Jumpstart began as a direct service program with the goal of breaking the cycle of poverty by helping young children in underserved communities succeed in school. Twenty-five years later, that is still at the heart of what we do. Each year, over 4,000 community and college student volunteers (known as “Jumpstart members”) serve in preschool classrooms across the country using our evidence-based curriculum to help young children develop the language, literacy, and social-emotional skills they need to live up to their potential for success in kindergarten and beyond. Jumpstart members lower the child-to-adult ratio, and become well-loved fixtures in the classroom. And today, our program has grown and adapted to include a variety of formats designed to meet the unique needs of each community we serve, whether that be through traditional school-year service, summer or extended day programs, or through community partnerships.
School-Year Programs: Spotlight on Mississippi
Six years ago, Jumpstart began serving children in Mississippi, with two teams of Jumpstart members made up of college student from the University of Mississippi. Today, the program has grown to 12 teams of members at four universities across the state, with University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, Mississippi University for Women in Columbus, and Delta State University in Cleveland joining “Ole Miss” in Oxford. “Our goal is to continue to grow to all universities in our state, so one day we can have a presence all over Mississippi,” shares Jumpstart Site Manager Angie Caldwell.
One of these local program partners is the McIntosh Blended Center in Okolona, Mississippi. Sherunda Gates, a teacher at McIntosh, appreciates that Jumpstart helps not only the children, but also the teachers. Angie adds, “The teachers at Okolona, they welcome Jumpstart and they love to have Jumpstart in their classrooms. They actually use the literacy activities that we implement in their classrooms even when Jumpstart isn’t there! And the children, they love Jumpstart too. As soon as the volunteers come in the door in their red Jumpstart shirts, the children get so excited. The teachers have told me that they ask every day, ‘Is today Jumpstart? Is today Jumpstart?’”
Angie speaks with great pride about the dedication shown by the members from Ole Miss who serve in Okolona. “These Jumpstart volunteers are very committed to [the McIntosh Blended Center]. They have to get in the university van and drive an hour to serve! Two days a week, they leave here at 7:15 in the morning, drive an hour to Okolona, do their two-hour Jumpstart session, and then drive an hour back…. They have become very invested in Okolona and in preparing and helping these children.”
“Jumpstart has also helped me grow as a person because you have to have a lot of patience working with children! It’s helped me be grateful for the opportunities that I’ve had, and that I’m able to give back in this kind of way.”
One of those dedicated members is Maya Owens, a student at Ole Miss who just finished up her graduate degree in accounting. “All of the kids in that classroom really enjoy learning, and you can tell.” Maya says that one of the things she loves about serving with Jumpstart is that “lightbulb moment” when you can see the children grasp a concept. “At the beginning of the year, we had kids that couldn’t spell their names or couldn’t recognize letters, and now they can. They know the letters and their sounds, and they’re very good with matching letters to words. Just seeing how they’ve grown throughout the school year overall is my favorite thing.” Not only does Maya love seeing the children grow, but she has seen the change in herself as well. “Jumpstart has also helped me grow as a person because you have to have a lot of patience working with children! It’s helped me be grateful for the opportunities that I’ve had, and that I’m able to give back in this kind of way.”
Angie explains that, this year, three of her Jumpstart members have changed their majors to pursue a career in education because of their participation in the program. “Once they get into Jumpstart and understand that there is a need for us to prepare children for kindergarten in Mississippi, and they start seeing the differences they are making — they develop a vested interest in early childhood education and the relationships they form with the children.”
Jumpstart’s relationship with the McIntosh Blended Center is clearly a special one for all involved. “[The teachers] always say, ‘You’ve been here with us from the beginning, and we can see that Jumpstart really makes a difference in our children.’”
Summer: Spotlight on Atlanta
For many, summer doesn’t typically conjure an image of school. Yet summer is when some of the most critical learning can take place for our youngest students. In 2017, Jumpstart began providing summer pre-kindergarten transition programs in Atlanta Public Schools (APS) with our local Community Corps team (older adults from the community who provide the Jumpstart program just as our college-age members do, but with the added element of intergenerational relationship building). In the summer of 2018, Jumpstart began serving a specially selected classroom of children at Cleveland Avenue Elementary School, located in one of the most underserved neighborhoods in Atlanta.
Jumpstart Site Manager Cerrice Dawson explains that, this year, APS sought support to provide a unique summer learning opportunity to children who may have never attended preschool in the past or who needed extra assistance to be ready for success in kindergarten in the fall.
“Some of the children haven’t been to school before,” says Cerrice. “This has been an important transition for them so that kindergarten isn’t so much of a shock.”
Through our summer program at Cleveland Avenue Elementary School, Jumpstart is filling an important gap for children who are entering kindergarten. The Jumpstart Community Corps team has been a great support to both the students and the classroom teacher, Essinita Mathew-Harris. Essinita has been working in early care in Atlanta since 1998 and, after working with the Jumpstart members this summer, has asked the director of her school to bring in the Jumpstart program during the regular school year. Essinita explains, “Jumpstart is an extended family. Jumpstart nurtures the children through their personal and academic difficulties. They need help transitioning from home to a new place and environment. Jumpstart is able to provide structure and nurturing support. And when the children know that they have support beyond their family and regular teacher, it makes a difference.” She not only wants to bring Jumpstart back to her school-year classroom but is also taking a few of the Jumpstart activities and readings back with her to use with her students in the fall.
Over the six weeks of hands-on learning, students have made important gains in social-emotional learning and development. Jumpstart member Ella Hayward recounts, “I thought one child wasn’t listening, and I was having a moment with him about raising his hand. I told him there was a procedure in place and we had to give our other friends a chance. If someone else raises their hand, even after his hand goes up, they might be called on first. Once he understood how to offer his answer in a respectful way, I found out that he was listening. He knew all of the answers to the questions I was asking. He just didn’t know how to participate alongside his classmates.” With this sort of self-awareness and understanding of how to interact in a classroom setting, students will be well-equipped to handle a more formal kindergarten classroom and learn alongside their peers.
Essinita also notes how special it has been having the Community Corps team. “When they experience the love and affection from the older educators it settles them down a whole lot more. Our Jumpstart friends always calm them down,” says Essinita. With extra hands from the Jumpstart team, the ratio of children to adults in the classroom also decreases, providing the students with more one-on-one attention that supports their learning and ability to progress.
“Jumpstart nurtures the children through their personal and academic difficulties. They need help transitioning from home to a new place and environment. Jumpstart is able to provide structure and nurturing support.”
The Jumpstart Community Corps members also see the impact of the program in their own lives. Ella has been serving with Jumpstart for six years and not only finds the program personally rewarding but also wishes it had existed years ago. “At the end of the day, when I know I’m helping someone and I see their progress, it’s a warm and good feeling all over, and I’m ready for the next Jumpstart day. I wish we had had this when my son was growing up — it would have helped him tremendously — but I am so glad they have this program in place now.”
Extended Day: Spotlight on the South Bronx
Jumpstart’s partnership with East Side House, a community-based organization in the South Bronx, began in 2016 with a new summer program for the center’s preschoolers. While this filled a critical gap in summer learning, Dawn Heyward, deputy director of early childhood at East Side House knew there was an even greater need for after-school services, especially for the four-years-olds enrolled in the Universal Pre-Kindergarten (UPK) program whose school day ends at 3pm. Last year, with new after-school funding in place, Jumpstart collaborated with the center to create an extended day program to provide high-quality early education to the center’s students after school hours.
In Jumpstart’s traditional school-year model, Jumpstart members come to the classroom for two hours twice a week over the course of a school year. In the Jumpstart Extended Day program, members visit the classroom four afternoons a week. These members — typically college students pursuing a degree in education or alumni of Jumpstart’s traditional model at other centers — implement the extended day program, adapted from Jumpstart’s evidence-based language, literacy, and social-emotional curriculum, to support the skills that children need to succeed in kindergarten.
Jumpstart’s Senior Manager of New York Partnerships and Strategic Initiatives, Victoria True, has been thrilled to see Jumpstart’s Extended Day program flourish at East Side House. “East Side is special because they’ve let us experiment with new program ideas. The Jumpstart Extended Day program provides higher quality intervention in the center to meet the needs of the classroom, and since the volunteers are there four days a week, they’re really a part of the environment,” says Victoria. In the 2017-2018 program year, Jumpstart Extended Day expanded to serve four classrooms in East Side House centers, and both Victoria and Dawn are excited to see the program continue to grow to six classrooms in Fall 2018.
And the children aren’t the only ones who benefit — the program also offers meaningful learning opportunities for the future educators who are volunteering in the classroom.
“It’s dual service,” says Victoria. “We’re serving and working with the preschoolers, but we’re also developing and building a strong educational workforce and giving them significant experience in the classroom. The East Side staff really appreciate the volunteers; one Jumpstart member was even hired as a teaching assistant.”
Jennifer Genao served as a member first in one of Jumpstart’s summer programs and then in the Jumpstart Extended Day program at East Side House. She had hoped to find a program that aligned with her undergraduate studies in elementary education, and her sister, a Jumpstart alum herself, encouraged Jennifer to serve. “I loved my experience in the classroom,” shares Jennifer. “I learned a lot about being a leader. During my last semester, I had to present a lesson plan to an elementary classroom. I knew some of my peers were nervous, but I overheard my teacher saying, ‘Jennifer’s so confident; she’s such a good reader,’ and I thought, ‘Thank you, Jumpstart!’”
“You can see that the investment in Extended Day services and in our partnership with Jumpstart have yielded a dividend in the preparedness of our students to move on and be successful.”
Dawn explains, “About 90% of our children are English language learners, and we thought about that when designing a program that would meet their needs. We knew that they needed more than just the standard number of hours and level of instruction, and that we needed to support the development of their native language…. I can’t say enough about the partnership in terms of the leadership at Jumpstart and how we’ve created this model together. I think that’s a really unique part of the partnership, that it was the marrying of our two visions to decide what the program was going to look like. You can see that the investment in extended day services and in our partnership with Jumpstart have yielded a dividend in the preparedness of our students to move on and be successful.”
It’s clear that the Jumpstart Extended Day program has made an impact on the East Side House teachers, Jumpstart members, and the preschool children. Dawn notes that when you walk by a classroom, you immediately see the students actively engaged in learning — and that, of course, is the heart of what East Side House and Jumpstart are all about.
Community Partnerships: Spotlight on Boston
Every Tuesday and Thursday, a small group of Jumpstart members, preschool children, and their families come together for dinner at Urban Edge, an affordable housing organization in Boston. Jumpstart members and parents spend time together over a meal, getting to know each other in a way that is almost never possible in a traditional school-day setting. After dinner, the parents — primarily single mothers — go off with a parent educator to have discussions about parenting, including child development, strategies for handling difficult behaviors, and techniques for supporting and nurturing young children. While the moms build their knowledge together and grow their support networks, the children and Jumpstart members are busy too. Jumpstart members spend the time after dinner implementing Jumpstart’s proven curriculum with the children: reading, exploring, and developing the key skills children need to succeed in kindergarten. At the end of the evening, parents join back up with the group and participate in the final Jumpstart activity: Sharing & Goodbye, where children talk about what they learned and enjoyed most during Jumpstart that day.
The program is truly something unique and special. “We’ve really seen both parents and children making progress, and when they can both make progress at the same time, it makes so much more of an impact,” shares Jumpstart Site Manager Kim Monaco, who manages the Urban Edge program. “This last year, there were two brothers in the classroom who displayed a lot of challenging behaviors. A Jumpstart member, Manny, took them under his wing; he started spending more intentional small-group time with them and reading to them two-on-one. These were two boys who initially only responded to yelling, because that was the technique that was most used with them. By the end of the year, their mom told me, ‘The boys are learning how to act, and I’m learning how to reach them.’”
“It’s an incredible way for Jumpstart members to grow, especially those who want to be teachers. They have to take control, set expectations, and figure out how to navigate everything with the children they’re serving.”
For a number of the children participating, this program is their first exposure to a school setting, and so their Jumpstart members — all of whom are community college students or community members — become the children’s first teachers, providing the introduction to their academic career. Kim explains, “It’s an incredible way for Jumpstart members to grow, especially those who want to be teachers. They have to take control, set expectations, and figure out how to navigate everything with the children they’re serving. They become more independent and learn more problem-solving skills because they have to figure out so much on their own.” Valerie, last year’s team leader, is a prime example of this. When she first joined Jumpstart, she was a community member just looking for a way to volunteer in her neighborhood; after participating in the Urban Edge program at Jumpstart, she has decided to go back to school for her master’s in early childhood education.
Through this multi-faceted collaboration with two long-standing local organizations, Jumpstart has found a new way to help communities thrive by supporting the development of strong, successful children and families.
As Jumpstart grows, reaching more children across the country through our direct service programming each year, we must continuously evolve to ensure that we are meeting the needs of each community we serve. However, through each of our different approaches to direct service — school-year, summer, extended day, and community partnerships — there is a constant thread: our vision of the day when every child in America enters kindergarten prepared to succeed.