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Mar 11, 2015 |
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Watch Kristin Whitaker learn she was awarded $20,000
and learn she was named 2015 Toyota Family Teacher of the Year.

When high school teacher Kristen Whitaker arrived at work this morning, she knew there was a planned assembly. What she didn’t know is it was really just a ruse, set up to surprise her as 2015 Toyota Family Teacher of the Year for her efforts in engaging students’ families in their children’s education. She was also presented with a $20,000 grant to fund a two-generation summer camp program she created for low-income minority students and their families.

Whitaker leads family engagement efforts at Columbia Heights Education Campus (CHEC) in Washington, D.C., where the student population is 100 percent minority and 90 percent low-income. So far this school year, Whitaker has visited 37 families, and coached fellow faculty members to make visits, resulting in a combined more than 200 visits.

“Kristen believes strongly in the importance of meeting parents ‘where they are’ in order to build trust and achieve family goals...” -CHEC Principal Tukeva

Home visits build meaningful relationships with students and their families. They keep parents informed and offer an opportunity to set goals and track progress over time, helping families meet their full potential. Whitaker has worked with fellow teachers to bring knowledge of family culture back to class, making instruction more personal and individualized. Insider her classroom, Whitaker’s students are highly engaged and performing well above average academically.

“Kristen believes strongly in the importance of meeting parents ‘where they are’ in order to build trust and achieve family goals,” said Principal Maria Tukeva. “Her work has created a whole new energy around involving parents at CHEC.”

20150311_102628The Toyota Family Teacher of the Year award, a national honor now in its 19th year, recognizes that families play a crucial role in the learning process of children. It salutes educators who are exceptional at using two-generation approaches to engage students and their families in education.

“The family summer camp Kristen plans is a great example of using the Toyota Family Teacher of the Year grant to employ the latest approaches to intergenerational learning in a program that will appeal to and reach entire families,” said Mike Goss, vice president of external affairs, Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America.

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“Study after study has proven that parents engaged in their children’s learning increases student achievement,” said Sharon Darling, president, NCFL. “And more recent studies also indicate that the willingness of a parent to get involved in their child’s education is very powerful in strengthening the parent-child relationship … as well as the entire school and the community as a whole.”

Whitaker and runner up, Donna LaBeaume of San Antonio, Texas, will be recognized for their accomplishments at our Families Learning Summit  in Houston on March 17. LaBeaume is a virtual pre-kindergarten coach at the Southwest Independent School District Early Childhood Center. Through technology and parent coaching, she encourages early childhood literacy among more than 100 predominantly Hispanic families. LaBeaume received a $5,000 grant to continue her family engagement efforts.

“The extraordinary work of both Kristen and Donna in engaging families in their student’s education will pay dividends for these students, their families, their schools and their communities for generations to come,” Goss said.

Learn more about Ms. Whitaker's home-visiting efforts in this Washington Post feature.


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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