For a little more than 10 years, Paulette Holdaway spent her days volunteering as a foster grandparent in the classrooms of Cloud Peak Elementary School.
While she knew the work she was doing was important for the kids she was helping teach and the teachers she was teaching with, her final day as a volunteer — Dec. 3 — showed her exactly what she meant to those students.
“Every time I turned around there were kids coming up to me — third, fourth and fifth grade — giving me flowers and little notes,” she said. “Of course, I cried a lot. It’s been a great experience for me. It has kept me humble, and I just wish that people can understand how important doing something like this is.”
A little more than 10 years ago, Cloud Peak Principal Craig Anderson said he and Holdaway became connected through the regional coordinator for the Foster Grandparents of the Wyoming Rockies program.
The program — which provides only a small stipend to the volunteer — is utilized across the United States through AmeriCorps Senior to help connect students and school buildings in need of mentors and assistance with people age 55 and older who wish to volunteer.
At the time, Cloud Peak had never used the program, but Anderson said they welcomed Holdaway’s help at Bomber Mountain Civic Center — where the elementary school was housed at the time.
Because Bomber Mountain was a smaller space, Holdaway worked with nearly every grade level in every classroom. But when the new Cloud Peak Elementary School was built, she was moved to just one third grade classroom.
“In the fall of 2013, we moved to this building, and it’s just a much larger space, and so we made a decision at that point to tend to focus Paulette’s attention on one grade level,” Anderson said. “And we picked our third grade, and Melodie Gross at that point said, ‘Hey, I’d love to have her in my room.’”
After moving into Gross’ classroom full time, Holdaway said, she did a little bit of everything but primarily worked with small groups of students on reading, writing or math.
“She (Gross) would separate into little groups according to ability, and then I would work with that small group of kids on whatever math we were working on,” Holdaway said. “Right now, they’re working on rounding to tens and hundreds and getting ready to do multiplication.”
In addition to working with the students, Holdaway said, she also worked directly with Gross on craft projects for the classroom or helping create tools for instruction.
While Holdaway’s work was important for the teachers and the students at Cloud Peak, she said it was equally important for her to feel like she was doing valuable work that would help grow the community.
“I’m the kind of person that I love to be needed, and I like the idea that I was able to do something that was helpful to someone else,” Holdaway said. “And the kids at this age, some of them do need that extra little one-on-one.”
With Holdaway’s time at Cloud Peak now finished, she said that she plans to move in the new year to Colorado Springs to be closer to both of her kids and her grandchildren, and that she plans to continue spending time with the Christian Motorcyclists Association in the area.
While there is no replacement foster grandparent in line for her at Cloud Peak, she hopes someone will step up to do what she views as crucial work for the community by reaching out to the Sheridan coordinator Terri Markham at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“It’s really beneficial for the kids and for some of the teachers,” Holdaway said. “It’s been extremely helpful in third grade because of the fact that these kids are at the age where they need to start focusing and concentrating on what they need to learn and to be independent.”
And from Anderson’s point of view, the work is just as important to the people like Holdaway as it is to the schools they help.
“It’s been a symbiotic relationship,” Anderson said. “I mean, she was important to the kids, but the kids were important to her.”