When Rebecca Vitelli’s mentor Myae Han, University of Delaware associate professor of human development and family studies, suggested she attend the international conference of the Association for the Study of Play and the American Association for the Child’s Right to Play — held jointly at UD in 2013 — the student had no idea it would spark her interest in international research.
After attending, Vitelli, a senior early childhood education major, knew she wanted to explore how other cultures address the education of students with special needs.
“My passion is working with children with special needs, particularly children with autism,” said Vitelli. “Both my parents are teachers and, since graduating high school, I have worked summers as a one-on-one para-educator. I find inspiration working with students, educators and other professionals.”
This summer Vitelli traveled to Ireland to gain practical experience and share knowledge in research. One of the highlights of her trip included a two-day international conference with the Irish Association of Teachers in Special Education (IATSE) at All Hallows College in Dublin.
“In going on the trip, I was able to speak with other educators directly and spend time interacting with children in foreign classrooms, obtaining a global perspective of early childhood education,” said Vitelli.
She was attracted to UD’s early childhood education program because of the many opportunities for field experiences, including classroom placements starting her freshman year. Vitelli worked at UD’s Children’s Campus, and volunteered at several local organizations including New Directions Early Head Start and the Ronald McDonald House.
Currently a student in the 4+1 program in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, working toward bachelor’s and master’s degrees with a concentration in early childhood development and inclusive education, Vitelli was able to take three graduate-level courses as an undergraduate and will complete her master’s degree in one extra year.
In addition to attending the IATSE conference, Vitelli traveled with a group of colleagues from SUNY Brockport’s study abroad program, participating in field experiences at three separate education facilities in the Dublin area. This included assisting in the Early Start classroom with students ages 3 to 5 (a program similar to Early Head Start in the U.S.) and touring a brand-new state-of-the-art special education school.
Comparing the two countries, Vitelli noted that in Ireland, like the United States, inclusion of students with disabilities is the ultimate goal. But education in Ireland is challenged by lack of government funding, the need for appropriate professional development for teachers, and disagreement over best practices.
Vitelli said she plans to incorporate her experiences in Ireland into her master’s thesis. “I admire UD’s combination of best practices and research. The early childhood education program has provided me with knowledge, strategies and confidence to follow my dreams and positively impact the future. I want to work with young children and their families, conduct research in early childhood education, and learn about child development from a global perspective.”
This article appeared in UDaily on 8/20/14.
Article by Christina Mason Johnston, Photos provided by Rebecca Vitelli