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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, 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