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Firefly Education checks in with the Back on Track program at Sydney Children’s Hospital


Trisha Donovan took her teaching expertise from the classroom to the Back on Track program, which helps children continue their education while undergoing cancer treatment.

Through Back on Track, Trisha regularly visits Sydney Children’s Hospital to teach a range of children in one-on-one lessons, and educate parents and guardians on the best way to assist with their child’s education during this difficult time.

Firefly caught up with Trisha to talk about the challenges and rewards of working in the Back on Track program.

Working within time limitations

One of Trisha’s biggest challenges as a Back on Track teacher is time limitations. ‘When it is apparent that there is only time for a certain amount of learning, identifying what a child really needs to work on is important,’ Trisha explained. ‘Is my Kindy student learning to write letters correctly? Does my Year 2 student have a good understanding of spelling rules? Can my Year 5 student tell the time using an analogue clock?’ Considering each student’s skills and needs when lesson planning allows Trisha to ensure her time spent with each student is optimised. Despite the challenges, Trisha gets great satisfaction from her role with Back on Track. ‘It is a privilege to teach in this setting,’ she said. ‘I feel like I can make a real difference.’

Ensuring lessons are flexible

Trisha tries to include a range of activities in her short, 45-minute lessons. ‘If no work has come from school, I will often start with spelling, counting, then a particular maths skill—as well as interesting content to keep them engaged,’ Trisha said. Trisha’s role requires a high level of flexibility, where even the most carefully considered lesson plan needs to be adapted on the spot. ‘[The lessons are] always changing and adapting for the student, and depends on their health on the day,’ she said.

Providing educational and emotional support

The program helps to reassure parents that it’s possible to deal with cancer and schoolwork at the same time. ‘It is very daunting trying to educate your own child,’ one of the parents involved in the program said. ‘But Trisha has been able to inspire him to keep up with his schoolwork.’ Trisha’s also received glowing feedback about the program from her students. ‘I have contact with Trisha every week during chemo,’ one of her students said. ‘We work on organising my time, issues with learning and what I can do about moving forward with education beyond cancer. The later has really helped me see a positive future. Trisha also calls me and texts me. This helps keep me motivated.’

Teaching with Firefly resources

Trisha loves that Firefly resources keep students on track with their learning. ‘Parents feel so supported when I can give them these resources,’ Trisha said. ‘They feel like they have a path to follow.’ She said Firefly resources such as iMaths Online, Sound Waves Online and Writing Time were particularly useful because they could supplement students’ schoolwork. ‘The Sound Waves workbook introduces many of the spelling rules students may have missed out on without participating in [Back on Track],’ Trisha said.

Trisha puts her heart and soul into the Back on Track program. We’ve been honoured to support the meaningful work that’s been accomplished by this wonderful program during the past four years, and look forward to continuing this support for years to come.

Want to help out?

If you’re looking for ways to support this worthy cause, you can: