When it comes to gentle kindness and personal attention, Hutch School in Seattle is among the best academies in the country. It is tuition-free and offers an amazing teacher-student ratio. And if you are lucky, it's a place your children will never attend.
Operated by the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, Hutch is the only school in the country run by a hospital but largely devoted to healthy children. They are kids of vastly different ages, vastly different backgrounds, all with one grim factor in common: each has a loved one who is suffering from cancer and has only a 50-50 chance of survival.
As uprooted families endure the long, grueling process of a bone-marrow transplant, the school becomes a haven for the children. It's also a place where the teachers must be ready for the most difficult of questions.
"In our culture, you know, we don't talk about death that directly or that openly," said Eileen Hynes, a teacher at the school. "And kids do think about it. So letting them know that they can talk about it here, I think is reassuring for them."
Anna White, another Hutch teacher, said she is impressed by the strength the children display.
"I think, in general, they are a lot stronger than we think they might be," she said. "We might be afraid to tell them certain things when, in reality, they already know. I tell you, I'd be able to go through something a lot better now, if I had a crisis in my life, gleaning what I've learned from these guys. It's incredible."
An Accepting Environment
The daughters of Iditarod champion Susan Butcher currently attend the school. Butcher, who was diagnosed with leukemia seven months ago, said the school helped alleviate her second-biggest fear: what her family would do while she received treatment.
"Well, I think for me, finding out that I have leukemia, I mean, that's the only fear that I had was how is this going to affect my kids, 'cause if you die, they're gonna be motherless," Butcher said. "So that's your first fear. And then the next one is that you're gonna have to uproot the whole family for six to nine months, and you know, they certainly didn't want to do that.
"And so, this school is, you know, is a godsend. It's just -- it's amazing."
In addition to allowing their kids to be kids, Hutch allows patients to be parents, which is a welcome diversion from the chemo and radiation.
"You gotta yell at them, 'Go to bed!' and yell at them to eat and ... it's pretty much the same thing you have at home," said Mike Holden, a cancer patient. "And they want to go for ice cream. All right, see if I can get up and go, you know."
Occasionally, a young patient who is receiving cancer treatment will join the class and enjoy a level of empathy hard to find in the average classroom. Jody Leader said her daughter, Jerilyn McClean, who has lost her hair from her cancer treatments, was relieved to experience such an accepting environment.
"Well, we could see it when we go out," Leader said. "You know, if we go shopping with her, we can see little kids staring at her or, you know, people saying things. And here it's just like we're in a community of people that share --"
"OK, 'She's bald, big deal,'" McClean interjected.
Whether they're the children of cancer patients -- or like a handful, the patients themselves -- the students call their stay at Hutch their "cancer journey." They keep track of milestones, such as marking the 100 hopeful days after a successful transplant.
The students are happy to be there but so anxious to leave, which means there's a lot of coming and going in the classroom. Sometimes the kids don't get a chance to say goodbye to friends.
"Makes me feel a little sad, for, like, I wonder what happened to them or what happened to their patients," said Marley Hettinger, 8.
ABC News' Bill Weir reported this story for "Good Morning America."