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UES Caregiver Alliance: Coming Together to Make Things Better

The UES Caregiver Alliance treated the school staff to an outdoor pizza party in November 2021. Photo by Chad Simmons.
Despite declining involvement in local organizations, the Union Elementary School’s parent-teacher organization is alive and kicking. 

Historians have described the U.S. as a “nation of joiners.” From the Grange to the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, our response to a problem has been to create an organization to address it. As the 20th century drew to a close, however, it seemed as if Americans were less enthusiastic about joining. In Robert Putnam’s book, “Bowling Alone,” he lamented the fact that while Americans sent money to large nonprofits, we grew less enthusiastic about working together to solve problems. Even that mainstay of middle class America, the national PTA, was declining. 

Locally, the once-popular Montpelier Theater Group no longer plays to packed crowds on opening night. The local Elks clubhouse may soon become affordable housing, and it’s been many years since the International Order of Odd Fellows met in downtown Montpelier.

On the other hand, the Rotary and Kiwanis clubs still meet, book groups are everywhere, and pickleball has achieved cult status among baby boomers. 

Then there’s the Union Elementary School’s parent-teacher organization (now known as the Caregiver Alliance), which is doing well and looking forward to new growth. Each of the four schools in the Montpelier Roxbury Public Schools District have individual alliances. The umbrella group — Partners in Education — coordinates joint efforts and raises funds to share among all the schools. 

Edisa Gonzalez Revilla Muller, a member of the UES Caregiver Alliance, believes the key to strong membership is inclusiveness. Members may be single parents, married parents, grandparents, or others who care for Montpelier’s kids. 

“We’ve created a space that people can come into and know they’re welcome.” says Muller, “Just because you’re a caregiver, you’re part of the group and we want everyone’s opinion.”

Julia Chafets, mother of a kindergartener said “At first I thought … ‘Do I belong here?’ There’s a stereotype of a parent-teacher organization (but) we’re not like that. You’re one of us even if you don’t show up, and if you do show up, your voice counts.” All meetings are hybrid and can be attended in person or remotely.

The Caregiver Alliance functions as a collaborative group, and decisions are made jointly. At the Jan. 17 meeting, all members of the alliance will be asked to approve (or not) the general budget. In the spirit of inclusiveness, no UES family is ever asked to pay for an activity the alliance sponsors. 

Chad Simmons, who joined the alliance as a newcomer to Monpelier, says during the 2021–2022 school year, the group focused on staff appreciation. All staff members received small presents every month including treats such as homemade soup and gift candles. 

Plans are in the works for an April celebration called “UES Loves Books.” Thanks to help from the Vermont Council on the Humanities, the Caregiver Alliance will partner with Bear Pond Books and offer every UES student a new book. The group is also collaborating with Bear Pond to create related activities, including a possible visit from a guest author. Other alliance plans include continuing staff appreciation (identified as a priority by UES families), help with the fourth grade graduation, a Snow Cone Day in the fall, and providing treats for the end of the school year.

All of this takes money, and the alliance relies on donations from individuals and local businesses such as Red Hen Bakery, Fox Market, and National Life. A fundraiser will be held at Three Penny Taproom Jan. 24, and the Lip Sync “Battle,” a huge crowd pleaser, is scheduled for Jan. 27. Admission is by donation, but money will be raised from the sale of pizza during the show. 

The alliance isn’t all about fundraising. “We want the emphasis right now to be on building community,” says Muller.

Simmons appreciates that approach. “I joined because I wanted to be part of the school community,” he says. “I wanted to make things better.” 

The next meeting of the UES Caregiver Alliance will be held Thursday, Jan. 19, in the school cafeteria from 7 to 8 p.m. Please enter through the playground door. For a meeting link or other questions, email ues.families@gmail.com.