospital that I volunteer at.  And there’s been such great reception; the child life department said that we are the first educational science program to approach them! Which is all very exciting as we’re going to host our first pilot event at Columbia on March 27th. So if you haven’t already signed up, now’s the time!