News

June 2020

Message from the Director

Note: This update was originally included in the Literacy First June 2020
e-newsletter. To receive the e-newsletter regularly, please subscribe to our e-mail list using the form at the footer of any page on this site. 

Friends of Literacy First,

I write today in the shadow of the immense turmoil and anguish we face as a nation. The ongoing violence and injustice inflicted upon the Black community, compounded by the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic has produced, have left many struggling to see a path forward. At Literacy First, we believe strongly in the power of early literacy in addressing educational inequities and racial disparities, and so we remain deeply committed to our mission of teaching students to read. 

As we stand with our community in the fight against systemic racism, we know that the pursuit of justice and equity is more than a moment in history — it is a sustained movement. We are sharing below some of the actions Literacy First has taken internally to dismantle injustice, but fully acknowledge that we have only just begun this work. We pledge to continue learning and engaging as an organization and as individuals.

Mary Ellen Isaacs
Literacy First Director

Literacy First Anti-Racism Work

Literacy First is an active member of ServeAustin, founded in part by Literacy First Director Mary Ellen Isaacs, whose collective vision is for Central Texas to become a racially and economically equitable community. The collaborative’s strategic plan prioritizes a mutual commitment for the 9 Austin AmeriCorps organizations to become more diverse, inclusive, and equitable.

In 2019, all staff members of ServeAustin member organizations participated in a 2.5-day “Undoing Racism” training, “an intensive workshop designed to educate, challenge and empower people to “undo” the racist structures that hinder effective social change” from the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond.

Literacy First and ServeAustin have partnered with Promise54 to conduct surveys with staff and AmeriCorps members on their experience of diversity, equity and inclusion within their respective organizations, both in 2018 and 2020. Promise54 is a nonprofit founded on the belief that organizations maximize their impact when “their teams are diverse, their cultures are inclusive, and their practices model the equity they wish to see in the world.”

Literacy First staff have formed a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee, whose purpose is to make recommendations, in part informed by Literacy First’s Promise54 survey results, for embedding our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout our strategic plan.

The Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas at Austin, where Literacy First is housed, has also engaged Promise54 to support the Center’s own Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiative. Literacy First staff continue to participate in this process alongside our Dana Center colleagues.

May 2020

Literacy Now Virtual Panel Recording

From May 20, 2020: Watch a recording of this expert panel discussion on recovery efforts in the wake of COVID-19 and how, together, we are building bright futures for our students.

CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE RECORDING ON YOUTUBE

FEATURING

Ellen Arnold Principal, Arnold Public Affairs & Literacy First Advisory Board Member
Ellen is principal and owner of Arnold Public Affairs where she represents nonprofit entities such as Texas PTA, National Multiple Sclerosis Society and Goodwill Industries of Texas before the state legislature, assisting clients with their goals to pass legislation, obtain state appropriations, and influence or impact legislation that potentially affects their organizations. Ellen also serves on the Advisory Board of Literacy First. Prior to becoming a government affairs consultant in 2002, Ellen worked in the field of education for over 20 years, the last several as principal of Barton Creek Elementary School in Eanes ISD in Austin. During her tenure there Barton Creek applied for and received the prestigious National Blue Ribbon School Award, presented by the United States Department of Education.

Helen Dunne Garcia, M.Ed Principal, Del Valle ISD
Helen is principal of Hornsby-Dunlap Elementary, PK-5th Grade Campus in Del Valle ISD. Helen graduated from UT-Austin and has been in education for 17 years. She has worked in several districts with a focus on reading and math in both monolingual and bilingual settings. After serving as an assistant principal in both Austin and Pflugerville ISD, Helen joined DVISD in 2019. In addition to being a principal, Helen is the mother of two very energetic toddlers, Javi and Miguel. They spend a lot of free time outdoors and reading books, they keep her on her toes and active.

Ilza Garcia Administrative Supervisor of Dyslexia & Literacy, Austin ISD
Ilza is a biliterate educator, mother, writer and advocate who attended and taught in AISD schools. She holds a master’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin in Curriculum and Instruction with a focus on Bilingual and Bicultural Education and serves as a Teacher Consultant for the Heart of Texas Writing Project. She serves as Administrative Supervisor of Dyslexia & Literacy in Austin ISD, as well as the chair of the AISD Dyslexia Support Committee and seeks to improve equitable learning experiences for students in AISD.

Mary Ellen Isaacs, Ph.D Director, Literacy First
Mary Ellen has nearly 25 years of experience with Literacy First, and four decades of experience working in the field of reading difficulties as a teacher, diagnostician and program coordinator. She has a deep knowledge of both research and best practices in reading acquisition, and brings this expertise to shaping and growing our highly effective early literacy intervention program. Mary Ellen believes that learning to read is the right of every child, and has dedicated her career to ensuring children learn to read well, so they can read to learn. Some of her best memories are of reading aloud to her daughter, and their favorites were Blueberries for Sal, and Miss Rumphius.

Virginia Potter Portfolio Director, Michael & Susan Dell Foundation
Virginia joined the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation in 2008, leading projects in California, Colorado, Cape Town, South Africa, and finally Central Texas. In the Central Texas community, she manages efforts to improve children’s ability to engage and perform effectively at school; to increase access to quality healthcare services for children and their families; to ensure the safety and wellbeing of abused or neglected children, and to provide gifts to organizations or projects that have the power to transform the Austin community. Prior to joining the Foundation in January 2008, Virginia served as director of product marketing with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Earlier in her career, she was a Spanish teacher at Lanier High School in Austin, Texas. Virginia has a bachelor’s in Spanish and linguistics from the University of Virginia and a Master of Business Administration in global business from Saint Edward’s University in Austin, Texas.

Moderated by Marisol Foster Executive Director, Webber Family Foundation
Marisol is Executive Director of the Webber Family Foundation, a charitable organization that focuses on closing the achievement gap in academics and the arts. Since 2008, Marisol has managed the Foundation’s grants portfolio in both Washington, DC and Austin, TX. She holds a B.A. in both English and Spanish from the University of Texas. In her spare time, Marisol enjoys volunteering with local nonprofits and spending time outdoors with family.

March 2020

Literacy First Response to COVID-19 (Coronavirus)

Update: Compilation of Resources for Learning, Working, and Thriving from Home

Statement released March 16, 2020

Friends of Literacy First,

While we closely monitor the situation regarding COVID-19 (coronavirus), our top priority remains the health and wellbeing of our students, tutors, staff, partners and supporters.

Literacy First continues to adhere to recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and The University of Texas at Austin, as well as follow the guidance of our partner organizations, Austin Independent School District, Austin Achieve Public Schools, and Del Valle Independent School District. To that end, our response has included, but is not limited to the following measures:

Following school cancellations prior to the start of districts’ regularly scheduled spring breaks.

All Literacy First staff members working remotely as of Friday, March 13th, with the return timeline to be adjusted based on guidance from the CDC and UT-Austin.

Suspension and reassessment of all in-person gatherings, including the 3rd Annual Literacy Luncheon, previously scheduled for April 22, 2020. More detailed information regarding adjustments to this event will be shared in the coming days.

As circumstances regarding COVID-19 rapidly evolve, such will our response as an organization. In light of extended school closures, Literacy First staff are working to develop plans for our 90+ tutors to continue their service experience in a safe and impactful manner. Wherever and however possible, we will work with our partner organizations to continue to provide literacy education, as well as new forms of support that may be needed for students in Central Texas.

Now, as much as ever before, we believe in the importance of literacy and education as catalysts for a stronger, brighter future. We are tremendously grateful for your continued support as we navigate this situation, and look forward to collaborating together in new and creative ways as a community. Thank you.

September 2019

Literacy First Expands Impact in Central Texas through Partnership with Del Valle ISD

During the 2018-2019 school year, Literacy First piloted a new program delivery model in which Literacy First trained Del Valle Independent School District staff (full-time tutors and reading specialist) to effectively deliver the Literacy First program. The pilot was resoundingly successful, with the same strong results in DVISD as are seen in schools with our traditional AmeriCorps program model. With the support of Del Valle Administrators and the Board of Trustees, the program has expanded to all 9 DVISD schools in the 2019-2020 school year. Working with up to 45 tutors and staff, Literacy First will reach approximately 650 K-2nd grade students in DVISD. With this model, Literacy First can empower districts to build their own internal capacity to improve early reading, as well as build a workforce pipeline for members of the community. 

August 2019

Literacy First Students Outperform Peers in Randomized Control Trial

During the 2018–2019 school year, the American Institutes for Research partnered with Literacy First to conduct an independent evaluation of the impact of the Literacy First program on student outcomes. The evaluation used a multi-site randomized controlled trial design across 22 schools in the Austin Independent School District. Overall, the study showed that students who received Literacy First tutoring outperformed students who did not receive Literacy First tutoring on all five of the outcome measures included in the evaluation. Read the full report here.

January 2019

New Literacy First Study Shows Even More Positive Longterm Effects

Literacy First was the subject of a recently completed study from local program analysis pros Agile Analytics. The study shows that Literacy First students are less likely to be retained, more likely to perform better on reading exams in the future, and other significantly positive results. For an overview of the study, click here. For in-depth analysis and methodology, view the Executive Summary or Full Report.

December 2018

The Cory Redding Foundation Expands Literacy First Support

The Cory Redding Foundation deepened their support of Literacy First with a $7500 gift in early December. Cory Redding, former NFL defensive tackle, University of Texas alum, and philanthropist, founded the organization  to “support quality educational, recreational, and community assistance programs that promote the development of at-risk programs.” The Foundation selects three community nonprofits each year. In addition to this generous gift, Mr. Redding has been an honored guest and speaker at several Literacy First events, providing motivation and insight to our Literacy First tutors and leaders. Priscilla Redding is a valued Literacy First Board Member. We are grateful to have them in our Literacy First family. Thank you to Cory, Priscilla, and the Cory Redding Foundation for your steadfast and joyful giving to Literacy First and to the Austin community.

September 2018

Asociacion de Empresarios Mexicanos Austin Supports Literacy First on Mexican Independence Day

Asociacion de Empresarios Mexicanos Austin (AEM), the Austin chapter of the Mexican Entrepreneurs Association, became a member of the Literacy First family at their annual Mexico’s Independence Day Celebration on Saturday, September 15. AEM members and friends raised $2500 for Literacy First at a beautiful event celebrating Mexican culture and heritage. Director Mary Ellen Isaacs and several Literacy First staff attended this amazing event. We would like to thank AEM for their support. Literacy First is honored to be recognized by this prestigious group and looks forward to further partnership!   See additional photos from the event on the AEM Facebook page here.

September 2018

Literacy First Welcomes 80 AmeriCorps Members in 25th Annual Pledge Ceremony

– Featured speaker Cory Redding; former NFL defensive tackle, University of Texas alum – Redding: “Changing children’s lives is better” than any football play he’s ever had – AmeriCorps members to teach 1,700 children in 26 Title 1 schools to read   AUSTIN, TX – SEPTEMBER 4, 2018 For the 25th year in a row, Literacy First welcomed 80 AmeriCorps members to their program in an inspiring ceremony on Tuesday, September 4th at the Thompson Conference Center at the University of Texas at Austin. The ceremony kicked off a week of intense training for the members before they begin providing literacy interventions for 1, 700 K-2nd grade students at 26 high-poverty Austin elementary schools. Speakers included Cory Redding, former NFL defensive tackle and University of Texas alum turned philanthropist; Dr. Jacquie Porter, Statewide Director of Early Education for the Texas Education Agency; Dr. Uri Treisman, Executive Director of the Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas and co-founder of Literacy First; and Dr. Mary Ellen Isaacs, Literacy First Director. The speakers emphasized the metamorphosis that the newly minted tutors will soon experience. “In all these glorious moments, I guarantee that not only are you changing the lives of our students, but also your trajectory,” said Dr. Isaacs in opening statements. Literacy First’s mission is no less than community transformation. National studies show that students who cannot read by third grade are four times more likely to drop out of school.  Literacy First believes that obtaining early-grade reading skills gives all children the ability and vision to reach their full potential. Their charge is to bring these children up to grade level in reading by third grade, a crucial benchmark in determining success throughout their lives. The experience transforms tutors as well. Literacy First often inspires tutors to take on a lifetime of service in education, while others go on to become leaders in public policy, law, medicine, and social services. About 20% of Literacy First tutors become teachers. The latest cohort of AmeriCorps members will join an elite group of champions for educational equity, bringing their enthusiasm and compassion to one of Austin’s largest full-time AmeriCorps programs, and the longest-running AmeriCorps program in the state of Texas. “Helping these children understand that they belong in the world, you have the enormous privilege of being their guides,” said Dr. Uri Triesman. He then led the auditorium in the AmeriCorps pledge, which ends with a promise to “get things done.”

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Founded in 1994, Literacy First (formerly ACE: A Community for Education) provides innovative, research-based bilingual literacy intervention to struggling young readers at high-poverty, public elementary schools. Over the past two decades, our work has engaged more than 1,000 community members as tutors and has impacted over 18,000 Central Texas students. Year after year, approximately 75% of the children who receive one-to-one tutoring from Literacy First either reach grade level or make significant, measurable progress in key early reading skills every year. Literacy First is an outreach program of the Charles A. Dana Center at The University of Texas at Austin. The Charles A. Dana Center at The University of Texas at Austin works with our nation’s education systems to ensure that every student leaves school prepared for success in postsecondary education and the contemporary workplace.  

June 2018

"Life in the Heights" Neighborhood Magazine Features Literacy First

Literacy First was the subject of the Making a Difference feature in Life in the Heights, the neighborhood magazine for the Pemberton Heights neighborhood in Austin. Literacy First Board members Tory Newby and Helen Watkins profiled our program beautifully. Thanks, Helen and Tory! Permalink: Jun_2018_Life_in_the_Heights_LF_Only

May 2018

Mary Ellen Isaacs featured on the Charles A. Dana Center Blog

Literacy First Director Mary Ellen Isaacs was one of the first guest bloggers requested for the new Charles A. Dana Center blog. Writing about the reasoning and process behind our program, Mary Ellen describes the challenges of learning without strong reading skills in “Learning to Read; Reading to Learn.” Dana Center website: http://www.utdanacenter.org/learning-to-read-reading-to-learn/ Permalink: UTDC blog 2018 – MEI

March 2018

Literacy First unveils the new and improved website!

For some time now, we have wanted to better connect with our supporters, partners and prospective tutors. We’re excited about our new ‘look’ and look forward to sharing more stories with you.

January 2018

RetailMeNot, Inc. becomes Dr. Seuss Reading Day’s first financial sponsor!

We are so grateful to have RetailMeNot’s support for many years now. This year, they are teaming up with our affinity group, Lawyers for Literacy as our guests get an opportunity to read to a child. You don’t want to miss this event!

November 2017

Literacy First has a new home!

We are now located at the West Pickle Research Center in northwest Austin. Our work is still very much in the schools where we serve, but we are loving our new digs. Our new address is 3925 W Braker Lane Suite 3.801 Austin, TX 78759

August 2017

Literacy First Director featured in Austin Woman Magazine

Literacy First Director Mary Ellen Isaacs was interviewed about our program in Austin Woman‘s online August issue. Mary Ellen about the importance of literacy and the effects of socio-economic status on education in “Literacy First: Bridging the Education Gap” – and provides a great summer reading list for new readers. Austin Woman website: http://atxwoman.com/literacy-first/ Permalink: AW August 2017

March 2017

The Alcalde features Literacy First

The Alcalde, The University of Texas’s alumni magazine profiled the Literacy First program in the March 2017 online edition. The article provides a comprehensive overview of the program, a vivid description of a site visit, and quotes from several UT alums who became tutors. The Alcalde website: https://alcalde.texasexes.org/2017/03/reading-ahead/ Permalink: The Alcalde 03-01-2017

September 2016

Our New Name Revealed!

This is what you all have been waiting for. Watch all the way through to the end to find out what our new name will be, starting TODAY.