Arizona partners collaborate to support families in learning together

In 2018, the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL) received federal funding to launch Arizona’s first Statewide Family Engagement Center (SFEC) to increase parent involvement and academic achievement. Now in its fourth year, the Arizona SFEC demonstrates how NCFL effectively partners with school districts and state and local organizations to develop larger systems of family engagement, family literacy, and family leadership that support equitable and thriving communities.

Recently, NCFL’s president Dr. Smith visited Arizona to meet with NCFL’s SFEC partners, see the work in action, and discuss opportunities for expansion in order to reach more families. It was clear that through collective action, the Arizona SFEC is providing families in school districts across the state with opportunities to develop the skills and confidence to reach their goals and support their children’s academic and social-emotional growth. Key initiatives that comprise the Arizona SFEC include early childhood literacy development program Raising a Reader (birth–preschool) carried out by Southwest Human Development and Make Way for Books; NCFL’s Family Literacy model carried out in Title I schools (K–3); emerging reader book distribution to families to build home libraries provided by Unite for Literacy; and NCFL’s parent leadership programming that is offered to parent participants in family literacy programs.

The following video highlights the collaborative efforts of the SFEC partners:

During Dr. Smith’s visit, Arizona SFEC participants and school staff emphasized how the initiative has an impact beyond school walls and across multiple indicators of well-being and prosperity. NCFL staff had the opportunity to talk with Katlyn Rivera, a family literacy participant at O.C. Johnson Elementary School in Yuma Public School district, to hear how her experiences in the family literacy program have supported her son’s reading gains.  She said, “We started doing more Parent and Child Together Time (PACT Time) and focusing on that. I didn’t realize how bad he was struggling, and then Amanda [the site coordinator at O.C. Johnson] started giving me tips. We did a whole reading and rhyme section. They just told me, ‘He’s picking up reading, he’s doing better in class.’”

Katlyn Rivera and O.C. Johnson Elementary's family literacy program participants with NCFL staff
Katlyn Rivera and O.C. Johnson Elementary’s family literacy program participants with NCFL staff

Katlyn also spoke about the challenges she encountered as a result of the pandemic. She credits the program for increasing her confidence as well as her social networks, which helped her to believe in her ability to apply for and start a new job. She also spoke to the strong friendships between mothers in the program, “When I came to this program I said, ‘I’m just here to learn. I’m not here to make friends…but it’s become its own little community.’”

At Lattie Coor Elementary School in Phoenix, the team learned about family literacy participant Ana Sticney’s journey in the family literacy program and how through it, she has strengthened her relationship with her children’s school in multiple ways.

Listen to Ana’s story:

The Arizona SFEC demonstrates a template for coordinating and aligning multi-generational programs in communities that build strong systems to support children and families across the age continuum. The Arizona SFEC is nothing without the critical contributions and expertise of its partners. NCFL recognizes and thanks the following Arizona partners for their work and collaboration throughout the project: Arizona Department of Education, Avondale School District, Cartwright School District, Make Way for Books, Mesa Public Schools, Read on Arizona, Southwest Human Development, Tucson Unified School District, Unite for Literacy, and Yuma Public Schools.

Related: At the Heart of Family Learning: Meeting the needs of families through family literacy programming