Individual Presentation

First Presenter's Institution

University of Texas at Austin

Second Presenter's Institution

University of Texas at Austin

Third Presenter's Institution


Fourth Presenter's Institution


Fifth Presenter's Institution



Ballroom F

Strand #1

Family & Community


The presentation is intended to present Read to the Top! as a case in a rural setting to promote collaborative school and community partnerships. Focus group data and motivation scales are the two primary sources of data interpreted. This session is intended to demonstrate ways to partner with families to build culturally relevant literacy programs and to create opportunities for strengthening community and school partnerships aimed at increasing student achievement.

Brief Program Description

The presenters will share insights gained through focus group and observational data from families living in rural Central Texas that participated in a community based literacy program, Read to the Top! Participants will learn about the collective value added through community partnerships.


The diversity of rural culture provides the context for building partnerships that enhance children’s’ learning and achievement. Read to the Top! looks strategically in the community to find resources that can improve outcomes for the students psychologically, ecologically and developmentally. Once the principles and theoretical foundation are in place then rural communities can create their own programs by relying on both the community and school partners to continue to build it and add their resources.

The purpose of this presentation is to empower members of their respective communities to utilize or create collaborative partnerships to improve student success. By presenting data supporting the collective value added component of literacy building in a rural community, the presenters plan to provide an example of a program that has been successful for a decade. This program focused on cultivating readers, working with struggling readers and increasing the motivation for students diagnosed with learning disabilities. This presentation hopefully inspires stakeholders to build a program that is culturally grounded and takes into account the ecological nuances of the environment.


Due to gaps caused by the implementation of evidence-based practices to teach literacy that are often disconnected from background of the children these practices serve, Read to the Top! was developed to access the cultural and intellectual capital of the rural community. By harnessing the unique skillset of the rural community, Read to the Top! sought to provide summer opportunities for learning outside of the school setting. Welcoming the children with breakfast, offering engaging STEM projects, and integrating leadership building into this literacy focused initiative have consistently been the core elements of the program. The intended outcomes for Read to the Top! were to strengthen partnerships, create a research based and culturally responsive program, and increase motivation for all readers including struggling readers and readers with disabilities.

Wright and Mahiri (2012) studied the outcomes of a Positive Youth Development (PYD) program that partnered with a community based non-profit to promote literacy. Literacy apprenticeships were implemented by building partnerships between adults in the community and the students. Peers from the community contributed to the study by working to build confidence and motivation in the participants and supporting the learning environment. Focus group data was used to support findings that community based programs can improve literacy by, “using engaging team-building strategies, pedagogical approaches that identify and build on the youths' assets, and youth literacy-development apprenticeships by adults and by young people” (Wright & Mahiri, 2012, p. 130).

Dowrick and Yuen (2006) developed the Actual Community Empowerment (ACE) reading program for at risk students in over 40 communities. The tenants of the ACE program included identifying the needs and strengths of the community, establishing a working relationship with the community, and creating images of success for participants. High school aged tutors mentored middle school participants through three different roles: community-directed tutors, student-focused tutors, and process-dedicated tutors. Through qualitative research methods Dowrick and Yuen (2006) reported on tutor responsibility, outcomes for participants, and the nature of the learning environment.

Biographical Sketch

Dr. Audrey Sorrells is associate dean of students for research in the Office of the Dean of Students, Division of Student Affairs. She is also associate professor of special education in the College of Education, Senior Ford Fellow, National Research Council and past Fellow in the Lee Hage Jamail Regents Chair in Education at The University of Texas at Austin. Prior to her appointment in the Office of the Dean of Students, Dr. Sorrells served as undergraduate advisor and minority liaison officer in the Department of Special Education, as well as chair of several department, college and university committees. She has 27 years of higher education teaching and research experience, from 1987 to 1997 at Southeastern Louisiana University, and since 1997 at UT Austin. Prior to her university appointments, Dr. Sorrells taught in K-12 settings, teaching at risk students and in high poverty rural and urban schools, including students with learning and behavioral disabilities.

Alexis McCoy is a 3rd year doctoral student at the University of Texas at Austin in the special education department in the multicultural concentration. Her research interests include parental involvement, stigma for families and individuals with disabilities, and special education services in charter schools. Currently, she is an educational diagnostician in a local Austin school district where she evaluates children for disabilities and facilitates IEP meetings. Prior to starting her doctoral program she taught middle school students with autism spectrum disorders for four years in Houston and Dallas, Texas.

Keyword Descriptors

Community partnerships, Rural education, Out of school learning, Summer reading

Presentation Year


Start Date

3-7-2017 10:15 AM

End Date

3-7-2017 11:30 AM


Mar 7th, 10:15 AM Mar 7th, 11:30 AM

Developing Partnerships across Rural, Cultural, and Intellectual Contexts to Improve Literacy and Student Achievement

Ballroom F

The presenters will share insights gained through focus group and observational data from families living in rural Central Texas that participated in a community based literacy program, Read to the Top! Participants will learn about the collective value added through community partnerships.