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North Carolina Educator Named National Toyota Family Literacy Teacher of the Year

Gretchen Conway of Caldwell County honored as 11th recipient of annual award
March 4, 2007 - Orlando – Toyota named Gretchen Conway the national 2007 Toyota Family Literacy Teacher of the Year today at the National Conference on Family Literacy in Orlando.

Conway, who received the award before an audience of 1,500 people, serves as the early childhood coordinator/teacher for the Caldwell County Family Literacy Program in Lenoir, N.C.

"For me, teaching is about those ‘aha' moments – really listening to parents and helping them," Conway said. "The program is a big family where learning takes place together," she added. "Family literacy is more than just a Band-Aid. It makes a long-lasting impact on the entire family."

As the Toyota Family Literacy Teacher of the Year, Conway will receive a grant of $5,000 for her family literacy program. In addition, she was awarded a scholarship and travel expenses to attend the annual conference presented by the National Center for Family Literacy (NCFL).

This is the 11th year that Toyota has sponsored the Toyota Family Literacy Teacher of the Year award in conjunction with NCFL. Conway was chosen by a panel of family literacy specialists at NCFL, who reviewed nominations for high-performing teachers from across the United States.

Conway has instituted many new initiatives as part of her literacy program, including a "Family of the Month" recognition that features one family in a celebration planned by other families; an incentive store, where vouchers are earned for outstanding achievement so families can obtain food staples and diapers; a "second chance" prom for parents who missed out on this experience as teenagers; and a referral/resource system to help families find social service agencies they need.

"When I think of Gretchen, I think of her laughter and her enthusiasm about work," said Paulette Davis, an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher with the program. "She is constantly refining her work and the program. Her conversations very often begin with the words, ‘What if we started doing this' or ‘What if we tried it that way?' "

Conway has been instrumental in recruiting community members to donate their time and resources, and parents in the program also have taken the initiative to raise additional funding for special events.

But most importantly, Conway has a tremendous impact on the children.

"When she walks into my son's classroom, all the children's faces light up," said Rossie Peña, a GED student with a preschooler in the program. "She takes time and goes around to each child and plays with him or her as if she's one of the kids."

The results are paying off for Gretchen's program, which is composed of about two-thirds ESL and one-third GED participants:
• All adult students with a goal of obtaining a GED were successful;
• 100 percent of children enrolled showed developmental improvement 50 percent higher than normal gains;
• 95 percent of parents showed improvement in learning in the home environment; and
• 88 percent of parents showed improvement in interactive literacy activities and in supporting their child's learning in formal educational settings.

"The Toyota Family Literacy Teacher of the Year award recognizes educators who are the unsung heroes of our society and who now, more than ever, have the daunting challenge of positioning children and families to succeed," said Sharon Darling, NCFL president and founder. "Educators like Gretchen are making meaningful and enduring changes for the participants in the program and the entire community."

Darling pointed out that the drop-out rate for Hispanic students is 16 percent for those who speak English well, compared to 59 percent for Hispanics who do not. This statistic becomes even more critical, Darling said, because Hispanics are the largest and fastest growing minority population.

"Gretchen is shaping the lives of immigrant families, improving the lives of future generations and helping the entire community through family literacy," said Patricia Pineda, group vice president, legal, philanthropy and administration at Toyota Motor North America. "She has created an environment where students are motivated to learn, and parents become full partners in their children's education. We are proud to honor her as the Toyota Family Literacy Teacher of the Year."

Toyota and NCFL also recognized the Teacher of the Year runners-up, who received scholarships to the NCFL conference and a $500 grant for travel expenses:
• Mary Beth Morgan, Watertown Even Start Family Literacy Program at Hosmer Elementary School in Watertown, Mass.;
• Andrea Stridiron at School 8-Roberto Clemente in Rochester, N.Y.; and
• John Fullen, Blackwater Community School's Family and Child Education (FACE) Program in Coolidge, Ariz.

The National Center for Family Literacy is the worldwide leader in family literacy. More than one million families have made positive educational and economic gains as a result of NCFL's work, which includes training more than 150,000 teachers and thousands of volunteers. For more information, contact 1-877-FAMLIT-1 or visit

Since 1991, Toyota and NCFL have forged successful programs to promote family literacy in the United States. Toyota has contributed $26 million to help NCFL establish family literacy model programs throughout the country. Today, the Toyota/NCFL partnership accounts for nearly 211 family literacy sites in 38 cities and 26 states. As part of this partnership, the Toyota Family Literacy Teacher of the Year award has been presented annually since 1997 and recognizes individual teachers' contributions to improving literacy among youth and adults. Additional information on Toyota's commitment to improving education nationwide is available at About Toyota: Community Care -- Education -- Education.
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