MFISD technology lets Spicewood Elementary student with leukemia connect to class

Mary Groth/Special to The Highlander
First-grader Lilly Clark participates in class activities from her hospital bed using her tablet and a live streaming service. The system allows her to interact with her classmates like she is present in class.





By Nathan Hendrix
Staff Writer

School districts all have circumstances that require creativity and ingenuity to effectively teach their students. In a modern world, technology can be used to assist in those endeavors, and nobody knows that better than Spicewood Elementary gifted and talented teacher Mary Groth.

Two weeks prior to the beginning of first grade, doctors diagnosed first-grader Lilly Clark with leukemia. The constant treatments make it nearly impossible for Lilly to attend classes on a regular basis, and Groth was called upon to develop a solution.

It was heartbreaking,” Groth said. “I knew we had to do something different.”

Most schools, including Spicewood, have a homebound program for students who can't attend classes. Typically, teachers travel to the students' houses and give them one-on-one instruction. This method, however, doesn't offer the student a traditional first-grade experience, and that experience is important to a young learners' social and emotional development.

So the solution was simple: use modern technology to allow Lilly to participate in class without physically attending. Groth, in conjuction with the Spicewood Elementary technology department, provided Lilly and her first-grade class, taught by Donna Counts, with tablets that allow them to livestream the class at any time.

Using Google Meet, a video-based meeting service hosted by the technology giant, Lilly joins the class whenever she feels up to it, which is more often than one might think considering the intensity and frequency of her treatments.

She's always happy to be here,” Counts said. “She never complains about not feeling good. That's a valuable lesson for the other students. Sometimes, we don't feel like coming to school, but it's really a blessing that we can be here.”

For the classes Lilly misses, the lessons are recorded and stored in a shared drive so Lilly can access them at any time. On a typical week, Lilly joins the class for three to four hours per day. Counts still travels to Lilly's house on Fridays for traditional homebound instruction, but using the tablets Monday through Thursday allows her a unique first-grade experience while staying in touch with friends and classmates.

People learn through communication and collaboration,” Groth said. “We're such social creatures; that's what technology should be used for.”

Counts said the experience has also been a useful experience for her as a teacher. Lilly joins the class whenever she can, so Counts has to strictly stick to the schedule she made the previous week.

The entire school has been affected by the situation, and everyone has helped in whatever way they can. Counts said every student in Lilly's class wants to be her partner during group exercises — even to the point that they argue about who partnered with her last. Groth said a fifth-grade student constructed a protective cardboard case for Lilly's tablet that fits a tripod the school was using.

We need people who create new things and make the world better,” Groth said. “That's how we teach: by modeling it.”

Every concept used in Lilly's situation has exemplified the Marble Falls Independent School District vision statement.

Our vision statement speaks to loving and inspiring every child in such a way that they achieve their fullest potential,” said Dr. Wes Cunningham, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, in an email statement. “So, due to the efforts of Mrs. Counts, Mrs. Groth, [Spicewood principal Susan] Cox and many others, Lilly is engaged in a high-quality academic education, while at the same time having her social-emotional learning needs met.”

The instruction plan is spreading, not only within the district but across the state, too. Other campuses in MFISD are considering using the plan, and districts in Dallas have contacted Groth about looking into the system.

We're planting the seed of the idea that we can use technology to reach the needs of our students,” Groth said. “The more [students] we can help, the better.”

Lilly's mother, Amber Clark, said Lilly may be able to return to class later this school year, but if not, she should be ready to report to school for second grade. She said Spicewood Elementary and all of the staff has been “wonderful” during this entire episode, and the Clark family is grateful for the extra effort dedicated to Lilly.

Nathan Hendrix is a staff writer and the sports editor, who covers news and events, for The Highlander. Send him comments or news tips at




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