The first day of school is typically filled with good surprises. But three years ago, the first day of school brought unwelcome news to Big Cross teacher aide Debbie Hill. That’s the day she was diagnosed with the stage IV breast cancer she still fights today.
“My initial prognosis was not good,” says Ms. Hill. “But I know that a HUGE part of the reason I am still here three years later is because of the amazing and sometimes overwhelming support I get from my Big Cross family and the district as a whole.”
It can be said that the feeling is mutual. “Debbie is truly a piece of the fabric of Big Cross Elementary School,” says principal Debbie Hall. “She is loved by all who work with her—students and staff alike.”
Ms. Hill is part of three generations of her family who’ve all attended Big Cross Elementary—her mother, herself, and then her two children. She began working for the YMCA after-school program at Big Cross in 1991. When her son started kindergarten the following year, she took on the roles of PTA volunteer and homeroom mom. Her employment with the district started in 1997, and she points to each of these roles as the reason “Big Cross is embedded in [her] heart.”
“The most unique thing about me is that over the years I have filled almost every position,” Ms. Hill says. “I fill in for the secretary and clerk when needed. I have been the nurse at times, providing an ice pack or band-aid or maybe a change of clothes. I have filled in for classroom teachers. I have filled in for the music teacher, the art teacher, the gym teacher and have even been known to give a drum lesson when there was no band teacher.”
Colleagues say her love of the children and school comes out in her bright smile and caring nature. “Debbie's character, qualities, and strength are admired by so many," says teacher Nadia Maroun.
“The most rewarding part of my job is when I see former students who come up to me, remember my name, and give me a big hug,” says Ms. Hill. “It is so heartwarming when they tell me a story that they remember about me, or sometimes I run into a parent and they tell me a story that their child has shared about me. I don't always know in the moment that I'm making a difference, but it's those years later when they come back and tell me, that makes me realize the impact I have had.”
Ms. Hill has watched education evolve over the years, particularly in the area of technology, and notes that Glens Falls has always been ahead of the game. “I can remember 11 years ago looking at colleges with my son. I asked one of the universities if they used Smartboards and they didn't know what a Smartboard was. Glens Falls had already been using them for a couple of years! One of the best parts about working in this district is even though we are a small district statewide, we are up on technology, and the nice part of being smaller is we have that family sense,” she continues. “Most of us not only know the students by name, but we also often know their siblings, parents, and in many cases Gramma and Grampa. When you've been around as long as I have, you see many of the next generation come through. That is pretty cool.”
Outside of school, she is very involved with First Baptist Church of Glens Falls, where she is a deacon and serves on many committees. She is also eagerly anticipating the wedding of her son, coming up in June.