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learn / 2014

Toyota Family Learning program

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by Toberman Neighborhood Center

Toyota Family Learning is an intergenerational solution to educational challenges that engages families online, offline, and on the go.

Please describe yourself.

Proposed collaboration (we want to work with partners!)

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

Toyota Family Learning is an intergenerational solution to educational challenges that engages families online, offline, and on the go.

Does your project impact Los Angeles County?

Yes (benefits a region of LA County)

Which area(s) of LA does your project benefit?

  • L.A. Harbor area and Harbor Gateway

What is your idea/project in more detail?

Unless we concentrate on focused multi-generational education for the family as a whole, we will not change the persistent conditions of families Our long term goal is to break our community’s complex cycle of poverty through innovative approaches to intergenerational family learning. We have experienced the power that education has on effectively attacking the unrelenting impacts of poverty. Our Toyota Family Learning programming consists of: 1. Parent Time (adult education), 2. PACT (Parent And Child Together shared learning), 3. Family Service Learning opportunities, and 4. Family-to-family mentoring. In addition, we offer grandparents-as-parents, family literacy/shared reading, and developmental assets programming.

What will you do to implement this idea/project?

We completed our first full year of implementation as one of only five recipients (out of over 250 applicants) of the national Toyota Family Learning grant ( This project is a new six-year nationwide initiative led by the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL) and funded by Toyota. This prestigious award provides us with partial funding to more fully execute this model over the next three years. Our planned programming includes the expansion and provision of:

  1. Parent Time/Education - Education will include “Raising Thriving Kids” (5 week asset building program), Muffins for Moms (home literacy) and Donuts for Dads (engaging dads in education).
  2. PACT Time - This past year, we began providing a joint parent/child literacy program for pre-school aged children. For our older children, we offer two evening (at pickup time from 6:00 - 7:30 p.m.) teacher-led PACT programs. The first is a family homework support program where parents and children jointly work on strengthening homework and test-taking skills. The second is a study skills program where families jointly learn to improve study strategies, school behaviors, time management, and organizational skills.
  3. Family Literacy/Shared Reading - In conjunction with our Family Literacy program, our families utilize TNC’s library to select books for reading together. Families are shown how to use the dictionary to understand the meanings of words and how to identify the type of text structure presented in the material.
  4. Developmental Assets® Programming - Direct instruction and development of building blocks is provided to children throughout all of our programming.
  5. Family Mentoring Program - We wish to expand our current mentoring program to include family mentoring focused on academic success. We will also offer e-mentoring using technology such as Skype.
  6. Grandparents as Parents - We are partnering with this local organization that offers weekly small group parenting programs for those (e.g., grandparents, aunts, uncles) who have previously parented and find themselves parenting again.
  7. Family Service Learning - We have begun offering innovative family service learning opportunities. When families engage in service together they are spending quality time learning about their communities and adults are acting as positive role models for their children.

How will your idea/project help make LA the best place to LEARN today? In 2050?

Our Family Learning Program will help make LA the best place to learn in three critical ways:

1) This program can break the cycle of poverty through its innovative approaches to intergenerational family learning. Family literacy/learning programs provide enduring benefits to individual family members as well as the family unit as a whole.

2) It fills a significant service gap. For example, our families lack access to affordable preschool and parent education classes, placing them at a great disadvantage.

3) It provides an opportunity for our families to truly reinvent themselves and develop a different kind of hope for the future. It takes a significant amount of resources to coordinate the necessary comprehensive services our families require and to offer them all at one central location. This “wrap-around” approach allows us to provide the space and innovative programming our families want and need. Our families, in turn, bring the energy, motivation, dedication and hard work. Working together, we have the ability to bring about real and sustained change for our families.

We are working to give our families a “hand up” instead of a “hand out”. Our ultimate goal is to build futures and offer hope. We do so by taking a different approach. Although many programs seek to involve parents in their child’s learning, our program is unique in that it requires ongoing engagement from parents. Each family works together to create goals for the family as a whole. With assistance, these goals form the basis of a family asset development plan that holistically meets that family’s unique needs. Parents spend a minimum of 10 hours per week working to reach the full potential of the entire family. Also, our innovative service learning and advocacy components take our program out of the “institution” and into the community and our clients’ homes. Our parents gain skills/confidence and then practice applying this new knowledge in real life situations. Many of our families have never had these opportunities before. This is a powerful approach.

Whom will your project benefit?

Our services are available to all individuals in the Harbor Area of LA. Due to the location of our main campus, many of the families we serve come from the Barton Hill/Rancho San Pedro neighborhood of San Pedro. This area is located in the northeast corner of San Pedro—the town’s major core of poverty level families. Seventy-eight percent of Toberman’s families are Latino/Hispanic. Currently, 96% of clients are below 50% of area median income, with 58% having incomes of less than $15,000. Many of the families we serve reside in the Rancho San Pedro low-income public housing project, and every student at the local elementary school qualifies for participation in the Federal free lunch program.

The needs in our community are complex. In addition to increasingly widespread gang activity and crime, our community also suffers from elevated high school dropout rates and low educational attainment. Only 61% of students entering 9th grade at San Pedro High School in 2008 graduated in 2012. In addition, only one quarter of high school graduates enroll in college. The vast majority of our kids live in neighborhoods with significant gang activity, have poor parental supervision, perform poorly in school, and have very low incomes. Our most recent reading assessment on our newly enrolled children indicated that half are reading below grade level. In addition, a full 71% of the children we serve live in abused, neglected and/or extremely challenging situations (e.g., incarcerated parents, foster care). A number of our children live in chaotic homes and are unable to focus on learning because they are focused on survival. For many, school attendance is spotty which translates into a true lack of opportunity.

Our families face persistent challenges and hardships. One of the underlying causes that link all of these problems is a lack of literacy in the home. In addition to traditional definitions, we also characterize literacy as the ability to handle information, to express ideas and opinions, to make decisions and solve problems. It involves a continuum of learning in enabling individuals to achieve their goals, develop their knowledge and potential, and participate fully in their community. We know that the power of literacy lies not only in the ability to read and write, but rather in an individual’s capacity to put those skills to work in shaping the course of his or her own life. Our program can effect tremendous lasting change for our families.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

We have formed numerous collaborative relationships to ensure we are offering “best in class” programming, providing those specific holistic “wrap-around” services our families want and need, and continuously evaluating the impact of our services. All of our partners/collaborators are crucial to our success and each has been confirmed. The National Center for Families Learning (NCFL) is our prime collaborator and partner. We have worked with this inspirational organization for the past three years; 2 years piloting our literacy project and this past year implementing our Toyota Family Learning program. NCFL is a confirmed partner for at least two more years. Another critical partner is Marymount University. On a weekly basis, Marymount provides us with dozens of tutors for our after school program and is providing us with a federally funded work study intern for our literacy program. Our third prime partner is the Search Institute (developers of the 40 Developmental Assets® framework for youth development). We continue to work with them as pilot site for the Institute’s Assets Profile for Pre-Teens (DAP-P ). Other confirmed partners include Harbor Preschool and Bandini Elementary School Healthy Start Program (parent literacy), DMH/South Bay Mental Health (on-site mental health services), Free Arts for Abused Children (arts for parents/youth), the South Bay Center for Literacy (ESL, family literacy) and the San Pedro Public Library (on-site literacy programming).

We also receive significant support from our 352 volunteers: 18 Board Members, 122 Auxiliary members (thrift store), 50 program volunteers (tutoring, enrichment/recreation), and 164 evening meal volunteers (provide a full meal for youth every day). In our after school program alone, volunteers contribute 3,005 hours each year with an estimated dollar value of $74,374. In addition, we receive tremendous support from local funders who share our commitment to the children. Some supporting foundations include Toyota/NCFL (Toyota Family Learning) Dwight Stuart, Parsons, Ahmanson, Rose Hills, CA Community Foundation, Boeing and Kaiser. Finally, we also connect to our community through regular standing meetings with law enforcement and government officials to proactively address neighborhood issues, meet regularly with local child care organizations to ensure open youth-focused dialogue occurs and have instituted several avenues to maintain open and ongoing communication with our local schools.

How will your project impact the LA2050 “Learn” metrics?

  • Percentage of children enrolled in early education programs
  • Truancy rates in elementary and middle school (Dream Metric)
  • Students perceived sense of safety at and on the way to school (Dream Metric)
  • increased assets in youth, empowerment and skills development for parents

Please elaborate on how your project will impact the above metrics.

Our program is producing wonderful outcomes for our families. Not only do our family learning/literacy efforts lead to more children being enrolled in early education programs, but we believe the longer term outcomes for these children will be heightened due to the share literacy component. Our parents are actively engaged with their children during our early education programming and, in fact, are concurrently building and improving their own literacy skills. Regarding truancy, we focus our efforts on building assets using the Search Institute’s 40 Developmental Assets® framework. Our children/youth are showing a greater commitment to academics/schoolwork and, with the active involvement of their parents, are experiencing a greater connection to their schools. Grades and reading skills have improved dramatically through our program. In addition, Toberman has a powerful gang intervention program. Our “safe passage” program ensures our children arrive at and leave their schools safely. In addition, Penn State is in process of evaluating our first year as a Toyota Family Learning program site. In one month, we will receive a comprehensive evaluation report covering additional areas of our work including parent empowerment, skill development, time spent reading/literacy levels, and technology fluency. We will also have longitudinal data on our early education efforts as we follow the progress of our preschool children through second grade.

This program began less than one year ago and has already exceeded our expectations. Fifty-two families (191 people) have enrolled in full programming, 100 individuals have attended our “Raising Thriving Kids” training and over 1000 family members attended our parent engagement events. A full 100% of parents indicated there is improvement in family dynamics, communication and educational involvement; 47% of parents are now volunteering; and our K-5 students, on average, improved in every single asset domain (e.g., positive identity, commitment to learning, empowerment) as measured by the Search Institute’s Developmental Assets Profile tool.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.

We wish to increase the number of families we serve to 75 families (over 260 individuals) over the coming year. The specific measurable indicators of this program are:

• All parents (100%) participate in PACT (parent and children together learning time) with their children • Educational Proficiency - 90% of students will gain academically in reading and 75% will gain in math • Family Involvement/Advocacy - all parents will attend 3 or more family learning activities and 50% of families will have at least one member volunteering (at TNC, their child’s school, or in the community) • Parenting Skills/Confidence - 80% of parents attending parenting classes will report gains in skills related to child development, accessing school programs, literacy development and managing children/youth’s behavior • Asset Development in Children - all children will gain assets in at least 5 of 8 asset categories annually using the Search Institute’s ( 40 Developmental Assets® framework.

Evaluation and outcome measurement are critical mechanisms in our work. Agency-wide, we measure our overall effectiveness by how well we build stronger more resilient families in our communities. We strive for improved home/family stability (financial/parenting), increased youth/family assets (e.g., school success, literacy), and real alternatives (e.g., jobs, GED) for those connected to gangs and violence. We use a variety of data collection tools (e.g., family intake questionnaire, reading and math assessments, report cards, school attendance, state testing results, gang risk assessment, the Developmental Assets Profile (DAP), pre/post surveys for youth/adult education and prevention classes) to measure the success and impact of our programs. For our youngest children (preschool) we have selected a new observational tool (the Desired Results Developmental Profile–School Readiness (DRDP-SR) assessment instrument) that will help us measure the impact we are having on school readiness. For evaluating program quality, we are using the School-Age Program Quality Assessment (School Age PQA) tool from the David P. Weikart Center for Program Quality. It is a widely used trained-observer tool that measures programs across several areas. Finally, our Toyota Family Learning program will be evaluated by an external team of experts from the Goodling Institute at Penn State. This ongoing evaluation will provide annual feedback on program implementation and program impact.

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?

Our program was designed in response to findings from our comprehensive review of local data (e.g., census data, graduation rates, statewide testing results, poverty levels, gang/crime rates) as well as our study of the most powerful approaches (e.g., change theory, adult learning theory, executive functioning skill acquisition, asset development) to supporting families living in persistent poverty. Two critical lessons have informed the development of this program. Firstly, we have learned that we cannot bring about sustained change without supporting the family as a unit. For that reason, each component of our programming involves the active involvement of the family as a whole. As an example, our family literacy programming includes adult education courses (e.g., ESL, financial literacy) and preschool readiness classes, as well as a significant shared parent/child literacy component. Also, our family engagement and family service learning activities aim to strengthen our parents’ role in advocating for and educating their children, fortify the family unit and deepen our families’ role in the community.

We have also learned that it is vital for programming to be offered in an ongoing sustained manner. Our community faces persistent poverty. It takes 3-5 years of comprehensive support to bring about real and lasting change for our families. Our goal is for our families to chart a new course for their future and we know it is much less effective to provide isolated programming (e.g., youth development without active family involvement) for individual family members. Fragmented programming that lacks an overarching framework of bringing families together leads to less powerful outcomes. It is imperative that programming be provided in a sustained manner over a longer period of time, and that this programming is geared toward the needs of all family members. Our families need ongoing support and instruction. It is critical that we invest in the entire family system if we want to build hope and change futures.

Explain how implementing your project within the next twelve months is an achievable goal.

Toberman Neighborhood Center has undergone and continues to undergo significant capacity building initiatives. We are led by a highly skilled leadership team with the knowledge and expertise to guide our agency forward. In addition, our newly designed asset-focused family learning programming model will enable us to provide supports which are relevant, appropriate, and specifically orchestrated to meet the ever-changing needs of our community. These enhancements allow us to reach families when the children are young and reverse the effects of poverty, abuse and neglect. Our staff have received extensive professional development in such areas as the effects of poverty, homelessness and domestic violence on children; asset development; and violence intervention. Through the use of an experienced transition team and several expert financial volunteer partners, TNC has achieved risk reduction and improved financial, operational and board efficiency. These foundational structures are positioning our agency to compete for larger and more varied grant funding opportunities, provide us with a clearly defined vision that is highly attractive to donors and the community, more fully capitalize on our staff’s expertise/abilities, and, most importantly, substantially improve our program effectiveness and impact through holistic support of families.

Please list at least two major barriers/challenges you anticipate. What is your strategy for ensuring a successful implementation?

We have identified four barriers and challenges for this program:

1) Sustainability- It is vital that we build sustainability for our program so it may endure for years to come. Intervening factors such as a financial setback or depressed economy can cause an innovative program like this one to lose momentum. Without proper funding and resources, our organization may lack the ability to sustain this critical work over the coming years. We have already begun to work on sustaining this program past its original three-year projection. We are working with potential funding partners who share our commitment to our families. We have also made significant changes to our operations and fundraising approaches in order to ensure this program’s success. Our goal is to join forces with a committed partner who will help us build an endowment for this programming.

2) Ongoing Interest/Commitment - Our second challenge is to ensure we keep our families invested in this programming over a long period of time. Our challenge is to provide enough new, exciting and innovative programming to keep our families engaged and committed. We continuously request feedback from our families as to the quality and relevancy of our programming.

3) Long Term Outcome Measurement - Another challenge will be sufficiently measuring the long term impacts of this project on our families’ lives. We will require a longitudinal data strategy and are working to locate an evaluation partner who can assist us with this vital component.

4) Transportation - The vast majority of our families experience significant transportation barriers (e.g., lack of funds, knowledge of options, driver’s license). When Toberman provides transportation, our participation is high and our families are eager to explore the community. Our challenge is to locate transportation options for our families so they access the community more frequently on their own. This might involve training in public transportation use, assisting with obtaining driver’s licenses, or providing subsidies. We need to further explore resources so our families have greater access and mobility.

What resources does your project need?

  • Money (financial capital)
  • Volunteers/staff (human capital)
  • Publicity/awareness (social capital)
  • Infrastructure (building/space/vehicles, etc.)
  • Technical infrastructure (computers, etc.)
  • Community outreach