Catching up With Andrea

In 2013, my life forever changed when I was diagnosed with autism. Learning this at 18 years of age was the hardest thing I have ever had to come to terms with. I had always felt different and struggled with socializing, but never knew why. During my last semester of community college, I was earning a D average and struggling with an abusive relationship.

With a lot of hard work, and better understanding of the numerous personal and academic struggles I faced growing up, I was able to transfer to UC Berkeley. It was still difficult making sense of this new label I wore and thinking about the world of opportunity that might pass by. 

Over time, I found more ways to work with my condition. I ultimately gained a better sense of identity and purpose when I began working with children as a Corps member in the Jumpstart program at UC Berkeley.  Because of Jumpstart, I found a passion, and the positive energy I gained through this passion filled all aspects of my life. This passion was meant to be my future. The responsibilities and opportunities Jumpstart has given me has made me realize that teaching isn’t just what I’m best at, but what brings out the best in me.

My students have taught me more about resilience, growth, and the power of potential than any class I’ve taken.

Jumpstart Corps members ensure that every child succeeds in kindergarten and beyond. I worked with students in Oakland’s Chinatown, supporting preschoolers who were English language learners. Though the cause of their academic challenges may have been different from mine, I saw myself in them. I could compare their struggles to my own.

My youngest partner child, William, communicated more through tantrums than words. It was his first time in school, and frustrated by his confusion and inability to communicate his needs, William did not interact much with the other children or his teachers throughout the day. This made it difficult for William to make academic progress and make friends.

I wanted William to love learning.  I became more interactive in the way I read session books by making props and doing gestures that he and my other partner children could do along with me. My team and I gave him individualized attention in Center Time and Circle Time to help him take charge of his own learning.  Now, he loves buying groceries at dramatic play, building magnet castles, and being a friend to his classmates all around. Lately, he’s even been stuffing me with pretend pizza and ice cream, and I have no choice but to sit there and eat it. I think he’ll be a great chef one day.

Preschool children are getting ready to make the world their own. They ask inquisitive questions every day. They love to pretend and dress up. And they enjoy moving and dancing to songs. Our class favorite is “Looby Loo”!

Even during the craziest of weeks, I never leave a session without feeling like I’ve had a great start to my day. The highlight is when the children show me their work with pride and I get to tell their families how well they’re doing. I didn’t know it was possible to believe in children as much as I believe in William and our other Jumpstart children.

And as much as we teach our Jumpstart partner children, it’s just as important to recognize what they teach us. My students have taught me more about resilience, growth, and the power of potential than any class I’ve taken.

I can think of very few other pursuits that include as much joy and purpose as having kids hug you at the knees every time you have to say goodbye for the day or having your fridge plastered in crayon scribbles. Having that kind of light in my life has solidified my career path in the field of education and made me realize what kind of an adult I want to be.

As an adult, I’ve been able to make the rest of my life the best of my life.  I have a lot of abilities for someone who is “disabled”. These days, I’m attending a world-famous university and maintaining a 3.4 GPA, living independently, working two jobs, finishing my major, and even getting better at making new friends and socializing. These are some very fundamental aspects of one’s life that many might take for granted, but those of us with learning disabilities have to work harder for.

Even during the craziest of weeks, I never leave a session without feeling like I’ve had a great start to my day.

My goal is to give back and help children with special needs be able to live like I now do. With Jumpstart I have already been able to achieve this goal by helping our partner children overcome their own barriers – socioeconomic, language, learning abilities and more – because every child deserves to have a difference made in his or her life through access to quality education, and every child also deserves to have a chance at making a difference in this world.

As much as being diagnosed with autism has changed my life, working with children and becoming a leader in the classroom and community through Jumpstart has changed it even more for the better. I will graduate from Cal this December, teach English in Cambodia with Language Corps next year, and plan to start a special education credential in Fall of 2016. Regardless of background, our partner children will blossom as much as we invest in them. Seeing that in the children I work with in Jumpstart has made my life as a special learner come to a full circle.

Together, we can help all children build the key language and literacy skills they need to take on the world.

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