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Feb 11, 2020 |
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"Grit, Grace, and Gratitude: A 30-Year Journeyshares how one woman’s desire to teach adults to read turned into a nationwide movement to lift families out of poverty. Published in November 2019, the book shares the important and inspiring story of the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL).

Over the course of the next month, NCFL will share select passages from "Grit, Grace, and Gratitude." The first passage describes the origins of family literacy, recounting how NCFL’s president and founder, Sharon Darling, created the Parent and Child Education (PACE) program in Kentucky in 1986. Within just three years, PACE became a national model, earning the Innovations in American Government Award from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. NCFL was established the same year.


"But one of the challenges is that people don’t acknowledge the parents’ needs first." Sharon equates the idea with the use of an oxygen mask on an airplane. "If you’re on an airplane and seated next to a child, when those oxygen masks drop from the ceiling, the instructions are to put the mask on your face first, before you help your child. Likewise, parents need support first to help their children. In the past it had always been early childhood programs trying to lure the parents into programs—when in fact, recruiting parents into programs first, and bringing the children in alongside them, has made the difference."

There were numerous research studies at the time to attribute children’s academic success to the education level of the mother; given the 70% dropout rate in regions of Kentucky, it made even more sense to focus on parents, knowing that the impact on children would come naturally. Eastern Kentucky’s Appalachian counties with the highest incidence of adult undereducation and unemployment became the priority. PACE worked to bring these families to school together to learn, to have positive school experiences, and to discover that education is important.

"The only way I knew to do that, because transportation was such an issue," Sharon shared in a 2018 interview, "was to bring parents and children to school together on the school bus. Kentucky legislature funded six programs, and I was able to demonstrate how this might work. So, the three- and four-year-old children came, the parents were right next door, and then we really started to understand that this concept was very powerful, and that it was making a huge difference for both the parents and the children. Families started to learn what they could do at home, and they started to bond together—even within their isolated rural communities, they started to see themselves as a group and helped each other along."


"Grit, Grace, and Gratitude" tells powerful stories of families who gained knowledge, courage, and confidence to pursue educational and career goals—often against all odds—and through their own perseverance not only survived but thrived. To order your printed copy of "Grit, Grace, and Gratitude: A 30-Year Journey", click here. To purchase the ebook edition, click here.

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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