Mary Gail McCarty has known for a long time that she wanted to have a career helping students learn.

She said, “When I was little, I used to sit in front of the mirror and practice teaching.”

All that practice paid off for the dyslexic students at Lufkin Middle School where Mrs. McCarty is a Reading Specialist and Dyslexia Therapist. What Mrs. McCarty didn’t know, was that the students would change her life for the better, as well.

“I have a student who tells me to this day, I saved her. Her confidence was low. She was frustrated and mad at the world. She wanted to give up, but knew she was smart. She now wants to be a doctor. She is driven. I found her going into 4th grade, and she struggled, struggled, struggled. She is now a leader. She’s just one example,” said Mrs. McCarty.

Mrs. McCarty is from San Augustine, Texas where she grew up and attended high school. She was involved in the Academic Decathlon; played on the golf team; and played the flute in the band. She twirled on Friday nights and was third academically in her class.

She went on to attend Stephen F. Austin State University where she continued twirling as an SFA Twirl-O-Jack. At SFA, she met her husband, Kevin, who played baseball.

She said, “We will have been married 28 years in November.”

Mrs. McCarty’s first job teaching was in Henderson where she taught 5th grade at Northside. Her husband’s father passed away during that time, so the couple moved to Shreveport.  Mrs. McCarty taught 3rd grade in Shreveport.

“We moved to Lufkin for jobs. Kevin got a job at Huntington State Bank, and I taught at St. Cyprian’s, 3rd and 4th grade. During that year, I had dyslexic students in my class. They were so intelligent, but I didn’t understand why they couldn’t read. I was fascinated. Susie Shands saw that I had a heart for those kids,” she said.

To be able to teach the dyslexic students, Mrs. McCarty could either get her Master’s degree or become a Dyslexia Therapist through a three-year program at Neuhaus Education Center in Houston. She chose the Neuhaus program, the same Lufkin ISD uses as training for Dyslexia Therapists today.

She said, “I watched that year, when they (the students) would leave and go to therapy. I would see them grow and thought ‘there is something to this’. Susie recruited me. The first class I took changed my world, the multi-sensory spelling, the scientific way to teach reading. It is a science. Some students are naturally good at reading. These kids have to look at every single letter. They struggle with putting sound to the letter, especially manipulating letters and moving things around, phonological processing.”

She went on to teach dyslexic children for 11 years at St. Cyprian’s and is going on her 7th year at Lufkin ISD.

At Lufkin ISD, all students are screened for dyslexia by law in kindergarten and first grade.

Mrs. McCarty said, “We look for certain things. Some are real obvious. Some are red flags that we will monitor. We look for language enrichment. We’re catching them earlier now. The screener is awesome!”

Mrs. McCarty said some students will compensate and fall through the cracks. Then when 3rd grade hits, they have a lot of trouble reading to learn.

She said, “Our hope is that the earlier we catch them, the quicker they can pass through the program. They still get to receive accommodations. In a perfect world, the student would exit the program by 5th grade.”

Mrs. McCarty and her husband have three adult children and enjoy living in Lufkin where they have family and friends. Her daughter, Abby, works for the school district at Lufkin High School.

She said, “Abby is loving life teaching special ed at the high school. She makes me be a better person. She is like Kevin, so driven. Jerry and Max are at Texas A&M Corpus Christi. Jerry is in business management going into construction and Max is a kinesiology major.”

Even though Mrs. McCarty teaches reading all day, she still enjoys reading at home on her time off. She and her husband also enjoy going for a walk every evening so they can talk about their day. She has a new little puppy, “Bo”, that takes up quite a bit of her time along with two senior dogs. She arrives on campus at 7:40 a.m. in the morning for duty, which she loves so she can greet everyone.

She talks about how rewarding her job is and that she can see a difference from year to year with the progress of each student.

Mrs. McCarty said, “It depends on the severity of the dyslexia, the drive the kid has, and so many variables to see growth. Some grow tremendously. That’s the beauty of having students multiple years in middle school. It’s amazing how they pick it right up the next year.”

Mrs. McCarty is sad to see her students go on to high school because she has grown so close to them. She knows the struggles they have, and she sees the progress. She lists the names of past dyslexic students who have gone on to college and have successful careers.

She said, “It’s all about relationships. The number one goal is to build relationships.”

Thank you, Mrs. McCarty, for building those relationships and reading skills for our Middle School students. Everything you do is always about creating successes for students, and it shows.