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Family Literacy Pioneer: Sharon Darling Focus on Parents Provides New Careers for Educators

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Though she had been a school teacher for years, Sharon Darling’s inspiration for developing the formal family literacy movement came in a church basement, where she was volunteering to help adults learn to read.

"Working in a classroom, you can only do so much if you don't have the support of the family," said Darling, who is the president and founder of the National Center for Family Literacy, which has raised $100 million for the effort since its founding in 1989. "To do something systemic for children's education, we have to work through the parent."

A parent's education and income are the two greatest predictors of a child's success in school, Darling said. Unfortunately, 34 million U.S. adults have such limited literacy that they have difficulty reading a newspaper, following written medical instructions, or filling out a job application.

In 1985, Darling, then director of Adult and Community Education in Kentucky, developed the model for comprehensive family literacy with her colleagues.

The Parent and Child Education program became state law in Kentucky in 1986, and within three years, it won a prestigious award from the Ford Foundation of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. The first federal legislation and funding for the program came in 1998.

Darling has since been interviewed by Tom Brokaw and has been featured on the A&E television series "Biography."

But, she says, it is the success of the families who participate in the programs that keeps her going.

"The parents are hungry for knowledge," she said. "It is so rewarding to see the impact on the entire family. Evaluations from our programs show that parents achieve significant literacy gains by parents. Parents become more involved in their child's education, and children are rated higher by their teachers in overall school performance and other areas."

Darling urges educators to consider a career outside the traditional classroom. There are many opportunities at thousands of family literacy sites across the country for those who have a background in early childhood development, adult education, and even social services. There also is a critical need for family literacy educators who can speak Spanish.

In addition, NCFL hires educators who are interested in serving in the following areas:
  • Model demonstration, which involves traveling to schools and communities to lend guidance and support for new and existing family literacy programs;

  • Special projects, which include creating, training, and implementing special family literacy programs that are funded by foundation grants; and

  • Training and technical assistance, where educators who specialize in child or adult education conduct professional development training at local programs to ensure quality.
NCFL's human resources department benchmarks the organization against corporations to ensure competitive salaries and excellent benefits.

The nonprofit organization has helped more than 1 million families make positive educational and economic gains, and it has trained more than 150,000 teachers and thousands of volunteers. NCFL has raised more than $100 million for family literacy, and more than 5,000 sites across the country have been supported by and/or patterned after its research and best practices.

For more information on a career in family literacy, contact your state director of adult education or Even Start Coordinator.
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 funding  developments  family literacy  nonprofit organizations  classrooms  success  United States  parents  NCFL  instructors

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