Meet Grace’s New Learning Specialist: Ms. Allyson Cerino

Media provided by Gazette Media Staff.

Before she started as the new learning specialist at the high school a month into the school year, Ms. Allyson Cerino worked many jobs at various schools. Tasked with aiding and advising students with various learning challenges, Ms. Cerino strives to provide students with accommodations that help to develop their skill sets and maximize their potential as students.  

Before landing on her current profession, Ms. Cerino was an avid dancer, attending the Alvin Ailey Dance School in her late teens and, continuing her passion for the arts, went on to study interior and commercial design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. After graduating, she worked for high-end commercials and residential design companies designing mosaics and detail-oriented floors for houses along with other interior designs. In addition, she established a private design company where she consulted with clients on home and commercial design projects and she hired architecture students to assist with larger projects. 

It’s safe to say that Ms. Cerino has many creative interests,  however, she has always expressed deep interest in brain development, specifically honing in on how people process information differently. This is why she decided to pursue becoming a learning specialist. 

Ms. Cerino pursued two Masters of Education to become qualified for the position. She has a masters in science education and childhood education from Long Island University/CW Post. Earning the masters in childhood education, she said, helped her “develop the skills she needed to become a better educator.” She also noted that her Masters in Science improved her ability to “individualize students’ instruction and strategic compensatory interventions to better suit students with different styles and learning challenges.” After receiving both advanced degrees, Ms. Cerino soon secured a learning specialist position at The Fieldston School in the Bronx. 

Grace Church School follows the Universal Design for Learning Framework (UDL), providing each student with time and a half for all formal assessments. This program, Ms. Cerino explained, intends to support all student learning types.  At other institutions, students who normally receive time and a half might need to have undergone neuro physical evaluations that determine the extent of accommodations. However, Ms. Cerino feels the UDL framework benefits students who are unable or unwilling to get evaluations done. The program considers all external and internal factors that can potentially affect a student’s learning abilities, creating an inclusive program that benefits the learning styles of most students. 

There are two parts to Ms. Cerino’s work: developing student learning profiles from neurophysiological evaluations that a psychologist has completed with a student and, also, lending support to students who have special requirements. These aspects require her to work closely with psychologists, students, parents, teachers, and administrators. Developing a neurophysiological evaluation takes place when Ms. Cerino takes the work — numerous tests assessing how one’s brain skills function — that a psychologist has done with a student and then determines what accommodations would best suit the individual.  

In addition to providing the learning specialist with a Neuropsychological Educational, a student may have an Individual Education Plan (IEP). Both provide helpful information for creating a school learning profile. In addition, Ms. Cerino also helps individuals obtain necessary testing accommodations, not only in the classroom, but with standardized testing accommodations, most prominently for the College Board ACT and SAT exams. This is important to make sure that every student can thrive in school despite certain challenges they may face. 

The second part of Ms. Cerino’s work is where the application of these accommodations comes into play. Some skills where Ms. Cerino works with students include organizing workload, self-advocating, and communicating effectively with teachers. All these skills, Ms. Cerino asserts, are “extremely important” for students in an academic environment, but are equally, if not more, important beyond the classroom. These skills can be helpful down the road in the workplace as general problem solving, staying positive, and planning for the future are all practical, life-long skills. Ms. Cerino hopes to help students foster skill sets that are useful beyond high school, and in personal and professional life as well.  

One of the most demanding aspects of Ms. Cerino’s job is the critical amount of time she spends communicating with parents, guardians, and teachers. This may sometimes present challenges when families have different ideas of what a student’s accommodations should include. In addition to this, some teachers may find it difficult to implement the accommodations and adjustments, but Ms. Cerino remains confident that a balanced approach can always be agreed upon. 

Yet, like with any profession, along with the challenges, there are many rewarding aspects. Ms. Cerino commented that one of the most rewarding elements of her job was, simply put, “helping a student find how they learn best, how they can make big strides in their learning, and in finding strategies that are successful for them.”

 Despite an initial challenging period of acclimation, Ms. Cerino is deeply enjoying being a part of the Grace community. Ms. Cerino is “delighted to see the strong support for students” and says it has been “a pleasure to meet the community and faculty as well as the parents”.