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Students work with Windham preschoolers through Jumpstart program

Published on April 05, 2021

Students work with Windham preschoolers through Jumpstart program

Jumpstart A group of Eastern Connecticut State University students is volunteering with the national early education organization known as Jumpstart. Established in 1993 with programs in 14 states, Jumpstart aims to end the cycle of child poverty by offering language, literacy and social-emotional programming for preschool children who reside in disadvantaged communities. Since its beginning, Jumpstart has trained more than 50,000 college students and helped more than 123,000 preschoolers.

The Center for Community Engagement (CCE) at Eastern has partnered with Jumpstart to recruit, train and provide students a firsthand experience in working with preschool children while supporting the Windham Heights Preschool and Windham-Willimantic Program.

Eastern’s Jumpstart program consists of 29 volunteers for the spring 2021 semester with seven of them serving as student leaders. Students of all majors are eligible to volunteer and are given professional training in early education; volunteers do not need prior experience. Volunteers dedicate 10-12 hours a week and receive a Segal AmeriCorps Education Award after their service is complete.

Jumpstart student leader Emily Casey

Jumpstart student leader Sarah Langlois

Jumpstart student leader Jeniel Edmonds

Jumpstart student leader Frances Zelez

Jumpstart student leader Delaney Pike

Jumpstart student leader Aimee Elliot

Jumpstart student leader Alyssa Milette

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, volunteers cannot meet or interact with children in-person, but modifications were made to Jumpstart’s operations to still give preschoolers a meaningful experience. Site manager Meaghan Penrod recruits, trains and mentors student volunteers.

She explained, “The Eastern students are partnered with three to four children within a classroom, making each child an activity bag every week. The weekly activity bags are based on a storybook that gets sent home to the children and include materials for art, writing, puzzles, pretend play activity and a mystery bag.” In addition, volunteers also record two weekly YouTube videos of reading the assigned storybook and for their segment “Let’s Find Out About It,” which reveals the content of the mystery bags.

Penrod also shared the process in picking student leaders. “The students I choose for these positions are typically returning members who have demonstrated that they are strong in the classroom and are passionate about the program,” said Penrod. For this semester, Penrod chose seven students to be leaders: Jeniel Edmonds, Aimee Elliot, Alyssa Milette, Delaney Pike, Emily Casey, Frances Zelez and Sarah Langlois.

The main responsibility of a student leader is to work under their site manager in overseeing regular volunteers; they also help plan meetings and discuss their program schedule.

Junior psychology major Jeniel Edmonds and early childhood education major and senior Aimee Elliot provided information on their duties as Jumpstart leaders. “I make sure all materials going to children are correct and ready for the child. I oversee my members and help them in any way possible so they can successfully impact the children,” said Edmonds.

Jumpstart volunteers create activity bags for children.

Jumpstart volunteers create activity bags for children.

Jumpstart volunteers create activity bags for children.

Jumpstart volunteers create activity bags for children.

Jumpstart volunteers create activity bags for children.

Regarding the activity’s that volunteers must create, Elliot described where her inspiration comes from and what activities she has created so far. “I usually look on Pinterest for ideas or think about things I’ve done with students in the past,” said Elliot. “One activity I came up with was a rainbow puzzle. The children received colorful semicircles that, when placed on top of each other from largest to smallest, formed a rainbow. This helped children practice colors, fine motor skills, and understand sizes and measurements.”

Elliot also shared why she enjoys the Jumpstart Program. “I love working with children because it makes me feel like I have an opportunity to positively impact the world. Children are the future leaders of society, so it’s important that they have the best possible opportunities to learn, both in terms of academic and social-emotional skills,” Elliot said. After she graduates, Elliot hopes to have her own classroom and teach kindergarteners from under-resourced communities.

Edmonds finds joy in working with children: “I believe I am making an impact on the future. Children hold the world in their hands, and I want to make sure those children have a good foundation to take on that responsibility.” Edmonds hopes to travel the world to learn more about different ways to teach children and eventually establish her own daycare.

The CCE provides resources to build a culture of civic responsibility and engaged learning at Eastern. The Center creates sustainable and effective relationships with community partners that benefit the local community, provide students with valuable life and employability skills and support faculty in developing high-impact curricular practices. Opportunities are available in tutoring and mentoring in area schools, juvenile and adult rehabilitation, programs focused on cultural awareness, hunger and homelessness, animal rehabilitation and health and wellness.

Written by Bobbi Brown