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Mar 13, 2019 |

Note: Incorporated as a 501c3 organization in 1989, the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL) celebrates its 30th anniversary of working to eradicate poverty through education solutions for families in 2019. This is the first in a series of blog posts detailing important moments in NCFL history that will run throughout the year.

It was back in the fall of 1990 when the discussion first began on a partnership that would end up spanning decades. Intergenerational learning was gaining popularity across the country for the first time, with the National Center for Family Literacy (now the National Center for Families Learning) helping to lead the movement. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (now the Bureau of Indian Education), meanwhile, was searching for a way to incorporate this type of learning into its hundreds of reservations in the western part of the country. Soon enough, the two organizations connected and took the first step on the road to empowering thousands of Native American families in the years to come.

At the time, implementation of the National Center for Families Learning’s (NCFL) Parent and Child Education (PACE) model was growing. After becoming enacted as Kentucky state law in 1986, it quickly spread into a national model over the next three years. Before the turn of the decade, PACE had earned the Innovations in American Government Award from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

It was at this juncture that Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) representatives began taking a deeper look.

“The more I learned about family literacy programs, the more they intrigued me,” said BIE education specialist Dixie Owen, who was the first to explore a potential partnership with NCFL. “I realized that the idea was too promising, too forceful to pass up.”

That fall, Owen and BIE branch chief for elementary and secondary education Bill Mehojih contacted NCFL and invited representatives to an exploration planning conference. Just two months later, in January 1991, the Bureau of Indian Affairs Early Childhood/Parental Program began.

The project combined ideas and elements from Missouri’s Parents as Teachers (PAT) program, the High/Scope Educational Research Institution, and the PACE and Kenan Trust family literacy models, which began in Kentucky. For staff at NCFL, the undertaking was as immense as it was innovative.

“You might say I was frightened, or at the very least, very nervous,” recalled NCFL’s then adult education services director Meta Potts. “We knew how important it was to capture the customs and traditions of Native American people within the training package, but it seemed a formidable task.”

Bonnie Freeman, NCFL’s then director of early childhood education, acknowledged the many difficulties that the people had endured both in life and in educating their children. Describing their plight, she referenced a Langston Hughes quote: ‘Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.’

Their feelings as outsiders were quickly dispersed, however, when one participant at an initial session said, “You feel that you are entering a darkness, but let us help you. We will lead you into the light.”

In just the first few months of 1991, programs were implemented on three reservations and in two schools in New Mexico, Minnesota, South Dakota and Washington; principals, teachers, coordinators, and aides were trained in the family literacy model; and parent-educators were trained in the Parents as Teachers model for home visits.

At the opening ceremony  in St. Louis, a young Navajo girl expressed her feelings in her native language.

“We are on new ground,” she said. “We will teach and we will learn. We will weave the threads of the program into our tapestry. It will become part of us, and we will become part of it. We will leave open spaces for new knowledge to combine with old wisdom.”

The Family and Child Education (FACE) program has now served more than 48,000 Native American adults and children over the past 28 years. Today, NCFL implements its four-component family learning model at 49 different BIE sites across the country. Working together for nearly three decades, NCFL and the BIE have indeed provided many new threads, empowering thousands of Native American families to weave the most colorful of tapestries and ultimately achieve a brighter future.

“This program offers something different,” said a Navajo leader at the opening ceremony. “You have offered us guidance, but you recognize that we are worthy and strong and intelligent. We will do the job.”

Nearly 30 years later, the job continues to be done.


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NCFL Partners

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Toyota Family Learning Program

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

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 reach the 35.7 million adults ages 18-64 who do not have a high school diploma by guiding them to better-paying, more stable jobs.

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®.

Go to Dollar General Literacy Foundation's website

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 to advance early literacy and learning resources for vulnerable families. Current efforts supported by PNC include a collaborative initiative in two at-risk Detroit communities that engages families to support vocabulary development for children under age 5.

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.

PNC Grow Up Great

W.K. Kellogg Foundation

NCFL has partnered with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation since January 2016. The Foundation is currently supporting a dynamic two-generation family engagement initiative that expands NCFL's Family Learning model into select Head Start programs nationwide. NCFL's model presents an innovative way to support Head Start programs in meeting outcomes aligned with the Parent, Family, and Community Engagement Framework.

Visit the Foundation website

Better World Books

Better World Books selected NCFL as its domestic literacy partner in 2005 and has raised more than $1 million to support NCFL’s work and donated more than $15 million to support literacy and education efforts worldwide. Better World Books is a triple-bottom-line online bookstore, working equally for people, planet and profit. Each book purchased powers literacy across the world.

Better World Books’ support of NCFL has provided books and workshops to families after Hurricane Katrina, donated large book donations to literacy programs and families nationwide and fueled innovative family literacy and learning programs and resources in libraries, schools and community-based organizations. In addition to their work for literacy and education, Better World Books diverts books from landfills and offers carbon-balanced shipping.

Better World Books

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

In 2013, NCFL began a partnership with the Gates Foundation to ensure that our network of students, teachers, and families thrive among recent shifts in standards-based education. NCFL will leverage the unique strengths of our award-winning Wonderopolis® platform to build upon the growing teacher network that uses the resource for core daily instruction and as a basis for professional growth.

Foundation Website

Goodling Institute

NCFL has partnered with the Goodling Institute for Research and Family Literacy at Penn State University since 2001, working collaboratively to further research, professional development, and policy efforts for family literacy and intergenerational learning.

The work of this partnership includes, but is not limited to, a strong research strand at NCFL's national annual convening, the Families Learning Summit; advocacy for family literacy and learning to further support for and inclusion of family-focused education in new and ongoing legislation; and dissemination of the latest research, resources, information, and professional development opportunities for literacy and learning practitioners and advocates, including the Certificate in Family Literacy provided by the Goodling Institute.

Goodling Institute for Research and Family Literacy at Penn State University