In February 1999, several members of CAST met to plan a reading conference, but decided a reading conference was not enough. They left with agreement to create a more sustained, community-based, long-term strategy to help students close the achievement gap. Family Learning Institute (FLI) began with grants from Washtenaw County, City of Ann Arbor, and a generous start-up donation from a local entrepreneur.

Lefiest Galimore, a community organizer and Doris Sperling, a retired teacher and evaluation expert, developed the concept for and established FLI in late 1999. The program design incorporated recommendations from focus groups representing area colleges, universities, Ann Arbor Public Schools, and diverse members of the community. Recommendations included targeting students in grades 3 through 8. They targeted a collaborative process involving students, parents, teachers, tutors (“coaches”) and community members. FLI curriculum develops reading, writing, thinking, and contextual interpretation skills.

The essence of FLI’s program is to have professional teachers test students on intake, develop individualized lesson plans that target their weaknesses, and train volunteer “coaches”.  Each student is matched with a coach in a ongoing learning partnership. During the school year, FLI provides assessments to gauge progress and refine lesson plans. FLI has demonstrated consistent success by raising most students’ reading levels by one or more grades, within one year.  Without FLI intervention these students could possibly fall farther.  FLI provides an opportunity outside of their classroom to improve these important skills.