Chandler school rallies around teacher with cancer - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Chandler school rallies around teacher with cancer

April 4th, 2019 development
Chandler school rallies around teacher with cancer

By COLLEEN SPARKS, Managing Editor

A charter school in Chandler is rallying around a beloved music teacher who is battling cancer and giving students lessons in compassion and bravery in the process.
Great Hearts – Archway Lincoln Academy at 2250 S. Gilbert Road conducted a Relay for Life walk last month to raise money for the American Cancer Society and show support for Sharon Rockmaker, who teaches third through fifth grade music.
Nearly 700 students at the K-5 campus walked in groups of 30 or more in shifts throughout the day as some parents and faculty joined them, culminating a week of activities teachers taught students about cancer and healthy habits to minimize its risk.
Rockmaker is not the only person affiliated with the Chandler Great Hearts campus who has fought cancer.
Great Hearts–Archway Lincoln Academy school nurse Kim Mustard and parent Amy Garcia are breast cancer survivors and Lincoln Preparatory Academy assistant headmaster Colleen Posner is undergoing treatment. Both Lincoln Preparatory Academy and Archway Lincoln Academy are in the same compound run by the nonprofit.
Oluwatoyin Atolagbe, headmaster at Great Hearts – Archway Lincoln Academy, said Rockmaker is “very committed to her job.”
“She loves her job,” she said. “She loves the children and she loves teaching music. She’s willing to go the extra mile for everybody. For her we decided to have the Relay for Life. We had too many people that were battling cancer.
“We just wanted a way to show them that they were not alone. We just wanted to create awareness among our students.”
Rockmaker has produced “three beautiful concerts” since she started at the school two years ago, Atolagbe said.
Atolagbe said Rockmaker was feeling pain in her abdominal area in November but she came to the school to ensure a students’ music concert went well, then went to the emergency room after the performances were over. She discovered she had pancreatic cancer and has been on leave getting treatment since.
“Even after she found out that she had cancer, she kept saying, ‘Don’t worry, I’m going to be back to teach the kids in the spring,’” Atolagbe said. “Every time I have spoken with her she has been extremely joyful. She has exhibited indescribable strength and courage.”
Rockmaker’s husband, daughter and sister joined the school’s Relay for Life event, as did some neighbors who are cancer survivors.
Atolagbe said students would stop her in the hallway and ask her how Rockmaker was doing.
“I’d say she’s doing fine,” she said. “One day a student asked me, ‘Is she going to die?’ I said, ‘Listen, honey, I’m not able to answer that question. All I can tell you is she is alive and well right now.’
“I realized we have not educated these children enough about what these dreadful diseases (are). In trying to shield them from the disease, I don’t think in the long run we are helping them. We need to have a healthy conversation about cancer. I didn’t want it to be this dreadful thing that we can’t talk about.”
Teachers talked to students about nutrition, the importance of physical activity and other ways to stay healthy, as well as how to support people afflicted with cancer.
“We did talk about cancer in terms of it’s a disease that a lot of people have right now, talking about how to support people that have this dreadful disease,” Atolagbe said. “One way to support them is through the Relay for Life.”
Students brought envelopes home to collect donations in honor of someone who is suffering from cancer or to honor or remember someone who has died. They asked for as little as $1 and the students raised more than $4,100 that will go to the American Cancer Society.
The school also set up a meal train, where parents had been bringing Rockmaker food at home.
“I did get a beautiful email from a parent saying wonderful things about the event,” Atolagbe said. “I feel like the community feels that it was something that the community welcomed and the parents were very happy we did this.”
Fellow cancer survivors including Mustard and Posner spoke at the Relay for Life, as did Rockmaker’s sister.
Mustard, who now has a clean bill of health after being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015, empathized with Rockmaker and her family members.
Atolagbe said Rockmaker’s family members were “very grateful, very emotional about it” at the relay.
They declined comment about her condition and the event.
“I can relate and I felt right away, I felt for her and her family knowing what the journey will be ahead of her,” Mustard said.
Mustard said she has been offering Rockmaker support if she wants to talk about anything.
She is pleased the school decided to have the relay and week of lessons for students.
“I couldn’t be happier,” Mustard said. “I was so excited when that was the decision made and I jumped right in with both feet. It’s amazing. I think it’s absolutely wonderful. Kids are like sponges.
“To be able to give that information to them and help them understand and not live in fear, to know it’s not scary to hear. I’m very thankful that we were able to raise money for the American Cancer Society and to continue to celebrate and save lives and participate in such a wonderful cause.”
Mustard, who recently started working at the school, also praised Rockmaker.
“Everybody absolutely loves her and she’s a joy to have for the students,” she said.
Atolagbe echoed Mustard’s sentiment, calling Rockmaker “kindhearted” and “the teacher that waits to clean up after everybody” after events at the school.
“The kids love her because she’s very passionate about music,” Atolagbe said. “She turns everything into music, even the directions into the classroom. She’ll sing quietly. She takes her time to explain things to them. She will not stop until they get it.”
She said she is thinking about starting a GoFundMe account to raise money for Rockmaker.
People can donate more money to the Great Hearts – Archway Lincoln Academy’s Relay for Life at