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Posted at 04:00 AM ET, 06/08/2012

Michael Phelps’ mom: Principal and teacher

Olympic champion Michael Phelps has (obviously) had a great swimming coach but it was really another teacher who was front and center in his life: his mom, Debbie, a middle school principal in Maryland who has been an award-winning educator for nearly three decades.

In fact Debbie Phelps, seen frequently on television cheering on her son in each of his London Olympics swim events, was twice named Maryland Family and Consumer Science Teacher of the Year.

Furthermore, she helped Michael learn how to handle attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) when he was diagnosed with it at the age of 9, so he could make it through school and focus on swimming. Michael graduated from Towson High School in 2003 and took some classes at — though did not graduate from — the University of Michigan.

Deborah Phelps is principal of Baltimore’s Windsor Mill Middle School , which opened in 2006 and is one of eight STEM academies in Baltimore County Public Schools.

According to the biography on the school website, she started teaching in 1974 at Havre de Grace Middle School, where she was a family and consumer teacher, and spent more than 20 years in the Harford County
Debbie Phelps with daughters Whitney, right and Hilary watching son Michael swim in London. (Lee Jin-man/ AP)
Public School system in Maryland. She then began to work in Baltimore County, where she taught and took other roles in several schools. During her career, she has served as department chair, team leader, acting content leader and in other positions.

As a family and consumer teaching expert, she created and implemented an award-winning nutrition and food science curriculum that was multi-disciplinary, and created a cutting-edge food science laboratory in which students could learn.

Her training as an educator helped her help her son, Michael, with his ADHD. She told Matt Schneiderman in this interview on that there were early signs that Michael was hyperactive, but he was not immediately diagnosed.

By the time Michael was in prekindergarten, I would get reports from teachers saying that he was unable to stay on task. His thinking was,
Michael Phelps throws his winner's flower bouquet to his mother Debbie (not pictured) after receiving a gold medal in London. (JORGE SILVA/REUTERS)
“Zip, zap, let’s go on to the next thing.” As an educator myself, I was around a lot of energetic boys, so I still didn’t think Michael’s heightened activity level was a concern. When he was in kindergarten, I received the same reports that he couldn’t stay focused in class. I explained to the teachers that he’d done some of the same things before, like learning shapes, and that perhaps he was bored. .... I began working with Michael at home that year, and tried to get him to understand the importance of paying attention in school. He was a bit immature for his age, but again, I thought that was typical of boys and that everything was going to be fine. But I heard the same things when he was the in first, second, and third grades — the same story from different teachers. “Michael’s always nudging other kids,” and “We’re always having to slow Michael down.” He was also always asking questions, never shutting his mouth....Our pediatrician had watched Michael grow up and was familiar with his hyperactivity. He suggested testing for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder when Michael was 9.... That’s when he was diagnosed with ADHD and began taking medication to treat it ...

Debbie Phelps earned a master’s degree in education management and supervision from Loyola College, in Baltimore, and a bachelor’s of arts in education from Fairmont State College, in Fairmont, West Virginia, in 1973.

The Windsor Mill website says this about her: “Throughout her nearly three decades in the field of education, Ms. Phelps’ top priority in the school house has always been that of teaching and learning — the business of the school. Her role as the principal at Windsor Mill Middle School is to serve as a strong, visible instructional leader, promoting student growth as well as teacher growth; achievement being the top priority.”


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