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Mar 24, 2021 |
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Note: Leila Kubesch is a teacher at Norwood City Schools in Cincinnati and was named the 2020 Toyota Family Teacher of the Year by Toyota and the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL). As many schools return to in-person learning this spring, Ms. Kubesch describes one issue—access to water—that must be considered, and shares her strategy for solving the problem in a positive way. This blog is part of a series on returning to school during the pandemic. 

Before the pandemic, I visited the homes of my students. It gave their families and me a way to collaborate in support of the student. I gained insight into how to best offer support, and they appreciated my unique way of reaching out. This school year, however, home visits are not an option. I reflected on two puzzling questions: How could I still connect with families while COVID-19 cases continued to climb, and how can students who extend kindness even during a pandemic be recognized? 

I found answers to both questions while working on another issue. Recently while I was in my classroom, a 9th grader named Joshua stopped between bells imploring for a cup to get some water. All school fountains had been shut off due to the pandemic. I looked around and pointed to an old container I use to water plants and apologized that I had nothing to offer. To my surprise, he eagerly asked to borrow it. He filled it with water from the restroom faucet, drank, then filled it again and watered the plants.

That day I became aware of unintended consequences resulting from new safety protocols. While a few students carry their own bottled water, most do not. I have even seen some youth put their heads down on their desks due to a headache from thirst. Water is a basic need and now unfortunately is not accessible to all.

Joshua is the kind of kid who helps everyone, contributes ideas in and outside the classroom, and looks for ways to make a difference at every opportunity. Many of his peers share these traits, so I searched for ways to recognize their spirit for a boost of positivity we could all benefit from, as well as a way to address the water accessibility issue after witnessing students’ dire thirst.

That day I was inspired to create a monthly recognition program. Quickly, it has turned into weekly. Aside from of a certificate and treats, the main gift is a personalized bottled water that students can reuse in school to fill with water. I call it “Message on a Bottle.”

How it works

I design and print a custom bottle label to share what I appreciate about the student. Then I contact their guardian about the surprise recognition. The families have been supportive to accommodate me. We have met in parking lots, on the family’s porch, and in parks. We end by taking photos to capture the moment.  My favorite part is seeing the student’s surprise at my visit and even more when they read the customized label on their bottle. We leave with upbeat spirits and exchanges of gratitude.

My aspiration as part of the in-person school mandates would be to include more than just cleaning protocols. While we clean desks after each bell, we need to keep in mind that safety involves more than sterile classrooms, such as safe access to drinking water. This could be as simple as providing access to cups or bottled water.


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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.

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