Yonatan Hochstein, an energetic sophomore, admires Winnie the Pooh and enjoys puzzles with only 12 pieces. His fingertips are often marker-stained.

Hochstein is one of over 60 UR students participating in the Jumpstart program, which aims to improve literacy in low-income public schools. The program allows college students to enter schools as literacy leaders so they can encourage disadvantaged young readers to read a book or improve their writing.

Volunteers contribute about 10 to 12 hours a week at the school with their assigned child, participating in weekly team meetings and learning how to properly teach the youngsters.

The program began in 1993 at Yale University with only 15 students and has grown greatly with each continuing year. It now serves about 15,000 children nationwide and is available through 75 colleges and universities.

Its impact on the American readership has been great as well the amount of students receiving Jumpstart support has tripled. This means a lot in smaller low-income public education facilities where teachers deal with high numbers of students and classrooms where resources are often limited.

‘Having classroom assistance time makes it easier for the teachers, too, who are often overworked,” sophomore Jessica Giambra said.

Without the support of outside sources, studies show that half of all children from low-income families begin the first grade up to two years behind their peers. Five-year-old children in such communities have one-fourth the vocabulary of their middle school counterparts. Experts note that the best indicator of whether a 10th grader is performing at grade level is whether or not they knew their alphabet by age five.

These inherent inequities are exactly what Jumpstart tries to counteract with its targeted skills training and one-on-one educational attention. Students take biyearly tests to target areas that require further training or where progress has been made. Techniques are then adjusted to fit an individual’s feedback. All feedback is based on quantitative research that has continually indicated progress, winning Jumpstart a four-star rating from Charity Navigator, an evaluative program.

The results are impressive. As the company Web site points out, Jumpstart program participants improve their school readiness by an average of 28 percent. In 2006 alone, the Jumpstart program broke the Guinness world record of ‘Largest Shared Reading Experience” with a startling 78,000 readers consistently reading the famous book, ‘The Little Engine That Could.” This year’s campaign multiplied that number over five times, with 425,000 students regularly reading the book ‘Corduroy,” the official campaign book of that year.

‘You can tell immediately you make a difference,” Giambra said. ‘The children can speak to you more about what they see in the book versus before when they might not have known where the title is.”

Jumpstart is part of the Americorps program, so those involved receive a $1,000 education award at the completion of a full-year program. These students also build tight-knit supportive networks that facilitate social relationships on campus and gain valuable skills working with younger children.

This same love for reading and for the wild characters found wedged between fantastical Dr. Seuss pages, is precisely what Hochstein is trying to teach his young counterparts.

On his weekly visits, he hides the Disney children’s books because he thinks their characters are too reliant on stereotypes, too basic in personality. Obviously, he can’t relate to that.

‘It’s one of the best opportunities I’ve had because you really get to see the impact you can have in schools and learn a lot yourself in the process,” Hochstein said.

Titus is a member of the class of 2011.

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