Early Childhood/Family Literacy Education

The Foundation believes education is a pathway out of poverty for children from low-income families. A compelling body of national research suggests that a particularly effective way to help these children be successful in school is to help improve family environments by providing educational services to the whole family, as early and in as comprehensive a fashion as possible.

DSC_0200In 2007, Foundation attention was drawn to three community goals for advancement of early childhood\family literacy education: (1) establishing coordinated, integrated family literacy programming in the Austin Independent School District (AISD); (2) developing the capacity of community service providers to grow and replicate best practices programming throughout the community; and (3) exploring and encouraging innovative ways to improve “kindergarten readiness” in low-income communities at privately operated non-profit preschools.

As a result, the Foundation continues its financial support of selected agencies providing different and compelling approaches to delivering early childhood\family literacy services in low-income communities. In 2007 the Foundation expanded its activities to promote increased coordination and collaboration among service providers and other community stakeholders engaged with early childhood\family literacy education. The Foundation also focused increased attention on better measurement and evaluation of program effectiveness. Of particular note:

·                     The ASPIRE (Achieving Success through Parental Involvement, Reading and Education) program of Communities in Schools of Central Texas integrates early childhood education, parenting education and adult education into a unified family-centered program. Foundation funding in 2007 continued support of this programming for the northeast Austin communities surrounding AISD’s Andrews Elementary School campus; encouraged expansion of ASPIRE to AISD’s Lucy Read pre-K Demonstration School in north Austin (Lucy Read); and facilitated design and implementation of a best practices evaluation program to measure impact and effectiveness of this service model. Results of this evaluation, which can be found here, demonstrates that (1) ASPIRE children academically outperform their peers in standardized testing years after having left the program; (2) program effects were measurable within a year of participating in ASPIRE; and (3) the greater the achievements of the parents in ASPIRE programming the higher the passing rates of their children.

·                     The ACEE (AmeriCorps for Community Engagement and Education) program housed at the Charles A. Dana Center of the University of Texas at Austin uses AmeriCorps volunteers to provide targeted bi-lingual tutoring and related family literacy\parenting education to pre-K, kindergarten and first grade children from low-income families. Foundation funding in 2007 supported expansion of a family literacy component of the agency’s programming at Lucy Read; provided organizational capacity building for advisory board development and engagement in support of agency expansion; and promoted recruitment and engagement of parents as program volunteers and tutors. Ongoing evaluation of the ACEE program, a summary of which can be found here, continues to demonstrate that, as a result of the intervention of well trained and supported volunteer tutors delivering a rigorously research-based and tested curriculum, ACEE students reached grade level in reading at the end of the school year at a greater rate than students who do not receive this intervention.

·                     Capital Area Reach Out and Read (CAROR) aims to make literacy development an integral part of pediatric WholeGrouphealth care. Reading is Fundamental (RIF) gives books to children from low-income families to motivate them to become lifelong readers, and teaches parents effective ways of sharing books with their children. Foundation funding in 2007 continued funding of RIF “Family Fun Night” programming at twenty-two Austin area Head Start centers; expanded operating capacity for CAROR to properly support program expansion and engage a growing volunteer base; and facilitated a merger between RIF and CAROR to create an emerging leader in family literacy service delivery, called BookSpring.

·                     A Task Force on Early Childhood Education was convened by the AISD superintendent in 2006. Community stakeholders with a broad range of perspectives—teachers, administrators, nonprofit leaders, and parents—contributed their opinions and expertise to the Task Force, which produced a comprehensive report containing a specific list of recommendations and action items for improving early education in the Austin community. The Task Force report can be found  in its entirety here. Among other things, the report encourages the community at large to assist AISD in providing a high quality early education environment. In response, in 2007 the Foundation engaged around the formation of a community collaborative to implement Task Force recommendations related to delivery of early childhood\family literacy services at Lucy Read. An early outcome of this work is the development of the Lucy Read Family Literacy Collaborative Action Plan for the creation and delivery of recommended programming at Lucy Read. Andy.Sandy.LRGradA copy of this Action Plan can be found in its entirety here. Implementation of the Action Plan is an ongoing Foundation initiative. The goals of this activity include (1) advancing literacy for all ages as well as positive parenting behavior, helping parents to understand the critical importance of involvement in their child’s education; (2) encouraging collaboration between experienced organizations; (3) creating a pathway for scalability and replication, allowing for expansion of these services first to the entire Lucy Read community and then throughout AISD; and (4) establishing best practices, raising visibility and engaging the community in support of early childhood education.