When taking on cancer, it helps to be ‘Stepney Strong’

The entire staff of Stepney Elementary School wear pink "Stepney Strong" T-shirts to raise cancer awareness and pay tribute to retired principal, Bruce Lazar.

MONROE, CT — Staff members at Stepney Elementary School wore pink “Stepney Strong” T-shirts Friday, with a cancer awareness ribbon on the back, and students wore pink and navy blue.

“The entire Monroe public school system is supporting Think Pink Monroe and Stepney is giving special recognition to our retired principal, Bruce Lazar, who is recovering from his own bout with cancer,” Superintendent of Schools Joseph Kobza said.

Bruce Lazar served as principal of Stepney Elementary School for the last eight years.

Lazar had a 29-year-career in the Monroe public school system, including eight years as principal of Stepney where he was known for going above and beyond for his students.

“If you ever went to Stepney, you would see Bruce Lazar outside greeting students getting off the bus, chatting with students, eating lunch in the cafeteria, playing at recess, visiting all the learning in the classrooms and at the end of the day waving goodbye,” Kobza said.

Interim Principal Debra Kovachi said teachers bought the “Stepney Strong” T-shirts for $20 each and made donations on Friday. Half of the money for the T-shirts defrayed the costs with the other half going to the cause.

Kovachi said Stepney raised a total of $1,000 for Think Pink Monroe, an organization started by longtime Monroe educator Bonnie Maur, a 16-year survivor of breast cancer. Think Pink Monroe teams up with Hartford HeathCare and St. Vincent’s Swim Across the Sound to raise awareness and money for local residents battling cancer.

Stepney Elementary School students show their support for cancer awareness and their retired principal, Bruce Lazar.

Over the three years of its existence, Think Pink Monroe has helped over 36 town families, who received roughly $70,000 worth of assistance, helping with everything from rent, mortgage payments, taxes and car payments to rides for treatments.

Kovachi said Stepney Elementary School plans to wear the pink shirts again, when staff members form a team to participate in the Vicki Soto 5K in honor of the teacher who tragically lost her life protecting her students during the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012.

When Monroe allowed Sandy Hook Elementary School to use the Chalk Hill building after the tragedy, Bruce Lazar served as a shared Monroe-Newtown administrator, supporting the students.

Kobza said Lazar worked “tirelessly to reduce the anxiety and ease the transition for our friends from Newtown during an incredibly traumatic time.”

Lazar went on to escort the Sandy Hook Choir to New Orleans two months after the tragedy, where the children joined singer Jennifer Hudson to perform “America the Beautiful” before Super Bowl XLVII.

Stepney teacher Lisa Martinsky, a cancer survivor, and Interim Principal Debra Kovachi participated were “Stepney Strong” on Friday.

“Bruce always did the walk,” Kovachi said of the reason why SES staff plans to participate in the Vicki Soto 5K on Nov. 6.

The event raises money for the Vicki Soto Memorial Fund, Inc., which has awarded $180,000 in educational scholarships and provided $100,000 in literacy, education and community enrichment, according to the website for the event.

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