Miami Educator Receives National Toyota Family Literacy Teacher of the Year Honor

March 03, 2009

ORLANDO – (March 1, 2009) Miami educator Maria Piñón received the national 2009 Toyota Family Literacy Teacher of the Year award today at the National Conference on Family Literacy in Orlando.

As part of the award given by Toyota and the National Center for Family Literacy, Pinon’s All-Aboard Family Literacy Program will receive $7,500. Piñón was also featured on an electronic billboard in Times Square earlier this month. (A photo is attached.)

“The parent is the child’s first teacher, and the home is the child’s first school,” Piñón said. “We can spend any amount of money on remediation for children, but we must realize that what children need is prevention. That means working with them at the earliest ages and including their parents.”

“Maria is proof of how the passion of one person can lead to the success of so many families,” said Sharon Darling, NCFL president and founder.

The All-Aboard Family Literacy Program is a comprehensive parenting skills and literacy program for families with children up to age 7 in the Riverside Elementary School area. The program provides parents with the academic foundation that will lead to self-sufficiency and ensure that their young children acquire the skills needed at their grade level.

Piñón started the program in 2004 with no computers and no phone, except for her cell phone. Within two years, demand was so high that All-Aboard no longer needed to recruit families, and it now has a waiting list of more than 135 families.

She attributes the success to the fact that the program has created a cohesive atmosphere where families feel at home – something that often is lacking for immigrants who feel isolated. Piñón also is not afraid to ask the community to be a part of the solution.

The program has built partnerships with more than 10 area organizations, including the public school system, the Miami Children’s Museum, the Little Havana Partnership, an international law firm, the public library, the Junior League and a local university. These partnerships have resulted in free afterschool care and tutoring; materials; museum trips; a lending library and “Family Night,” which includes a free meal, story hour, arts and crafts, and books.

Co-workers point to Piñón’s passion as one of the reasons for its success. She herself was an immigrant – coming from Cuba just before she turned 12 years old. Piñón remembers what her father said to her when they made the journey in 1960 when she told him that they had lost everything.

“You have lost nothing; I have lost nothing,” he told her. “We still have our family – even if they are now in our hearts rather than here with us. And you still have your education. No one can take that away from you.”

At the time, she just had a sixth-grade education, which was the same amount of education her father received. Today, Piñón has a master’s degree and works hard to inspire others with that same message.

After Hurricane Wilma, most of Miami was without electricity for over three weeks, and many of the neighborhood families had barricaded themselves in their homes. Piñón took this frightening disaster and turned it into a positive adventure for the families. She conducted a home visit to each to the families, gave them ideas and materials to make this experience a learning and less frightful opportunity for the children.

Here are just some of the results Piñón has helped the program’s participants achieve:

  • All of the parents have increased levels in their English reading proficiency.
  • Four parents in the program have received GED certificates. Ten of the parents have received the 40-hour certificate required for child care certification and four completed certification as child development associates.
  • Parents in the program have attained employment with national banks and retailers, nonprofit agencies, child care centers and government service agencies.
  • All of the school age children were promoted to the next grade level.
  • All of the third grade students passed the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test with the exception of an Exceptional Student Education student.
  • Test scores showed all of the first grade students reading at grade level.
  • 80 percent of the school age children and the children attending child-care center had perfect or excellent attendance.
  • Program participants created Riverside Elementary School’s PTA, and all the PTA officers for the 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 school years were participants of the program. The school had not had a formal PTA until these parents started participating.
  • Four of the parents have been trained by the Little Havana Community Partnership (to which All-Aboard belongs) as Community Outreach Workers.

“Maria’s dedication and perseverance has resulted in success for families, the school and the entire community,” said Patricia Pineda, group vice president, philanthropy, at Toyota Motor North America. “She is a champion of family literacy in Miami, but her message and methods resonate throughout the country.”

The All-Aboard Family Literacy Program is part of The Institute for Child and Family Health Inc., and receives most of its funding from The Children's Trust.

This is the 13th year for the Toyota Family Literacy Teacher of the Year award. 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:

· Susan Seay with the Toyota Family Literacy Program in Shelby County, Ala.;

· Arturo Muro with AVANCE in El Paso, Texas; and

· Karen Hertzler with the Even Start Multicultural Family Literacy Program in
Washington, D.C.


The National Center for Family Literacy is the worldwide leader in family literacy. More than 1 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. Today, the Toyota/NCFL partnership accounts for 241 family literacy sites in 47 cities and 29 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



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