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A Passion to Help Children Learn

One Parent’s Challenge Blossoms into a Passion for Helping Struggling Children

Published: December 17, 2014 by John Evans

Nancy and Bryan Ruez enjoy a visit with children at a Texas School Ready! Classroom the Ruezes sponsored at the Foster YMCA. When Nancy Ruez discovered her son William had dyslexia, teachers did not have high hopes for the third-grader. “Basically they told me William would probably never graduate from college, that he would struggle the rest of his academic career,” she said. But Ruez determined that she and her husband, Bryan, would have the final say about that.

“To make a long story short, William now has a master’s degree in economics,” she said. “We knew he could learn, but it was very hard finding a place that taught the way he learned. We actually moved to Massachusetts, where he attended a school that taught children with dyslexia. ” Ruez knows many families don’t have the resources to find specialized education for struggling children. It’s why she dedicates much of her time to the UTHealth Children’s Learning Institute (CLI), which combines the fields of psychology, neurodevelopment, education, and child development to give children a solid educational foundation. “When I first found out about CLI, I discovered they were doing things that I would have loved to have had accessible for my children,” she said. “I knew that I couldn’t change things just by myself, but if I worked with the Children’s Learning Institute, I could make a difference with some of these kids.”

Ruez helped found the CLI’s Advisory Council, a group of volunteer leaders who help support and guide the institute, and served as its chair for three years. The council soon realized how few people even knew about CLI’s work, so they decided raising awareness would be a top priority. “To me, CLI was like the best kept secret in town,” Ruez said. Settling on food and wine as the perfect complement to their goal, in 2013 the council inaugurated the CLI Tasting Dinner, a unique combination of eating and education. Guests sample a variety of fare while hearing first-hand about CLI’s work from faculty members, teachers, and parents whose children have benefited from the Institute. Both the inaugural dinner and the second annual event in 2014 sold out, with more than 100 guests both years. “People leave there with a wealth of knowledge about CLI,” Ruez said.

In addition to her current membership on the Advisory Council, Ruez and her husband are deeply involved in the Texas School Ready! (TSR) Project, an early education model developed by CLI that prepares at-risk children for kindergarten. Many children from low-income families — especially if they’re learning English as a second language — start school behind their higher-income peers and develop serious reading difficulties. The TSR program uses research-based curriculum, child progress monitoring, teacher professional development courses, and one-to-one teacher coaching to ensure children learn critical skills in ways most effective for their age group. Students who go through the TSR program actually start kindergarten ahead of other children in language and reading. “It’s just so exciting to go into that classroom and see these children excited about learning,” said Ruez, who with her husband sponsored a TSR classroom at the Foster YMCA. “You sit down on the floor, and they hop in your lap. They’re dying to tell you that they know the answer to a question.”

TSR teachers also find creative ways to foster a love of learning in their children. Ruez remembers a teacher who would reward children for a correct answer by encouraging them, “Kiss your brain.” “And they all did a big kiss on their hand and smacked it right on their head,” she said. Ruez’s dedication to CLI isn’t lost on Susan Landry, PhD, CLI’s Director; Landry frequently speaks with Ruez. “Nancy’s support of CLI has been a huge factor in our success,” Dr. Landry said. “Beyond her financial generosity, she is one of our most passionate advocates and volunteer leaders.”

Ruez loves every opportunity to give back to the community. Her family highly values charity, and she loves the culture of philanthropy she sees in Houston. For her, it’s just the right thing to do—and incredibly rewarding. “If you could walk in and see the children’s faces in those classrooms,” she says, “it makes it all worthwhile.”

If you would like to make a gift, or to request for more information about the UTHealth Children’s Learning Institute, please contact Karyn Ullman, Director of Development, at 713-500-3746 or .