By Madison Shaw
Jumpstart is a national organization that recruits and trains college students going into under resourced classrooms to work on oral language skills and social emotional skills. Students who enter these preschools come from Worcester State University, Clark University, Assumption College, and College of the Holy Cross. Jumpstart has the most community volunteers of any program at Worcester State. This program serves as employment for students on campus and can be used as work-study employment as well. Students who participate and complete their allotment of hours for the year receive the Segal Education Grant which is $1,300 and can be used towards the student’s education.
It has been an unusual year for Jumpstart as they navigate the school experience through the pandemic. Jumpstart is taking many precautions to keep students and members safe. For example, bins of materials are created for each child since they are not allowed to share materials. Each child has their own scissors, markers, crayons, glue sticks, and so on depending on the activity they are doing.
Being a former Jumpstart Corp Member and Jumpstart alum, I had the opportunity of speaking with Lynn Thompson, the site manager at Jumpstart Worcester. Thompson has been with the program for 5 out of the 6 years that it has been in Worcester.
Shaw: Is Jumpstart proceeding this year? Are they still running the program through the pandemic?
Thompson: We are. We have a group of 32 college students from here in the city of Worcester who have enrolled to participate in Jumpstart for the year and we are completely virtual. In a variety of different ways, we are serving seven classrooms in five preschools: One private preschool here in the city of Worcester and then four of the Headstart programs.
Shaw: As far as engagement with the program by college students, how has that been, since I know before we were always encouraged to tell our friends and let everyone know about the program?
Thompson: Jumpstart is actually the program that has the most community service volunteers of all programs at Worcester State. Being under the Binenda Center and under Mark Wagner has been a huge blessing for us; they’re great at spreading the word and supporting us in any way they can, which has been a big help. Typically, Jumpstart is word-of -mouth and work study.
One thing I think that’s been helpful with Jumpstart and spreading the word is––I think because of the pandemic, a lot of college students are feeling a little isolated. So, Jumpstart gives them that opportunity to be part of a program on campus where they get to meet other students, and make those connections.
Shaw: I was going to ask about that––is engagement better or worse? Do you have returning members who like it better virtually or who like it better in person?
Thompson: We have the highest number of returners this year: We had 17 corps members return from last year, and I think part of that was they had made such strong connections through the program last year that they were looking for a way to do that again this year and to keep those connections. I think it’s been difficult trying to find ways, but we’ve all learned through the past year a variety of different ways that we can stay connected even though it’s virtual––like virtual movie night, where corp members will watch a movie and then we’ll get together and answer some questions or have a discussion about it. We’ve been using a lot of Microsoft Teams programs to have some virtual meetings and get togethers. We’ve been doing a lot of fun monthly challenges. This month we are actually having a poetry contest––different things like that to keep everyone engaged and to feel connected.
Shaw: How have you guys been able to carry out your lesson plans? I know in the past we used to do activities with them and we would read to them; is it pretty much the same?
Thompson: Yes and no, because only one program partner has children in the school. The Headstart programs are completely virtual this time, because they fall under the Worcester Public School System umbrella, so there are no children in the buildings. We still wanted to find a way to provide service to children and families and help support in any way we could, whether through the preschools programming or programming that parents were implementing at home with their children.
We sent out a questionnaire in the beginning of the year with all of our program partners to see which ways they thought we could best serve their families and their children and how we could support them. We put out a bunch of different ideas, and this time we are sending out to the Headstart program’s weekly newsletters that have videos embedded inside the newsletters where our corp members are implementing parts of our curriculum so, building those vocabulary skills, going over those vocabulary words, introducing them before they read the books, reading stories that focus on oral language development.
We are carrying through all those activities, whether it’s an art activity, a science activity, or exploring some new topics in a variety of ways, and then the parents can access those from home when they have the time and when they are able to. We are also sending home some literacy kits to those families to help build those connections as well.
Webster Square Daycare has children physically in the building, so we are serving three classrooms there, but in two different methods. One classroom is receiving two-way virtual sessions, which is a simplified Jumpstart session plan that’s implemented two days a week virtually through zoom programming where our students––the Jumpstart corp members––are reading to the children and engaging in oral language activities as the children are in the preschool classroom with headphones on listening to the directions; we also drop off materials every week for them that enhance those activities.
For the other two classrooms, we are dropping off what we are kind of jokingly calling “Jumpstart in a bag” type of curriculum, where the corp members are preparing the activities and materials, and then we drop them off weekly to the classroom for the teachers to implement. It’s sort of a mixed bag, all different ways of programming. We are trying to work collaboratively with the preschools to see what will work best in their classrooms, with their children and families.
Shaw: I was wondering about this because Jumpstart serves underserved students, and I was really curious to see how many of them have access to Zoom. How are they able to get their hands on these pieces of technology? Sometimes it was even hard to get them materials back when we weren’t in the middle of a pandemic.
Thompson: The Headstart programs have all provided their families with iPads at the start of the pandemic, so last March that initiative went through and they’ve been working to get them in the hands of the children. Those children are accessing it that way and the Webster Square children are accessing it through their classroom computers.
Shaw: How can students find Jumpstart? How can they join? What word do you want to get out there about Jumpstart?
Thompson: Jumpstart is an excellent way to make connections on campus, be part of a group that’s giving back to the community here in Worcester, get some experience working in a classroom with children and families. Applications will start opening up next month (March) for next year.
We are hoping that next year as more people get the vaccine and we get a little bit more immunity––I’m feeling quite hopeful that in the fall we will be back to regular programming. If not, if we start out virtual, we have a good blueprint now of how to roll this out––what works, what doesn’t work. I think what’s most important is that we are really staying true to those core Jumpstart goals which are: making sure that all children are ready for kindergarten no matter what zip code they are born under, and to make sure that they have all those skills that they need to be prepared.
For more information about Jumpstart and where to apply, please visit here or reach out to Lynn.Thompson@jstart.org.