Soul of a New Machine

Successful programs, a strong PTO and intramural sports that transcend the student body


The adjective intramural is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary with a secondary definition of “competed only within the student body.” That’s how most of us came to know the word, as in intramural sports. However, the primary dictionary entry (or at least the online version of it at is “being or occurring within the limits usually of a community, organization or institution.” With the intramural activities program at Western Hills Middle School, the school has a program that conforms to the adjective’s secondary definition but, given its origins and spirit, over time may exemplify its primary definition.

When the Cranston Public Schools decided to remove middle school sports from their budget a few years ago, the Western Hills Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) offered up their surplus funds to implement sports and activities in which the student body could compete amongst themselves and the faculty, too. Based on current estimates, there are upwards of 65 students participating in after-school activities such as flag football, floor hockey, basketball, volleyball and weight training. The level of competition often runs high, and rumor has it that students and faculty alike show no mercy on the courts and on the fields.

Intramural sports represent a key line item in the PTO’s budget. In a casual conversation I had with Mr. Milewski, a Western Hills physical education and health teacher, a few months ago, he praised the program for the level of student participation and how enjoyable it was for everyone involved. It sounds like the investment and efforts are well worth it to the Western Hills community.

Western Hills, like so many other Cranston schools, benefits from having a strong PTO at its side. The current Western Hills PTO president, Lisa Gargaro, is a self-described “professional PTO person.” She certainly is a PTO veteran, serving as PTO president at Orchard Farms for five years and as PTO president at Western Hills for the last three years. Many of us who have attended our fair share of school committee meetings over the past several years may recognize her as a strong advocate for the schools.

In an e-mail exchange with Lisa a few weeks ago, she explained to me that a “big chunk” of the PTO’s funding comes from their annual walk-a-thon. Additional funds come from the sale of “spirit wear” and from PTO membership fees, too. Much like other parent teacher groups to which I’ve been exposed in the past, the Western Hills PTO allocates money to meet teachers’ needs for classroom supplies. They also use the funds to pay for assemblies, awards refreshments and the aforementioned intramural sports. Lastly, like many other schools, the PTO hosts a book fair, coming up in March, and uses the profits to purchase books for the school’s library and provide a little more to the classrooms.

Like so many other cities and towns in Rhode Island, the families that make up Cranston’s schools are not immune to the economic challenges of the times. Lisa Gargaro is well aware of this reality as it relates to fundraising. When I asked her if there were other fundraising ideas that the PTO would be promoting, she replied, “We understand that many families are suffering from hardship in this economy and we are grateful for what we actually manage to take in for our walk-a-thon … I hate asking for parents to purchase things all year long.”

Despite the fundraising challenges in this economic environment, Lisa won’t give up just yet. Her “professional PTO skills” are being put to use in a bona fide professional way. She was recently hired by a Rhode Island company, Superb Souvenirs, and is starting a division within the company specializing in school and sporting activity fundraising products. As Lisa exclaimed, “If someone thinks of it, I can create it!” One of Superb’s first efforts is marketing titanium necklaces as fundraising tools for schools. Most commonly known as “Phiten” necklaces, these are tremendously popular with children of all ages. Of course, the fact that the necklaces are worn by the likes of professional athletes Josh Beckett and Justin Verlander surely helps with their popularity.

In the past, when I have extolled the virtues of the parent teacher organizations in helping to fill the voids in school funding and school activities in these tough times, some have been quick to point out that it’s not so easy in other schools elsewhere in the city. Personally, I remain unconvinced. After speaking with Lisa Gargaro, and getting a sense of her commitment to the PTO and to school fundraising, I am sure there are more than a few more parents like her throughout Cranston’s two-dozen schools. Believing this, the spirit of successful programs like intramural sports at Western Hills can be embraced by the Cranston community.

Bruce Saccoccio can be reached at


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