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Nov 16, 2021 |
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This blog post is authored by NCFL's President, Dr. Felicia Cumings Smith in honor of Kentucky Family Engagement in Education Week. Click here to read about activities happening across the state. 

The United States public education system, including right here in Kentucky, is beginning to fully understand the long-term impacts of COVID-19 on student learning outcomes. McKinsey & Company’s 2020 study on the pandemic’s implications for today’s young people reports that Black and Brown students will suffer the greatest educational and social-emotional consequences (E. Dorn, B. Hancock, J. Sarakatsannis, E. Viruleg, 2020). These effects threaten to harm important progress toward building a diverse and well-prepared workforce of employees across our nation’s communities. Having dedicated my career to providing high quality, equitable education for all Kentucky students, the prospect of widening opportunity gaps keeps me up at night. I continue to contemplate how we can best serve our state’s future generations in an ever-changing world.

For me, I’ve realized now more than ever, it all comes down to a school’s connection to its students, families, and to the broader community. I have witnessed firsthand that when families are engaged in their children’s education, students are much more likely to overcome challenges and achieve long-term life success. It is urgent and imperative for our state to build inclusive and collaborative family-school partnerships to maximize learning impact beyond school walls. This is the primary way to fortify Kentucky's future workforce prosperity and strong thriving communities. The future of learning is in communities where there should be dynamic and innovative learning systems in place.

As the new President of the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL), I am thrilled to see connected, statewide efforts committed to strengthening family-school partnerships in Kentucky’s communities large and small. This week, the Kentucky Collaborative for Families and Schools is celebrating successful family engagement practices and strategies to deepen the conversation around this work and promote awareness of what it looks like in different communities. This example of true collaboration and collective action requires incredible coordination from schools, government, community-based organizations, and most importantly, Kentucky’s students and families.

Further, I was excited to participate in the Kentucky Department of Education’s recent 2021 Summit where Commissioner Dr. Jason Glass, shared his vision for our state’s public education system. It is centered on the importance of student and family voice in education. We need more of this work happening across our state—and more funds directed to it—most critically in less-resourced districts and in those that serve a higher percentage of students who are furthest from opportunity to address racial and economic inequities. The future of Kentucky’s workforce is dependent upon fulfilling a vision that starts in public education.

This work is local work. Family engagement and learning opportunities need to be designed to meet the diverse and multi-faceted needs of Kentucky communities. NCFL has been privileged to advance family engagement work across the nation but also in our Louisville community through a multi-year partnership with Jefferson County Public School (JCPS) district. This work enabled us to quickly respond and reach families when schools switched to a fully remote environment in spring 2020. Having developed deep relationships with both JCPS personnel and JCPS families, the team convened town halls and distributed learning resources and information quickly and effectively.  We worked with JCPS school-based parent leaders as trusted messengers in their communities during a time of confusion and dramatic disruption. If there is one thing the pandemic has taught us, it’s that so many families face daily barriers to being engaged with their schools. Family engagement directly addresses this problem by creating new solutions and agile practices. The Kentucky Chamber Foundation’s 2021 report,20 Years in the Making: Kentucky’s Workforce Crisis, outlines the state’s workforce challenges and offers solutions in relationship to families, family engagement, and family learning that will support a strong economy. In order to reduce the racial and geographic disparities in continuing education options and postsecondary attainment rates we must provide learning opportunities that engage families and result in equitable student outcomes from birth through adulthood. NCFL believes this requires deep coordination of all community members and institutions to create comprehensive family learning systems that strengthen family-school partnerships and extend learning beyond school walls.

Despite these challenges we are facing as a Commonwealth, I am hopeful and excited that NCFL is working with fellow partners such as Jefferson County Public Schools, the Kentucky Department of Education, and the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence to support every Kentucky student’s future through research-based, transformative family engagement and learning experiences. Bolstering family engagement and learning in Kentucky’s education system is the single biggest lever we have for mitigating long-term negative impacts on our children’s academic and social-emotional success. Join me in responding to our renewed commitment to family-school partnerships by serving as an advocate for education and workforce success through stronger family engagement, family literacy, and family leadership efforts. This is our collective responsibility.


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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