Some campus jobs are awful. Sitting in the same chair, bored, for hours, or flipping burgers, or making smoothies, or moving chairs, all make their fair share of students want to bash their heads against the wall. Yes,some campus jobs are awful – but then there’s Jumpstart.

Imagine a campus job where you get to

come to work for two hours, play with kids, work one-on-one with a three-year-old, and see them achieve new levels of reading and social skills in a matter of weeks. This is what junior Erin Charnow does twice a week.

“I really like going in to the classroom and hanging out with the kids,” Charnow said. “They’re really great kids.”

This is the first year that UR has sponsored Jumpstart. The program, funded by AmeriCorps, has 17 corps members, two team leaders and a volunteer coordinator. All of the members are undergraduates, and, in fact, underclassmen.

The purpose of the program is to help preschoolers prepare for school. To do this, there are 17 literacy and social goals that corps members help the students reach.

This involves a lot of playing around. In fact, Jumpstart Site Manager Michelle Werth described the style of teaching as “education-based through play.”

“We basically act as literacy buddies for these three-year-olds,” sophomore Gordon Chang, another corps member, said.

Each corps member goes to the Carlson MetroCenter YMCA twice a week for two hours each time. For Charnow, a typical day starts with some free time with Ammad, the student with whom she is paired. The YMCA provides the preschoolers with breakfast, and Charnow gets an opportunity to teach them table manners – including how to not eat waffles with one’s hands. From there, they go into “circle time,” where everybody gets to sing along to kid songs.

“The kids really like to dance, so we do a lot of songs that revolve around dancing,” Charnow said.

After circle time comes reading time, where Charnow works one-on-one with her preschooler. Ammad picks out the books and asks a lot of questions. Werth said that, for most of the preschoolers, as they cannot read yet, it’s just following along as the corps member reads, but it gives them a chance to think about plots and stories.

The group activity is the highlight of a typical day, and it varies from week to week. This week, corps members took big pieces of butcher paper and traced their preschooler on it. Afterwards, the three-year-olds colored in their own image.

“Afterward, my kid was yelling ‘Look, I made an Ammad!'” Charnow said.

In addition to the four hours per week in groups sessions, the corps members spend two hours a week in planning sessions, discussing their preschooler’s progress and comparing notes.

“One thing this program emphasizes is teamwork among the corps members,” Chang said.

Students also work four more hours a week helping out in classrooms at the YMCA. While they do not teach during these times, they assist the teachers and help to lower the adult-to-student ration in the classroom.

The program was put into motion last year by then-Director of Community Programs Marie Lewis, and everything was put in place for running the first program this fall. When Lewis left the university, Werth took over the project and it moved to the Career Center where she worked. Werth, a graduate of the Warner School, studied elementary education but was enjoying working with undergraduates in her role at the Career Center.

“I kind of liked both worlds, and this position allows me to work with undergrads as well as little preschoolers,” Werth said.

The national program was started in 1994 in New Haven, Conn., and has about 1,000 college students participating in about 40 cities. Its stated mission is “to engage young people in service, to work toward the day every child in America enters school prepared to succeed.”

Applications were taken earlier this year through their Web site, which is a section of the national Web site, http://www.jstart.org. From those who applied, two group leaders and a volunteer coordinator were chosen from among those with the most leadership. Almost all of the applicants had a strong desire to work with children and had backgrounds in such things as babysitting and camp counseling.

Next year, Werth hopes to expand the corps to a full corps, which would have around 40 members. New members will be in demand again.

People join Jumpstart for a lot of reasons, but according to Werth, service is a big part of it.

“A lot of it is just to help, to give back to the community,” Werth said.

Many others want to get involved in AmeriCorps, and others see working with children in some capacity as a part of their future.

Charnow sees this program as a jump start toward her future.

“I want to be a teacher and I want to work in a city school district,” Charnow said. “It’s a lot of fun and a great learning experience.”

Brown can be reached at cbrown@campustimes.org.



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