“I wouldn’t be the teacher I am today, or probably a teacher at all, if it weren’t for Jumpstart.”
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.
Patrick Romero’s decision to join Jumpstart in 2002, during his freshman year at Tufts University in Boston, was pretty simple. His work-study options seemed to be either “file papers or play with children.” With that choice in front of him, Patrick opted to join Jumpstart—little did he know what an impact that decision would have on the rest of his life.
After his first year serving with Jumpstart, Patrick signed on to serve again over the summer of 2003. It was then that he met Irvan. Irvan was coping with a difficult family situation and the Jumpstart classroom became his refuge. Despite the challenges at home, Irvan always entered the classroom singing or humming a tune with a smile on his face. Irvan’s lead teacher Jen impressed upon Patrick how important it was that he was serving as a consistent, supportive, affirming figure in Irvan’s life.
In the fall, Patrick returned to Jumpstart specifically to continue working with Irvan. Patrick used Irvan’s love of music to better connect with him and grow their relationship. The two became so close that they developed a special communication of their own, including a secret sign to show they loved each other. That way, even if they were across the room from one another, they could catch each other’s eye and flash their secret sign as a reminder to them both.
At the end of the year, Patrick received a gift from Irvan, a handmade clock with a picture of them hugging that read, “Thank you Pat for being my friend; I will miss you!” Patrick was struck by how much he would in fact miss Irvan.
“That was when I realized that our early life experiences can build not only the skills needed for success in school, but also the resilience needed for success in life.”
It felt like a great moment of serendipity when, two years later, their paths unexpectedly crossed again. Patrick was surprisingly nervous. Would Irvan remember him? What would they talk about? But as soon as they saw each other, Irvan ran to Patrick and gave him a big hug. Not only did he remember Patrick well, he also remembered the songs they’d sung and even some books they’d read together. When it was time to leave, Irvan boarded the bus and the two waved goodbye to each other through the window. Then, Irvan raised his hand and made the sign they used to use from across the room — I love you.
“That was the moment I knew I would make working with young children my profession. That was when I realized that our early life experiences can build not only the skills needed for success in school, but also the resilience needed for success in life,” said Patrick.
After graduating in 2006, Patrick accepted a Jumpstart Pearson Teacher Fellowship to continue working in underserved communities. The fellowship supported him during his first hard years of teaching when he was working with children experiencing homelessness by connecting him to a larger community of educators and grounding him in Jumpstart’s play-based, relationship-focused values. “I wouldn’t be the teacher I am today, or probably a teacher at all, if it weren’t for Jumpstart.”
After teaching in a variety of classroom settings for more than 10 years, Patrick realized he wanted to share his experience and expertise with the next generation of future teachers. He began mentoring early education students — including Jumpstart members! Patrick’s advocacy for early education and early educators has only continued to grow: he is currently serving as a board member for both the California Association for the Education of Young Children and Early Care Educators of San Francisco, where he is dedicated to recognizing educator expertise and to amplifying their united voice so that teachers are equitably included in San Francisco’s early learning system. In 2017, he was honored with the Leader of Men and Children Award from NAEYC’s Men in Education Network Interest Forum.
In his current position as an education coach with Mission Neighborhood Centers, Inc., Patrick works with more than 50 teachers to nurture their passion for uncovering the unique strengths of each child. His focus is on encouraging the skills, knowledge, and dispositions teachers need to ensure that all children and families have the tools to succeed in preschool, kindergarten, and beyond.
Patrick’s journey from Jumpstart college student volunteer to early education advocate, teacher, and community leader exemplifies the role Jumpstart seeks to play in the lives of every college student involved in the program. As Patrick puts it, “Jumpstart gives passionate college students the opportunity to work with young children and make a difference in their lives.” The benefits are great on both sides: “The children get a little more support on their journey to kindergarten readiness, and some of those college students become early childhood educators, which needs more professionals imbued with the Jumpstart spirit.”
Since 1993, more than 50,000 college students have served with Jumpstart, and today, their experiences—like Patrick’s—are shaping the organization’s direction for the next 25 years.
Some quotes have been edited and condensed for length and clarity.