Meet Alma Morgan, a hospital teacher who is making Richmond history
“Find something for which you share a passion, and you’ll never feel like you’re going to work,” Alma Morgan shared of the advice she offers her students.
A teacher for nearly 40 years, Alma taught in public and private schools around Virginia before coming to Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU in 1988. Since that time, she has served as an educational consultant for inpatients and outpatients, dedicated to hematology and oncology patients for the last 30 years.
“The most important part of my job is helping parents advocate for their children at school meetings,” Alma said, “and educating teachers and staff about late effects of treatment and the accommodations children need when they return to school.”
Alma visits 60-90 schools a year, traveling as far north as Fredericksburg, south to the North Carolina border and west to Roanoke, although she’s quick to say she’ll go wherever she’s needed. For more than 20 years, she has organized a high school graduation ceremony for students who have been treated through CHoR’s hematology and oncology program, and for the last 10 years she has coordinated weekly after school tutoring programs in Richmond, Petersburg and Fredericksburg. When the COVID-19 pandemic closed Virginia schools in March, Alma began coordinating online tutoring sessions and weekly Zoom meetings for students and virtual meetings with school personnel. She also transitioned the annual graduation ceremony online and virtually supported seniors as they prepared to transition to college or vocational programs.
Although plans for weekend retreats and summer camps remain uncertain, as soon as it’s safe to do so, Alma plans to resume summer programs for patients and siblings as well as overnight retreats for middle and high school students and young adult survivors. Most of these programs are unique to CHoR and funded by the ASK Childhood Cancer Foundation, which also funds three staff positions in the ASK Pediatric Hematology and Oncology Clinic at CHoR.
ASK Childhood Cancer Foundation is recognized as a Richmond History Maker, and Alma is leading the charge
"Alma has led the charge in helping ASK and CHoR provide some of the best educational services for pediatric cancer patients and survivors in the country,” said Amy Godkin, executive director, ASK Childhood Cancer Foundation, which was recently recognized as a Richmond History Maker for creating quality educational opportunities.
Two years ago, Alma helped launch an educator conference, which is expanding to three Virginia localities to serve an estimated 180 teachers this year. She recently developed an educational toolkit for parents and school personnel that discusses the physical, cognitive, social, emotional and academic challenges of children going through treatment and the accommodations needed to meet a child’s educational goals. During this year’s General Assembly session, Alma met with legislators to advocate for funding for pediatric cancer research as well as educational support and testing for patients at Virginia’s five cancer treatment centers.
Alma gets emotional talking about the children and families she has met over the years, the young women who are now parents even after being told they wouldn’t be able to have children, and the high school graduates who share their college essays talking about their challenges and how their diagnoses and treatment have changed their lives.
“The minister at our church always says ‘we go nowhere by accident,’” Alma said. “I feel like I was put here, and it has been one of the greatest blessings. I never felt like I was going to work. I was going to do a job to serve others and make a difference in the world.”
Photo – Before COVID-19, Alma Morgan, an educational consultant working with hematology and oncology patients at CHoR, led weekly after school tutoring programs, like this one in Richmond. In mid-March tutoring sessions moved online.