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Two young children take time to look at the Christmas lights as they tour Ballard Park during the lighting of the park on Monday night in Tupelo.

RRC expands dyslexia evaluations, reduces wait list

TUPELO • In a little more than three months, an additional dyslexia evaluator has helped the Regional Rehabilitation Center break a log jam.

The waiting list for dyslexia evaluations has been chopped nearly in half since psychometrist Nita Crowell joined speech pathologist Nita Finch as a dyslexia testing specialist on the RRC staff.

“Before Nita (Crowell) started, we would tell people it would be well over a year, now it’s six to eight months,” said Robby Parman, executive director for the center, which provides physical, occupational and speech therapy, audiology and early intervention services without charge.

Dyslexia, a learning disability that interferes with the brain’s ability to decode letters and numbers, is one of the highest need areas for the 58-year-old Tupelo nonprofit agency.

“We get more calls about dyslexia than anything else,” Parman said.

A grant from Toyota Mississippi provided the catalyst to expand the center’s capacity to handle dyslexia evaluations. An anonymous donor provided additional funding to cover salary, benefits, training and materials for Crowell’s position.

“The community support is amazing,” Crowell said.

With its annual telethon in November, RRC capped off its annual fundraising efforts. The center received more than $400,000 in donations and grants.

“We are very blessed,” Parman said.

Thorough evaluations

Dyslexia evaluations are time consuming. Testing, analyzing and reporting the results takes about 40 hours. In addition to determining if the student has mild, moderate or severe dyslexia, the evaluation provides program suggestions and practical recommendations for parents.

“It’s very thorough,” Crowell said.

A formal evaluation unlocks a range of school and community services for the child with dyslexia, Crowell said. It gives parents and educators a map of the student’s strengths and weaknesses.

Crowell has taught students with disabilities and developmental delays and performed assessments for decades. She worked for public schools for many years and worked as an independent contractor to provide assessments.

She developed an interest in dyslexia both from her work and the experiences of an extended family member.

“It broke my heart that children couldn’t read,” Crowell said.

She has watched the growth of effective therapies and learning strategies for those who struggle with dyslexia.

“We’ve learned so much during my career,” Crowell said. “In the foreseeable future, I think they get even stronger.”

“I feel confident the funding will be there for the first three years,” Parman said.

The waiting list for dyslexia services remains well over a year.

“Down the road, we’d like to have more dyslexia therapists; we really want to do more,” Parman said. “At least we know (with the evaluations) we can help them get to that next step.”

Kelly initiatives win House approval

TUPELO • Within the last month, two policy initiatives spearheaded by U.S. Rep. Trent Kelly have made progress in Congress.

A resolution Kelly introduced would fund a one-year fellowship in congressional offices for the family members of service members killed in the line of duty.

Also, a bill authored by the north Mississippi Republican is intended to streamline the process for small businesses owned by veterans seeking to work for the federal government.

In late October, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution authored by Kelly that would offer one-year congressional jobs to Gold Star family members.

Under the act, a sibling, spouse or child of a U.S. military member killed in the line of duty would be able to work for a year in a chosen congressional office, whether at a district or Washington, D.C office.

“When our service members make the ultimate sacrifice, there is no award, no amount of money or no program that can ever make their lives whole again,” Kelly said. “But this program gives the families left behind a chance to participate in our great democratic process at the national level.”

There are already fellowship programs for veterans themselves. The Wounded Warrior Program offers veterans a two year fellowship working in the House of Representatives.

The resolution, introduced in February, is named after Sgt. 1st Class Sean Cooley and Specialist Christopher Horton. Cooley was a member of the Mississippi National Guard, served with Kelly and was killed in Iraq in 2005.

Horton was killed in Afghanistan in 2011.

The resolution was agreed to in the House without objection. Since it only concerns the operations of the House, no Senate approval is required to implement the program.

The House Chief Administration Officer will determine how many fellowships will be available and how much the fellows will be paid, based on the interest from congressional offices.

In mid-November, the House also approved a bill authored by Kelly, the VA-SBA Act.

Small businesses owned by veterans are eligible for special consideration when seeking federal contracts. Right now, the Department of Veterans Affairs maintains a list of businesses eligible for these special considerations.

Kelly’s bill would move responsibility for maintaining that list to the Small Business Administration. The SBA would also be required to verify the veteran-owned status of these businesses.

In a statement, Kelly said the bill “reduces red tape and confusion for veteran small business owners who wish to do business with the federal government.”

The bill passed the U.S. House on a voice vote and advanced to the Senate, where it has been referred to the Committee on Veterans Affairs.

Kelly serves on the House Armed Services Committee and is a brigadier general in the Mississippi National Guard. Military and veterans issues have been among his major policy priorities.



Above, fireworks light up the sky over Ballard Park. Right, Two young children take time to look at the Christmas lights.



Second-graders in the Voice Wave Choir from Parkway Elementary School perform Christmas songs as part of the Lighting of Ballard Park Monday night in Tupelo.