University Students Provide Preschoolers a Jumpstart on Education

Curious, giggling 3- to 5-year-olds joined hands for a snake dance, touched eagle feathers and fur, and listened in awe to tales told by an American Indian in full regalia. Others had their first-ever romp in the snow. These types of enrichment experiences are part of a broader set of learning opportunities offered to children at three Compton preschools through the Jumpstart program at California State University, Dominguez Hills.

CSU Dominguez Hills liberal studies major and third-year Jumpstart team leader Joanna Gomez mentors preschool children.

The CSUDH program is a part of a national network of 80 colleges and universities that partner with the nonprofit Jumpstart to provide early childhood education—with a focus on literacy, language, comprehension, and social and emotional development—at preschools in low-income communities. To help close the achievement gap, 40 CSU Dominguez Hills students, many who are child development majors, are participating in internships funded by Jumpstart and administered through the CSU Dominguez Hills Center for Service, Learning, Internship, and Civic Engagement(SLICE).

During the academic year, the interns—known as Jumpstart corps members—complete 300 service hours of teaching and mentoring to 18-20 preschool children in six classrooms in collaboration with teachers at Immanuel Child Development Center, Rainbow Child Development Center, and the YWCA in Compton.

Only in its third year, the Jumpstart program at CSU Dominguez has already made impressive strides in affecting learning outcomes. Exceeding a nationally mandated goal for progressing participating children through 25 percent of prescribed Jumpstart developmental stages, the university has achieved advancement of 40 percent. It is also a hallmark of the university’s commitment to service learning, helping to make the campus a finalist for President Obama’s 2013 Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll Presidential Award.

Read about CSU Dominguez Hills being named a President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll Presidential Award finalist

CSU Dominguez Hills Jumpstart coordinator (known as a site manager at other campuses) and alumnus Sergio Pineda (Class of ’11, B.A., human services) said one of the reasons for the program’s success may be the high completion and return rate among interns. In the 2011-2012 academic year 90 percent of corps members completed their internships and 50 percent returned this year for another year of service.

“Something that we have that other universities don’t have is a large amount of students that continue [as corps members] for a second and third year. We have a lot of returning [corps members] because our students come from the same communities as the children we are serving. The [interns] really do get it and understand,” he said. “It’s an easy connection between the children and the [interns].”

Children in the Jumpstart program learn about American Indian culture during a visit by CSU Dominguez Hills student Ben Wolf.

Corps members are trained through SLICE and an upper-division 6-unit sequence child development course, Directed Field Experience (CDV 496), focused on classroom management, working with lower-income populations, citizenship, and early-childhood proper practices, which is taught by lecturer of child development Amber Ankwoski and assistant professor of child development Kimberley Radmacher and funded by Jumpstart.

“We were so successful that other universities that already had ongoing [Jumpstart] programs were calling us to ask us, ‘How are you guys doing this with [so few] resources?’” Pineda recalled of inquiries from Stanford University and Pepperdine University in Malibu.

The non-profit organization, which served 11,000 children nationwide last year alone, also took notice.

Jumpstart invited CSU Dominguez Hills to become a super site —characterized by having 80 or more corps members—along with only four among 11 participating universities in California: University of California, Los Angeles; Pepperdine University; University of California, Irvine; and San Francisco State University.

“It was a prestigious honor for Jumpstart to want us to become a super site,” said director of SLICE Cheryl McKnight.

However, dependent on Federal Work-Studydollars to partially fund the program, the university has not been in the position to make that happen.

Pineda hopes someday CSU Dominguez Hills can become a super site.

“At that point we would actually be able to grow from 125 children to over 325 children that we will be serving,” he said, adding that Jumpstart, which pays the salary for site managers, would foot the bill for an additional coordinator to help manage and mentor the additional corps members.

SLICE staff and the Jumpstart corps members fundraise as well as write grants to support enrichment activities for the children, such as a recent field trip for 42 children, their parents, and teachers from Immanuel Child Development Center to visit Mt. Pinos, Frazier Park in the Los Padres National Forest.

Many children in the Jumpstart program see snow for the first time.

“[The families] don’t have the means to be able to take a trip like that,” Pineda said. “We did nature walks. We looked at different kinds of birds, animals. We talked about it on the way there. They got to touch the snow. They got to play and make snowmen.”

But it’s not just the children who benefit from the program.

“The training that [Jumpstart has] given me in development is something that is going to be so valuable for my future,” said Pineda, who also completed a 300-hour internship with JusticeCorps, another program housed in SLICE.

Another intern who made impressive gains is past CSU Dominguez Hills Jumpstart corps member and alumna Maria Monarrez (Class of ’12, B.S., child development). She went on to best more than 100 applicants to become the Jumpstart site manager at UCLA.

“Jumpstart changed my life by allowing me to help the children we serve, and to work with amazing corp members and Sergio, who has been a great mentor and ultimately helped me develop professionally,” Monarrez said. “I have now found [another] organization that shares the same passion to help children, and I feel very lucky.”

Pineda, who hopes to someday enter the master’s program in child development and teach at the university, said, “We have a lot of success stories here in this office alone.”

McKnight couldn’t agree more.

“I am so impressed. These guys give, and they’re smart and they’re altruistic and they live up to the ideals of this office and this campus,” she said of the Jumpstart interns and staff.

Jumpstart at CSU Dominguez Hills is now recruiting students for the 2013-2014 academic year. It is open to students from any field who maintain a minimum 2.0 GPA and are in good standing with the university. Applications are available through the SLICE office in the Small College Complex, room 300. For more information contact Sergio Pineda at (310) 243-2438.

For more information on Jumpstart, click here.