Like many high school seniors, the next step for Taylor Reilly and Shannon Fulghum is college. But their road was different than most.

Taylor, 18, has a rare form of scoliosis called chondrodysplasia punctata, restrictive lung disease and reflux. Shannon, 19, has Type 1 diabetes and Addison’s disease, a disorder in which the adrenal glands don’t produce enough hormones.

“Taylor would go to school for three months and then get sick,” said her mother, Dawn Reilly of Wilmington. “We wound up home-schooling her until she started at First State five years ago.”

In a traditional school setting, Shannon often missed classes due to visits to the school nurse’s office.

“She fell behind in her studies,” said her mother, Maureen Fulghum of Newark.

On June 9, Taylor and Shannon graduated from First State School, a nationally recognized partnership between Christiana Care Health System and Red Clay School District.

Commencement speaker Patricia Hoge challenged the graduates to find joy every day, and to always be curious and resilient.
Commencement speaker Patricia Hoge challenged the graduates to find joy every day, and to always be curious and resilient.

The school is embedded at Wilmington Hospital, where students in grades kindergarten through 12 attend classes in a medically supervised setting. Funded by Christiana Care and the Delaware Department of Education, the trailblazing school has served more than 300 students since its founding in 1985.

“I had a gastric tube removed a few years back, and my nurse at school cleaned the wound while I healed so I didn’t miss school,” Taylor said.

Said Shannon, “I missed much less time because my nurse was in the classroom. I also learned to have confidence in my ability to manage my disease.”

Both graduates are prepared for the next step in their education and their lives.

In the commencement address, Patricia P. Hoge, Ph.D., RN, a public health advocate and Christiana Care trustee, encouraged students and their families to push themselves, adapt to change, find joy every day, stay curious and be resilient.

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“Learning to bounce back is one of the most important things you can do in your life,” she said.

Celebrating with the graduates were their families, friends, schoolmates, teachers, volunteers and health care professionals – all part of the student support network at the First State School.

“Our staff of teachers, nurses, doctors, psychologists and social workers collaborates to meet the educational, physical, emotional and social needs of the children we serve,” said Elizabeth Houser, MSN, RN, program director. “We also work closely with parents, primary care providers, specialists and resources in the community that can help our students to thrive.”

Photo gallery: First State School graduation 2016