UCF Partners with Nemours for PedsAcademy

UCF Partners with Nemours for PedsAcademy

More than 50 UCF student-teachers and faculty have been providing tailored instruction to children with chronic illnesses since the program’s launch in August.

By Nicole Dudenhoefer 17

Medical advances are increasing the chances for children to overcome chronic illnesses. But many children who survive end up significantly behind their peers in education and career potential, as hospitals lack the teaching staff and resources to provide each child with meaningful and effective instruction. To address this issue, more than 50 UCF student-teachers and faculty have partnered with healthcare professionals to create UCF’s PedsAcademy [pronounced “peeds,” after pediatrics] at Nemours Children’s Hospital in Lake Nona.

Since the program’s launch in August, these educators have been providing tailored instruction, both academic and medical. These lessons allow young patients to take a break from being strictly a patient and become immersed in learning through virtual reality, robotics, 3D printers and other high-tech learning tools. And PedsAcademy is the world’s first pediatric school program that uses curriculum specifically tailored to a child’s disease. Teaching methods and lessons are based on research into cognitive development and the effects of specific diseases on learning, so patients are taught using learning tools conducive to their physical limitations and sensory conditions.

“Our purpose is to provide a rich, meaningful, educational experience so [kids with chronic illnesses] aren’t just keeping pace with their healthy, typically developing peers, but that they’re actually getting extraordinary educational opportunities while in the hospital,” says Megan Nickels, the PedsAcademy faculty director and a UCF assistant professor of STEM education.

On an average day, up to 60 PedsAcademy children receive at least three hours of instruction. The program doesn’t just benefit children receiving care at Nemours — siblings of patients can take advantage of the educational services too.


A young child in a hospital bed wears a VR headset while a woman stands nearby.
A young child in a hospital bed smiles and holds a VR headset while her mother looks at her.
A young child in a hospital bed speaks with a woman and female UCF student.
An open container of black, white and grey LEGO pieces.
A UCF student volunteer smiles and holds a clipboard while watching a hospitalized child play.

Ella Greene, a patient at Nemours and student in PedsAcademy, speaks with Megan Nichols and a UCF volunteer before beginning a lesson.

Students in the program often use LEGO kits to build robot models.

A UCF student volunteer holds a completed robot model.

Using a virtual reality headset, Ella explores the ocean.

Ella’s mom smiles proudly after her daughter completes a lesson.