Whitaker is Toyota Teacher of the Year - Columbia Heights Educational Campus

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Urban Multicultural High School History Teacher 

Named National Family Teacher of the Year

$20,000 prize will fund D.C. area family learning summer camp

March 11, 2015

LOUISVILLE, Ky., March 11, 2015 /PRNewswire/ -- A Washington, D.C., high school teacher who is an expert at engaging students' families in their children's education was named today as the 2015 Toyota Family Teacher of the Year. Kristen Whitaker – who teaches history and government at Columbia Heights Education Campus (CHEC), a Washington, D.C.-based school of 100 percent minority and 90 percent low-income students – was surprised with the award this morning during what was billed as a routine assembly at her school. She was joined by more than 400 attendees, including teachers, students, local and national education and civic leaders, representatives of the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL) who presented Whitaker with a $20,000 grant that she will use to fund a family summer camp program for low-income minority students and their families. She is the first high school teacher to win this annual award.

Whitaker is the catalyst behind more than 200 home visits made by CHEC faculty since the start of the current school year. Home visitation builds a meaningful relationship with a student and their family, and is a particularly successful strategy for connecting with families from cultural minority groups. She has trained teachers at CHEC and other schools to conduct successful home visits and regularly hosts parents at student portfolio presentations. She also leads CHEC's offering of an after-school program in which students and parents work together on collaborative media projects about items in the news.

The Toyota Family Teacher of the Year award, a national honor now in its 19th year, recognizes that families play a crucial role in the learning process of children and salutes educators who are exceptional at using intergenerational approaches to engage students and their families in education. Whitaker and runner up, Donna LaBeaume of San Antonio, Texas, will be recognized for their accomplishments as they attend the annual Families Learning Summit in Houston on March 17. The Summit convenes the nation's most progressive experts in education, policy, and family and parent engagement to discuss and share the latest information regarding multigenerational approaches to learning.

"Kristen believes strongly in the importance of meeting parents 'where they are' in order to build trust and achieve family goals, and brings knowledge of family culture into school to personalize instruction for our students," said Principal Maria Tukeva. "She is relentless at making home visits – she has met with more than three dozen families this school year alone. Her work has created a whole new energy around involving parents at CHEC."

Toyota Family Teacher of the Year runner up LaBeaume is a virtual pre-kindergarten coach at the Southwest Independent School District Early Childhood Center in San Antonio, Texas, who works with more than 100 predominantly Hispanic children and their parents, using technology and parent coaching to encourage early childhood literacy. LaBeaume also received a $5,000 grant to continue family engagement efforts."

Study after study has proven that parents engaged in their children's learning increases student achievement," said Sharon Darling, president, NCFL. "And more recent studies also indicate that the willingness of a parent to get involved in their child's education is very powerful in strengthening the parent-child relationship … as well as the entire school and the community as a whole."

"The family summer camp Kristen plans is a great example of using the Toyota Family Teacher of the Year grant to employ the latest approaches to intergenerational learning in a program that will appeal to and reach entire families," said Mike Goss, vice president of external affairs, Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America. "The extraordinary work of both Kristen and Donna in engaging families in their student's education will pay dividends for these students, their families, their schools and their communities for generations to come."

About the National Center for Families Learning
The National Center for Families Learning (NCFL) is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to helping adults and children learn together. NCFL creates and deploys innovative programs and strategies that support learning, literacy, and family engagement in education. NCFL collaborates with educators, advocates, and policy-makers to help families construct hotspots for learning wherever they go. For more information on NCFL's 25-year track record, visit www.familieslearning.org.

About Toyota
Toyota (NYSE:TM), the world's top automaker and creator of the Prius, is committed to building vehicles for the way people live through its Toyota, Lexus and Scion brands. Over the past 50 years, Toyota has built more than 25 million cars and trucks in North America, where it operates 14 manufacturing plants and directly employs more than 40,000 people. The company's 1,800 North American dealerships sold more than 2.5 million cars and trucks in 2013 – and about 80 percent of all Toyota vehicles sold over the past 20 years are still on the road today. For more information about Toyota, visit www.toyotanewsroom.com.

Media Contact:  
Bonnie Hackbarth Guthrie
Mayes Public Relations for NCFL
(502) 625-1658 (office)
(502) 552-3770 (mobile)

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