Psychology grad earns national award

By Heather Fiore

Although some psychologists may seem to overcomplicate things, chatting with John Lestino will certainly open one’s eyes to a simplified version of such widespread confusion.

Lestino, a 1982 graduate of Rider, was recently named School Psychologist of the Year, a hard-earned achievement, by the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP).

“I won ‘the biggie,’ as we say in the book,” he said.

Although Lestino had been nominated for this award before — eight years ago — he wasn’t disappointed when he didn’t win.

“When I was first nominated, I was really excited, and this year, when I was nominated again, it wasn’t about winning,” he said. “I was happy that people recognized the work I was doing, despite [whether] I won or not. However, when I got the award, it afforded me the opportunity to write people and thank them.”

Though Lestino’s name is on the award, he carries a heightened sense of gratitude toward others.

“I am a very fortunate person,” he said. “I have worked with some amazing people and have been blessed to have people want to share their insights with me on how to help [others].”

Behind the award lies a unique, intriguing and intellectual person, who might boggle your mind with his seemingly endless spectrum of vocabulary. Lestino’s technical title is MA, LPC, Edgewater Park School District, in Edgewater, N.J.

He specializes in counseling young people with mental and behavioral problems, such as Attention Deficit Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. The three major tracks that he speaks and teaches about are how to deal with autism, how to view learning disabilities and how to improve mental health in schools.

“They get me and I get them,” Lestino said of his students. “It’s like we’re a team; I know I’m a great player, but I’m part of a great team.”

Lestino also strives to fight the stigma associated with mental illness and to help those in need. He has done statewide training for crisis and suicide prevention, and he is particularly proud of his national presentation on bully prevention.

“I introduced other states to New Jersey’s program, N.J. Cares,” Lestino said. “[We try] to spread news that bullying is not to be tolerated in New Jersey and that all of our kids deserve a safe, bully-free environment.”

Lestino’s desire to personally interact with his patients and the people he encounters is what makes his work especially meaningful.

“I really endeavor to work with teachers, parents and children as directly as possible,” he said. “I support and challenge youngsters to be motivated to do more.”

Because Lestino is motivated by hope, cooperation and optimism, he was not shy about suggesting that “life-affirming” emotions are not to be masked.

“It is absolutely essential that psychology workers understand that,” Lestino said.

Not only is Lestino’s accomplishment a personal feat, it is a reflection of Rider as well.

“The award that John Lestino received is a national one, so it is especially prestigious,” said Dr. Carol Brown, associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts, Education and Sciences. “There are many programs that are larger than ours and graduate more students each year, so we are especially proud that John has won this award.”

Dr. Stefan Dombrowski, professor of psychology and coordinator of the School Psychology Program, cites the correlation of Lestino’s award with the accreditation of the university as particularly significant.

“The coincidental feature of this award is that it occurred at about the same time the university attained prestigious NASP accreditation,” Dombrowski said. “Thus, John’s award and the attaining of NASP accreditation by Rider really put Rider on the map in 2008.”

With years of experience, several awards and many accomplishments, Lestino has come to realize that “we all have kinks in the armor,” but knows that “there are ways that we can accomplish things and enjoy lots of things despite our issues.”

After all of Lestino’s hard work and dedication to his field of school psychology, he made sure not to forget an important part of his learning experiences.

“I would really like to thank Rider for everything,” he said.

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