Jumpstart BC Volunteers Promote Literacy In Local Preschools

Modern America is experiencing an early education crisis. Children attending preschools in low-income areas are severely disadvantaged and are far less prepared for upper-level schooling than children from affluent backgrounds. Jumpstart for Young Children, particularly its branch at Boston College, however, is steadfastly combating this issue and attempting to make significant educational advances in the Boston area.

“We are a national non-profit organization,” said Julie Fitzpatrick, senior site manager for BC. “We recruit, train, and mentor college students and other community volunteers to go into under-served preschool classrooms.”

The Jumpstart program began in 1993 after two students at Yale University recognized the immense potential of college students to make substantial changes in the lives of preschool children in order to help them be more successful in higher level education.

“Since 1993, Jumpstart has trained 36,000 college students and community volunteers to transform the lives of 76,000 preschool children nationwide,” according to the program’s website.

Because Jumpstart is a nationwide program, more than 70 colleges and universities participate as active partners of the organization.
“For the most part, we are all very similar programs because we have the same curriculum, use the same resources, and do everything centralized,” Fitzpatrick said.

Although the strategies and curriculum used by BC volunteers are common to all participating universities, Fitzpatrick believes the BC program is different from most. “I would say BC Jumpstart is unique in that we have a culture of heavy service-oriented students,” she said. “So, in that respect, the group of students at BC who participate in Jumpstart may be different from those at other sites.”

Teams of BC students travel into Boston two times a week to visit the city’s low-income area preschools. The college students work primarily with children within the age range of 3 to 5, ages just before reading level.

“We do a lot with intentional language and literacy,” Fitzpatrick said. “We do a lot with letter recognition. For example, what’s the difference between an ‘R’ and an ‘S,’ what do they look like, and how do you draw them?”

Another critical part of the Jumpstart program’s work is to focus on reading and to convey its importance to the young children who are just beginning their educational experience.

On the BC campus, Jumpstart acts as a unifying program for its diverse group of participants. Although Jumpstart BC is technically a part of the Lynch School of Education, the group’s membership consists of work-study and PULSE students, as well as people who are looking to volunteer. The program, while rewarding, requires a large time commitment, ranging from about 10 to 12 hours per week.

“This year we want to get 65 BC students involved in our program,” Fitzpatrick said. “That goal of 65 correlates directly with how many children we can serve. Our goal is to serve nine classrooms this year, which is about 180 children.”

On Tuesday, Oct. 21, Jumpstart looks to achieve a nationwide goal with its annual Read for the Record event. The event will attempt to break the record for the number of people reading the same children’s book on the same day. This year’s book is Bunny Cakes by Rosemary Wells.

Each year, the event is endorsed by a celebrity ambassador, with this year’s being actor Josh Duhamel. The event in 2013 saw 2,462,860 children read the same book on the same day, and the program hopes to see even larger numbers for 2014.

“We really try to raise awareness not just for our organization, but for early literacy and why it’s so important,” Fitzpatrick said.

Beyond having a nationwide impact on disadvantaged children, Jumpstart has had a significant influence on BC students.

“Since 2008, 260 BC students have participated in Jumpstart and in that time have served over 67,600 hours and worked with 600 children in the Boston communities,” Fitzpatrick said in an email.

According to a survey taken of BC’s participants for the year 2013, Jumpstart improved 100 percent of participants’ leadership skills. The report also showed that 98 percent of participants were satisfied with the program experience, and that 90 percent would recommend Jumpstart to a friend.

“Our recognition on campus has gotten a lot stronger,” Fitzpatrick said. “For a while, people just saw us as a part of Lynch. More and more students are realizing that beyond being a part of the education major, it’s a really cool service opportunity.”

Although Jumpstart BC has received positive reviews from past participants, the program is currently struggling to reach its participation goal, with only 45 students of the desired 65 signed up.

“We have a lot of positions available, and there are a lot of perks to participating,” Fitzpatrick said. Students who are interested in work-study are encouraged to apply, as well as anyone looking for service opportunities in the city. Participation in the program also opens up availability for over $1100 in AmeriCorps Education awards for students. Another major perk of involvement in the Jumpstart program is the subsequent eligibility to apply for preschool teacher certification in Massachusetts after the completion of 300 hours of community service.

Featured Image by Jumpstart BC