William Mehojah, Jr. (Bill) is a member of the Kaw Nation in Oklahoma and is past Director of the Office of Indian Education Programs. He worked as a teacher, counselor, and administrator in the Office of Indian Education Programs, now the Bureau of Indian Education, for thirty-six years. During this time he helped develop the Family And Child Education (FACE) program. In 1990, NCFL was selected to provide family literacy training and technical assistance to the newly established FACE program and has continued to support its implementation process for over 25 years. Bill will be speaking during the opening session at this October's Families Learning Summit in Detroit, Mich. Here, he discusses his work with FACE and American Indian communities, lessons learned, and why he's looking forward to NCFL's Summit. When did you first realize that family literacy and the FACE program were making an impact on the American Indian communities? Bill: The first time it really hit me was when I made a trip to the To’ Hajiilee school just outside of Albuquerque. It was a progressive school and they were trying a lot of different things in reading, math, and science and technology. The principal and I were talking and he said, “Hey, do you want to meet the newest FACE students?” And I said, “Oh, sure!” We went to the classroom and there was an infant who was probably two or three months old and the principal said, “Here’s your latest enrollee in the FACE program!” By going into that school and seeing parents engaged in the future of their children, it dawned on me that the FACE program was working. Parents were engaged in the program. Mothers were there with their young children and they were very enthusiastic about enrolling their children in FACE. They saw that the program and school provided a place where they could go and receive not only instruction but a brighter future for their families. What is important for others to understand about the needs and goals of American Indian populations? Bill: Schools historically were not where people felt very comfortable for numbers of reasons, and schools had not engaged parents in the educational process of their children. The FACE program is about engaging families in the education of their children from birth and continuing that through their educational careers. Over the years, the FACE schools have become community-centered and welcome the involvement of parents. The FACE program really engages parents in the education of their children and views the school as a positive place to be for themselves and for their children – not only in the early years of the child's education but also in the longer term. Thinking from the stance of parent engagement, what lessons and tips would you share with other schools, communities, and library educators that serve American Indian populations? Bill: Engage parents in meaningful activities. So many times teachers bring parents into the classroom and it ends up being a time for copying materials or doing tasks that are not meaningful.I have come to realize that parents can really get involved in education through becoming involved with literacy activities. Years ago, I was meeting with a group of teachers and I asked them what was the biggest problem facing them as teachers when the kids came to school for the first time. I remember one of the teachers said, "Language development is our biggest problem." Everyone in the room was shaking their heads yes. That continues to be an issue that we need to address. The best way we can do that is through literacy activities like the sharing of books, having literacy events at the school and in the communities themselves, and holding literacy sessions for parents to convey the importance of reading and talking to their children. The idea of just talking to your children is not something that has really been done in some Indian cultures. A lot of the education of children has just been done through observation, which is important, but I think allowing parents to engage with children through literacy activities is something that we really need to focus on. It is meaningful and necessary to improve children's long term success. When you think back to some of the students that you've known along the way, what lessons do you think you might have learned from them? Bill: I’ve learned that many children just need a lot of support and if you give them that support, a path forward, and the vision that they can have a better life, along with some real practical ways to make that happen, they’ll really want to persevere and make a better life for themselves. I’ve learned that many parents who are students in our FACE program have had rough times, but given an opportunity, given a way to make that opportunity into a better life, that's really all they want. That's all they really need. That opportunity and a path forward through education can make all the difference in their lives and produce a ripple effect that reaches out to future generations. That happened in my family starting with my grandmother and her vision of a better life for her son that was then transferred to me, and from me to my sons and grandchildren. It takes just one person to make a significant impact on a family. Why are you enthusiastic about attending the 2016 Families Learning Summit? Bill: Well, you know I have had a long history with NCFL and it is one of the premier organizations in the nation, perhaps in the world, that provides support to parents and families. I am a great admirer of the organization and I get re-enthused from attending NCFL's conferences. You see all these people who are so dedicated to helping families and children and that enthusiasm is something we all take back from the Families Learning Summit to recharge our batteries and reaffirm why we do the work we do on behalf of children, families and communities. NCFL: Thank you, Bill. We appreciate so much your dedication, not only to the FACE program, but to all families and to the teachers who strive every day to give families the tools that will help them design and create this path for the future.
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
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