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Aug 11, 2019 |
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This guest blog post is authored by Kendra Smiley, Arizona Statewide Family Engagement Center Director at the National Center for Families Learning.

Before I was an employee at the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL), I attended and presented at NCFL’s annual Families Learning Conference. This year, the Conference is being held November 4-6 in Louisville, Kentucky—where it all began 30 years ago for NCFL.

Having experienced the whirlwind of three days of learning and connecting with others in the field, here are my top three tips for making the most of your time at the 2019 Families Learning Conference:

Plan ahead. There are so many amazing sessions being offered from professionals all around the country. Start thinking now about the sessions you want to attend by looking at the schedule at I also would encourage you to strike a balance in choosing sessions that interest you, but also trying sessions with topics that are totally new to you to expand your knowledge.

Step out of your comfort zone. Take advantage of the networking opportunity during the PNC Grow Up Great® Welcome Reception on Monday, Nov. 4 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. This is a great chance to learn from others and build new relationships. Plus, you can enjoy regional appetizers, bluegrass music, and festive Kentucky-themed activities!

Attend the General Sessions. Each day of Conference includes a General Session, a time when all attendees gather together in the main ballroom. A key part of these sessions is that a parent who has participated in family literacy takes the stage. This is one of the main reasons why someone should attend the Conference–there will be families who will share their personal stories with the audience. Hearing directly from families definitely speaks volumes for the work. Plus, the Opening Session on Nov. 4 kicks off with Dr. Karen Mapp, senior lecturer on Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) and the faculty director of the Education Policy and Management Master’s Program. She’ll discuss the Dual Capacity Framework for Family-School Partnerships—you won’t want to miss it!

Attending the Conference really opened my eyes to how truly engaged Sharon Darling, president and founder of NCFL, is with families. It was so amazing to hear her share stories about the relationships that she continues to have with the families that NCFL has impacted over the years. Come hear for yourself and join our 30-year celebration when you attend the 2019 Families Learning Conference!


As the Statewide Family Engagement Director of Arizona at NCFL, Kendra Smiley works to create a high impact statewide family engagement system that improves academic achievement for disadvantaged students in the Grand Canyon state. She also coordinates the management of ongoing relationships with new and existing partners, leveraging those relationships for collective impact in Read On communities throughout Arizona. Kendra has more than 12 years of experience in literacy program development and instruction. She holds a Master of Arts in Education from the University of Phoenix and a Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science from Arizona State University. Check out her session at the 2019 Families Learning Conference, “Building a Love of Books and Reading for Families” on Tuesday, Nov. 5 at 9:45 a.m.


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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