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Aug 20, 2018 |
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The following is part of a series of guest posts by leaders in the field of literacy and family learning. This guest post is by Brad Meltzer, bestselling author and television host, and keynote speaker at the upcoming 2018 Families Learning Conference.

The teacher who changed my life didn’t do it by encouraging her students to stand on their desks, like John Keating in Dead Poets Society.

I was good at something. When I met Ms. Shelia Spicer, I was in the ninth grade and had just moved to Florida from Brooklyn. Most of my teachers at Highland Oaks Junior High seemed to look past me; I was one more student among hundreds. Ms. Spicer, however, took a special interest.
 
“You can write,” she said, explaining that she wanted to move me into the honors English class. But because of scheduling conflicts, transferring wasn’t an option. So instead, Ms. Spicer told me to ignore everything she wrote on the blackboard for the rest of the year. “Ignore the discussions. Ignore the assignments. You’re going to sit here and do the honors work.” A decade later, when my first novel was published, I went back to Ms. Spicer’s classroom and knocked on the door. “Can I help you?” she asked, trying to place me. I’d had a lot more hair the last time we saw each other. “My name is Brad Meltzer,” I said, handing her a copy of my book. “And I wrote this for you.” Ms. Spicer began to cry. She’d been considering early retirement, she said, because she felt she wasn’t having enough of an impact on her students. I didn’t know how to make Ms. Spicer understand what she’d done for me: Thanks to her, I fell in love with Shakespeare. (In fact, she once forced me to read the part of ­Romeo while a girl I had a crush on read Juliet.) I learned how to compose an essay. It was her belief in me that gave me the confidence to become a writer. I owed her. Thirteen years later, when I heard that she was ­finally ready to retire, you better believe I was at her going-away party. It felt a little like sneaking into the faculty lounge: I wanted to surprise Ms. Spicer, so I tried to blend in. But as I sipped my water and eavesdropped on school gossip, I had a troubling thought: What if Ms. Spicer wasn’t as great as I remembered? I was suddenly terrified that reality might destroy my memory of the woman who had inspired me so deeply. Over­dramatic, I know, but true. I was hiding in a corner when one of the teachers called everyone’s attention to the presentation of a parting gift—a crystal vase. All Ms. Spicer needed to do was say a few words thanking everyone for coming. Instead, she stood up and delivered a stem-winding speech that began like this: “For those of you complaining that kids have changed and that it’s harder to teach these days, you’re getting old. You’re getting lazy. These kids haven’t changed. You have! Do. Not. Give. Up. On. These. Kids!” When she finished her rallying cry, the crowd burst into applause, and I was ready to apply for a teaching certificate. That was the woman I remembered! I went up to Ms. Spicer and thanked her for changing my life all those years ago. I realized that night that I was still, and would forever be, her student. Oh, and my crush who read the part of Juliet? I married her. I owe Ms. Spicer for that, too.  

ABOUT THIS POST

By Brad Meltzer

Join him at the 2018 Families Learning Conference in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, September 24 - 26, where he will share more on this topic as a keynote speaker. He is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Inner CircleThe Book of Fate, and nine other bestselling thrillers including The Tenth JusticeThe First CounselThe Millionaires, and The President’s Shadow. His newest book, The Escape Artist, also debuted at #1. Follow him on Twitter, @bradmeltzer

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Toyota

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.

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