BU graduate, principal enjoys being an advocate at New York City middle school
With a passion for teaching, second languages and digital learning, Kristy Thrasher De la Cruz is thriving as a principal at a middle school in New York City.
A year ago home computers were provided to all the sixth-graders at her Bea Fuller Rodgers Middle School as part of a nonprofit organization’s initiative to help children excel through digital learning. The organization, CFY, also arranged for discounted broadband access to be provided.
De la Cruz and her school were recently featured in The New York Times for enhancing the learning environment through the partnership. CFY developed a Web-based platform called PowerMyLearning, which contains more than 1,000 digital learning activities and games.
“The students tell us it is so much fun and that they enjoy the new way of learning,” said De la Cruz, a 1996 Baker University graduate and 2006 inductee into the Baker School of Education Wall of Honor. “Technology is always excellent motivation. It makes such an impact on students with learning disabilities, builds their confidence, and they become more eager to learn.”
De la Cruz began her career in education soon after graduating from Baker. Late in her senior year, she was hired by Tim Brady, a 1982 Baker graduate, to teach mathematics to middle school students in Gardner. She worked at Gardner for two years before serving with the Peace Corps in the Philippines from 1998 to 2001.
“When I was 16, I had a substitute teacher who just returned from Yemen and it planted the seed about the possibility of me joining the Peace Corps,” De la Cruz recalled. “I remember Baker professor Merrie Skaggs sharing the experiences of her daughter serving in the Peace Corps, and I thought, ‘If I don’t do this now, I may never have the opportunity again.’”
After her stint in the Peace Corps, De la Cruz was an English as a second language coordinator for six years in New York and earned two master’s degrees at Columbia University. She served as an assistant at Bea Fuller Rogers before being promoted to principal of the school, which has a Hispanic population of 97 percent and an overall enrollment of 270 students with 20 teachers.
De la Cruz discovered Baker while attending a weekend drama festival.
“I fell in love with the campus,” she said. “I was the first one in my family to go to college and wanted to go to Baker after that moment.”
De la Cruz, a graduate of Basehor-Linwood High School, reflects on her time at Baker fondly. She remembers being recruited to run cross country and track after enrolling in classes and remembers seeing former Baker president Dan Lambert standing along the race route.
“I absolutely loved my Baker days,” she said. “I came to Baker to focus on academics and then (track and cross country coach) Dennis Weber said I looked like a runner, so I tried it. Where else can you go race and have the president of the university cheer you on?”
De la Cruz embraced the Baker experience. Besides participating in cross country and track, De la Cruz worked as a parMentor and was a student ambassador for the admission office.
“Eventhough my parents were close to campus, I never went home,” she recalled. “People thought I was an out-of-state student because I stayed on campus.”
De la Cruz, who is married and has two daughters, Kyra, 9, and Kaelyn, 2, continues to run, having completed close to 50 marathons. She also has trained and finished several ultra-marathons, which reach 100 miles.
De la Cruz depends on the lessons learned while a student at Baker.
“The education courses at Baker provided me the foundation for my career,” she said, mentioning professors such as Merrie Skaggs, George Wiley and Lowell Gish. “I loved being a teacher, and I still teach three classes a week. Earning a master’s degree transformed me to become an advocate for second language learners. A lot of the families at our school don’t have access to technology. We feel like a certain population of students has been forgotten. More people need to advocate for them.”
Her days at Baker and her experience have prepared her well for the principal’s position.
“I value self-improvement and always want to do more,” she said. “All parents want what is best for their children. I feel I can make a bigger impact being a school leader, creating a nurturing environment and being an advocate.”