The Learning Network: Q&A with Nolo Martinez

Men of different ages and racial backgrounds participating in a small focus group watch a presentation

Dr. Nolo Martínez and his team at Nolo Consulting are directing the Forsyth Family Voices Learning Network, a series of listening and learning gatherings with parents and providers in Forsyth County. We sat down with Dr. Martinez to learn more.

What is the Learning Network all about?

The Learning Network is a continuation of the Great Expectations – Forsyth Family Voices work that began in 2016, with agencies coming together to understand how they can listen to parents to truly understand what they need to help their children succeed. To further the work this year, we are working with parents and agencies together.

How did you begin?

First, the agencies recruited about 350 parents and asked them about the quality of early childhood education, their needs, and the barriers they face. We found that parents are not neutral when you ask them about issues related to their children. And we discovered the agencies involved felt that it was important to maintain this process of learning from parents. That’s why we are creating an agency-parent network that will nurture parent participation, enable us to learn from one another, and establish a process for accountability.

What will happen over time?

Every month, a diverse group of parents and agencies come together to discuss a sequence of topics that build on each other. Going into the new year, we will deepen collaborations between agencies and parents, discuss the idea of the parent as a child’s first teacher, and study mindfulness in education and how it could help families dealing with mental health or job loss. We will also have experts who will talk about North Carolina legal and policy issues. At the end of 11 months, there is a graduation, which gives the parents a sense of purpose and unity.

How will parents and agencies grow through this process?

Agencies and parents will develop stronger relationships, working together to promote parent leadership and collectively helping all children learn. Working together over time, we facilitate a process where the agencies learn how to support parents to become leaders. It’s a competency-based journey and these parents go on to mentor other parents. This is how the process becomes sustainable.

Will the Learning Network process help foster equity and economic opportunity?

We may not get there in 11 months, but I have an expectation that this Learning Network will continue organically developing into something that could be even more powerful in developing greater equity. As a resident of Forsyth County, I don’t think we have bet enough on the knowledge of people living in poverty and what they can do if they come together.

What do you hope for?

I would like to see a systems change occur in Forsyth County where minorities and low-income families are more engaged in the process of decision-making about policies and services for their children. I would like to see parents that have been part of the Learning Network taking action in their communities and addressing issues together—taking leadership beyond the network, in the community and in the school system. If I can bring people together with the desire to do something, that’s what means the most to me.

This interview has been shortened and edited.