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Sep 22, 2023 |
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This week is National Adult Education and Family Literacy Week. Sponsored by the National Coalition for Literacy, the week is meant to call attention to the ways that adult education transforms lives in the United States, especially for the 43 million U.S. adults who cannot read above a third-grade level. Adult education is vital to individual families, resulting in increased employability, financial security, and better health outcomes. 

But the benefits don’t stop there. Studies have shown that improving adult foundational skills improves economic growth at both the state and national level, and that the children of adult learners carry on the gains, developing stronger literacy and language skills themselves. That’s one of the many reasons why I believe so strongly in multigenerational learning opportunities for families, from early childhood through adult education. Promoting family learning experiences strengthens the skills of parenting adults and caregivers, and provides a support system for children on their learning journey. Parents are a child’s first teacher; when parents gain confidence in their skills, they transfer that confidence to their children, enabling deeper levels of learning. But all of this is possible only if adult and family learning receive the investment they so desperately require.

We’ve seen firsthand the power of investment in adult learning, education, and engagement as leaders of the Statewide Family Engagement Center (SFEC) grant in Nebraska. In collaboration with local school districts across the state, NCFL is implementing our four-component model of family literacy with a special focus on school districts with higher rates of English language learners (ELL). Participants like Angelica, a parent in the O’Neill, Nebraska adult education program, speak more to the program’s success than I ever could: 

"The family literacy program for me means opportunity and development. Opportunity, because it gives us knowledge and support to learn English, and development because with this knowledge we will be able to grow either socially or professionally. It really means a lot to me, because they are giving me the opportunity to take a course as a medical assistant, which opens doors for me to better employment. I am very grateful to the program and to those who are organizing it. Thank you for your patience and time. I believe that we can put in the effort to achieve our goals so that in the future we can socialize in our children's activities and be able to help them better."

We’ve seen similar impact in our work with the Family and Child Education (FACE) program through Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) funded schools. While children in the program are receiving educational services, parents are actively working towards their own learning goals in the adult education classroom. Adult learners in FACE set goals around adult basic education, high school equivalency or GED, college and career readiness, higher education, and employability skills. Supported by their adult education educators and their classmates, these adult learners are making strides that will improve their lives. At NCFL, we know that stronger families are the backbone of stronger communities.

NCFL is also a national partner in managing the National Literacy Directory (NLD), a valuable online resource made possible by the Dollar General Literacy Foundation that refers adult learners to literacy programs in their area based on their specific needs. Services like this are vital because they provide access to learning resources, and access is a key factor in opportunity.  When adults are ready to begin their learning journey, it should be easy for them to connect with related support and services. The National Literacy Directory provides that seamless connection. Since 2010, the NLD has helped connect more than 50,000 prospective students and volunteers to literacy services, community education programs, and testing centers. Thanks to a recent update, this resource is more user-friendly and mobile-ready than ever before.

As vital as this work is, one organization alone cannot address the immense need for adult education services and resources across communities across the country. For the past two years, NCFL has collaborated with the nation’s leading adult and family literacy organizations as part of the Adult Literacy and Learning Impact Network (ALL IN) to bring greater awareness, access, and opportunities to address the challenge of adult literacy in the United States. Together, ALL IN partners are working to draw attention to this wide-ranging challenge and the staggering costs of inaction—as much as $2.2 trillion according to a 2020 Gallup report. Learn more about ALL IN and its impact here.

Rachel Carson once said, “If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it.” That is the very heart of family learning—building the capacity of adults and children to share in the wonder of learning together. NCFL is committed to the work of spreading and scaling education solutions with and for families. You can find out more about our efforts and the work of ALL IN, districts, schools, and other organizations at the upcoming 2023 Families Learning Conference, happening October 23-25 in Omaha, Nebraska. Adult and family literacy professionals from across the country will share their knowledge at breakout sessions and panel discussions focused on innovative and equitable learning strategies. We are looking for many more changemakers to join us on this journey. 

I hope you’ll join me in Omaha to network, expand your knowledge, and find inspiration for this important work. 


Dr. Felicia Cumings Smith

A lifelong educator and national thought leader for teaching and learning, Dr. Felicia C. Smith brings decades of valuable experience to advance NCFL’s mission of working to eradicate poverty through education solutions for families. Having served in a variety of leadership roles in P-12, higher education, nonprofit, and philanthropy, her career has allowed her to experience leading systems and develop a unique vantage point of a learner’s educational trajectory from preschool to adulthood. Smith holds an Ed.D. in education leadership and administration from the University of Kentucky, and an M.A. in elementary education with an emphasis on K-12 literacy development and B.S. in elementary education from the University of Louisville. 

Follow Dr. Felicia C. Smith on Twitter and LinkedIn.


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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