Doug Dalessandro: Sparking an Interest in Science Across All Three Campuses

Stephanie Huie

Coordinator of Science for Grades 1-9

Doug Dalessandro, Coordinator of Science for Grades 1-9, joined The Windward School in 2008. Prior to arriving at Windward, he taught in a New York City public school. Mr. Dalessandro holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology with a minor in Chemistry from Vassar College and earned a Master of Science Education in Middle School Science from City College of New York. During his ten years at Windward, he has assisted and taught sixth- and seventh-grade science, coached basketball and lacrosse, ran the meteorology club, founded and directed Marchmester, and assisted with theater productions.

The Compass (TC): How did you become interested in science?
Mr. Dalessandro: I have always been interested in science – from childhood to adulthood. As a young child, I enjoyed exploring my backyard, catching frogs, tracking the weather, and other science- related activities. I entered Vassar as pre-med, and that concentration gave me exposure to chemistry, physics, biology, biochemistry, and psychology. I have also consistently enjoyed the critical thinking aspect of science: being able to solve problems and find solutions. There's a tremendous need for science in our society, specifically for solving the many challenges that our society faces.

TC: What motivated you to become a science educator?
Mr. Dalessandro: I can pinpoint a period in my life where I enjoyed not just science, but education in science. My sixth-grade science teacher, Mr. Oliver, had a wonderful way of directly engaging his students in science activities and hands-on manipulation of materials. Specifically, I remember an activity in which we grew a plant and charted its life cycle. I enjoyed taking the time to write observations down and reflect on them. I think that's what sparked my interest. Later on, I had the opportunity to work at a summer camp in Rhinebeck, New York and lead activities for children. That experience showed me that I could have a positive impact on a young person’s life and made me redirect my college path from pre-medicine to education. Being able to play a role in children’s development and inspire them to achieve what they are capable of doing really helped me find my calling. Plus, I like that there is a vast range of science disciplines one can explore.

TC: What interested you in teaching at Windward?
Mr. Dalessandro: After finishing the year in a New York City public school, I learned about an opportunity at The Windward School. As I researched the School, I connected with its commitment to excellence in education, the opportunities through its professional development program, and the tremendous resources available for teachers. I knew The Windward School was the place I wanted to be.

TC: What do you hope your students gain from having you as their teacher?
Mr. Dalessandro: I hope my students gain confidence in themselves by being able to find information that’s needed to think critically and to follow and pursue their passions in science. One of the most rewarding moments is when my students present questions that allow me to develop lessons to further inspire them or answer their questions. I enjoy nurturing their curiosities and making it fun. We teach at a very deliberate pace in our science classrooms with the goal of instilling confidence in students with academic skills that will allow them to successfully transition into their mainstream schools. I enjoy designing lessons with our student’s input so they can better relate to the material and can feel motivated to find the answers as to why different phenomena may be happening.

TC: What is your favorite lesson you look forward to each year?
Mr. Dalessandro: At the end of seventh grade, students perform a frog dissection. The reason why we do dissections in class is to study anatomy and compare it to other bodily structures, like those of humans. For example, when we focus on the frog's digestive system, we compare it to the human digestive system. It is a lesson that every student remembers! Another favorite project is when seventh graders create a 3-D visual representation of a cell. Students are tasked with creating a model of a cell, so they can study something that is much smaller to the naked eye. No two projects are identical. Students add their own creativity and make their projects come to life.

TC: As coordinator of science for grades 1-9, what does your position entail?
Mr. Dalessandro: I have the responsibilities of mentoring teachers, developing and reviewing lesson plans, reviewing the scope and sequence of the curriculum, and fostering collaboration among the members of the science department. With three campuses, it’s very important to ensure that all our teachers are consistent in content, implementation, and resources. I know what is being taught in each classroom, and I also make sure that materials are accessible so students can learn and perform hands-on activities and scientific investigations.

TC: Speaking of all three campuses, how do you ensure The Windward School’s direct instruction, multisensory approach is replicated across all science classes?
Mr. Dalessandro: I think the best way to do this is by meeting with teachers and encouraging reflection. By doing this, we are all able to work together to see what went well and what didn’t go well and use that knowledge to make lessons even better. It is extremely helpful to use past science lessons as a model for successful future ones.

TC: How does The Windward School Science Program set itself apart from other schools?
Mr. Dalessandro: At Windward, we are equipped with state-of-the-art technology and each campus has fully-functional science labs. Also, one of the outstanding aspects of The Windward School is its community–it’s like no other. While our faculty come from diverse backgrounds, we share a common professional development experience because we have all experienced training and professional development through the Windward Teacher Training Institute. This common experience helps us work together and dedicate ourselves to help our students be successful and to encourage them to do their very best. We are also very fortunate to have a very capable group of resilient students who consistently come to class eager to learn something new and want to flourish.

TC: How does the professional development program compare to other places?
Mr. Dalessandro: There’s no comparison to the professional development that Windward teachers receive. Going through the assistant-teacher program and being able to assist a lead teacher in the classroom were tremendous for my professional growth. The dedication of time and the method by which teachers are trained at The Windward School has made me the educator I am today.

TC: What are some opportunities Windward students have to learn science outside of their classroom curriculum?
Mr. Dalessandro: The School offers clubs and activities on each campus for interested students to engage with science. Each campus has different opportunities including a meteorology club (with its own meteorology station), a computer coding club, an engineering club, an adventures in science after-school program, and a Lego club where they learn about an animal and then build it with Legos. For example, before learning to build a monarch butterfly, students learned about its adaptations, its life-cycle, and its habitat.

TC: Speaking of extra-curricular activities, tell us more about Marchmester.
Mr. Dalessandro: Marchmester started when we went to a two-week spring break period. The idea was to put together a program that would allow students to come to campus to participate in unique extracurricular activities that wouldn't necessarily take place during the course of a normal school day. For example, students can participate in a cooking class, a dance class, additional theater and art activities, and other courses that we aren’t able to fit into the schedule during regular school hours. The students are in a comfortable setting, and they are able to pursue their interest in something new and develop new friendships. It is amazing what they can accomplish in one week!

TC: When you’re not at school, what activities do you enjoy?
Mr. Dalessandro: My wife Rosalie and I have three children, and we all share a love of science. I met my wife when we were both earning our masters degrees. Our son Avery is four and a half, and then we have Aurora (2 ½) and Astrid (six months old). I enjoy swimming and getting outside and investigating nature and animal behavior. I also enjoy hiking, golf, and movies–especially under-the-radar and independent films.

TC: Are there any inspirational words you would like to share?
Mr. Dalessandro: Isaac Newton said, "If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants." What he meant was that everything that he was able to develop or further along was a result of the lessons of the people in the past. I think that directly goes into my experience as an educator and coming to Windward. It also relates to being able to continue to teach in the classroom and collaborate with teachers and learn from their successes. I owe who I am today to the tremendous amount of collaboration within the science department and the fact that the teachers are extremely willing to work together for the good of our students.