North Carolina educator named national Toyota Teacher of the Year

Shari Brown, a Lenoir, N.C., educator,  received the national 2012 Toyota Teacher of the Year award Sunday at the National Conference on Family Literacy in San Diego.

Brown is a family literacy coordinator and instructor employed by Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute. The Caldwell County Family Literacy Program that Brown serves will receive $20,000 as a result of the honor from Toyota and the National Center for Family Literacy (NCFL). The program serves about 50 families and another 30 are on the waiting list.

“As the proverb goes, instead of giving a family a fish, I am able to guide my families through the process of learning to fish by developing lessons around their interests and needs, allowing them ample opportunities for short- and long-term goal achievement in a secure environment, and enhancing self-esteem and building confidence so they will reach for their dreams,” Brown said. “It also is what we are fostering in parent engagement activities, so parents can be the guide for their children.”

The county faces many challenges, including high unemployment and a teen pregnancy rate twice the state average. Despite those obstacles, the program has a strong record of success:

  • Children in the program score six to 18 months higher than the norm on testing and enter school ready to learn;
  • The effect also is long-term – children graduate at higher rates than their peers who didn’t attend the program;
  • ESL children enter kindergarten at the same or higher levels as their non-ESL peers and require no accommodations;
  • Adult students have a 94 percent persistence rate; and
  • Adult ESL students move from the lowest levels of ESL to graduate with a GED and enter college (15 last year). They also become advocates for their children in school.

“Shari, the other educators in her program and the families are proof that meaningful parental engagement can be achieved with all demographics,” said Sharon Darling, president & founder of NCFL. “Shari’s work is a model that other programs and schools can emulate.”

The grant amount doubled this year for the award, which is in its 16th year. Brown said the award money will be used to create a community garden. Parent engagement activities will address the obesity epidemic, improve nutrition, promote healthy cooking and prepare adults for careers in high-growth industries – including helping them obtain college credit for this project.

“Her bar is very high, her content extremely rigorous, her results exceptional – that is why Shari Brown is the 2012 Toyota Teacher of the Year,” said Patricia Pineda, group vice president, Toyota Motor North America, Inc. “The award is based on a history of success, but we are extremely excited about what the future of the program will bring.”

The Teacher of the Year runner-up, who received a $2,500 grant and a scholarship to attend the conference, is Karen Routt, program manager for the School on Wheels in Indianapolis.

Reaching the most difficult to serve transient and homeless populations in 10 shelters and two schools, School on Wheels serves 350 homeless families each year. With volunteer academic mentors, who meet with middle school and high school students weekly, School on Wheels has achieved solid student gains: 77 percent of students maintained or increased grades during times of deep family turmoil.

Routt will use the award money to help create an impact documentation plan of a parent engagement plan – the first of its kind for School on Wheels. It also would cover assessment and evaluation.

To find out more about the Toyota Teacher of the Year Award, click here.