Parents say Dr. Theresa Kouri, with the help of Scottish Rite, is giving their children a second chance at success.
DENTON (UNT), Texas – Andrew McCann struggled in every school subject. "He was truly a high-risk student who could have easily fallen through the cracks,” his mother Donna McCann said. Jordan Yancey’s grades suddenly plummeted and he wasn’t reading at his level. His self-esteem was suffering and he was being bullied. “He was at a second-grade level at 13-and-a-half,” his mother Stacy Rollins said. His sister Kinslee Warren was also struggling. Rollins, a mother of five children with a variety of challenges, began homeschooling both children who were diagnosed with severe ADHD.
Madelynn Michaels was facing reading challenges of her own. The creative and outgoing child was showing signs of frustration and her mother Stacey wanted to help. “It was really hard watching her struggle and seeing the impact it had on her personality,” Michaels said.
Izabel Graves was being bullied in school. Other children would make fun of her because she couldn’t read and would tell her she needed to learn how to spell. “She had to have counseling because of the bullying,” her mother Brandy said. “She used to break down and cry when she had to read – even to her own family. I didn’t want her to be that child that’s left behind.”
But these families have more than similar struggles in common – they have a success story and a path that has led them all to the University of North Texas. Dr. Theresa Kouri, director of the UNT Speech and Language Clinic in the College of Health and Public Service’s Department of Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology, works with all of these children each week to help improve their reading and language skills.
“Our reading program targets children in grades two through high school with impaired reading and speech skills,” Dr. Kouri said. “We have raised reading levels by two to three years in a year and helped children make significant progress in different literacy skills. Our services are meant to supplement Texas schools or to assist parents who homeschool their children. We work on building a variety of literacy and reading skills using different evidence-based approaches that are appropriate to a child’s ability and maturation level. Not one technique fits all. Most importantly, we focus on building confidence and trust which oftentimes are negatively impacted in children with dyslexia.”
All of the families travel more than an hour to get to the clinic, but they say it’s worth the trip and the time it takes to access the services at UNT. The unique program is made possible thanks to Dr. Kouri who brought it to the university after spearheading a similar program in conjunction with Scottish Rite at her last university.
“She’s magic,” Rollins said. “Jordan has progressed from a second-grade level to a seventh-grade level after only a year in the program. He hated reading and there were serious barriers due to his lack of self-esteem. There is no longer any pushback. Kinslee started at a Kindergarten level and she’s now at a fourth-grade reading level. She wants to read. She’s not getting intimidated like she would before.”
Donna McCann says she’s seen similar success with Andrew.
“Without Dr. Kouri and her clinicians’ extra encouragement and discipline, I don’t believe he’d be where he is today,” McCann said. “He’s gone from well below grade level to now not only reading at and above grade level, he’s willing to say for the first time ever – I love reading. I get teary eyed. They set goals for him and push him to achieve them and he rises to the occasion.”
Stacey Michaels’ daughter not only has her confidence back, she has a new hobby.
“Madelynn wants to write a book. She loves reading now and picks her own books to read. Just last night, she was working on a story about a farm with talking animals. The farmer forgot to feed them and they were plotting revenge,” Michaels said, laughing.
Brandy Graves says she has seen a whole different person in Izabel since she started the program just this semester.
“It’s just night and day for her,” Graves said. “At first, she was really hesitant about coming. And, now she’s opened up so much. She reads out loud without hesitation now. I feel more confident with her going into high school because of this program. It’s such a blessing.”
Scottish Rite has continued to provide funding for the program at UNT that allows for all of the families to receive scholarships to supplement the costs of the twice-weekly services.
“Financially speaking – to not have the supplements from Scottish Rite, I wouldn’t be able to afford it,” McCann said. “I’m a single mom. I would’ve had to work second or third jobs to pay for it. I can’t put a price tag on not only the program, but on the financial assistance. Scottish Rite gave Dr. Kouri the tools to change lives.”
All of the families say they’ve tried a myriad of services for their children – from private tutoring, to reading businesses, to other area programs – and none have garnered the results they’ve seen at UNT. Dr. Kouri is just glad she can provide services for an area that has such a great need.
“I realize that as a child grows in their reading skills, so many doors can be unlocked. It has been thrilling to help this process unfold. I am always grateful to my parents and families that have made sacrifices to get their children to the UNT clinic and have entrusted us with their futures.”