Physical & Academic Excellence

By: Jan Mazotti Issue: Sports Section: Collaborator Profile

The Kunsberg School at National Jewish Hospital

Physical & Academic Excellence

National Jewish Hospital is an exceptional respiratory hospital that is known as one of the best in the nation. In fact, since 1998 U.S. News & World Report has ranked the hospital as the number one hospital of its kind in the country.

You may be asking what a respiratory hospital has to with sports, teamwork and leadership. I will tell you. Hidden within the hospital is a school, the Kunsberg School, that caters to kids with severe respiratory issues and who can’t attend public school. Other than that, it is a school like any other, kids milling through the halls going to and from classes. A place where kids can be kids and where they can interact through studies and through sport. The only thing is…for some of these kids, if not taken care of properly, they could die from respiratory crisis at any moment.

The school hosts students from the inner city who are unable to attend public school due to their health issues and has three onsite nurses, who at any time, are within 30 seconds of any classroom.

Ultimately Kunsberg’s goal is to help students achieve academic and physical excellence while preparing each student to excel in self-dependence, self-reliance and self-care practices.

Kunsberg has kids from grades K-8 with a maximum student capacity of 90 students. There are 15 qualified and dedicated teachers at Kunsberg, many of whom have experience in dealing with medical issues and asthma. Each day, the medical staff checks each child for outstanding health issues, give them their medications, and then monitor their health throughout the day. Kunsberg believes that with the right mix of monitoring and guidance around the student’s asthma and chronic illness, absences can be reduced.

Ultimately Kunsberg’s goal is to help students achieve academic and physical excellence while preparing each student to excel in self-dependence, self-reliance and self-care practices.

Outside of the regular academic schedule, the students are also engaged in art and athletics. During physical education class (PE), students are taught the specifics of any given sport, but more importantly they are taught sportsmanship and equality, while improving their physical fitness.

Kunsberg’s athletic department is as advanced as any, even though its students are challenged by health issues. In most public schools, the students of Kunsberg could not participate in PE. They would have to sit out. But in the Kunsberg gym, class is open to everyone. To meet the athletic needs of the students, Kunsberg has found a special teacher. He has worked there for over 24 years and plans to, as he says, “work here till I die.” His name is Coach Jim.

Dressed in orange almost everyday and armed with an attitude that screams dedication, Coach Jim serves as a role model and father figure to many of his students. He loves his job! He has seen every kind of case come through the School, and unfortunately, has seen some of his former students pass away.

Coach Jim’s gym classes are the student’s favorite. In a public school, kids with health problems are often told to sit out of gym class – but not at Kunsberg. Jim teaches the kids teamwork, unity, and a sense of self-gratification. There is no room for competition and competitive dominance in his classes.

He knows that many of his students, “come from environments outside of school that deal with negative experiences,” so he tries to exclude that type of attitude. Bullying is not allowed. He does not keep score in games. And, he picks the teams to ensure that everyone has equal time to play. He teaches everything from dodge ball to swimming.

While we visited the class, one of the 4th graders fell and hit his head. What we noticed was that all of the kids ran to him and checked on how he was doing. They all helped him to his feet and one girl ran to get a nurse. We observed, first hand, the unity of all of the students. And we noticed that after the accident, that the baseball game they were playing was not important. The incident showed us that sportsmanship and unity are interwoven through sport.

Kunsberg is one of those places where sport is coveted. But, while sport plays a role in the daily interactions of each of the students, it is not the drive to win that keeps the students going. It is a sense of camaraderie, of sportsmanship, and of health that drives the students and staff to excel each day.