Jumpstart works to improve child literacy


St. John’s students are working to bring awareness to the issue of childhood education by joining forces with Jumpstart, a national early education nonprofit organization.  

Eighty University students, known as Corps members, have been collaborating with Jumpstart through the School of Education to promote early literacy in low-income neighborhoods throughout Queens.

After several successful events last semester, they are hoping to recruit more students to join their cause, starting with the upcoming Friendship Day on Feb. 18.  

Ashley Thomas, a junior, is the volunteer coordinator for the St. John’s campus. She has been working to get more students involved and raise awareness of the issues low-income children face in their schools.

“Our mission is to work towards the day that every child in America enters school prepared to succeed,” she said. “Studies show that children from low-income neighborhoods are at a greater risk of school failure.”

Through the program, Jumpstart site managers train students during workshops and seminars. They are given materials to help them be full prepared for when they enter a classroom setting. Corps members work closely with the children and are expected to complete 300 hours of service.

The members are divided into teams and each team is paired with one to three children. Volunteers spend two to three days a week going into local pre-schools to help them gain literacy, language and social skills to succeed in kindergarten and beyond.

Once paired up, the Corps members spend two or three times a week in structured education sessions.  

During the sessions they work on literacy issues by reading books, singing songs, reciting poems, putting together puzzles, writing, art and performing dramatic plays.

Joining the organization her freshman year, Thomas spent 300 hours working with one child, getting valuable experience for her education major and learning more about how the system works.

This semester, Jumpstart has already planned four events to raise awareness and get more students involved. The first is Feb. 18’s Friendship Day, during which volunteers will spend a day at a local preschool reading and learning about the importance of friendship.

The organization is also planning a celebration for the birthday of children’s author Dr. Seuss sometime in March and a “Week of the Young Child” in April.

Last semester Thomas and other members of Jumpstart visited the set of the Today Show to show their support for the organization and its mission and were joined by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other celebrities, as well as students from other local universities.

St. John’s Corps members also participated in Read for the Record, a national event where two million children read the same book on the same day. Thomas and 13 volunteers went to a local school to read “The Snowy Day,” by Ezra Jack Keats with students.

For Thomas, her involvement in Jumpstart has been more than just a job.

“I have learned and gained so much. I have met so many people and learned about different opportunities through this organization,” she said.

“I love this job because I know I am making an impact in children’s lives.”

Many of her peers feel the same way. Rosanna Chui, a freshman, joined the program once she came to the University.

“I decided to join Jumpstart because I love children and I wanted to do something meaningful while I was here at St. John’s,” said Chui.

 “Every time I step into the classroom and play with the children, I know that I am truly making a difference in their lives, it makes me feel great inside. I also enjoy working with my team members and have fun during our team bonding.”

Jessenia Morales, Chui’s Jumpstart partner, values the gratification of working with young children.

“It is an amazing feeling when you enter a classroom and your partner children run up to you in open arms calling your name and knowing that you are someone special in their lives,” she said.

“That’s when you know that you are making a difference.”