Teddy bear clinic connects health care-bound CPS students with grade schoolers

Dozens of Chicago Public Schools juniors and seniors performed a full round of checkups on more than 200 stuffed animals brought in by youngsters at Eli Whitney Elementary.

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Ashley Alvarado tests the reflexes on Jasmin Galvez’s teddy bear at Eli Whitney Elementary in Chicago Thursday, April 27, 2023.

Ashley Alvarado tests the reflexes on Jasmin Galvez’s teddy bear Thursday at Eli Whitney Elementary.

Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun Times

Ashley Alvarado was confident performing a checkup on the small teddy bear brought to her by Jasmin Galvez, who was about the same age as her nephews.

So the high school junior wasn’t flustered by putting her skills to the test on the child’s stuffed bear.

Alvarado carried out a full panel: checking its heart rate, lungs, reflexes, vision and hearing, an X-ray inside a shoebox and a teeth-cleaning.

She was one of several Chicago Public Schools juniors and seniors who performed a full round of checkups Thursday on more than 200 stuffed animals brought to them by grade schoolers at Eli Whitney Elementary.

Alvarado said she learned “sometimes you have to be patient” with children. “And it’s sometimes fun because they keep you entertained.”

The mock exams also helped the grade schoolers, all from pre-K to second grade, get more comfortable with doctor visits.

“It’s a low-risk environment for our students to engage with preschool kids and engage with their peers,” said Jeanne Lapp, who teaches the students at Little Village Lawndale High School.

Angela Casas shows an x-ray from Victoria Mesta‘s Minnie Mouse doll during the teddy bear checkups for students at Eli Whitney Elementary in Chicago Thursday, April 27, 2023.

Angela Casas shows Victoria Mesta an X-ray of her Minnie Mouse doll during the teddy bear checkups Thursday at Eli Whitney Elementary.

Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun-Times

The older students are in the middle of the three-year Career and Technical Education Health Sciences program.

At the end of the demonstration, the kids’ stuffed animals got certificates of wellness, and the students got a toothbrush.

The bears got stickers for demonstrating bravery.

The event, now in its second year, brings together kids of different age groups in the neighborhood, said Eli Whitney Principal Evelia Diaz.

“The older kids, the little ones, they are able to see themselves in them. It’s a positive event,” she said.

Junior Angela Casas has wanted to work in health care since she was inspired by a seventh grade teacher.

On Thursday, she helped break the ice with her teddy’s caretaker by introducing herself as their doctor and figuring out if the child preferred to speak English or Spanish. To help ease the kids into the tests, she let them try the tests on the bear or herself.

“Then they feel really excited,” she said. “They’re like, ‘Oh, I get to participate. I get to do it.’”

Javier Rodriguez of the Career and Technical Education Health Sciences program at Little Village Lawndale High School, instructs Galilea Saucedo how to use a stethoscope at the teddy bear clinic for students at Eli Whitney Elementary in Chicago Thursday, April 27, 2023.

Javier Rodriguez, a student in the Career and Technical Education Health Sciences program at Little Village Lawndale High School, shows Galilea Saucedo how to use a stethoscope Thursday during a teddy bear clinic at Eli Whitney Elementary.

Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun-Times

Casas has been accepted in a summer apprentice program with Medicina Academy and looks forward to working at Lurie Children’s Hospital downtown as part of that.

Javier Rodriguez, a junior, helps out in a small pharmacy in Little Village and wants to be a pharmacist.

One of the children he was paired with said he was nervous, too, so he let the child try tests on themselves.

“Even though I’m pretty sure most kids have visited a doctor, they’re still afraid of most things,” he said. “So showing them that it’s not that bad helped them get over that fear.”

Eli Whitney Elementary students brought stuffed animals to a teddy bear checkup clinic Thursday in Chicago Thursday, April 27, 2023.

Eli Whitney Elementary students brought stuffed animals to a teddy bear checkup clinic Thursday.

Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun-Times

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