Literacy First

Literacy First’s goal is to address disparities in childhood literacy due to poverty and the pandemic with intensive, effective tutoring to grow early readers in Austin, Texas’s underserved communities.

The University of Texas at Austin (UT) created a literacy program nearly 30 years ago to ensure that every child in the Austin region, regardless of economic background, can read at or above grade level by third grade. Through its original delivery model, a partnership with AmeriCorps tutors, and a new District Capacity Building Model (DCBM) first piloted in 2018, Literacy First has served more than 25,000 students.

When Elgin Independent School District, located an hour outside of Austin, requested literacy support, it was the perfect fit for an expansion of the DCBM to a new district. Literacy First found a homegrown source of tutors, training full-time parents and community members hired by the school district to deliver their highly effective literacy program.

Beginning in fall 2021, twelve members of Elgin’s parent and paraeducator population were hired as tutors to serve in three Elgin elementary schools. Literacy First trains the tutors to work one-to-one with K-2nd grade students on daily, 30-minute reading interventions. With this unique model of “neighbors teaching neighbors’ kids,” the Elgin students are excelling at reading.  

Tutor training and support are key to the program’s success. Each tutor receives 1.5 weeks of training before entering the classroom. A full-time, Internal Coach at each school – employed by the school district – supports the tutors daily. For the first three years of implementation, a Literacy First Master Coach visits campuses weekly to support DCBM tutors and Internal Coaches and ensure program fidelity.

Literacy First is also helping address widespread pandemic-related issues in education through the DCBM. While tutors help students develop critical reading skills, they also serve as a source of consistent social-emotional support. This is especially evident for DCBM tutors, who often share similar lived experiences with their students, are parents themselves, and/or already know the students and their families. In addition, the DCBM has served as a workforce development initiative that is helping alleviate the post-pandemic teacher shortage for communities like Elgin, as tutors go on to become teachers, parent support specialists, librarians, etc. in the same district where they live and serve.

“Students are eager for the one-on-one adult attention from Literacy First tutors. That’s the piece that’s really powerful right now. Following remote learning, many kids are not socialized for school. Many have reading deficits that would not be there had we been in person during the pandemic. Our tutors provide critical, extra classroom coverage and needed, daily time with our students.”

Jason Buckingham, Director of Innovation Projects

Literacy First:

  • Flexible, daily reading interventions that adjust with students’ needs – many don’t need a full year of the program – to allow tutors to increase capacity
  • Constantly updated, research-based curriculum including a phonics and fluency instruction program
  • Each Literacy First school includes at least one bilingual tutor
  • Cost-effective program with trained tutors providing highly effective, individualized tutoring
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