Anna-Marie Booth is the mother of two sons. Her older son, Joe, was a freshman at the Galileo Academy of Science and Technology when she helped found the Galileo Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA). Anna-Marie has worked as an attorney, a corporate lobbyist, and the executive director of a social justice organization. She is currently a real estate broker and substitute teacher in the San Francisco Unified School District.
When her son enrolled at Galileo High School in the fall of 2003, Anna-Marie signed up to be in the Galileo Parent Club. She soon discovered that although a sign-up sheet had come home, there was no active parent club. Months went by and there was no meeting. As far as Anna-Marie could see, there was no organized way for parents to become involved at the school.
Making a change
The parent liaison at Galileo was also concerned about the lack of parent involvement.
In November, she called the few parents who had expressed interest in getting involved and held a meeting. Four parents showed up. Anna-Marie was extremely disappointed that a school of almost 2,000 students lacked something as basic as an active parent organization. She had been active in the PTSA at her sons’ middle school and had attended PTA training conferences. She decided to put her knowledge and experience to work, and start a PTSA at Galileo.
She preferred to establish a PTSA, which is a local unit of the National Parent Teacher Association, instead of a different type of parent organization because she was familiar with the procedures and the structure. It was also important to Anna-Marie that the PTA provided role models, history and procedure. The other parents agreed that a PTSA unit was a good choice and they got started.
Anna-Marie said that the initial set-up process went fairly smoothly. She had the experience to draft the by-laws, the tax paperwork and other administrative tasks. There were only about five parents involved at the very beginning; but Anna-Marie persuaded one of them to be the membership chair and help with recruiting other parents. She also recruited members. “My philosophy is to be inclusive and include everyone. I wanted to bring everyone who is alive into this!” she said.
Anna-Marie did a lot of the initial work herself, but she was also careful to be sure others had important roles to play. She noted that one of her biggest jobs as the founding president of the PTSA was to encourage and support others and urge them to follow through with their tasks.
By the Spring, Galileo had a functioning PTSA with 33 founding members. One of the first activities the PTSA planned for the school was bringing the San Francisco Assistant District Attorney to speak on “Teens and the Law” to the students at an assembly. Since then, the PTSA has raised funds to benefit the school. It sponsors many programs for the school and contributes grants to individual teachers, who apply by describing how their project will enhance education and how many students will be impacted by it. There are now about 30 PTSA members who are active on committees or involved with fundraising, and 170 individuals have officially joined the Galileo PTSA. Anna-Marie’s goal for the future is for every family to participate in some way.
Getting other parents involved
Anna-Marie reached out to involve parents from every ethnic group represented at Galileo. What was her strategy? “I spoke with them and asked them to help! Often people only try to recruit other people who are like them. I tried to be inclusive of everyone.” Although she admits to sometimes begging other parents to participate, Anna-Marie also understood when parents said they did not have time. When parent volunteers became overwhelmed by the tasks they had taken on, Anna-Marie would both pitch in to help and remind the parents that they are volunteers and should not feel so much pressure.
Working with the school
The Galileo parent liaison was instrumental in helping to organize the early planning meetings for the PTSA and has been an important resource throughout the process, according to Anna-Marie. The principal has also been very supportive. She attends the PTSA meetings and has invited the involved parents to speak with school visitors. “I think she is just thrilled by what has been happening,” said Anna-Marie. She noted that Galileo’s teachers have been less involved with the PTSA, perhaps because they are unaccustomed to parent involvement. The PTSA strives to support students and teachers through grants for which teachers may apply and a Teacher Appreciation Week.
For Anna-Marie, the biggest challenge in establishing and building the PTSA has been getting other parent volunteers to follow through with their commitments. She said there have been times when someone has taken on a task, but either did not complete it or did not do it well. In that situation it was difficult to keep the person involved while still making sure the final product was good. Anna-Marie tried to be diplomatic, noting that everyone is busy and finds it hard to give the amount of time necessary to do all that a project might entail. This acknowledgment made it easier for others to pitch in and help without any uncomfortable feelings.
How the school has benefited
The parents at Galileo now have a way to tap into school and become more involved with their teens’ lives. This has helped make the school more desirable to families. Galileo has also benefited from the PTSA’s fundraising through grants and other programs. Teachers have received grants to pay for materials for classes, self-defense training for girls, a school-wide cultural assembly presented by the Black Student Union and more. This year the PTSA will provide SAT workshops for students, and it is working with the principal to decide how to best support education at Galileo with the money from this year’s fundraising. “It is just fantastic, phenomenal, what has happened!” Anna-Marie said.
Tips for other parents
Anna-Marie recommends that parents have a clear vision about what they want to accomplish, “and just get it done!” She stresses the importance of recruiting others to participate and then supporting them. “You need to respond quickly when people call or email and coach them if they need it. Make them feel good about what they’re doing. Share the glory! Share the joy!”