Our Town, Our Home, Our School: A Story of Resilience

Kyle Beck ‘19
EE Opinions Editor

Mrs. Kravecs pictured with Miss. Kravecs.

“You are more than good enough, Kyle. Keep writing- you are going to be very successful someday.” On the back of my Honors English 10 essay entitled “Enneagram Response,” a writing project tasked with helping developing sophomore minds try to discover who they truly are, this comment is inscribed. This, I presumed, would be the easiest way for everyone to understand just why I am writing this piece. You see, Mrs. Kravecs–my sophomore year English teacher responsible for those words–left a mark on each of her students. She made her classroom into a nurturing laboratory for introspection and reflection, teaching us about growing up, keeping an open mind, and thinking for ourselves.

For these very reasons, it was heartbreaking to discover that someone so kind-hearted would be diagnosed with Stage IIIb rectal cancer. Looking back on March 20th, 2018, the day she found out, Mrs. Kravecs reflected in the style only described as a teacher caring for everyone before herself when she “immediately thought of [her] girls, who were five and a half years and two and a half months old at the time, and how [she would] tell [her] husband and the rest of our family.”

The following year would entail a series of procedures including chemotherapy, CT scans and MRIs, as well as constant pain, discomfort, anxiety, and stress. “I started oral chemotherapy (Xeloda pills) and radiation. I’d take 5 chemo pills twice a day, 7 days a week, for 28 days. My new job, since I hadn’t been to mine since the beginning of November, was going to radiation M-F for 6 weeks. I was tired, I was running to the bathroom seemingly constantly, my skin was raw and burned, and I was in pain. But I was doing something. I was fighting cancer and had a purpose. Take that.”

None of this could have been easy following giving birth, so she briefed me in the importance of finding “grace and understanding” in herself, her mom, sister Kelly, husband Robert, daughters Norah and Lucy, and others in helping “carry the burden,” and resolves that “there are a lot of good people with big hearts out there.” Finding herself in a situation most people would deem hopeless and discouraging, Mrs. K lived out a perfect demonstration of keeping your head up.

When asked about the collateral consequences of illness, Mrs. Kravecs shared that “being out on medical leave and unpaid has been difficult. My family and I are grateful not only for the financial support but also the messages we’ve received cheering us on.”

The financial assistance she mentions is a reference to a fundraiser sweeping the school. As part of a “Do Something” project for Honors World Literature, senior James Gallo designed a t-shirt in order to help Mrs. Shupp raise money, containing the words “Our Town Our Home Our School,” on the front, as well as a quote from one of Mrs. Kravecs’ favorite authors, Chimamanda Adichie, on the back: “Culture does not make people. People make culture.” Since February 21st, Shupp, with help from Mrs. Spillane and the English Department and support from Mr. Manuel, Ms. Rusate, and Mr. Guarino, has worked to sell the shirts for $15 a piece, and after what she described as “shocking turnout” on day 1, one week later was able to drop off over $2,125 to the Kravecs family.

Shupp remarked, “The support we received from students, staff, and administrators through purchasing these shirts has been incredible. To even slightly reduce the financial burden the Kravecs’ are going through right now is tremendous feat. I can only hope that the Trumbull High School community will continue to be such a willing and generous family.”

Gallo also commented on the project: “I’ve always wanted to design something that would have impact on someone else’s life. I think this accomplished that well.” This impact was surely felt by Mrs. Kravecs, who noted that to devote his “Do Something” project to someone he did not personally know, as he was not one of her students, “shows his character and heart.” The remaining shirts are still being sold in B31.

In response to the overall effort, Mrs. Kravecs explained that she felt “overwhelmed and reminded that I have the best job in the world, surrounded by people who continually step up to rally around each other when we’ve needed support.” She added that “This fundraiser makes me feel like I’m still part of the THS community.” This is not the first time, nor will it be the last, that our school has banded together for a cause greater than itself.

To her former students like myself, Mrs. K’s story is inspiring. Despite feeling “taken out of my own life and placed into a new, mixed-up world,” and “surreal–like I’m telling someone else’s story,” she continually posts updates on Facebook, Instagram, and a personal blog on https://www.caringbridge.org/visit/kristenkravecsupdates describing her status, and spreads the same optimism and kind words she used in the classroom to those following her online. When inquiring what advice she would give to someone just starting to endure the struggles she faced, Mrs. Kravecs replied, “Hold onto hope…or find someone who will hold onto it for you. Slow things down, breathe through the pain, smile whenever possible, and lean on others for support.”

As the senior class moves forward toward graduation and whatever comes next, many of us reflect on which teachers and classroom moments we will take with us. For me, I will never forget Mrs. Kravecs encouraging my parody to the 2016 Presidential Election to the theme of Macbeth, or the sun shining on me as we read Things Fall Apart outside during class one day. However, I will also take with me the lessons of resiliency she enshrined–not only in the classroom, but also on her blog and in our recent communication–to “take things day by day, sometimes minute by minute as everything is temporary, and to slow down and focus on what’s important and who matters most.”

I only hope her new students this upcoming August will appreciate the lengths she took to get to where she is now: cancer free, and soon returning to teach in her classroom, a place she has often referred to–as home.

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