In the books! A look back at the 2019 Families Learning Conference

For 30 years, NCFL has called Louisville, Kentucky home. For three days, family literacy and learning practitioners from across the country did the same, gathering together in the Derby City for the 2019 Families Learning Conference, held Nov. 4-6.

Over 900 educators, social service providers, librarians, policymakers, and funders attended, hailing from 45 states as well as Washington, DC, Canada, and Japan.

With over 100 learning sessions on tap in seven content strands, plus 15 exhibitors and multiple networking events, there were plenty of opportunities to share resources, strategies, and ideas throughout. Together, these aspects served to help equip educators and service providers with tools to take a more holistic approach to family engagement. 

Dr. Karen Mapp stressed the importance of family engagement during her keynote.

The Conference kicked off with an informative and inspiring keynote by Dr. Karen Mapp, who remarked on the importance of family engagement, not just parent engagement, and the conditions necessary to develop and sustain effective family-school partnership initiatives. Made possible by Scholastic, Dr. Mapp’s keynote identified a variety of strategies that support student learning and school improvement.

Next, a panel of librarians from around the country discussed how culturally diverse families are often isolated from schools, libraries, and other community resources, offering solutions from their own communities during a live webcast, which was produced in partnership with the Public Library Association and sponsored by Better World Books. The day ended with the PNC Grow Up Great® Welcome Reception, which treated guests to bluegrass music, fun activities, and regional appetizers, all while celebrating a 25-year partnership between PNC and NCFL.

GED Testing Service® served as a Conference sponsor.

For nearly 30 years, NCFL has supported and worked with American Indian families through a deeply-rooted partnership with the Bureau of Indian Education and its Family and Child Education (FACE) program. It was in this spirit that Tuesday began with remarks from FACE Director Sue Bement and former FACE participant Amanda Perez-Ramirez, who shared how participating in the program not only led to her earning her GED®, but also catalyzed a fuller life for her and her children. Activist Scholar Dr. Debbie Reese challenged the audience to be more aware of misleading fictions about Native peoples, urging them to instead work to provide children with facts about American Indians, both in literature and in life.

One of NCFL family literacy’s first students, Regina Lynn broke her family’s cycle of poverty.

Each year, the Tuesday evening Banquet Celebration is considered the Conference’s signature event, and this year was no different. The Banquet marked a culmination and a celebration of three decades of empowering families through literacy and learning. ABC’s Nightline co-anchor Byron Pitts emceed the evening, which included remarks from Regina Lynn, one of NCFL family literacy’s first students, and Vice Chairman of Toyota’s Board of Directors, Shigeru Hayakawa. Mrs. Lynn shared her remarkable story of perseverance and determination to leave an abusive relationship and break her family’s cycle of poverty, while Mr. Hayakawa spoke to his company’s long-standing and vital partnership with NCFL. Mr. Hayakawa presented the 2019 Toyota Family Teacher of the Year awards to Colleen Ryan of Chattanooga and Andrea Greimel of San Antonio.

The Sharon Darling Innovation Fund will enable NCFL to test new family literacy innovations.

The evening culminated with a special surprise tribute to NCFL President and Founder Sharon Darling. Toyota President Akio Toyoda recorded a heartfelt congratulatory message to Sharon and her organization for empowering millions of families over 30 years. The countless individuals whose lives have been touched by Sharon’s then paid tribute to the pioneer of family literacy. NCFL’s Board of Directors provided the exclamation mark, announcing the launch of the Sharon Darling Innovation Fund, which will enable NCFL to test new family literacy and learning innovations in its home state before scaling successful approaches to its full network. The board announced a substantial contribution to the fund, while challenging supporters of NCFL and family literacy to meet a goal of $1 million raised by the end of the year.

To close the banquet, Diego Maldonado and his mother, Guadalupe, provided one final dose of inspiration, remarking in not one, or two, but three languages how the Toyota Family Learning program has changed the trajectory of both of their lives. Local NCFL partner, the Academy of Music Production Education and Development (AMPED), kept the dance floor alive well into the night at the Hometown Throwdown.

Though Tuesday was fulfilling in more ways than one, the Conference was far from over. Wednesday morning began bright and early with a series of two-hour deep dive sessions on topics such as family math, corporate funding, and family literacy partnerships. These were followed by the Closing Brunch, where attendees fell into fall with a special pumpkin Creme Brule while listening to the sonorous sounds of cellist Ben Sollee.  Former XPRIZE CEO Marcus Shingles stretched the minds one last time by looking to the future, and hearts were ignited by Journeyman Ink to cap it off.

Over 900 individuals attended the 2019 Families Learning Conference.

They paved the way for the final big announcement—that the 2020 Families Learning Conference will be held in Dallas, Texas Oct. 19-21! Two lucky 2019 attendees had their names drawn to receive free registrations for next year’s event. For those who still had a little steam left, a post-Conference session built around new ways of communicating family engagement followed.

From acquiring new knowledge, to meeting new faces, to gaining new inspiration from families who have changed their lives, many left the 2019 Families Learning Conference with renewed vigor and brimming with ideas to put into action.

At NCFL, we know they will return to their individual communities with tireless passion; and we hope that knowledge gained is knowledge shared—that the lessons learned from the 2019 Families Learning Conference will spread far and wide. 

A reminder that many presenters have uploaded their slides (including Dr. Karen Mapp and Dr. Debbie Reese) to their session listing in the Conference mobile app. If you attended #NCFL19, share your favorite lessons learned or moments of inspiration in the comments below!