School community rallies around family of teachers


October 18, 2002|By Susan Harpster | Susan Harpster,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

MIKE AND Debbie Caldwell of Ellicott City have been a part of the Howard County public school community for years. They are graduates of Oakland Mills High School, and they met when they were student teachers at Manor Woods Elementary in 1997.

Mike is a teacher in the Gifted and Talented Program at Fulton Elementary. Debbie teaches second grade at Hollifield Station. Debbie's mother, Toni Holmes, is the first-grade team leader at Clarksville Elementary.

In February, when their first child was born 16 weeks early, the Caldwells' school community rallied around them.

Julia Caldwell was born Feb. 7 at Howard County General Hospital. Most pregnancies last 40 weeks; Julia was born at 24 weeks, weighing 22 ounces and measuring 12 inches long. Three days later, she weighed 15 ounces.

"She was about the size of a Coke bottle," Mike said.

Dr. Tuvia Blechman, medical director of the hospital's neonatal intensive care unit, was present when Julia was born.

"Basically, in terms of survivability, babies born before 22 weeks have a zero survival rate," he said. "For babies born at 24 weeks it's 50-50."

Battling pneumonia, viral meningitis, a blood clot and a serious bowel infection, Julia was baptized in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit on Feb. 20.

It was the first time the Caldwells held their baby girl. "It was just something that you do because, at this point, things do not look good," Debbie said. Julia was transferred that night to the NICU at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, where she stayed for 125 days.

That is when the school community stepped in. "We tend to be a very tight-knit community," said Hollifield Station Principal Glenn Heisey.

"When the birth came and it was so sudden and so early, both schools immediately got on the phone to each other," Heisey said, referring to Hollifield Station and Fulton elementary schools.

Debbie Caldwell praised Heisey, the second-grade teachers at Hollifield Station and team leader Molly Ketterer.

"The team just stepped in and took over planning for her so she didn't have to think about it for one minute," Heisey said. "There was an unwritten rule: If Debbie got a phone call, she didn't have to do anything but get her purse and walk out the door."

Mike Caldwell commended Fulton Principal Karen Moore-Roby, guidance counselor Janet Quirk, teachers Brett Roberts, Mary LaRocco and Brian Vanisko, and the PTA.

"The administration and the staff - not only did they provide meals and raise money, but they were emotionally supportive as well," he said.

Roberts' fifth-grade class at Fulton raised $100 for the family. "The Caldwells were spending $4 to $5 each night on parking at Hopkins," Roberts said. "It was all the kids' idea."

The PTA donated a house cleaning from a maid service, and LaRocco's special education class held an iced-tea fund-raiser.

The Caldwells went to the hospital every day until Julia came home June 17. "The nurses at the NICU at Hopkins gave us a tape recorder so we could tape ourselves reading to Julia," Debbie Caldwell said.

Mike chose The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle to read to Julia "because it's the story of a little caterpillar that eats and eats and eats, and then became a beautiful butterfly," Debbie said.

It appears the now 8-month-old Julia was listening. She weighs 12 pounds, is 23 inches long and healthy.

"What Mike and I want the schools to see is that we are indebted to them," Debbie Caldwell said. "It's a very happy ending."

Community concert

Join the Burke family singers, featuring Patuxent Valley Middle School Principal Sterlind Burke, for a community concert at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 9 at the school.

"Songs for our Harvest," an a cappella performance of contemporary Gospel and inspirational music, celebrates the end of the school's annual food drive.

Pupils at the Jessup school are collecting canned goods through Nov. 8 for Bread of Life food pantry. The pantry is at First Baptist Church of Savage.

Twenty to 30 members of Burke's extended family have performed at Patuxent Valley each year since the food drive began in 1996. "We have people who come back every year even though they don't have children here anymore," Burke said.

Admission is free. Nonperishable food donations are welcome but not required.

"Last year, we helped over 600 families, from the Route 1 corridor between Laurel and Elkridge, in the Fort Meade area, and a lot of people in Columbia," said pantry manager Jacky Waller.

Patuxent Valley schoolchildren collected more than 12,000 canned goods in 2001. The food drive is organized by eighth-grade social studies teacher Chana Tacka. "That's our main contribution, through the school and the concert," Waller said.

"The expectation is that each middle school child in the Howard County public school system will participate in a student service learning experience each year," Burke said. "We do our best to provide them with an opportunity and encourage them to participate."

Donations can be made directly to the pantry at 8901 Washington St. Hours are from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

Information: Bread of Life pantry, 301-725-3944, or Patuxent Valley Middle School, 410-880-5840.

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