Jumpstart is a national early education organization that recruits and trains college students and community Corps members to serve preschool children in low-income neighborhoods. Our proven curriculum helps children develop the language and literacy skills they need to be ready for kindergarten, setting them on a path to close the achievement gap before it is too late.
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I used to think children were such narcissists,
only capable of thinking for their own good. But, it was the day that Jane was
having a difficult day did I figure otherwise.
Jane is typically one of our "star" students
She’s always enthusiastically engaged with the Jumpstart curriculum. She’s very
attentive and responsive. Most importantly, she’s cooperative; she gets along
well with the other students and the Corp members. But, recently, Jane hasn’t
been herself. When the tide started to change, she opened up to Quincey during
Center Time at the writing station. While she was drawing a picture, Jane told
Quincey nonchalantly, “My mom left us last night.” Although we never understood
the entire story, we understood that troubles at home were distracting Jane; it
was affecting her behavior. I think the other students could pick up on it,
too, because Jane is usually a delight for everyone.
The other day during dramatic play, we were
pretending to keep from the rain. There were rain hats, umbrellas, and ponchos.
The ponchos were a hit, but there were only a few to go around which caused
some conflict. Jane had started at another station before coming to dramatic
play. So, when she joined, she immediately went to a student with a poncho and
demanded it from her. Jane had been super fussy that day. Her hair was
frazzled, and she looked tired and sick. When she demanded the poncho from Ann,
she tried to snatch it from her. But, Ann wouldn’t budge. Before I could settle
the conflict between the two, I had to send Jane to another station so that
they could both settle down. Because Ann already had a chance with the poncho,
I tried to convince her to give Jane a turn. But, she still wouldn’t budge. So,
I told Ann to look at Jane. I asked her, “Doesn’t Jane look sad today? She
doesn’t seem very happy, huh?” Ann nodded in full agreement, suddenly conscious
about her behavior. So, then I told her, “Maybe we can make Jane happy today if
we gave her a turn. You had fun with the poncho maybe Jane will, too.” When Jane
came back to the dramatic play, Ann immediately took off the poncho and gave it
to Jane. Ann had momentarily stopped thinking for herself to make someone else
I’ve realized that children are naturally
inclined to be ego maniacs. But, I’ve also realized as a Corp member that
children are so malleable that they can be taught to be perceptive. So, I’ve
come to understand that Jumpstart can be a time that children can learn to
think outside of themselves.
As we progress through this Jumpstart year, the books we
read to the children have naturally grown more difficult. This fact has not
gone unnoticed by the kids, who don’t hesitate to express their distaste. More
than once, my reading groups have been interrupted by an eager chorus of “it’s
time to put the books away” three pages into the story. But we always plunge
on, sometimes winning the kids over, and other times struggling to even finish.
That’s why I’m always a little worried when I return for
second implementation. There’s always a chance that the questions I ask won’t
register with them. If they could barely pay attention through the first
reading, how can I expect them to reconstruct the book with me? There’s nothing
I dread more than the idea of sitting with three adorable children, answering
my own questions as they stare idly around the room or pick at their nametags.
But they always surprise me. In utter despair, I’ll think to
myself, “There’s no way they’ll remember why Samson had to buy Clara a new
piñata.” And yet, I pose the question aloud and one of my kids shouts “Her
don’t understand that her dog is fake!” Though it may seem to be a small
victory, it never fails to make me happy. It’s amazing to me that they can
recall these details days after the fact. They manage to retain more than I do
with my own classes. People always refer to children as sponges, and in these
moments when I realize how true that statement is, I’m simply impressed.
In my opinion, the most interesting part about read to
reconstruct (and Jumpstart for that matter) is when you get the opportunity to
see how children think. Obviously, I can’t remember how my thought process
worked at that age. I don’t recall how I chose my friends or how I felt about
school or how I talked about my sister and brothers. It’s amazing to have the
opportunity to go into a classroom twice a week and try to figure it out. So in
sessions I talk and play and ask questions until my heart’s content because
they’re a mystery to me. And this classroom provides the closest, most genuine
insight I’ll have into the mind of my four-year-old self.Read to reconstruct has the capacity to delve
into their feelings and thoughts. And there’s nothing I enjoy more about
Jumpstart than listening to the kids convey their opinions in a way that’s both
simple and genuine.
When you give a moose a muffin,
he’ll want some jam to go with it. When you give a child a book, he’ll want nothing to do with it.
Or so I thought.
It happened last Thursday. I was in
the Writing center, drawing colorful dots on a print-out dog when one of my
Jumpstart friends placed her tiny little hands on my picture. I looked up. My
green eyes were met by large brown ones and a shy, sweet smile.
“Where’s the book?” she said.
“What book?” I asked.
“The book that we read today,” she
said, pointing to my drawing. “About the dog.”
I looked down at my drawing for a
second, then back up at her.
“Oh, you mean ‘The Dog’s Colorful
Day?’” I inquired.
She nodded excitingly, recognizing
the book by its name.
“Hmm, well it was here a second I
ago…” I said as I started looking under uncapped markers and crinkled papers.
I poked my head under the table to
see if it had accidently fallen there.
“What did you say you needed it
for?” I asked as I came up empty-handed.
“I want my dog to look like the dog
in the book,” she replied earnestly.
“Ok,” I said.
Although I remembered bringing the
book over with me to the table, I concluded that one of my team members must
have put it back in our supply box by mistake. Thus, I left the table to go fetch
the book from the box and brought it back to her.
“Here you go,” I said, holding the
book out for her to reach.
She took it in an instant, laying
it flat on the table and flipping to the page with the picture of the dog she
liked best. Using her tiny elbows to hold down the book’s corners she begins to
At the time, I didn’t realize just how
groundbreaking this moment was for my Jumpstart friend. I didn’t realize that a
connection was being made. Most kids her age, if given a print-out of a dog to
color spots on, would have just scribbled ambiguous, red tornadoes on the paper
and swiped it off the table. But she, she did something different. She used that book as a reference. As adults, we do this all the time. We
look up words, we verify facts and we write essays using books as our tools.
But in a four-year-old’s world, books serve no purpose. To make a book worth
looking at it, someone has to read it to them, someone has to fight a child’s
disinclination to sit and pay attention…
Since last Thursday, I can’t stop
thinking about this girl. Something magical had to have happened inside of that
little brain of hers. I don’t know if it was the dendrites branching out, or her
little neurons firing in a sequence never prescribed before, but something very
special happened that day, and I got to bear witness. I bore witness to a rare,
isolated moment of childhood development.
I enter the realm of Dramatic Play, I always come out as a married woman.Yes, married. In fact, sometimes I come out
married not to just one man, but many.
It all happens so fast. Just
seconds after setting up my center, I turn around to find several Jumpstart
kids at my feet ready to role-play. Some of the girls scream they are fairy
princesses, others kindergarten teachers. The boys, on the other hand, all want
to be one thing, and one thing only: “da fawther.”
“Ms. Leila, Ms. Leila!” several boys would
yell while tugging on the seams of my T-shirt.
“I’m goin be da fawther,” one of
them would say, standing proud and tall.
“Ok, sounds great,” I reply with a
smile, admiring his alpha male instincts. Turning to the other boys I ask, “And
who are you guys going to be?”
“We goin be fawthers too.”
“Yah, and you da wife,” one of them
chirps. “Yah, youz all our wives...”
Now. I have to say, I’ve never been
one to jump into a relationship, let alone a polygamous one, but I couldn’t
help but beam at my little Jumpstart boys, my little Jumpstart men, who have
taken it upon themselves to tend to their pretend wife. Already, I see a boy darting
to do laundry while another races to the grocery store, stuffing Frosted Flakes
in a shopping bag in preparation for tonight’s dinner.
It is thus with sincere gratitude that
I say (more to myself than to them),
“Wow, aren’t I the luckiest girl in
It never ceases to amaze me how Dramatic
Play can create such a warm dynamic between children. Kids that I swore hated
each other are suddenly best buds, working together to get babies dressed, dogs
fed, and dishes washed. As a wife, I couldn’t be happier. And as a Corps Member,
I couldn’t be prouder.
But in addition to being married to
the best husbands a girl could ever ask for, I’m also married to the best job a
college student could ever dream of. I am married to reading books, and
reciting poems; to singing songs and playing games; to acting silly, embracing
spontaneity, and laughing, laughing, laughing.
Marriage is such a funny thing.
Today, it seems so formulaic: first the ring, then the dress, the ten-tier cake,
the lilac flowers, the opulent wedding.
My marriages, however, are
different. They require no pizzazz, no sparkles, no frill no fluff.
No. Just love. Just love, and my
red Jumpstart T-shirt.
Jumpstart has definitely involved a
lot more work than I originally anticipated, but material creation has also
evolved into my weekly therapy time. There is just something, oh so relaxing
and de-stressful about siting on the floor of you room and cutting things out
of construction paper. However the stress might return when it comes time to laminate
and you keep getting the laminating paper stuck in your hair. But jumpstart is
not only about the material creation, actually being in the classroom has
taught me a lot about myself, and the way I react to situations. In the
beginning, keeping the level of enthusiasm for learning high in the classroom
was a struggle. The children were either too enthusiastic, wanting to hold and
grab everything, or completely uninterested in the totally awesome thing I was trying
to demonstrate.As time went on however
I began to understand the children a lot better and I could tell what was going
to become a huge distraction and what was going to work.
Probably the proudest moment of my
time in Jumpstart (and probably also the most Disgusting!), was when we read Max’s Dragon Shirt.Disgusting was one of the key terms that we
were supposed to introduce to the children and my group member Amalia showed us
the eww way of saying disgusting, so
that the children would pick up on the word better. Suffice to say, it worked,
or I thought it did, I couldn’t be sure because I had yet to hear them put the
word into action. Later that day, during my CAT hours, I was lining the
children up for the bathroom. Although I never help them go to the bathroom, it
was my job to make sure they stood in a line outside of the bathroom until there
were stalls available. From against the wall I heard an outcry of squeaky
voices screaming, “DISGUISTING! DISGUISTING! DISGUISTING!” When they came out
of the bathroom and told me what they were screaming about I had never felt
more proud and disgusted than at that time. What was important to me about this
experience was the fact that the children had learned a vocabulary word and
understood it to the point of being able to use it accurately in a real-life
situation. It is for moments like this that I feel all the work and time that I
put into Jumpstart is worth it, because they are actually learning.
night, Lupita Nyong’o won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role as
Patsey, in 12 Years a Slave. In her
speech, which was filled with such joy and gratitude, she reminded the audience
both at the event and across the world, to dream big, and do what may seem
impossible. It is this energy that I try to take
into my classroom at each session, this notion that anything is possible, no
matter where you grew up, what your circumstances are or were, or what you have
been told by others.
For the most part, the students Jumpstart serves are extremely
disadvantaged, living in high-poverty neighborhoods, surrounded by violence,
and often forgotten by the people who live within the same district lines. For
those of us who do notice, and who choose to support them, the response we get
from others is often a superficial “Oh wow, you’re such a good person!” While that may be true, that label, whatever
it means, is so far down the list of reasons why I want to serve, that it might
as well not be there at all. I rarely get the chance to tell those people the
real reasons I serve, so I will lay out three of them here:
1.I serve because these children have seen more in their short
lives than I may ever see in mine, and because, if nothing else, I can provide
a break from that to sit down with a book in reading, to paint a picture in
art, or to play a game of make believe in dramatic play, and remind them that
they are loved and appreciated.
2.I serve because even in a school that values each student, I
know that some children slip through the cracks. Being there to spot those
students, and to work with them so they learn that they are smart, hard working,
and capable of succeeding in school may one day make all the difference in
their life paths.
3.I serve, because in the
words of Lupita Nyong’o, “No matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid.”
Our students have big goals
and dreams. By serving with Jumpstart, by showing up in class twice a week and
bringing the energy Lupita Nyong’o did to her performance and acceptance
speech, I know that I am telling the students “Yes you can” to all of their
It is always a good day when you
see that light go on when working with a student. Witnessing them overcome a
problem and make the connection is the best part of the job. Due to the fact
that every child is different, these days can vary. Whether they are in
Jumpstart or not they have all had different experiences and some kids are
farther along than others. One of the most rewarding days in Jumpstart was when
I was working with a child that is farther behind than the others. She can’t
spell her name yet and a lot of time has trouble comprehending the books we
read in session. Although she faces many difficulties, she is very kind and
session 11 let’s find out about it I had an opportunity to work with her more
closely. I noticed that she is willing to learn, but the trick is that you have
to catch her attention and hold it; a task that can be very difficult when
dealing with 4 year olds that are all over the place. In session 11 we read Dog’s Colorful Day, a fun story that
combines counting and our unit of color. It is about a dog that gets different
colored stains on his fur throughout the day. In let’s find out about it we
look at pictures and match them to color swatches, then paste the colors on to
Dog, just like in the story. When this child came over to me I eased her into
the center, discussing the funny names crayons have (like macaroni and cheese)
and matching them with their pictures. Then we moved on to matching color
swatches with pictures and then pasting them onto Dog. This part she really
enjoyed. We looked at many pictures, first determining what color they match
and then what Dog did to get this stain on himself. Watching this child engage
with the session and tie it back to the session reading book was wonderful.
Some days in Jumpstart you just have a bad day, you forget for a second why you
have signed away 300 hours of your life, and you get frustrated, but days like
this make you remember again. This child and so many others like her are the
reason I do Jumpstart. They make every day worth it and rewarding. My class as
well as my Corps Members truly uphold our team name inspiration. Every day I am
inspired in a new way, and I am so grateful to be a part of something that
touches so many lives.