As a physician, Ambreen Shakeel is responsible for maintaining or restoring her patients’ health. Perhaps that is why she focused so immediately on resuscitating a school library when she took over as president of the Peace Academy PTO in Tulsa, Okla.
Shakeel and her fellow officers would have had their hands full even without taking on the library restoration process. The Peace Academy, a preK-12 private school with 185 students, had no cohesive board in place. Parents felt uninformed about activities at the school, events were poorly attended, the teachers were frustrated by the lack of parent involvement, and the principal was overwhelmed.
The board’s efforts to build a vibrant parent group and create a functional school library earned it the award for Outstanding Parent Group at a Small School in PTO Today’s 2012 Parent Group of the Year search.
The PTO immediately set a goal to help the teachers create caring and educated students, and they focused on establishing order and increasing communication to help them achieve their vision. To that end, Shakeel’s group wrote bylaws, established a Facebook page, and set up an email account and a voicemail system. They assigned parent representatives in each classroom to assist with reaching out to other parents about upcoming events and assigned a volunteer to “flyer duty” to hand out notices during car pools.
Yet despite having a full agenda organizing the board, recruiting volunteers, and establishing effective communication channels, the PTO couldn’t ignore the fact that the Peace Academy did not have a functional library.
Books were crammed into a dark, closet-like space behind sliding French doors; Shakeel and her team just had to address the situation. They raised funds for custom-built cabinets and sliding benches. They built desks and installed cubicles. And when the library was ready, they invited a well-known children’s author, Rukhsana Khan, to the grand opening.
“I am really proud of all of the parents,” Shakeel says. “All of us have really small kids ages zero to 3 and we brought them into the library, passing babies among [the group]. There was that much dedication and love for the project.”
What the judges loved: PTO parents visited local libraries to learn how to arrange the books in the school library, then took home boxes of books to sort and label.
Cool fact: The Peace Academy PTO assigned a theme to the library project. They chose “Ocean of Knowledge” because they wanted the children to explore books the way a diver would explore treasures in the sea. The library was painted ocean blue, and a floor-to-ceiling ocean mural was placed on one wall.