Stronger Houston: Dyslexia School of Houston aims to help students with different learning needs

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HOUSTON – A specialized Houston school opened its doors during the pandemic to help fill a literacy gap in the public school system.

The Code Academy Dyslexia School of Houston, which is located in West University Place, was founded in 2021 by Tammy Spencer, a public-school educator of 27 years.

“The public school system, our brick and mortar that we’re most familiar with, is very pro-neurotypical,” Spencer said. “Meaning that, if you’re able to walk in and follow along with everything that your teachers are instructing and not need some type of specialized instruction or approach to learning, then that would be a great setting. But, what happens to, in my case, the one in five [students] that are having the scrambled letters? How do we help them reach their abilities to become literate?”

Spencer said as businesses were shutting down during the pandemic, she decided to open one. She said as schools were adapting to virtual learning, the need for the Code Academy was greater.

“Every teacher had to learn new ways of teaching through technology without sitting in front of children,” the educator said. “The students that we serve here can’t learn like that. They are really going to struggle. The frustration sets in. They are not happy, and most importantly, they are not growing.”

Spencer said she’s a strong believer that if students can’t learn the way educators teach, those educators should teach the way students learn.

Dyslexia is a neurological learning disorder that makes reading difficult due to problems identifying speech, sounds, and learning how they relate to letters and words. It is not just about words appearing scrambled.

Spencer said at the Code Academy, students learn about the six syllable types, phonological awareness, sound and symbol association, syllabication, orthography, syntax, morphology, reading comprehension and reading fluency.

Kanisha Aiken and her 9-year-old son, Carter, were among the first to enroll when the school was initially operating out of Spencer’s apartment.

“We live in Katy. So, we would drop them off, they would do their lessons, we’d come back and pick them up,” said the mom of two. “We did that every day for a really long time.”

Kanisha said Carter was officially diagnosed with Dyslexia in second grade, but she started noticing signs much earlier on.

“Carter was in kindergarten when we kind of started thinking he wasn’t really rhyming,” she said. “He wasn’t catching on to the sight words but I kind of let it go.”

After two years at the Code Academy, Kanisha said her third-grader is a more confident student.

“His grades are amazing. He’s actually back in public school now and tutoring through the Dyslexia School of Houston virtually every day now,” Kanisha said. “He’s just a completely different kid. He reads books in the car, he’s reading signs in the car. Completely changed his life.”

Christine Jacobs said her daughter Ava has also done a 180 since attending the school.

“She wasn’t that kid that would grab a book and say, ‘Mommy I want to,’ but now, because Ms. Tammy has taught her a way that she can learn to read in her own, it is trickling down in so many ways that my husband and I are so pleased,” Jacobs said.

Jacobs said she’s happy to have found the Code Academy, which is filling a void so desperately needed in the Houston area.

“Because Ava had learning differences, it’s been challenging not only academically but socially as well and emotionally,” Jacobs added. “She has Dyslexia and ADD. So, those two things combined in a regular general education setting can be challenging.”

Spencer said the services her school provides don’t take much de-coding.

There are 20 students in each class with four teachers.

Spencer said, unlike the public-school setting, students at her school are given more hands-on time with fewer interruptions.

“What would take me typically you know six to eight months I’m able to do in 12-15 weeks,” she said. “By the time I’m finished with them in 12-15 weeks, they’re de-coding, they’re reading, they’re whole world has changed.”

Since the school is a non-profit, the education provided to students is free.

“We take letters and we teach them the sounds. We put those letters together and they make a word. We take those words together, we build sentences. Sentences build paragraphs, paragraphs build chapters. In the end, our children are reading. They’re completely literate,” Spencer said.

If you would like to support the school or learn more, visit the Dyslexia School of Houston website.