Alumni Spotlight: Maya Le Espiritu

Our alumni spotlight series highlights stories from former Jumpstart Corps members as they reflect on their time with Jumpstart and discuss how the experience has served them in their current careers. Do you have a story to share? Want to make sure that you don’t miss any important stories or news for alumni? Join the Jumpstart Alumni Network to connect with fellow alum, stay connected to Jumpstart, and find new ways to stay involved in early education.

For this month’s Alumni Spotlight, Jumpstart’s Senior Manager of Strategic Partnerships & Programming Maria Monarrez interviewed Maya Le Espiritu, Jumpstart Corps Member from 2013 to 2016 at Pitzer College in Southern California.

Have you always been interested in education?

I was always interested in working with children, but I was never sure in what capacity. In high school, I tutored and I also coached five- and six-year-olds playing soccer. I’ve always been around young children, and love watching and playing with them. When I started undergrad at Scripps College in Claremont in California, I knew I wanted to work with kids in some way, but I wasn’t sure how. I actually went in thinking I’d be a pediatrician and studied that for my first year. I didn’t like chemistry or science, but I ended up taking a child development class my sophomore year and really enjoyed that. After seeing the Jumpstart table at job fairs, I signed up. Once I joined, my favorite parts of the Jumpstart program were reading stories to the children, small group time, and conducting different center activities like drama and art. I appreciated that we brought different elements into their day. Jumpstart really got me interested in education, and it was because of Jumpstart and all of my child development classes that I decided to change from a pre-med to psych major with a focus in child development and an intention to go into education.

How did you first hear about Jumpstart?

I remember being really interested in Jumpstart my freshman year, but not being able to make the time commitment. But my sophomore year, I remembered seeing Jumpstart again and decided this was my year. I had just taken the child development class, and I wanted to go for it!  At the same time, I was taking a course where we interned at a preschool on campus. I saw Jumpstart as a great way to be in the classroom and see how I liked working with kids one-on-one because I had never had classroom experience before. My site manager, Jenessa, was amazing, and got me excited to work with the children and with the school. Jumpstart’s training and workshops went into such detail about how to read with children and many other aspects of education that I never really thought about. In my senior year, and third year at Jumpstart, I was a team leader. Being a team leader was a different experience from being a Corps member because I had to find ways to make lessons as engaging as possible to capture the attention of 16 preschoolers.

What type of work did you do between graduating from school and your current position?

After graduation, I took a year off and worked as a behavioral therapist for children on the spectrum and taught developmental drama in elementary schools. I think Jumpstart really helped me prepare for those jobs through the background experience of working in a classroom and “playing pretend” with the children. I spent a year doing this before applying to grad school to get my Master of Education and fulfill my teaching credential to teach elementary school. This past August, I started a blog and YouTube channel called My Storybook where I create interactive read-aloud videos. All of this was really influenced by Jumpstart and how they taught me how to read, ask questions, and incorporate vocabulary throughout a story. I’ve gotten a lot of great feedback in a short time, and I just received a $10,000 grant to create read-aloud videos to help teach refugee students English.

I also don’t want children to miss out on the arts and creativity, because if you can inspire that creativity and curiosity, then I think you can make children life-long learners.

What do you see as the most pressing challenges and needs in the field of early education in your area right now?

I know there’s a lot of focus on math and English, and that includes reading. However, I don’t want children to miss out on the arts and creativity, because if you can inspire that creativity and curiosity, then I think you can make children life-long learners. You can make reading exciting by incorporating ways for children to express themselves through art, and I think that’s what really gets them interested and excited about learning.

Do you have any stand-out memories with particular children during your service with Jumpstart?

In my last year, I remember a child who came in a few weeks after session began. She was sad when her mom left and had a hard time integrating into the classroom atmosphere and engaging in the activities. Eventually, the songs she learned from Jumpstart and the individualized attention she received really helped her. She was always so excited when Jumpstart arrived! I enjoyed seeing her participate in all the songs and activities, and really blossom and grow out of her tiny shell.

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

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