Teacher’s ‘superpower’ kicks in
Jouleni Cruz had parent-teacher conferences on her mind as she exited East-West School of International Studies in Flushing, Queens, and headed for her car on Sept. 28. Suddenly, she heard the sickening sound of a vehicle making an impact with something.
“I knew from the sound that a person had just been hit,” she said.
She immediately dialed 911 and headed toward the sound. When she got there, she saw a student lying injured beneath a car.
Cruz quickly snapped photos of the car involved, including the license plate. When she reached the student, who turned out to be a 6th-grader from co-located IS 237, she knelt next to him.
By then she was on the phone with EMS. Cruz provided the location by getting the address of a home in front of the accident, then pleaded for immediate help as the boy was bleeding and losing consciousness.
“He said, ‘Help me.’ He was in a lot of pain and was about to panic,” she said.
She was instructed not to let him fall asleep. “I gently rubbed his arm and spoke words of affirmation to keep him awake,” she said. “I told him, ‘You are doing amazing. I am so proud of you! You are so strong. I know you will be OK. You are an angel. Hang in there for me!’ ”
Noticing that cars were backed up on the one-way street and emergency vehicles would be blocked from getting to the scene, she asked someone nearby to get the cars to move.
Then she asked another teacher at the scene to get an assistant principal. Once notified, IS 237 AP Jeannine Strong ran to the scene and “helped me keep him awake,” Cruz said.
The fire department arrived first, then paramedics.
“When they took his sock off, I could see he was severely injured,” she said.
The boy’s mother was notified by his cousin, also a student at the school, and she arrived in time to go with her son in the ambulance to the hospital.
Cruz said the driver remained at the scene. The driver and an eyewitness were interviewed by police. Cruz finally made it to her car, and tears started to flow.
“I was so traumatized,” she said.
East-West Chapter Leader Gloria Nicodemi wasn’t surprised to learn the way Cruz took action.
“We haven’t really had many crises at our school, but Jouleni is good at keeping a calm head the few times we have,” Nicodemi said. “She takes care of what needs to be done in the heat of the moment.”
A bit more than an hour after the incident, Cruz — an 8th-grade algebra teacher in her 10th year of teaching — was reaching out to families for her remote parent-teacher conferences.
“I was so emotionally off, but got it done,” she said. “I didn’t sleep properly for three days.”
But what was important, she said, is that she took action when it mattered most and the student recovered from his injuries.
“People nearby froze, but I suddenly felt like I had a superpower from adrenaline,” she said. “When I think back, I can’t believe I was able to do all those things so quickly. But I guess it’s part of being a teacher. You have to make decisions on the spot. It’s part of the job.”