Grandmother helps generations of students

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When Carol Caldwell returned to Midway Elementary after a number of years away, she experienced something of a shock. The parent teacher organization she’d worked so hard to establish when her daughter enrolled in fourth grade at the Polvadera school had ceased to exist. This time it was Caldwell’s granddaughter who was about to start first grade at the small, 97-student school.

Carol Caldwell

“I was devastated the PTO had dissolved,” Caldwell said. “But I thought, well, I did it once, I can do it again,” and so she rolled up her sleeves. She admits the process has been a little rough this time around, with less help from other parents. Luckily she’s received help from her family — her daughter, son and husband all pitch in — and now, eight years later, the Midway Elementary School PTO is once again going strong.

Caldwell’s youngest grandchild to attend Midway will move up to middle school in the fall, but family member in attendance or not, she’d still show up every day to make a difference in the lives of students. School budget cuts have severely affected Midway.

“Some of the fourth- and fifth-graders have read every book in our library,” Caldwell said.

Remedying this situation has been a top priority. Last year she organized a Halloween carnival and raised enough money to give the library $900 to buy new books. This year she has organized classroom Box Tops for Education contests to raise funds for the library and profits for the school’s twice-yearly book fairs have quadrupled since Caldwell volunteered to run them.

Although she holds the title of PTO president, Caldwell confesses that her favorite activity is fundraising. Last year she successfully secured a $5,000 grant for field trips. Many of the children at Midway have since been able to visit places they might not have otherwise. When Fridays roll around, she heads up the popular popcorn and pickle sale, which raises money for the school’s general fund. Recently Caldwell introduced the school’s first ever movie night. It was enthusiastically embraced by the community and even netted a small profit.

There’s hardly a single activity at school that eludes this volunteer’s expansive reach. Her daughter was an avid basketball player growing up and now coaches at Midway, with Caldwell serving as her assistant.

That often finds her squiring the team in her Suburban to games or home from practices. In this role, Caldwell gets to spend time with the kids, her other favorite pastime. It’s why you often find her assisting in the classroom, too.

“These kids are our future,” she said. “They’re the ones that are going to take care of us.”

In the meantime, Caldwell takes care of business at Midway Elementary. She finds that her biggest reward is when a child comes up and gives her a big hug and says thank you. Her long history with the school means that in the past she’s actually worked with the parents of some of today’s children. In effect, things come full circle.

“I see the parents as productive citizens and some of them have come back to me and said thank you, as well,” she said. “They remember me. It doesn’t get much better than that.”

Story by June Allan Corrigan for the Savings Bank Life Insurance Company of Massachusetts Superstar Volunteer recognition program.