After Aaron Lieberman spent a summer break as a camp counselor, he returned to his studies at Yale University with a desire to provide individual attention for at-risk preschool students. With the help of others, he founded Jumpstart, an organization that matches college students and youngsters in one-to-one sessions that help the kids charge up for learning. The Jumpstart mission is "to engage young people in service to work toward the day every child in America enters school prepared to succeed." Since its inception, Jumpstart has served more than 8,000 children. Included: Assessments that show the program is working plus comments from participants in the program!
"Jumpstart's greatest accomplishment is that we've engaged nearly 2,000 college students in one-to-one service to more than 8,000 children over the past seven years," Aaron Lieberman tells Education World. "As we've grown from a local program serving 15 children in our first year to a national program serving 2,500 children this year, Jumpstart has not only maintained but also improved the quality of the program to achieve higher impact and proven results."
Lieberman is the president and CEO of Jumpstart, a volunteer program that matches college students with preschoolers who need their time. Founded by Lieberman and other Yale University students in 1993, Jumpstart now serves children in Boston, New York, New Haven, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and Washington, D.C. During the 1999-2000 school year, about 500 college students participated in Jumpstart. The organization is forming new partnerships with additional universities.
The three major focuses of the Jumpstart program are school success, family involvement, and future teachers. Jumpstart pairs college students, as AmeriCorps volunteers, with young children who are having difficulty in preschool programs, such as Head Start. The one-to-one communication between child and mentor allows Jumpstart to ensure that the young child enters school with the necessary skills to do well.
Through AmeriCorps, students who join Jumpstart receive monetary education awards when they complete their terms of service. The eight-month school year program has the college students working one-to-one with preschoolers twice a week for two hours. A full-time summer program is designed to reach students who would otherwise miss out on summer learning opportunities.
An experience during the summer of 1993 inspired Lieberman and his Jumpstart co-founders to establish the organization. That summer, Lieberman worked as a camp counselor at Ramapo Anchorage Camp in Rhinebeck, New York. The children who attended the camp came mostly from homes that had required intervention from social service agencies. He recognized the challenges the kids faced so early in their lives.
"By the end of the summer, I was surprised at how well the children responded to individual attention," Lieberman explains. "We had developed a close relationship with the kids and wondered how to build on the great experiences we had with the children in that brief time. We knew there had to be a way to provide children with similar one-to-one relationships all year long, involving parents as partners throughout the process."
Lieberman and his associates asked themselves, "How do we make that magic happen all year?" Their answer to the question was Jumpstart.
According to its CEO, the primary focus of Jumpstart is "growth with quality." This philosophy has led to a partnership with the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation. The organizations have created a program that strengthens Jumpstart Corps training, and they have developed guidelines to assess the impact of Jumpstart's one-to-one mentoring.
Recent assessment results show that Jumpstart works. At the beginning of the study, all of the Jumpstart students started the academic year with skills rated lower than those of their peers. The study, conducted by an independent consultant, concluded that by the end of the school year, the Jumpstart students had caught up to or surpassed their peers in language, social, and adaptive skills. It also found that on average, the participating students made significant gains in the specific skill subsets of understanding speech, speaking, expressing choices, and understanding and expressing feelings.
"There is no better feeling in the world then walking into a classroom, wearing your Jumpstart T-shirt. All the children swarm around you yelling, 'Jumpstart, Jumpstart!' At that moment, you feel like the most important person in the world!" says Jumpstart administrator Jennifer Randle.
Randle became a Jumpstart Corps member as a student at Howard University in Washington, D.C., and she is still with Jumpstart! The assistant director of programs for Jumpstart San Francisco, she is responsible for implementing elements of the Jumpstart program with the support of the national office. This includes organizing family involvement activities, Jumpstart school year and summer programs, training, site monitoring and management, and performance evaluations.
"Corps members are a part of teams of about eight to ten others, each with a program child," Randle explains. "Members participate twice weekly in what is called a 'Jumpstart Session.' The session is like a mini-school day. Session elements include circle time, choice time, a group activity, and one-to-one reading. After each session, the members plan the curriculum for the following session. In addition, members work to build relationships with the families of the children we work with."
Randle believes that Jumpstart provides many benefits. The academic gains of the students receive the most attention, but she sees plusses for the college students as well.
"Our college students are given an opportunity to do so much more than they might do in an average work-study position," Randall observes. "Where else will they have the opportunity to work on a team of this magnitude, where they are responsible for planning curriculum, supporting the growth of a child, and building relationships with families and teachers, all the while making a very visible difference in the life of a child, a family, and a community? It can be a very challenging role and a test of strength, but each student who walks away after completing this program is proud, able, and prepared to meet challenges head on."
"Every day when I walk into the classroom, I am greeted by 18 children who look to me to provide for all their emotional, physical, and educational needs. It is hard enough to live up to the expectations I set for myself, let alone expectations the children have for me," says Jeanette, a teacher at Crittenton Early Education Center in Boston.
She continues, "It is difficult for three- and four-year-old children to understand that their teacher cannot always stop what he or she is doing to play dress-up with them in the play area or sit and read a book in the library. Unfortunately, not all children get this necessary attention at home, and it can seem almost impossible for them to get it at school. Although I understand the importance of individualized attention, I am not always able to provide it. This is where Jumpstart has had the most influence in my classroom."
Jeanette says that when Jumpstart Corps members walk into her classroom, everyone gets excited! The children know that they will be spending time with individuals who can concentrate fully on them. She knows that the Jumpstart members are people who are willing and ready to fulfill her students' specific needs. One child in Jeanette's class has responded especially well to the Jumpstart experience.
"Brian is a child who has trouble verbalizing his needs," Jeanette explains. "He often uses his hands instead of his words when he is upset with his friends. He becomes easily distressed and will burst into tears quite often. He is a child who feels the need to be acknowledged frequently and will repeat himself until someone around him comments on what he is saying."
With the help of his Jumpstart volunteer, Brian has made dramatic gains. He is able to communicate with his peers in more appropriate ways, verbalizes his thoughts and needs with less prompting than before, and is beginning to find satisfaction in his work. Having someone in the classroom who spends quality one-to-one time with him helps Brian broaden his vocabulary and increase his awareness of what takes place around him. He is excited to spend time with his Jumpstart Corps member. He is so excited that he wants her to speak to his mother about their time together after each session, and he refuses to leave school when his mother arrives until this important conversation has taken place!
"The early years of a child's education are the most important," Jeanette shares. "It is at this time that children have the opportunity to explore ideas most freely. Teachers have the chance to instill in children a love for questioning the world around them that, if fostered, will stay with them their entire lives. I am grateful to Jumpstart for fostering a love for learning in the children they serve."
"The most rewarding part of my Jumpstart experience is seeing the children learn and grow," says Ann Marie Sostaric. "Right now, as a team leader, I get to step back and really see the progress. I am constantly amazed by what the kids say and do. The bonds the children and corps members have are so strong -- it's like nothing I've ever seen before."
A human services major at Northeastern University in Boston, Sostaric has been surprised by how deeply committed she has become to the Jumpstart program. Before Jumpstart, she had never had a job that she liked. Now, she looks forward to going to Jumpstart sessions and activities, and she sees the same thing in other corps members. To these students, Jumpstart is more than a job. It is real service that makes a difference.
Sostaric works within a literacy program, and last year the Jumpstart members tried very hard to help the children understand how books work. They explained the terms author and illustrator and discussed the title page and other features of a book. Sostaric said that the kids couldn't have cared less! They just wanted to read the stories.
While they were sitting in their group circle reading a story one day, the corps member who had the book pointed to the author's name and asked the children if they knew what it was. One child, Adrian, yelled out "Yeah! That's the arthur!" He was so proud of himself that Sostaric and her partners found it hard to hold back their laughter. It truly showed that the kids were learning from the Jumpstart members, even if they hadn't mastered the terminology.
"My Jumpstart experience has changed me," Sostaric explains. "I went from simply liking kids because they were cute to being completely enthralled by their intelligence and splendor. I went from thinking that children don't know much because they are young to realizing that they know much more than I thought. I went from thinking that kids had have it easy to understanding how many struggles some children face. Jumpstart has broadened my horizons. The biggest change that I experienced because of Jumpstart was going from wanting to work in advertising to dedicating my life to working in early childhood."
The positive work of the Jumpstart program has received some exciting attention. Former President Bill Clinton and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, former Secretary of Education Richard Riley, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, Celtics coach Rick Pitino, and others have recognized the organization.
Senator Edward M. Kennedy said of the program, "Since its inception, Jumpstart Boston has proven to be an effective tool for promoting healthy childhood development. Additionally, the experience gained by the Jumpstart Corps members, who are largely students from 16 colleges and universities in the Boston area, is a valuable resource for future leaders in early childhood education."
Jumpstart plans to grow to 50 sites by 2005, engaging 10,000 college students in service to 50,000 children during the next five years!
"We have set the stage for success by refining our program model to offer college students different terms of service, breaking down our traditional, mandatory two-year model into smaller chunks," says Lieberman. "As part of our expanded partnership with High/Scope, we have developed and launched a training program for all Jumpstart staff and team leaders and curriculum materials for Jumpstart Corps members. These products will be delivered twice a year at our leadership institutes [all-staff training programs] and provide Jumpstart with the resources to ensure effective and consistent program implementation throughout our network of programs over the next several years."