By Dan Bodene, contributing writer
Educator Ken Koury, SEHS ‘03, likes to take his students “back to the future.”
It’s something he’s been doing since he began teaching at an elementary school, while working toward a master’s degree in education at Oakland University.
Starting with his first third-grade class at Way Elementary School in Bloomfield Hills, Koury has asked all his students to write a letter to themselves five years into the future. Koury keeps the sealed letters, and mails them back to the students after five years. He also gives them a certificate, good for a free dinner when they graduate from high school.
This past summer he treated that first class of students, now high-school graduates, to dinner at a restaurant in Bloomfield Hills.
“I was initially worried that I wouldn’t recognize or remember them,” said Koury. “But as they walked through the door, my mind instantly began to not only recognize them, but memories that I hadn’t thought about in nine years began to pop out of what seemed like nowhere.”
Koury said the letters, and the follow-up dinner, deeply affected the students, and him as well. “The memories they had from that year surprised me, because it gave me insight as to their perspective of me as a teacher, and their individual experiences in my classroom.”
One of Koury’s own high school teachers had done a similar letter-writing project, and Koury always remembered it.
“The whole experience had an impact on me, especially since I was in the midst of becoming a teacher myself. I still do the assignments and give the dinner certificates as well. I honestly believe they have a profound effect on the students, and I plan on continuing the project for the entirety of my career.”
It was Koury’s commitment to education that led him to tackle Oakland’s Masters of Education program
, which allowed him to take some classes at the Bloomfield Hills school district’s Staff Development Center.
“It made the whole process convenient,” he said. “Beyond that, we participated in an ‘Excellence in Teaching’ program that helped prepare new teachers, like myself, to become aware of our personal teaching styles. This self-awareness is what influenced my teaching style to what it is today.”
Koury has many standout memories of OU. “I remember the quality of the professors and their commitment to not only their students, but to the integrity of the education program as well. As a young teacher, these features helped shape some of the ideas that I have regarding education today, as well as the way that I educate.”
After receiving his master’s from Oakland, Koury moved to New Jersey and continued teaching. He’s now teaching fourth-graders in the Hanover Township Schools district. For several years, he also taught during summers in the Gifted and Talented Youth program at Montclair State University in Montclair, N.J.
Experiences in public education led Koury and a colleague to create Exponential Learning, a company that provides services including K-12 tutoring and consulting, college admissions and test preparation, special education programs, diagnostic learning evaluations, career skills-building, and strategies for time management, organization and study skills.
The company was founded to help fill in gaps in the educational foundations of students, Koury said. The basis is a one-on-one, individually tailored approach, he added.
“We knew that one of the ways to transform students into academically confident individuals was for them to achieve success by filling in these educational deficiencies,” Koury said. “We hire the most dynamic and influential educators out there. All of our employees are certified teachers, and they teach their lessons based around the individual needs of each student.”
The approach works, Koury said. “Parents – who must be home during the sessions – are actually able to see and hear the educational process happening right at the dining room table. Our students achieve because we set them up for success.”
Koury remains energized by his job after teaching for more than a decade.
“I still view myself as young in the whole game of education, but I know that I’m making a difference,” he said. “I’m just beginning, and I’m determined to change the perception of how we educate our students, and the perception towards those who provide that education.”
For more information about OU's teaching certification programs, view the website at oakland.edu/teach