Hampton, Va. — Hampton University’s Director of the Child Development Center, Joy Phelps, won the Charles A. Warren Helping Hands Award from the Hampton Mayor’s Committee for People with Disabilities.
Since joining the HU Child Development Center, last year, Phelps has made great strides in helping those with disabilities. She opened the door for children with autism to start taking classes alongside children who don’t have learning disabilities.
“One of my beliefs is that children with disabilities should be main streamed. Meaning, children learn through other children. They learn in rich environments and the guidance of their teacher,” said Phelps.
So far, the changes have been successful.
“We had a child come in, last year, who was not speaking. He would not play with the children. They said he was not going to go to kindergarten. Now, he is in kindergarten,” said Phelps. “Having children who don’t have disabilities being exposed to children with disabilities will help them understand each other better. When they see that that child has a need, they will be able to support that child.”
Phelps provided training and coaching for her staff to handle the new changes.
Today, Phelps has enrolled two more children with autism.
“If you compare them before and after, they were not talking, not engaging with children, not participating in class. Now, they do all of that,” she said. “It is a wow moment for the parents. They can’t believe how much their child has accomplished in such a short period of time.”
Phelps has 23 years of experience in early childhood education.
Since arriving at Hampton University, Phelps has doubled student enrollment at the Child Development Center. She attributes that success to her marketing strategy.
“A lot of people actually didn’t even know we existed,” said Phelps.
In addition to accepting children with disabilities, Phelps added programs like STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), Spanish, Japanese as well as musical training to play the violin.
Phelps has also added one-on-one training for students with special needs.
“To me, all children are the same. They should have the opportunities to learn in a rich environment like the one we provide here,” said Phelps.