Harwood Center, University of Memphis to launch early learning classroom for kids with special needs

Last week High Ground reported on the unique programs and success of the Hardwood Center. The center provides holistic learning, skill building, counseling, and connections to outside resources for children with autism and other developmental delays and their families. 

Related: "Harwood Center helps kids with autism, developmental disabilities build skills for lifelong success"

Harwood and the University of Memphis have now announced a partnership to develop an early learning classroom for children with developmental delays. The classroom will serve children two to six years of age and is scheduled to open this fall. 

The classroom will be located on the University of Memphis campus with priority enrollment for the children of university students, faculty, and staff.

Pending approvals from the State Building Commission, Harwood will also relocate its full base of operations to the university's Park Avenue campus In the fall of 2021.

That move will facilitate the formation of seven additional classrooms for young children with special needs.

In our previous coverage, Harwood's executive director, Rachel Lauletta, expressed a need for a larger, more permanent facility to meet the high demand for their programs. Harwood currently serves students at three locations inside a church and two elementary schools.

“It kills me to see 70 kids on a list not getting the services that we know can help," said Lauletta.

When all eight classrooms are operational, the partnership will serve over 100 Mid-South families.

“Harwood is extremely grateful for the opportunity to build on our long-standing partnership with the University of Memphis,” said Lauletta in a press release announcing the new partnership.

“We look forward to combining the strengths of both programs to help close the gap for services for children with developmental needs in the Mid-South community," she continued.

Harwood's relocation would add to the university's existing network of childhood education facilities, including the Barbara K. Lipman Early Learning & Research Center, Campus School, University Middle, and a new infant development facility in partnership with Porter-Leath.

In addition to new classrooms, the partnership will expand the university's understanding of early development with new clinical sites for academic programs and research opportunities for faculty. Students with the College of Professional & Liberal Studies' early intervention specialist concentration can gain research and hands-on experience in the classrooms. Both partners will be able to use the findings to improve programs and resources for students and families.

“This is a great opportunity for our University and our city, and we look forward to welcoming these new families and students to our campus," Sally Parish, associate vice president for educational initiatives, in the partnership press release.

Support for this story was provided in part by Urban Child Institute as part of a series highlighting the impact and importance of early childhood education and whole-child support. UCI focuses its grantmaking, advocacy, and community support on kindergarten readiness and third-grade literacy to improve the education, health, and well-being of children and families in Shelby County.

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Read more articles by Cole Bradley.

Cole Bradley is a native Memphian and graduate of the University of Memphis. Cole's worked locally as a researcher and community engagement strategist and began contributing to High Ground in Jan 2017.