“It has always been about the mission. It has always been about making real change happen for children and for families.”
Throughout 2019, in honor of Jumpstart’s 25th Anniversary, we will be highlighting 25 Faces of Jumpstart. This campaign celebrates the wide variety of people who have played a major role in Jumpstart’s history — our founders, volunteers from Jumpstart’s past, Jumpstart children and their families, influential donors and supporters, and more. We cannot wait to share their stories with you — how they helped shape and grow Jumpstart into what it is today, the impact that Jumpstart has had on their own lives, and their vision for the next 25 years of Jumpstart.
When they were in college, Aaron Lieberman, Rebecca Weintraub, Jordan Meranus, and David Carmel met working at Ramapo Anchorage Camp, a residential summer camp in upstate New York that serves children who are experiencing social, emotional, or learning challenges. What started out as just a summer job grew to become much more. Aaron, Rebecca, Jordan, and David started to notice the dramatic impact that tailored, one-on-one attention and support was having on their young campers, even after just a few short weeks. An idea started to form.
“The idea for Jumpstart really emerged from Ramapo, and a belief that we could replicate much of what was powerful about Ramapo but in children’s own communities, with their families and teachers, over a much longer period of time,” explains Jordan. “For me, I was inspired by the opportunity to build something with a passionate group of entrepreneurs that had the potential for deep impact on the lives of vulnerable children.”
They began to ask themselves, what if there were a way to increase the ratio of caring teachers to students — to bring more passionate, supportive, and focused adults into classrooms so that each child had a higher chance of receiving the dedicated support they would need to succeed? With that, Jumpstart was born.
The type of individualized interactions that Ramapo enabled were clearly an effective tool to help children access their full potential. But in a packed urban classroom with just one or two teachers and aides, how was that even possible? Rebecca recalls, “The power of an individual — being able to engage with a preschooler one-to-one, to observe that change every day and the improvements in their social-emotional health, their numeracy and literacy. I remember saying out loud, ‘How do we make that magic happen all year round?’” They began to ask themselves, what if there were a way to increase the ratio of caring teachers to students — to bring more passionate, supportive, and focused adults into classrooms so that each child had a higher chance of receiving the dedicated support they would need to succeed? With that, Jumpstart was born.
In the fall, Aaron and Rebecca returned to Yale. They reached out to Edward Zigler — a faculty member at Yale who also happened to be one of the creators of the federal Head Start program — seeking guidance and mentorship for their newfound project. He readily signed on and immediately offered to help design an evaluation plan for Jumpstart, which he saw as a key ingredient for the program’s success. Thanks in large part to Zigler’s initial emphasis on evaluation, Aaron notes, “A culture of performance measurement was put in place early at Jumpstart and it’s been evolving ever since.”
With Zigler’s support, Aaron and Rebecca received the unanimous blessing of the New Haven Board of Education and began seeking pilot sites to test their idea. As an unknown college student, Aaron remembers this being an extremely challenging hurdle. “I must have made 50 phone calls trying to get in the door and don’t remember a single one being returned. Finally, I got the Director of the New Haven Head Start on the phone and she said, without great enthusiasm, that she would meet with me.” Luckily, once she had heard them out, she was convinced. There was definitely a need at her center, and she was ready to let them give their program a try.
Now all they had to find was a group of volunteers to help bring their vision into reality. Unsure of the kind of response they would receive, Aaron and Rebecca posted a sign-up sheet on campus in the fall of 1993, and, to their great surprise, over eighty people added their names. Aaron and Rebecca were thrilled. “[There was] all this interest and demand and energy across this campus to participate in early childhood.” Fifteen volunteers were selected, and, in early 1994, they began serving fifteen partner preschoolers at a local Head Start — the first class of Jumpstart children.
After the first pilot program wrapped up, the teaching staff at the New Haven Head Start reported that 100% of the children participating in the Jumpstart program improved in both classroom behavior and skill level.
That first year, Jumpstart volunteers worked one-on-one with their assigned children, reinforcing key academic and social skills all children need to succeed. They spent time with the children’s teachers and met with families to provide an integrated effort to support the children in their growth and skill-development. After the first pilot program wrapped up, the teaching staff at the New Haven Head Start reported that 100% of the children participating in the Jumpstart program improved in both classroom behavior and skill level.
After the success of that first year, things quickly began to fall into place. In Jumpstart’s second year, Jordan and David opened a new site: Jumpstart Boston. Between the two locations, Jumpstart more than doubled in size — the program was now engaging 50 volunteers to serve children in Massachusetts and Connecticut. The organization continued to grow — by 1996, Jumpstart had doubled again to 100 volunteers serving 100 children. The following year, programming expanded to New York City and Washington, DC, with 250 volunteers. “Because of our naivete, we weren’t deterred by how difficult it would be to start a national organization,” recalls David. “That sense of fearlessness about doing something hard has stuck with me.”
As new early education research has emerged, Jumpstart’s approach has continuously evolved, but its guiding principles have remained fixed — reach children early; give them individualized attention based on the most current, evidence-based practices; and measure performance to ensure an effective, high-quality program for all.
Thanks to Aaron, Rebecca, Jordan, and David’s fearlessness, over the last 25 years, Jumpstart has grown from a small pilot program serving 15 children at one Head Start center to a leading national organization that serves 15,000 children every year from underserved communities in 14 states across the country and Washington, DC. Each year, Jumpstart engages 4,150 volunteers from coast to coast to help deliver its proven language, literacy, and social-emotional skill-building curriculum. As new early education research has emerged, Jumpstart’s approach has continuously evolved, but its guiding principles have remained fixed — reach children early; give them individualized attention based on the most current, evidence-based practices; and measure performance to ensure an effective, high-quality program for all.
Today, Jumpstart’s four founders continue to create positive change in a variety of ways in their own communities. Jordan Meranus is the CEO and Co-Founder of Ellevation, a software company focused on English language learners and the educators that serve them. Previously, he served as a partner at NewSchools Venture Fund, an investment firm that helps entrepreneurs develop innovative organizations that help address some of the most intractable challenges in public education, and a Managing Director at Imagitas, where he launched an e-government business to help federal agencies provide better services to citizens.
David Carmel works as the Vice President for Strategic Alliances at Atara Biotherapeutics, a company developing novel treatments for patients with cancer, autoimmune and viral diseases. He is a founding board member of the New York Stem Cell Foundation, a member of the New York State Spinal Cord Injury Research Board, and a Henry Crown Fellow of the Aspen Institute. He was appointed by Governor Cuomo to the New York State Life Science Advisory Board.
Dr. Rebecca Weintraub is an Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School and a Senior Institute Associate at Harvard Business School’s Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness. Rebecca practices internal medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. She was selected as a member of the New England Journal of Medicine’s Perspectives Advisory Board and honored as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. Rebecca is currently a Health Innovators Fellow at the Aspen Institute.
After serving as Jumpstart’s founding CEO for seven years, Aaron Lieberman founded Acelero Learning in 2002, a company focused on closing the achievement gap for Head Start children and families. In 2015, he returned home to Arizona to serve as the CEO of Phoenix Spine. Shortly after, he joined New Profit, a pioneering venture-philanthropy firm, as a part-time Partner leading the firm’s early childhood work. In 2018, Aaron ran for and won a seat in the Arizona State House, representing the district where he grew up and now lives with his family.
“I continue to believe that intervening early with children and families from low-income communities is one of the best ways to ensure that we have a fairer and freer country.”
Reflecting on Jumpstart’s last 25 years, Jordan shares that he is inspired by the exponential impact Jumpstart has and continues to have. “The idea that there are tens of thousands of changemakers all across the country — children, young adults, policymakers, and supporters — that have a shared experience with Jumpstart is extraordinary.” David agrees. “I continue to believe that intervening early with children and families from low-income communities is one of the best ways to ensure that we have a fairer and freer country.” In the next 25 years, he has his eye on growth, “expanding to serve more children and families.”
Looking forward, Rebecca sees big things for Jumpstart too. “I view Jumpstart as an accelerator in many ways. I suspect Jumpstart will look quite different in 25 years than what it is now. I think we will look back and be able to say Jumpstart accelerated, elevated, and promoted gains in early childhood, because we were so dedicated to preparing every child to enter kindergarten ready to learn.”
No matter what the future holds in the next 25 years, Jumpstart will be driven by an unwavering focus on continuous improvement and how to serve more children more effectively. As Aaron told an interviewer early on in his tenure as Jumpstart’s first CEO, “We are never satisfied that we have it right. Our commitment is to always capture and use knowledge to better serve our students.” Today, Rebecca notes, Jumpstart’s goal is still to deepen and strengthen its impact, “inspiring and bringing capacities to local communities, early childhood educators, and the whole field, with the energy of young people.”
Ultimately, says Aaron, “it has always been about the mission. It has always been about making real change happen for children and for families. If Jumpstart can continue its growth and expansion, then it can do that at a level that brings us closer to achieving the mission — every child being prepared to succeed.”
Some quotes have been edited and condensed for length and clarity.