My Spectrum School’s Jason D’Agostino honored for child-centered teaching

My Spectrum School’s Jason D’Agostino honored for child-centered teaching
My Spectrum School director and teacher Jason D'Agostino flips through a student's workbook. (Photo by Cameryn Oakes)

One of Jason D’Agostino’s preschool students recently expressed a strong fear of bees, a natural response to an insect that commonly afflicts pain with its stinging capabilities.

Rather than consoling the child and brushing it off as a simple comment, D’Agostino took the moment as an opportunity to teach his students about the importance of bees, as well as many other insects in our natural environment, to diminish the children’s instinctual  fears.

On Friday morning, square patches of artificial grass adorned with insects encased in acrylic and mini magnifying glasses were placed upon the students’ tables at My Spectrum School in Manorhaven.

“It’s inviting you to come and look, explore, touch, feel, get engaged with it,” D’Agostino said.

Next to the insect activity were books filled with insect pictures. Students could then also flip through these books and mark the pages they found of interest, which D’Agostino would check to create later lessons on the children’s bug questions.

As D’Agostino spoke about his engagement with his class of about 10 students, it was clear the close bond he had formed with each one of them.

“That’s the child-centered approach,” D’Agostino said.

D’Agostino’s education model is formed around the school’s students, what he called “inquiry-driven, process-based” learning.

“Everything starts off with a phenomenon, some type of prompt, some type of provocation,” D’Agostino said.

It’s this approach that earned him the honor of being named the best teacher in Nassau County by Blank Slate Media in 2023.

D’Agostino said the award came to him as a surprise. As one averse to the spotlight, he said the honor reflected the success of his students more than his role as the teacher.

“To me, that’s more rewarding than an award,” D’Agostino said.

D’Agostino is the director as well as a teacher at My Spectrum School, an early childhood preschool that aims to foster a love of learning and develop children’s natural gifts to reach their full potential.

Along with D’Agostino, the school also won five other awards in the competition, including Best Preschool and Best Private School.

On Friday morning, the school and its three teachers were also presented citations from North Hempstead Councilmember Mariann Dalimonte for Provider Appreciation Day.

D’Agostino received his bachelor’s in psychology from Adelphi University and a master’s in early childhood education from Long Island University.

He described his teacher style as based on a number of sources, including psychologist Jerome Bruner, LIU associate professor in early childhood education Efleda P. Tolentino, the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education and various schools of thought.

The Reggio Emilia approach is based upon a child’s natural curiosity that fosters deeper connections between students, teachers, families and the community through a child’s active engagement with their classroom environment. Teachers then observe their students’ interests in development to adapt their teaching to their students.

His students ages 3 to 5 have a natural curiosity, D’Agostino said, due to a plethora of new experiences for them.

“So you want to create an environment that gives them the opportunities to engage their curiosity and explore new things, new concepts new ideas, new phenomenons,” D’Agostino said. “And that’s really the crux of what we do here.”

D’Agostino’s teaching methodology for his students is based on the four E’s: Embark, Explore, Engage and Elaborate. A fifth E – Evaluate – is then D’Agostino’s role.

The learning process begins with an embarkment, or a concept or idea that the student is curious about. D’Agostino said the purpose is to draw in the young child’s interest.

Everything starts with a question at My Spectrum School, D’Agostino said, and from there the learning process begins.

Even the layout of the classroom is an extension of the school’s teaching model.

The classroom is designed with the intent to invite the children into different areas of learning and a diverse range of subjects.

Along the walls are signs reading “engineering” and “science” and “library,” creating designated spaces around the room for the children to explore different subjects. Strewn between each subject area are collections of tables intentionally placed in a communal area so children are encouraged to explore different spaces.

“It’s meant to invite the children over to see what’s going on,” D’Agostino said. “And that leads into the learning module.”

Everyday begins with this morning meeting, where D’Agostino talks with his students about their lives.

“And if anything pops up that creates interest among the group, I take that and form a mini theme around that,” D’Agostino said.

Without being told, the students immediately gathered at their desks organized in a U-shape, facing a projected screen and surrounding a communal rug at the beginning of their school day early Friday morning.

Multiple students shot their hands up to take turns reading the phrase “Today is Friday, May 10, 2024” off the screen.

As the children began their day of learning, giggles could be heard during their correct answers to each question, with a playful banter exchanged between them and their teacher.

“We’re like a little family,” D’Agostino said.

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  1. Congrats on a job well done. I know my granddaughter is so happy with this pre school and loves learning with Mr. Jason who also had a brother prior to our youngest granddaughter. We are the luck ones to have her enjoy learning and so eager to share everyday with everyone at home or visiting. Thank you again Mr. Jason


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