Families Learning Together: The Mora Family

A Family Affair

During a school conference in fall 2013, Tony and Martha Mora were informed that their oldest son was in trouble — Jesse was hanging out with the wrong crowd and his grades were slipping. He had quit trying in school, his teacher said, telling the Moras that he knew their son was capable of anything he put his mind to, if he would just apply himself. 

Tony tried telling Jesse that school was his only responsibility right now. “If you don’t do it now, it is going to be harder when you get older,” he remembered saying, speaking from experience.

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The Mora Family

The beginning

Tony Mora was an excellent student when he was younger, but he had to drop out of school at the age of 17 to begin working after his father died. Immigrating to the U.S. from Michoacán, Mexico, Tony began working in construction. He was a smart, skilled worker and moved up the ranks quickly.

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Tony and Martha Mora speaking at NCFL’s 2014 Families Learning Summit in Washington, D.C.

Tony met his future wife while his crew was repairing a hotel’s infrastructure in Texas. Martha had moved to Dallas from Mexico and found work cleaning hotel rooms. The two soon married and moved to Louisville, Ky., after Tony made the decision to open his own construction company in 2002.

At the same time, Martha didn’t know enough English to help with their children’s homework or to attend parent-teacher conferences without Tony. When her husband was out of town, she had to scan and send worksheets for Tony to check. Knowing there had to be a more efficient way to run a business and ensure their children excelled in school, Tony encouraged Martha to sign up for English classes.

Martha inquired about a family literacy program through the Jefferson County Public Schools system, which was initially funded by Toyota. The following Monday she nervously showed up for her first day of class.

“It was like discovering another life.”

Determined to help her family, Martha kept attending classes. Tony and her children watched her English improve, and when the Moras learned their eldest son was falling behind in school, Martha began taking Jesse with her to the program.

To show his children how much he valued education, Tony also signed up for the program’s ESL course and quickly advanced to GED classes. Now, the whole family was actively engaged in NCFL’s four-component literacy model: Adult Education, Children’s Education, Parent and Child Together Time, and Parent Time.

“LEAF taught us how to work with our kids, how to push them, sit with them, and wonder with them,” Tony said. “Not just coming up with the answer, but by asking ‘Why this?’ and ‘Why did this end up like this?’”

Turning learning into a family affair, life for the Moras began to change.

Tony found more efficient ways to run his business, honing his math skills and becoming more adept at reading manuals on his own. Martha was no longer having to send her children’s homework to Tony, and she could now assist Mora Construction with administrative needs. She also found she no longer needed a translator when meeting with her children’s teachers. 

And when the Moras found out Jesse had been accepted into the National Beta Club at school, Tony had to ask Jesse’s teacher to explain the significance. 

“’The Beta Club is only for the best students’ is what Jesse’s teacher told me,” Tony said, his smile resonating with pride.

Tony earned his GED after a few months of hard preparation. Martha is currently working toward her high school equivalency, and Jesse is now enrolled in AP classes at his middle school. Their youngest children read books to one another nightly. 

“We couldn’t ask for more,” Tony said. Martha jumping in to add, “It was like discovering another life.”