Dr. Sumiko Hamilton-Hervey is the creator of Smartie Pants Academy, a childcare center that specializes in working with children with disabilities. Hamilton-Hervey recently celebrated the opening of her second Smartie Pants location at 5030 Franz Rd., Ste. 180, Katy, TX, 77449, which can accommodate 100-plus children. Hamilton-Hervey spoke with the Defender about the center’s inspiration, its current work and future aspirations.
DEFENDER: Tell us about your work with children with disabilities.
HAMILTON-HERVEY: So, here at Smartie Pants, we’re a 501c3 childcare center for children with disabilities. The disabilities range from autism, physical disabilities, learning disabilities; we pretty much have it under our roof. So, we specialize in 95% of the disabilities that you see in children.
DEFENDER: Why did you feel there was a need for a facility like this?
HAMILTON-HERVEY: Before I opened Smartie Pants in 2011, I was a special educator. And a lot of my parents had issues with finding daycare, and daycare as being able to cater to the need of the student. And so, I realized it had to be a gap, and I started doing research basically to see how many centers were out there for children with disabilities and realized there were none.
DEFENDER: What has been your greatest challenge in working with the population of those who share disabilities?
HAMILTON-HERVEY: I always tell people it’s never really the children that give us the challenge when working with the disabilities. Sometimes, it’s the parents, because parents are lacking the knowledge and the need and the resources. So, when they come in to bring the children, it’s not the children that need most of the help. Sometimes, I have to tell parents “I have to be able to work with you first,” because they need more of the help than the students.
DEFENDER: I was looking over some of your accolades, and it says that you taught special education students in both elementary, middle school and high school. Where did that inspiration come from?
HAMILTON-HERVEY: I come from a family of educators, so, just growing up, having uncles and aunties that were teachers. My dad was always the general manager of recreation centers. So, I was able to have the experience to see all kids, because at recreation centers, those are city [institutions], so they take all children. So, just being around kids my whole entire life, pretty much led me into this field.
DEFENDER: I understand you wrote a book.
HAMILTON-HERVEY: Yes, I wrote a book, “I’m Normal Too: Josh, and His Voice Output Device.” I wrote that book in 2013, just so that my children can have a book that they could relate to. Josh in the book is a non-verbal student, which I have several non-verbal students, and he uses an iPad to be able to communicate with us. And a lot of my students are non-verbal and they’re able to use their iPad. It’s actually going to be a series, and I haven’t finished yet, of course, but I want to do a series of books where my kids can look at a picture, even if they can’t read the words, and they’re able to see someone that looks like them or some of our friends at our center.
DEFENDER: March is National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. Tell us what you all had in store for this month.
HAMILTON-HERVEY: We decided to use March 4 as our grand opening so that we could celebrate during that month. March and April are our two biggest months of the year. April is Autism Awareness Month, and that’s a really big month, as well, because we host a fashion show for our kids every year during the month of April. So, March and April are very close and dear to our hearts because of the children we cater to at our center.
DEFENDER: I understand Smartie Pants has a long waiting list. Tell us about the need that’s there and the need that you guys are fulfilling.
HAMILTON-HERVEY: My current location can host 60 kids. I’ve been full for three or four years. So, I knew the need was here. And I was like, “Let’s see if somebody else is gonna take the lead and decide to open a center like this.” And no one did. So, that led to me opening the Katy location because I service the Cy Fair Independent School District. Katy has always been one of our biggest fans as well, so I wanted to be able to give back to the parents and the children of this community.
DEFENDER: The name Smartie Pants; where did it come from and why is that the perfect name for the business that you operate?
HAMILTON-HERVEY: I’m from Waco. So, back home we have a retail kid’s store named Smarty Pants, but it’s [spelled] with a “Y.” And I always thought that name was so super cute. So, I was like, “I’m gonna use that, but I’m gonna change the ‘Y’ to an ‘I-E.’” I think the name fits our center very well because of the children that we have. They typically tend to be put in the back, when really, most of my kids are super, super smart. So, Smartie Pants, they love the name. We tell them they’re super smart regardless of what they can and can’t do. And so, I think it’s just very fitting for the kids I cater to.
DEFENDER: What do you hope Smartie Pants will look like in five years?
HAMILTON-HERVEY: Well, I hope that Smartie Pants is able to grow, of course. We have two franchise locations coming up pretty soon: one in Spring, Texas and one in Cypress off of Highway 290. So, I hope that Smartie Pants could be one of those brands that can go all over the world. I would like to be global.
DEFENDER: Being that you’re a Black business owner, what advice would you give others in the Black community who have goals of owning their own business; not necessarily childcare, but opening up something that hasn’t been opened before?
HAMILTON-HERVEY: I always tell people, especially Black entrepreneurs, to take the risk. It’s hard in the beginning. We all get very nervous. We get very scared. But it’s worth the risk. You never know where you’re gonna go or how far you’re gonna go if you don’t jump. So, I always tell people, you have to jump and take the risk and see where it goes, because the sky’s the limit. And God is gonna take you there. If it’s for you, it’s for you.