Impacting a Child’s Success

Psychology master’s student Katrina Gagliano helps research developmental interventions for young children and applies them to the classroom.

by Laura Powers

Impacting a Child’s Success

While working as a nanny for a set of twin babies, Katrina Gagliano remembers when they began noticing their surroundings and reacting to human interactions. She became deeply interested in the developmental processes of children and decided to pursue a degree in psychology. Today, she works with children on their development daily and has her master’s degree all but in hand.

Gagliano is a master’s student in the Applied Developmental Psychology Program, and works as an independent contractor for the AppleTree Institute for Education Innovation, an organization dedicated to supporting the development of children in the Washington, D.C., area before they reach kindergarten. She started working there for her program’s practicum in summer 2017 and was hired shortly after completion. With a long-term goal to close the achievement gap between students based on socioeconomic status, Gagliano’s work focuses on research in early childhood education and the application of that research within the curriculum of community-based early childcare centers around Washington, D.C.

Part of her position requires her to travel to these centers and assess students’ development throughout the school year, as well as the overall classroom environment, in order to provide early childcare teachers with data tailored to their classrooms’ needs. Preschool and pre-K teachers then use the assessment data, along with additional informational resources, to inform their curriculum and provide more individualized instruction for helping kids reach kindergarten well prepared. Gagliano says that this experience has made a powerful impact on her, as she sees the research she helped to collect put into action.

“I’m happy to be working with a place that is evidence-based,” she says. “I’m really excited to be able to take what I know and help teachers make the most of their kids’ earliest education experiences.”

Graduating in May 2018, she will join her father as one of the many Mason alumni making an impact in their community. Inspired to look at Mason on her father’s suggestion, she was excited by the research happening in Mason’s psychology department and the experience of its faculty. She says that the size of the program is ideal for a high level of support and is grateful to the professors who have guided her toward a number of experiential opportunities.

In additional to her full course load and work at the AppleTree Institute, Gagliano works part-time at Autism Outreach Inc., a company in Sterling, Va., that provides applied behavior analysis therapy for children with autism and other developmental disorders. She works as a behavior therapist to do both in-home and center-based sessions, using mainly play-based programs to teach children social norms like taking turns and making eye contact.

Gagliano says that it’s important for families with special needs kids to have therapists who know how to recognize the needs of their children, analyze behavior data to support those needs in program planning, and relay that information back to teachers and parents.

After graduation, she plans to continue using developmental research in working with young children, either as a specialist in a center that supports young students who need assistance catching up to their peers academically, or in a research setting aimed at improving local early childcare programs.

“I feel I’m a good bridge between the research world and the applied world,” she says. “Because I have on-the-ground family, parent, and childcare experience, plus my academic studies and research background, I think I’m going to be able to make a big difference in our communities.”