Peers' knowledge and attitudes toward a classmate with cancer: An evaluation of a school reintegration program

Margaret Doherty DeLong, Pace University


A major goal for children with cancer is successful reintegration into the school. One major barrier to successful reentry is that peers may not be providing maximal social support as a result of lack of knowledge about cancer, and less than optimal attitudes and behaviors toward a child with cancer. Classmate support is a strong predictor of psychological and social functioning. The purpose of the school reintegration program is to increase knowledge and improve attitudes and behaviors, resulting in increased social support for the child with cancer. This study involved two children with cancer in grades 9 and 10, 172 of their classmates, and six of their teachers. Classmates completed questionnaires regarding medical knowledge about cancer and attitudes toward the child with cancer just prior to the classroom presentation (T1), immediately after the presentation (T2), and at one month follow-up (T3). Children with cancer and their teachers completed questionnaires assessing classmates' behavior at T1 and T3. Children with cancer and their teachers completed a questionnaire regarding the usefulness of the presentation at T3. Results revealed that classmates gained significant knowledge after the presentation, particularly in the area of prognosis. A significant gain was also made when definition, etiology, and treatment and side-effects were considered together. These results were maintained at one month follow-up. Significant gains were not made in the area of contagion. Classmates' demonstrated a higher level of concepts of leukemia after the presentation, but this was not maintained at a one month follow-up. In terms of attitudes, significant gains were made when willingness to interact with a child with cancer with an affective component and behavioral component were considered together, and this was maintained at a one month follow-up. Significant gains were not found for attitudes involving fear and worry. Additionally, qualitative data regarding classmates' behavior as rated by children with cancer and teachers indicate an improvement in behavior toward the child with cancer. Qualitative data also reveal that children with cancer, teachers, and parents rate the presentation as useful. An implication of these findings is that the presentation could be improved by adding an additional component in order to address knowledge area that did not significantly improve, as well as the finding that more advanced concepts of leukemia was not maintained at one month follow-up. One possibility is for hospital personnel to visit the school again and conduct a booster session. Another possibility is to collaborate with teachers in order to continue the discussion within a smaller classroom setting. These additional components would serve the purpose of providing students with another opportunity to process the content knowledge presented and modify their knowledge structures. An important implication of this study is that the presentations are a worthwhile endeavor. When hospital personnel serve as a liaison between the hospital and school, not only the child with cancer can benefit. Peers, teachers, parents, and administrators can all potentially benefit in terms of dealing with a child who has cancer through increased communication between the hospital and school. This model can also serve to help school psychologists meet the psychosocial needs of children with cancer who are being treated at medical facilities that do not provide these services.

Subject Area

Psychotherapy|Academic guidance counseling|Educational psychology|Social psychology

Recommended Citation

DeLong, Margaret Doherty, "Peers' knowledge and attitudes toward a classmate with cancer: An evaluation of a school reintegration program" (2000). ETD Collection for Pace University. AAI9975585.



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