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Staff Focus: Katherine “Kathy” Kirn, Home and Hospital Teacher

February 11th, 2019

Kathy Kirn standing outside of a school

Katherine “Kathy” Kirn didn’t set out to pursue a career in education, but life had other plans. Kirn was working in the communications field when her oldest son, Adam, was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy. Doctor appointments became the family’s top priority, “so it was really hard for me to work during that time,” Kirn said. She also saw how challenging it was to make sure Adam could keep up with his education.

So when Kirn learned about the HCPSS’ Home and Hospital Teaching Program, which provides instruction to students who are unable to physically attend their classes for health reasons, it was crystal clear to her how valuable such a service could be. She wanted to be a part of it. “I looked into it, and I applied and got the job,” she said.

For the last 10 years, Kirn has been working one-on-one with Howard County students who can’t go to school because of physical illness or disability, emotional crisis or chronic health impairment. “Some of these kids are home with life-threatening illnesses or emotional illnesses,” she said. “They could be facing anything from pregnancy to substance abuse to surgeries to cancer.”

Kathy Kirn in a school media center

Because of her experience with Adam, “I really get where a lot of these parents are coming from,” Kirn said. “They’re scared to death half the time, and I really want to make them feel a little bit of hope.”

When Kirn works with a student, she coordinates between that student’s family and teachers to make sure the student keeps up with all coursework. She schedules time—often around the student’s doctor visits—to meet with the student to teach the subject matter in their homes, the hospital or in a public setting such as a library. She also grades their work and provides a grade report when they go back to school. “The whole goal is to lessen the kids’ and the parents’ stress, and just to let them know it’s going to be okay,” she said. “When they go back to school, they’re going to be caught up.”

The ability to put herself in a family’s shoes is one of the biggest assets that Kirn brings to her role, said Farah Evans, a pupil personnel worker in the Home and Hospital Teaching Office. “Her own situation, I think, really allows her to have a different lens on things where she’s able to empathize with the family and really support them, but still maintain the standards and requirements of the curriculum,” Evans said.

Kathy Kirn working at the computer

Kirn also has come up with ways to make the program run more smoothly. She has been a part of the Home and Hospital Teaching Steering Committee, a group set up to establish best practices to serve the children and their families. “The best way to describe Kathy is exemplary,” said Pupil Personnel Worker Jeanine Smith, in the Home and Hospital Teaching Office. “The procedures that she figured out on her own are procedures that we modeled for new Home and Hospital teachers.”

What Kirn loves most about her job is meeting the kids and their families. “It gives me a sense of accomplishment when I see a light bulb go off, and I’m able to explain something to them,” she said. “It’s the best job in the whole world because I get to help kids who are really vulnerable.”