Dyson Combines Teaching, Play with Andretta Fellowship

Jake Dyson stands in front of a school wearing a JumpStart program t-shirt
Jake Dyson (C'19) is conducting a research project as part of the David F. Andretta Fellowship at the JumpStart program where he tutors preschool-age children. (Photo: Kuna Malik Hamad/Georgetown College)

August 10, 2018 — For Jake Dyson (C’19), a healthy dose of play is all in a day’s work.

This summer, the Center for Social Justice Research, Teaching and Service (CSJ) awarded the junior government major its annual David F. Andretta Summer Research Fellowship, which he is using to conduct a qualitative research project on the role of play in childhood education. He is conducting this research while teaching preschool-age children at the JumpStart program in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, D.C.

CREATIVE TEACHING

Play as an academic interest comes naturally to Dyson. A native of Rochester, N.Y., he worked in high school as a tour guide at the Strong National Museum of Play, where his father also works as vice president for exhibits.

“My father worked at the Play Museum, and I’m the oldest of 3 siblings in a neighborhood full of kids,” Dyson said. “I think play was something I was familiar with already, and it’s developed over time as an academic interest.”

An avid fan of Aaron Sorkin’s long-running TV show The West Wing, Dyson originally sought out Georgetown because fictional presidential daughter Zoe Bartlet attended school here during her father’s administration. Once he visited the real thing, he was sold.

“I got in, and I visited during GAAP weekend, Dyson said. “It was the most halcyon weekend you could imagine — the cherry blossoms out and the Potomac looking great — and I just fell in love with the school and the town as a whole,” Dyson said.

Dyson thrived on the Hilltop, joining the Carroll Fellows Program and eventually rising to become editor-in-chief of Utraque Unum, the student research journal affiliated with the Tocqueville Forum for Political Understanding.

But it was at the CSJ that Dyson kept alive his passion for integrating play and education. He originally found the DC Reads program while looking for a work-study job; before long, he was a deeply invested coordinator for kindergarten and first-grade tutoring.

“The minute I got into the classroom I knew this was something I wanted to stick with,” Dyson said. “I loved figuring out creative ways to teach — what makes the kids learn well? What helps pique their interest? Am I doing a good job getting to know these kids and helping them succeed?” Dyson said.

EMPOWERING STUDENTS

CSJ staff took notice of Dyson’s leadership and encouraged him to apply for the Andretta Fellowship, awarded annually since 2012 to a rising senior to conduct research on a social justice issue during the summer.

For the Andretta Fellowship project, Dyson incorporated his work with the Jumpstart Summer Program — also facilitated by the CSJ — into his research. Through focus groups, interviews, and observational data, Dyson aims to publish a report on the ways play can be incorporated into the classroom.

“Everyone on the committee liked the creativity and engagement level of this project,” said Dr. Jennifer Rosales, Director of Research and Evaluation at the CSJ. “Jake would both be participating as an educator — really getting to know the students — at the same time that he’d be studying them.”

Dyson hopes that observing how students choose to play will help him develop best practices for teachers that incorporate games and entertainment into early childhood education in productive ways.

“I’m looking at the way play can be used as a pedagogical tool, empowering students to express themselves in the classroom,” Dyson said. “It’s such multifaceted thing — it can be purely therapeutic, but also didactic. How can we incorporate the ways children play into the skills and concepts we’re trying to teach?”

THE ADVENTUROUS SOUL

The Andretta Explorer Fund, which provides funding for the fellowship, was established by the Andretta family in memory of their son David (C’99 M’04), who died in a tragic rock climbing accident in 2007.

“David’s parents, brother and I spent a lot of time talking about the best way to honor his life, and three main themes kept coming up — his commitment to social justice, his aptitude for problem solving and his love of exploration,” said Melissa Andretta (B’99), David’s wife.

Each year, a committee selects one rising senior who presents a clearly defined research proposal that serves to advance social justice, engages local cultures and peoples, incorporates outdoor activity, and is conducted with the intention of publication.

Dysons’ project reflects many of the values that the Andretta family envisioned their fellowship funding.

“That’s very much the type of person Dave was, in a way,” Melissa Andretta said. “He did a lot of tutoring in D.C. schools and summer programs. He also saw a lot of value in play — he was quite the adventurous soul.”

— Patrick Curran