School welcomes back teacher with ‘Fight Song’

Teacher returns to Rowlett after bout with breast cancer

Jill Bass, a third-grade teacher at Rowlett, returned to work on Monday to a surprise from the school. Video by Meghin Delaney
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Jill Bass, a third-grade teacher at Rowlett, returned to work on Monday to a surprise from the school. Video by Meghin Delaney

Jill Bass had planned for a leisurely first day back teaching at Rowlett Academy for Arts and Communication.

The 35-year-old single mother returned Monday morning to her third-grade classroom for the first time in five weeks after recovering from surgery for breast cancer. Last week, she chatted with the other teachers on her team to get caught up on where the kids were in their lessons plans. In the morning, she planned to chit-chat with the kids about the last five weeks, learn what they wore for their Halloween costumes and then dive into a new math chapter in the afternoon.

Instead, she was greeted by a sea of pink and a schoolwide rendition of Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song.”

“It was unexpected but lovely,” Bass said in the school’s courtyard after wiping tears from her eyes. “It was kind of surreal. I did realize pretty quickly...”

Under the guise of taking a class photo, Bass was led from her classroom to the courtyard with her students. Gathered there were the rest of the school population, some of Bass’s lifelong friends, her parents and 4-year-old son, Nathan.

In unison, the students, many of them holding signs and waving pom-poms. sang along to the song, which has become a popular hit for those undergoing treatment for cancer.

It was already a favorite of Bass’s before she was diagnosed in May, but it took on new meaning as she began to undergo chemotherapy and eventually surgery. As of Monday, Bass says she is cancer free, although she’ll have some follow-up appointments for a while.

“The worst of it is behind me,” she said.

The festivities Monday were the brainchild of fellow teacher Linda Sheldon and the other teachers on the team. Sheldon said the idea came to her right after Bass was diagnosed, when Sheldon was having a sleepless night.

“I kept thinking, ‘What can we do?’” Sheldon said. “She’s a pretty private person, so when we came up with this I wasn’t sure how she’d react, but it was perfect.”

Debbie and Tom Perry, Bass’s parents, learned about the surprise two weeks ago, Debbie said.

“I didn’t know it was going to be this big,” she said. “They’ve done so much already.”

Rowlett is the only teaching job Bass has ever held. She’s been there for 13 years and she said the support is part of the school’s culture. Her students agreed.

“I think that our school is a very supporting school,” said 9-year-old Jade Campbell, a student in Bass’s class. “I just think she’s a very nice person. She’s easy to talk to.”

Meghin Delaney: 941-745-7081, @MeghinDelaney