Naugatuck High rallies around stricken teacher
NAUGATUCK — The color of choice April 11 at Naugatuck High School wasn’t the garnet and grey of the Greyhounds. Rather, students and staff donned purple to show support for one of their own.
World language teacher Rebecca Cruz, who lives in Ansonia with her family, was recently diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer and is currently undergoing treatment. Due to her illness, Cruz took a medical leave of absence on April 4.
Cruz, who is in her late 40s, has taught Spanish at the high school for over a decade.
Since she was diagnosed with cancer, students and staff have rallied to provide support for Cruz and let her know she hasn’t been forgotten.
World language department head Anne Marie Chuckery said she sent out an email asking everyone to keep Cruz in their prayers and asked for whatever anyone felt comfortable giving to help the family financially.
“The students have created cards for her, they have written notes to her that I have been funneling to her, and the Interact Club decided they would collect [money] from the student body at lunch all week,” Chuckery said last Friday.
Chuckery said the Interact Club collected a few hundred dollars. The money will go directly to Cruz’s family to help them with medical expenses.
Many of the students and staff wore purple clothing or sported purple ribbons April 11 to show their support for Cruz. Purple is the color for Pancreatic Cancer Awareness.
Life skills teacher Keri Macdowall also made purple bracelets for some of the staff to wear in support of Cruz. Soon after others started asking about them and Macdowall made enough bracelets for many of the students and staff to wear. The bracelets were also passed out to the Board of Education during its meeting April 10.
Naugatuck High School Principal Janice Saam said Cruz’s illness has had an impact on everyone at the school.
“It’s been very difficult to know that one of our own is ill,” Saam said. “We want to make sure she doesn’t have to worry about monetary issues.”
Saam described Cruz as a “very dedicated and wonderful woman.”
Chuckery echoed Saam’s sentiments, saying Cruz was great with her colleagues and students.
“She’s very passionate about what she does. She’s a very kind, caring individual with her students. She wants to see them excel,” Chuckery said.
Chuckery said Cruz was always one of the first teachers willing to implement a new strategy or technology in her classroom.
“She’s always willing to jump in and find interesting things to bring back to the kids. She’s a very enthusiastic teacher,” Chuckery said.
Junior Jami Dwy was one of Cruz’s students this year.
“She’s one of the teachers that always puts her students first. She’ll go out of the way to make sure a student understands something or they get a good grade on something, no matter what,” Dwy said.
Dwy said if she was having a bad day, Cruz would to talk with her to make sure she was OK.
“She treated us like we were her own children,” Dwy said.
The students and faculty are planning events to support Cruz.
The DECA Club, which works with students who are interested in marketing, management and entrepreneurship, is hosting its annual Rip the Runway Fashion Show at 7 p.m. on April 24 in the school’s Davis Auditorium. The show features musical performances by students and staff as well as fashion segments.
Marketing teacher and DECA advisor Tim Reilly said the event is the club’s largest fundraiser. However, this year it will also raise funds for Cruz and the closing number will be a tribute performance to Cruz, Reilly said.
“The students have rallied to support Mrs. Cruz who is a favorite among students and teachers alike. They want to lift her spirits that night and have plans for a ‘Miracle Minute,’ which will raise much needed funds for the family,” Reilly said.
Chuckery said there are also plans for an overnight event from June 13 into June 14 called Cruz Night. The evening will feature activities on the athletic fields at the high school and the proceeds will go to the family.
Chuckery said the outpouring of support shows how loved Cruz is at the school.
“That’s what’s been going on to this point, and it’s only been a week,” Chuckery said. “She’s loved, she’s loved by everyone.”