Jumpstart Spotlight on Success (Miriam Kae)

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Jumpstart Spotlight on Success

by Miriam Kae

“Lia wrote an ‘A’ today,” I tell my roommate right after a Jumpstart session one Tuesday afternoon. I haven’t yet taken off my red Jumpstart shirt or the purple marker Lia scribbled on my arms, and my mind is still replaying the moment. “It was her first time,” I add silently. It feels too special to share aloud.
I can’t risk my roommate not getting it. I can’t describe the feeling as Lia’s chubby fingers curled around the marker and made two diagonal lines connected by a short horizontal line. The joy and exhaustion, the play and practice, that led to that milestone.
For months, she pushed me to decipher her silent facial expressions and find new ways to make her feel understood, and successful. In return, I pushed her to keep trying, over and over again.
I go to bed that night feeling warm.
I did Jumpstart during all four years of college. In my first months at Pomona—based on my babysitting experiences and proclivity for making faces at little ones in the grocery store—I already knew I loved kids. But there was so much I didn’t know. At a job fair, one conversation with my future Jumpstart Site Manager pushed me out of my comfort zone and into applying for a position that changed my life. It was the first time I heard the words “achievement” and “gap” together. Six years later, from my desk at Teach For America, I work every day to render the phrase meaningless.

That initial conversation with my Site Manager was just the first of constant pushes. There were paradigm-shifting pushes: reading about the realities of low-income communities, and then seeing my kids waking up crying from naps, reliving past traumas. Realizing the glaring differences between my childhood reality and my partner children’s. Feeling it in my gut.
And tactful pushes as a Jumpstart Team Leader: “Try it like this next time.”
There were the more painful pushes: correcting friends and new Corps members about our partner preschool. Yes, poverty is a real thing. Yes, their parents do care. No, laziness is not the reason that he is struggling to count to 10. Yes, she is indeed capable of spelling her first, middle, and last name. Yes, he did correctly identify that chickens come from eggs but cows do not. Yes, our kids can do it. Yes.
And then there were joyful pushes. Singing loudly, my voice exposed. Dancing to get our wiggles out, my awkwardness exposed. Helping Lia write her first “A,” my impact exposed. Tearing up during the last Jumpstart session as we were presented with a good-bye poster: “I’ll miss you,” “I love you,” and 20 perfect handprints. My heart exposed.
I keep my Jumpstart kids’ photos on my office desk. When the work for educational equity gets hard, four years of Jumpstart class portraits—cheesy grins and Ninja Turtle T-shirts—remind me why I am there. They pushed me into this work, and they push me to keep fighting. I never want to be too far away from their faces. And I never want to be too far away from the version of myself in a red T-shirt, arms covered with purple marker.

Miriam Kae is a Jumpstart Corps member alum from Pomona College’s Class of 2014. She is now Program and Operations Coordinator at Teach For America in San Diego.



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