Casandra Bronson was preparing snacks for children in a special needs pre-k classroom last Tuesday when suddenly she realized something wasn’t right.
A per diem teacher’s aide working at Rafael de J. Cordero School 37 in Downtown Jersey City, Bronson immediately sprung to action when one of her 4-year-old students began to have trouble breathing.
“I saw him choking,” said Bronson, who was standing inches away from the boy. “He was literally trying to gasp for breath and his face was turning red.
“I started patting him on the back and I noticed it wasn’t working and I tried again,” she said. “I had to think quick, so I turned him around and started doing the Heimlich.” She knelt on the ground and after two thrusts the boy spit up a piece of a toy that he had broken and put in his mouth.
The boy began to cry, which she saw as a good sign, since her mother always said a crying child means they are getting oxygen to their lungs.
Before becoming as a teacher’s aide, Bronson worked as a security guard for the Board of Education. Yet, during her 14 years as a security guard, she never found herself in a situation similar to that of last week’s incident.
Bronson works in the classroom alongside the student’s teacher, Rachel Villanueva, and three additional aides. While she has spent most of her time working in that classroom this year, she can be moved to another class at any time, since she is a per diem employee.
“She was here on the right day, at the right time, and the right moment,” Villanueva said. “I just love having her in my classroom.”
“After I knew he was okay I had to literally sit back so my heart rate could calm down a little bit,” said Bronson, who has two children of her own and four grandchildren.
After the incident, Bronson said the boy’s mother came and repeatedly thanked her. Every time the two meet, the mother always gives her a hug.
Teachers around the Erie Street school — even those Bronson does not know — have been calling her a hero, although it’s a title she would not have given to herself.
“Other people felt it was more heroic than I did,” she said. “I just felt like I was doing my job because I was here at the time.”