A literacy app created by a team from Southern Methodist University and Literacy Instruction for Texas tied for a grand Adult Literacy XPrize and won in another category winning a total of $2.5 million.

The competition put together by the Barbara Bush Foundation was announced in 2015 in honor of the former first lady’s 90th birthday.

Lisa Hembry of Literacy Instruction for Texas approached then SMU Dean David Chard with the idea of creating a game to compete in the XPrize. They created a team called People ForWords and asked Tony Cuevas to put together a team to enter the competition to create a phone app that would help low-literate adults learn to read. Cuevas, husband of Dallas Voice Publisher Leo Cusimano, was previously academic director of SMU’s Guildhall video game development program and worked closely with them on the project.

Once the various apps were developed and submitted to the Barbara Bush Foundation, volunteer groups in several cities were tested for literacy levels. Each participant was assigned a literacy app. At the end of a year, the app-users were tested again.

The SMU-developed app along with one created by a team in California showed the greatest increase in reading ability. The two groups split a $3 million prize.

In addition, People ForWords won a second $1 million prize for being most effective for native Spanish speakers. The SMU prize that will be shared with LIFT totals $2.5 million.

Cuevas said some of the prize money will go toward research.

“There’s very little research about adult literacy,” he said.

Some of the money will go to further develop and distribute the app. And, he said, he hoped some of the money would go toward scholarships.

— David Taffet