Jumpstart is a national non-profit organization that is concerned with early childhood education. Ever since it began in 1993, members of Jumpstart have worked tirelessly to improve early childhood education so that students have a better chance of being successful throughout their lives.
America is currently suffering from an early education crisis. Jumpstart describes it as starting a race knowing that more than half of your competitors will be given a 10 minute head start. In low-income neighborhoods, children start kindergarten 60% behind their peers who are from more affluent communities. When this happens, these children are more likely to stay behind for the rest of their lives, never fully closing that achievement gap that they started out their lives with. In fact, the gap only grows in size as time goes on. This leads to an increase in high school dropout rates, unemployment, incarceration, teen pregnancy, and public assistance dependency by the time these children reach adulthood.
Jumpstart was created to help close the achievement gap low-income children face before it becomes too late. They believe that their core values of learning, determination, connection, joy, and kindness, fosters the environment needed to bring about this change.
Learning for Jumpstart means to focus on progress and continuous improvement. It’s important for them to build knowledge, strengthen skill sets, and learn from a diverse set of perspectives. At the service level, they engage children with the intention of creating learning opportunities that they will find rich and meaningful. As individuals, they practice self-reflection in conjunction with encouraging honest feedback in order to maximize individual and team potential. Suzanne Morse, author of Community Service and Citizenship: Making Clear the Difference, emphasizes that true citizenship requires active reflection on what is done during community service, showing how Jumpstart doesn’t just want its members to go through the motions, but really wants them to reflect on what they have accomplished in the lives of the children they work with and see what they can improve upon. As an organization, everyone strives to improve upon everything they do to provide the best results and to better serve their constituents.
Determination is an important value to have because without it, at the first sign of difficulty one would just give up. This is why it is a core value for Jumpstart because without it, completing their mission would be nearly impossible. Determination to them means to pursue goals with drive and focus, face obstacles with conviction and courage, and strive to create a long-term impact. At the service level, they work to build confidence and spark a natural motivation within the children to foster resiliency and to help set them on a successful path in life. At the individual level, they work to identify creative solutions to challenges they may face and take pride in their ingenuity. As an organization, they work relentlessly to achieve their mission.
Making connections is an integral part of what Jumpstart does because without it, they would not have such a strong community behind them to support what they do. Jumpstart puts focus on building both internal and external partnerships and relationships that create greater results than any one person could accomplish on their own. At the service level, they bring their entire communities together, to include teachers, volunteers, schools, and parents, to provide the children they work with the right support early on. As individuals, communication across all levels and functions is encouraged to foster collaboration and to increase the effectiveness of their work. Organizationally, they create and nurture significant partnerships with stakeholders to continue delivering high-quality services.
With so many stories of staff burnout within NGOs, it’s no wonder why joy is also a core value for Jumpstart. If Jumpstart had a burnt out staff, they would have a very difficult time accomplishing their goals. Lester M. Salamon, author of The Resilient Sector Revisited, even lists it as one of four main challenges that NGOs face. This is why Jumpstart wants to create a culture of excitement, fun, and continuing hope. There’s a focus on celebrating success in genuine ways and advocating an exciting vision for the future. Jumpstart promotes the cultivation of a playful spirit at the service level, to help children build a love and a want for language and literacy. The most important part in children building their literacy skills, is for them to want to learn how to read and to actually enjoy reading as an activity, and not just something they have to do for school. Individually, members are encouraged to find opportunities to laugh with one another and to appreciate the unique differences each member brings to their teams. At the organizational level, Jumpstart embraces their passion to truly make a difference in the lives of children and find it important to involve others in advancing early education.
Jumpstart’s final core value is kindness. With the education of a child involving so many different people, it’s easy to want to point the finger at someone else for the problem of early childhood education. Jumpstart realizes that pointing the finger does not solve anything and this is why they work to interact with respect, understanding, and care. Under Salamon’s five different functions of NGOs, this would be considered community building because it is bringing people from all different walks of life together and is fostering the social capital needed to accomplish their goal. It’s important to Jumpstart that they consider viewpoints that differ from their own while still recognizing common goals, needs, and feelings. At the service level, members learn to develop patience not only within themselves but more importantly within the children they work with, in order to help them understand how all people would like to be treated. Individually, members support each other through various positive approaches and are encouraged to reach out to help if they see struggle and need. Organizationally, they work to lift each up through their everyday actions and are united in the belief that every child deserves the best of what they can give.
Jumpstart’s solution to the early childhood education crisis is to use a cost-effective and research-based program that trains college students along with volunteers from the community to serve preschool-age children who come from low-income neighborhoods. This solution would fall under Salamon’s service function for NGOs because they are dealing with the unmet need of helping low-income children develop the skills they need to be successful once they start school. Research has shown that participation in this program helps the children to develop the literacy and language skills that they will need to be ready for school, helping to put them back onto the path for a lifetime of success.
The program is for two days per week for two hours per session. The focus of each session revolves around a central storybook and one book serves as the focus for the two sessions. The sessions are organized around six unit themes which include Friends, Family, The World of Color, Wind and Water, Shadows and Reflections, and Things that Grow.
Each session begins with a welcome where the children build their alphabet knowledge through an exploration of name cards. Over time, this helps them to develop an understanding of the meaning and use of print which is essential to their literacy development. The children then engage in a shared reading experience with Corps members. Next is circle time where the children participate in various ways such as through singing songs, playing word and letter games, and reading poems. This time really helps to build a sense of community among the children and members because of the whole group learning experience. Later comes center time where different centers are set up with activities and materials to support language and literacy skill development within the children. The activities at each center are selected based upon the current unit theme and central storybook. These different activities really helps to deepen the children’s understanding of the book and provides them with opportunities to use the vocabulary from the story. The next thing the group does is a small group activity called “Let’s Find Out About It.” This activity is designed to build the children’s concept knowledge and vocabulary. During the activity, children have the chance to explore new ideas, learn about objects and how they are used, and understand how different things work. During the final part of the session, the children sit in a large group and share with others what their favorite part of that session was. Corps members support their conversation by using rich vocabulary and objects or examples of the work the children completed during Center Time.
While the sessions between Corps members and children is their main focus, Jumpstart also has other ways to complete their mission with Read for the Record being one of them. It is a global campaign that generates public support for high-quality early learning by mobilizing adults and children alike to take part in the world’s largest shared reading experience. Under Salamon, this would be considered an advocacy function because Jumpstart is bringing up the unaddressed problem of improving early childhood education and its importance. Beginning in 2006, they have had over 17 million people take part in this campaign, which has undoubtedly increased awareness for early childhood education and literacy.
Jumpstart also has to find ways to raise funds but they do it by increasing awareness for their cause at the same time. Scribble to Novels is a unique fundraising event that they hold in various cities across the country that celebrates the power of written word. These events feature authors, leaders, and celebrities, who understand the importance of early childhood education. Attendees to these events enjoy round-table discussions on the importance of early childhood literacy and have the opportunity to meet with the influential leaders who are brought in.
Jumpstart is also an active participant in the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s Week of the Young Child. It is an annual celebration of early learning, young children, teachers, and families. Corps members demonstrate their commitment to early childhood education through various events and activities such as celebrating music on Music Monday or promoting healthy eating on Taco Tuesday. These events bring fun and excitement into the classroom, while still remaining educational both for the children, Corps members, and teachers.
In the documentary Poverty Incorporated, there was much discussion of NGOs unintentionally and arguably sometimes intentionally, wanting to keep those in poverty in poverty so that they will always have to depend on the NGO for what they need. Jumpstart definitely does not fall into this category of NGOs. Some may say that Jumpstart is taking away business from other childcare centers who could use the money but the children Jumpstart serves come from low income families who would not be able to afford the other childcare centers in the first place. Jumpstart wants to put the children they work with onto a path for success so that when those children become older and have their own kids, they won’t have to send them right back to Jumpstart. Jumpstart is trying to break the cycle of poverty not perpetuate it which is why they work with children at such a young age.
The results that Jumpstart has created speaks volumes to the work they are doing for early childhood education. They have impacted 50,000 preschool age children across the nation with support in language, literacy skills, and social-emotional competencies. In the 2014-2015 program year, 65% of children had Jumpstart School Success Checklist (which measures early literacy skills) scores of 1 and 2. By the spring, 73% of children had scores between 3 and 4, indicating developmental gains between 1-3 levels. In an independent study done by researchers from Illinois State University, they found that children in the Jumpstart program concluded their preschool year at, or slightly above the average performance of U.S. kindergarteners, in regards to reading, school readiness, and socioemotional skills. In addition to Jumpstart’s service program itself preparing children for kindergarten, another big part to what makes the program so successful is Jumpstart’s engagement with the communities they enter. They engage with local governments, universities, preschools, and representatives, to really understand the specific needs that need to be met within that community. Jumpstart isn’t just going into these communities with their own idea of what needs to be fixed, but are actively making sure they are addressing the biggest issues that the community itself sees.
Jumpstart is making fantastic strides in improving early childhood education and literacy. For the thousands of children that would have had to start their race ten minutes behind, they now have a leveled playing field. Although early childhood education still isn’t perfect, with the work Jumpstart is doing, perhaps one day it will be as close to perfect as it can be.
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