Student volunteers help low income children with learning skills

Jene Thomas – General Assignment Reporter 

For two hours every Monday and Wednesday, elementary education freshman Kara Jones takes a break from her college schedule to visit local preschools in order to help the children prepare for kindergarten.

Jones is a volunteer of Jumpstart funded by AmeriCorps that offers students the chance to teach young children language, literacy and social skills. Because a majority of the children come from low income family households, Jumpstart teaches the programs in hopes of closing the learning gap between these children and others their age by catching them up to their standard education levels.

“What we do here at Southern is we have six teams comprised of four to six people and we go into the public schools in New Haven and we work with the kids and help them with their learning skills, just making sure they’re ready for kindergarten,” said Jones. “All Jumpstart schools have a demographic of 75 percent low income children attending and these are the children at risk for falling behind so we go in there and try to prevent as many kids from falling behind as possible.”

Jumpstart’s mission is to “work towards the day that every child enters school prepared to succeed,” according to Jumpstart volunteer and interdisciplinary studies major Erika Blake. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, four out of five students of low-income households don’t meet reading proficiency requirements.

The teams participate in reading and playing games with the children that, although are meant to be fun, have an educational factor. One book in particular that Jumpstart has read to children was “Dogs Colorful Day” where a dog would come back with a different colored spot over from playing in the yard over a 10-day period. Children not only identify each color, but must account for how many spots the dog has each day.

Jumpstart launched on Southern Connecticut State University’s campus in Fall 2012. There are 34 active participants this school year including Hill Central elementary school, Wexler-Grant Elementary School and Dwight Early Childhood Center, among others with a variety of different educational backgrounds. The Jumpstart volunteers wear red shirts when entering the schools so be easily recognizable.

Since its startup, Site Manager Amy Piccirillo said she can see a difference in the kids. She told the story of a mother approaching her last week to brag about the changes in her daughter. Before jumpstart came to her daughter’s school, Hill Central, she was shy and distant. Now, as the story was told, she is excited to see her “new friends in red.” She participates in discussions and involves herself more with classmates.

At the end of each term, the teachers at the various schools send progress reports of their students to Piccirillo. Unfortunately, this year’s results are not available at this time.

All  majors are welcome to join and her current volunteers range from business to psychology. Volunteers complete 300 hours of service and receive a stipend of $2000.

“If individuals on campus can see how passionate we are about what we do and the children that we work with, it might aspire for them to want to join the program as well,” said Blake.

Blake has been involved with Jumpstart since her freshman year at Southern. She said she wanted to join an organization that allows her to give back. The only requirement is that the student must be a matriculated student here.

“Jumpstart has taught me various things,” she said. “It has educated me on to the bigger matters in the community. Not only on education, but poverty as well.



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