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May 9, 2023 |
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For the past 27 years, the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL) and Toyota have partnered in a nationwide search to celebrate extraordinary school- and community-based educators who engage families with a multigenerational approach. The Toyota Family Teacher of the Year wins a $20,000 grant to implement a family engagement, family literacy, or family leadership program in their district. 

Last October, Ivonne Ortiz—a family educator with Mesa Public Schools (MPS)—was named the 2022 Toyota Family Teacher of the Year for her outstanding commitment to family literacy as an adult educator.  In January of 2023, her Toyota Family Teacher of the Year program kicked off and we are excited to share updates on its progress!

Parents at Jefferson Elementary School participate in the Mesa Public Schools Family Literacy Program.

With the grant funds from her award, Ortiz and MPS are expanding their established Family Literacy Program to include parent leadership training and the development of community/school involvement projects. Over the course of 2023, the project’s goal is to train and support parents in eight MPS elementary schools with family literacy programs. Notably, this training will be based on the Parent Nation curriculum[1].

The beginning phase of Ortiz’s project is designed to develop parent leadership skills based on each participant’s needs and interests. This phase started by training parents in Adams, Jefferson, Longfellow, and Whitman Elementary Schools during the spring semester (pictured below). In March, staff and trained parents started planning for the extension of the program, with all eight schools scheduled to be included in the training in the fall semester of 2023. 

While the training will occur at the individual schools, Ortiz and MPS will also be organizing a one-day parent conference for all participants, giving them the chance to network with parents from different schools and further their training.

Ortiz’s project will culminate with a final Family Literacy Parent Conference organized by the parents in the spring semester of 2024. This conference is designed to provide parents with a venue to put their leadership skills into practice. In addition to organizing the conference, they will also take the lead in planning and implementing an improvement project of their own, which will be shared during the spring event.

When speaking with NCFL CEO & President, Dr. Felicia Cumings Smith, Ortiz shared that the primary aim of her project is to bring family voices into decision-making at schools[2]. Ortiz recognizes that parenting adults are already leaders and hopes to use this program to provide the tools they may need to be better heard by the schools. 

Do you know an educator who is committed to engaging families just like Ortiz? Nominate them for the 2023 Toyota Teacher of the Year award by 11:59 p.m. PDT on Thursday, May 18, 2023.


Ivonne Ortiz and her family moved from Puerto Rico to Mesa, Arizona in 2002, jumpstarting her career in the public school system with the Department of Education of Mesa. Her career change has been a source of great personal and professional satisfaction, leading her to work with the district for 13 years. For 10 of those years, Ivonne has been an instructor with the Family Literacy adult program. She currently serves at the Jefferson and Longfellow Elementary Schools.

[1] To learn more about the Parent Nation framework, check out NCFL’s February webinar, Family Leadership: Building a Parent Nation.

[2] To read more about Ivonne Ortiz’s interview with Dr. Felicia C Smith, click here.


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NCFL Partners

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Toyota, one of the nation's most successful corporations, began a partnership with NCFL in 1991. In addition to a commitment of more than $50 million, Toyota has also contributed a wealth of in-kind support — including advertising, planning and management expertise — to form one of the most progressive corporate/nonprofit partnerships in the nation.

Three major programs have been developed through the Toyota partnership based on the family literacy model of parents and children learning together. These models have influenced federal and state legislation, leveraged local dollars to support family literacy and led to successful programs being replicated across the country.

Read more about Toyota's commitment to communities

William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust

NCFL received its very first donation in 1989 from the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust to promote and implement family literacy programming, first in Kentucky and North Carolina and later nationwide. The Kenan Family Literacy Model in part laid the groundwork for 30 years of subsequent family literacy and family learning programming developed by NCFL.

Kenan has continued to support NCFL’s place-based family literacy programs since our inception. Most recently, it has invested in our organization’s Sharon Darling Innovation Fund, which will launch emerging ideas and programmatic evolutions in the multigenerational learning space.

Learn more about the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust

Dollar General Literacy Foundation

The Dollar General Literacy Foundation began partnering with NCFL in 2006. A signature effort of this partnership is the National Literacy Directory, a resource that launched in 2010 and strives to guide potential students and volunteers to literacy services, community education programs, and testing centers in their communities.

The National Literacy Directory contains over 10,000 educational agencies located across the United States and has a dedicated toll-free number to help support those wanting to pursue educational opportunities in their communities.

Dollar General also provides support for development of NCFL’s innovative family learning resources centered on financial literacy and Parent and Child Together (PACT) Time®.

Learn more about the Dollar General Literacy Foundation

PNC Grow Up Great

PNC Grow Up Great believes deeply in the power of high-quality early childhood education and provides innovative opportunities that assist families, educators and community organizations to enhance children's learning and development.

PNC Grow Up Great has partnered with NCFL since 1994, most recently in Louisville, Kentucky, to support Say & Play with Words, our pre-Kindergarten vocabulary-building initiative.

NCFL's work is also featured on the PNC Grow Up Great Lesson Center website. The Lesson Center includes over 100 free, high-quality preschool lesson plans and research-based instructional techniques and strategies. All lesson plans contain Home/School Connections printouts, in English and Spanish, to help families extend and reinforce the learning at home.

Learn more about PNC Grow Up Great

U.S. Department of Education

Initiated through the U.S. Department of Education in 2018, the Statewide Family Engagement Centers (SFEC) program provides 12 grantees and 13 states with five-year, $5 million grants to promote and implement systemic evidenced-based family engagement strategies. NCFL was selected to lead SFECs in two states, Arizona and Nebraska, and is a primary partner for two other SFECs in Kentucky and Maryland/Pennsylvania. 

The SFECs work to support family engagement through state- and local-level agencies while providing both professional development to school districts and direct services to families related to children’s academic outcomes and overall well-being.

Learn more about the U.S. Department of Education

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

NCFL was named a recipient of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s "Voices for Economic Opportunity Grand Challenge," which seeks to elevate diverse voices in order to broaden the conversation about the issues inhibiting economic mobility and generate deeper awareness along with actionable understanding. NCFL will develop and launch a podcast series that will highlight the remarkable stories of low-income, diverse families across the U.S. who have improved their communities through Family Service Learning.

Foundation Website