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What are the habits of an effective educator? In the Stronger Families, Stronger Communities blog series, the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL) has explored this question with the past winners of the Toyota Family Teacher of the Year (TOY) Award. These educators have shared habits that have improved their practice and enriched the lives of the families with whom they work. However, one habit was more than a common practice. Teachers described it as a passion. Reading.

Many of the award-winning teachers talked about their personal love of reading. Katy Kibbey of Michigan (TOY 2008) connected her personal reading to her professional learning. She shared that she uses reading as a way to evolve as a professional and leader. “I read and stay abreast of the field and am always on the lookout for new approaches, ways to adapt and to ultimately do better. I recognize that while my roles and responsibilities have taken me out of the front lines, I still have a unique opportunity to add value to the mission of family literacy.” 

Other teachers were ardent about transferring their love of reading to children. They talked about guiding young children on the path to becoming readers. Karen Klima-Thomas of Arizona (TOY 1997) told us “I read, read, read. I have always read, read, read. There is nothing that will serve a child better than growing a joy of reading.” Similarly, Jody Lintzenich of Tennessee (TOY 2003) appreciates the value in teaching children to read. She believes that it is a way to pay it forward. “Once children can read, they can do anything,” she said. “For example, a little first grader I worked with in class and literacy just graduated from college last year with a degree in special education. She will in turn be teaching children. Inspiring children to be all that they can be is ‘paying it forward’ because they, in turn, will do that for someone else.”

Other teachers moved beyond learning to read and reading to learn. Kay Brown of Louisiana (TOY 2010) focuses her passion for reading on access to books. She is known as the “Louisiana Book Fairy” for her work in distributing millions of books to children and families. She said one of her greatest pleasures is introducing and sharing books with children and their parents. Kay said, “I can see children’s desperation turn to joy.” 

Like Kay, other teachers also acknowledged their belief that reading should be a family affair. Dayle Bailey of North Carolina (TOY 1999) said, “I love, love, love to read, and I tried to pass along this love of reading to my family, my friends, and the families I worked with. I love it when reading becomes a fun, interactive, intergenerational event.”  NCFL’s traditional family literacy programs have capitalized on the indispensable power of intergenerational literacy – of children and their parents enjoying books and literacy-based activities together. 

Reading might be the most powerful habit of all. It is essential to our work as educators. Teachers serve as models. They share their love of books and reading with their students, their families, and their colleagues. At the same time, educators also guide children and adults on the pathway to becoming readers. They also share with families the power of reading together.

From teacher to teacher - read and share your love of books and reading with others.

What are you currently reading? Share titles of books and articles that you are reading for pleasure or for professional learning in the comments below. One person who comments will be selected to receive a copy of NCFL’s book Stronger Families, Stronger Communities.

This blog is the final edition of a yearlong series focused on the habits of past winners of the Toyota Family Teacher of the Year Award. Visit NCFL’s newly designed website to read the entire Stronger Families, Stronger Communities series.

Rosa Guzman-Snyder, who formerly worked on behalf of the National Center for Families Learning through its Toyota Family Literacy Program in Pueblo, Colorado, has recently joined the nonprofit organization as its Community Development Director at its headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky.

The National Center for Families Learning is proud to welcome back Rosa into its fold. Rosa’s previous experience implementing the NCFL Family Learning model combined with her unique exposure to social injustice make her a valuable asset as NCFL moves forward in working to eradicate poverty through education solutions.

Rosa Guzman-Snyder

For Rosa, social injustice has always been evident. Born in the border town of El Paso, Texas as the youngest of four, she observed daily the struggles of immigrants crossing into the U.S. in hopes of making a new life. Her father served as the pastor of a nearby church, and it was not uncommon for him to invite immigrants into the family home. 

“I don’t remember a time that our home was occupied by just our immediate family for more than a week at a time,” Rosa recalled. 

As these individuals passed through, Rosa and her family observed the hardships that so many had endured. Wage theft, discrimination, and overall violence were communal experiences of these passersby.

Throughout this time, both of Rosa’s parents struggled to make a good life for their children. Rosa’s mother decided to enroll herself and her daughter in a Headstart program, where both received an education. Her mother ultimately earned her GED, eventually going on to become a community/parent liaison for Denver Public Schools. 

“My mom became a powerful parent leader and advocate through the [Headstart] program,” said Rosa. “She gained understanding in the power of parent engagement in education, which led to a change in our family.”

Her efforts inspired Rosa to take her education seriously as well, and she eventually graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish and Nonprofit Administration from Colorado State University-Pueblo and a Master of Public Administration from the University of Texas at Arlington.

Armed with her education and the insight into the world of social injustice she gained from her childhood, Rosa began working for Pueblo City Schools, located 100 miles south of Denver, Colorado. There, Rosa began implementing Family Literacy programs through the National Center for Families Learning. 

“While working with the Toyota Family Literacy Program in Pueblo, I witnessed incredible power of collective parent voice and leadership,” Rosa said. “I realized I wanted to be in community with parents – elevating their voices and following their lead. My time in Pueblo is what made me fall in love with family literacy on a professional front. I had seen the power of family literacy in my own family, but for the first time, I was seeing it as a professional.” 

Eventually, Rosa took another step on her path to fight injustice and co-founded the Community Language Cooperative (CLC) along with her sister in 2013. The Denver-based CLC works to promote language justice in a variety of capacities; it has created a training model where non-profits, city agencies, and other organizations learn how to best serve linguistically diverse communities by creating language-neutral spaces. Since its inception, CLC has grown to include 17 translators among 10 different languages.

In June 2018, Rosa returned to NCFL – this time at the nonprofit organization’s headquarters in Louisville. She now serves as NCFL’s Community Development Director, where she initiates and develops community support at NCFL’s major project sites across the country. Rosa’s work has taken her back to the state where her journey began. She is currently working in Dallas, Texas with parents, educators, and other nonprofit organizations to develop parent leadership skills as well as a strategic literacy plan for the city. Ultimately, NCFL will award three $135,000 grants to organizations to implement NCFL’s Family Literacy programs in the area.

Rosa’s background allows her to relate in a very true way to the communities she serves. At the same time, she stands as a shining example of the dynamic structure of NCFL. At one time a site worker implementing the NCFL model, Rosa now works to develop that model, sharing it with today’s site agents across the country.

“My role as the Community Development Director incorporates all of my favorite things from my previous positions,” she said. “Because the task of solving systemic disparities seems so daunting, it’s refreshing to be in community with parents who experience the inequities firsthand daily, and yet are willing to put in the time, effort, and heart into making positive changes for their community and schools through family learning. I’m encouraged to see communities coming together across sectors to tackle the overwhelming issues with effective partnerships.”

ABOUT NATIONAL CENTER FOR FAMILIES LEARNING

The National Center for Families Learning (NCFL) is a national nonprofit organization that works to eradicate poverty through education solutions for families. Partnering with educators, literacy advocates, and policymakers, NCFL develops and provides programming, professional development, and resources from the classroom to the community that empower and raise families to achieve their potential. For more information on NCFL visit familieslearning.org. 

Rocio grew up on the U.S.-Mexican border as the youngest of five children. After later having a child of her own, she began attending Plano Family Literacy School (PFLS), a local partner of the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL). There, Rocio continued her own education while learning how to become more involved in her children’s schooling as well. She was invited to share her family literacy story at the 2018 Families Learning Conference.

After leaving her village in northern Mexico for Dallas, Texas, Rocio struggled with transitioning to life in the U.S. Once she found the Plano Family Literacy School (PLFS), however, everything changed for the better – both for her and her children.

Growing up in the tiny Mexican village of San Jeronimo de Sauces in the northern state of Zapatecas, Rocio had a burning desire to read anything she could get her hands on; unfortunately, there was no library in her village. She remembered having access to a single book in her home: a thick Bible, with a red-wine colored cover and thin pages.

“When I learned to read, I devoted myself to any book I could find. I wished I could have [had] access to more children's books,” she recalled.

Living with her mother and four siblings in an adobe home with a kitchen and three bedrooms, Rocio experienced good times with her family in San Jeronimo de Sauces, but daily struggles as well. Since her father worked on long-term construction projects in the U.S. and was gone for months at a time, her mother did her best to take care of the five children. Rocio remembers particular times of scarcity, especially as it related to meals.

“It was a constant struggle for my mom to provide healthy food for us,” said Rocio. “We only ate meat two or three times a year, and we didn’t have access to many vegetables and fruits at that time.”

From afar, Rocio’s father encouraged his children to pursue education, a fairly rare sentiment in a place where many children did not continue with schooling beyond twelve years of age. Though her siblings chose a different path, Rocio was eager to learn. With her father’s blessing, she defied the norm.

“I didn’t want to stop; I wanted to keep going,” she said, and walked 30 minutes each way to the secondary school in San Antonio del Cerrito. Despite these efforts, her educational journey was eventually postponed. After marrying her boyfriend Pascual at age 19, Rocio and her new husband moved to Dallas in order for him to gain employment in the construction industry.

Upon arriving in Dallas in 1994, the couple moved into a modern apartment rented by his siblings. Though the beauty of illuminated buildings reaching towards the sky in downtown Dallas provided a sharp contrast to candlelit evenings in San Jeronimo de Sauces, Rocio soon found herself overwhelmed and lonely. Pregnant with her first son, she couldn’t speak English and was unable to recommit to her own education.

“I didn't know how to drive. I didn't know how to speak the language,” she recalled. “I wanted to go to school, and I couldn't.”

Once her son was born, changing her circumstances seemed to become more difficult than ever.

“I had a newborn to take care of and money was scarce,” she said. “I knew some churches offered English classes, but I couldn’t go because I had no one to take care of my baby. I remember praying and wondering if somewhere, there was a program or school where my baby could go with me.”

Years passed, and in 2000, Rocio and her husband purchased a home in nearby Plano. Rocio’s brother had told her the area was home to high-quality schools; at this point, the couple had two children with a third on the way.

Soon after she moved, Rocio learned about the Plano Family Literacy School (PFLS), a local partner of the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL). The school offers evidence-based, two-generation interactive literacy activities for parents and their children. Rocio was able to attend with all three of her children.

Rocio with her children (clockwise from top left), Emily, Heidi, Kim, and Kevin.

“It was perfect. I mean, I couldn't ask for anything else,” said Rocio. “I had the opportunity to receive English language instruction and the peace of mind that my children were taken care of. Not only that, [but] they were learning basic skills that prepared them to go to public school.” 

Rocio participated in NCFL’s Parent and Child Together (PACT) TimeⓇ  for four hours a week.

“I learned to talk with [my children]; to sit and play with them more often,” she said, adding that through programming and activities, she also learned about positively engaging in her children’s school. “I learned about the importance of meeting the teachers of my kids, attending parent-teacher conferences, and volunteering at school.” Confidently, she began to navigate the school system.

Before learning how to advocate for her children’s education and productively support their schooling, Rocio said she had only a vague understanding of how to go about being her children’s first and most important teacher.

“I would say, ‘You have to go to school. You have to be successful. You have to graduate. You have to do this and this and that,’” she said. “But I didn't really focus on one task at a time. It’s learning how to address and work on smaller goals, like helping with homework projects, that can lead to conversations about college being a reality.”

Rocio eventually honed her English and academic skills and earned her GED®.

In 2003, she was offered a position as an Early Childhood Assistant at PFLS, her first job since arriving in the U.S. Securing the position made Rocio feel that she was contributing to the economy, giving back to the program that supported her, and as a bonus, she worked under the same roof as her children.

“If I had gone to work somewhere else, I wouldn't be able to stay with my children and see them and guide them,” she said.

Rocio also modeled advanced academic attainment for her family, enrolling at Collin Community College in the summer of 2009. Being back in a traditional classroom wasn’t easy. She recalled the first day of her English rhetoric course.

“It was a frightening moment. On the first day of class, I sat in the last row. I was very nervous,” she said. “I felt intimidated for a long time,” but her comfort level and confidence steadily grew. Rocio received her Associate of Arts in Education in 2013.

Today, Rocio’s children are thriving. Her oldest son Kevin, 24, just finished an enlistment with the U.S. Marine Corps. Her daughter Kim, 21, is a junior biology major at the University of Texas, Dallas. Emily, 17, is a senior in high school exploring options for college, and her youngest, Heidi, is an 8th grader who loves theatre and is very involved in school.

“From my personal experience, I completely see how families can change their fate when they get an education. I have witnessed in my own children how education creates positive change,” she said.

Rocio speaking at the 2018 Families Learning Conference.

In the fall of 2018, Rocio was invited to share her inspiring journey at NCFL’s annual conference in Fort Lauderdale. As she told her story to a filled ballroom, she reflected on her own journey – from San Jeronimo de Sauces to Dallas to Plano, and to her home-away-from-home at the Plano Family Literacy School.

“Without [family literacy], I wouldn't be able to be here today,” she said. “I compare myself to people from the same village, and they're hard workers. They are people who work hard and they love their children too, but they didn't have opportunities I did. That made the difference for me and my family.”


November is National Family Literacy Month®, a time when we celebrate families who are working to better their lives and the tireless efforts of those working in family literacy and family-focused programs. On Fridays in November, we're sharing an inspirational story of an adult learner who has participated in an NCFL family literacy program. 

LaDelvin is a mother of two and an alumna of the Flint Family Literacy Program at the Christ Enrichment Center (CEC) in Michigan. CEC is a local partner of the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL), and has provided programming to promote learning opportunities for local citizens of all ages for the past 30 years. LaDelvin was recently invited to share her family literacy story at the 2018 Families Learning Conference.

When LaDelvin was growing up, her parents emphasized the importance of school. She was raised in a two-parent household and was the youngest of five children, plus one adopted brother. Her father started working on the production line at the local General Motors plant, eventually making it to management. In 1963, her parents were the first black couple to purchase a home in their neighborhood—they were a model of upward mobility within the local black community.

All of LaDelvin’s older siblings graduated from high school, and they all either enrolled in a college or pursued a trade degree. Her family’s relative prosperity and educational attainment, however, would not be a harbinger of the path LaDelvin would take. When she was a teenager, family tragedy struck not once, but twice.

When LaDelvin was 13 years old, her father suffered a fatal heart attack. Then, seven months later, her brother Ewell Jr. was brutally murdered—he was just 25 years old.

LaDelvin’s world was turned upside down. “I felt like my life was over before it began,” she recalled.

LaDelvin found a positive outlet in music, learning to play clarinet in middle school and eventually joining the high school marching band. Academically, however, she never obtained the credits she needed to graduate on time. By 18, she had dropped out of high school twice largely due to persistent struggles in math class. 

Despite not having her GED®, LaDelvin was determined to provide for herself, and her longtime passion for nails and salon work was a way to do so. She enrolled at a cosmetology school in Flint and worked in various salons, building up a reputation as a skilled nail artist.

In the fall of 2004, her son Deaven was born. Years passed, work was steady, but when it came time to supporting Deaven’s reading and school work, the experience was painful for both mother and son. “Deaven had issues with reading...It was traumatic for both of us to get him to sit down and read, and I might have went about it in the wrong way,” LaDelvin admitted.

Then in 2007, LaDelvin’s mother passed away, leading to another difficult stretch. She suddenly became the guardian of her adopted brother. In and out of jail since he was 14, he was saddled with anger and mental health struggles. During this period, LaDelvin made a reluctant decision to apply for state assistance. “For me, I felt as if I had hit rock bottom,” she said.

But needing assistance indirectly provided LaDelvin a spark.

“I knew that I needed to do something, so I attended night school to obtain my GED®,” she said. She passed all of the sections except for math. LaDelvin was exasperated, but she didn’t give up, finally giving the nearby family literacy center, Christ Enrichment Center (CEC), a chance.

She had never told most of her family that she didn’t graduate from high school. It was a secret she’d kept for over 20 years. But after years of harboring this burden and what she calls a personal shame, LaDelvin finally had enough. In the fall of 2016, at age 42, she enrolled in the CEC Flint Family Literacy Program.

During her enrollment session at CEC, LaDelvin initially balked at the idea of a lengthy commitment. After all, she says, her plate was full. She now had two sons, and she was still taking care of her adopted brother. Finances were tight. 

At the time, LaDelvin was unaware of the value in committing to family learning and literacy programs long-term. Soon, though, she was participating in a wide range of the onsite programming for up to 20 hours a week. This included GED® courses, and NCFL’s Parent Time and Parent and Child Together (PACT) Time® classes—both multigenerational approaches to encourage families to learn together.

LaDelvin with her sons, Deaven and Desmond

During PACT Time, LaDelvin learned to improve as the first teacher of her children while practicing interacting with her younger son, Desmond, in a supportive environment. With Parent Time, she met other young mothers and formed a tight-knit cohort. By increasing her network, LaDelvin was able to work with CEC staff members on setting high expectations for her kids, focus on her children’s progress, and extend learning opportunities at home and in the community.

The family literacy program at CEC not only helped LaDelvin study for the GED® and become a better parent for her children, it sparked within her a lifelong commitment to help others who are struggling with the same issues she experienced throughout her life. After a year in the program, LaDelvin was asked by the Flint & Genesee Literacy Network to join their team as a Flint Recovery Corps Member, serving as the family literacy system navigator. 

In addition to working at her home salon, LaDelvin now carves out time to embrace work as a family literacy system navigator. She provides local families resource packets about ongoing issues in their community, such as Flint’s water quality issues. She also provides ideas and suggestions for others to implement PACT Time.

LaDelvin speaking at the 2018 Families Learning Conference

At the 2018 Families Learning Conference, LaDelvin took the ballroom stage in front of over 700 people. She received a standing ovation. “It was an honor to not only speak my truth, but to be an inspiration,” she said. Grateful for her opportunities, she is determined to keep paying it forward. She said, “I just want to be able to impact my community in a way that the next generation can say ‘I want to impact my community as well.’”


November is National Family Literacy Month®, a time when we celebrate families who are working to better their lives and the tireless efforts of those working in family literacy and family-focused programs. On Fridays in November, we're sharing an inspirational story of an adult learner who has participated in an NCFL family literacy program. 

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