At the Heart of Family Learning: Casting the vision for building equitable and thriving communities

Over the past few weeks, as I’ve been celebrating Black History Month with family and friends, I’ve realized more and more that education and economic prosperity are rooted in how families and communities come together to ensure high levels of success occur for all its members. The picture below is representative of my mother’s experiences of being in community with her peers, school leaders, and community advocates to ensure she received a quality education that would transform her livelihood. It’s my story, too. I am who I am today because of the sacrifices and opportunities that families and communities have made. 

Group of school children including Dr. Smith's mother
Group of school children including Dr. Smith’s mother

This is the work of NCFL. Collaboration yields huge dividends when there’s a sense of hope for a brighter future. NCFL is grounded in supporting and engaging with families and communities in order to create equitable and thriving contexts for young people and adults. Throughout the past few years and more intensely over the last several months, the NCFL team has engaged in a learning journey toward strengthening our diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) commitments, refining our strategic vision for 2022 and beyond, and many more activities to determine how our programmatic efforts should evolve to meet the needs of families and practitioners.

Bringing together many community stakeholders requires coordination of deep, comprehensive collaboration on a continuum of programs and resources—spanning preschool through adulthood. NCFL calls these coordinated and aligned efforts, Family Learning Systems, and we believe they are key to supporting families’ educational success and economic prosperity, and to building thriving communities.

In my inaugural blog post last month, I shared NCFL’s bold vision for the next era of our work; that by 2030, we will have established aligned and coordinated Family Learning Systems in 60 communities throughout the country. To do this, we’ll bring together our efforts in family literacy, family engagement, and family leadership.

We can look at NCFL’s work in Texas as a bright spot for a Family Learning System in action. The Dallas Family Learning System is comprised of: 

  • Family Literacy and Family Learning—place-based programs that include Family Service Learning, through which families learn, practice, and apply fundamental workforce skills as they work toward solutions to issues they face in their communities,
  • Parent and Community Leadership—where parenting adults build their capacity to become key decision-makers and influencers in their communities, elevating their lived experiences to inform policy development for equitable and thriving communities, and
  • Family Learning Collaborative Community Model—where stakeholders working across sectors in service to families, and including families themselves, meet regularly to foster communication and collaboration towards improving learning opportunities for families.
Participants in Dallas convening in person prior to the pandemic
Participants in Dallas convening in person prior to the pandemic

The work is intense and requires significant investment and support. In the coming months, we’ll explore each high impact family-focused educational practice associated with family literacy, family engagement, and family leadership. Drawing on our 33 years of work in family education, we know that long-lasting, positive impact for families requires collaboration among multiple entities in a community. When schools, community-based organizations, government, libraries, and others come together to work with and alongside families in addressing issues they face, members reach critical mass in effecting positive change in the lives of families.

As we codify the Family Learning System model, we are also considering what communities may be poised for spreading and scaling our work. We are committed to engaging in deep, transformative experiences to support communities in co-design efforts to realize the exponential impact of sharing and transferring knowledge and skills from one generation to the next.

Join us on our 60×30 campaign for advancing Family Learning Systems to support equitable communities for generations to come. If you are part of a community that is ready to embark on this work with us, please reach out to:


Dr. Felicia Cumings Smith

A lifelong educator and national thought leader for teaching and learning, Dr. Felicia C. Smith brings decades of valuable experience to advance NCFL’s mission of working to eradicate poverty through education solutions for families. Having served in a variety of leadership roles in P-12, higher education, nonprofit, and philanthropy, her career has allowed her to experience leading systems and develop a unique vantage point of a learner’s educational trajectory from preschool to adulthood. Smith holds an Ed.D. in education leadership and administration from the University of Kentucky, and an M.A. in elementary education with an emphasis on K-12 literacy development and B.S. in elementary education from the University of Louisville. 

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