UM Partners with MUW to Expand Jumpstart

Program provides service and teaching opportunities for college students

Ole Miss sophomore Monica Riley is one of 25 UM students volunteering in the UM chapter of Jumpstart.

Ole Miss sophomore Monica Riley is one of 25 UM students volunteering in the UM chapter of Jumpstart.

OXFORD, Miss. – A new partnership between the University of Mississippi and Mississippi University for Women will expand Jumpstart, a national organization that helps children prepare for kindergarten by developing language and literacy skills, into the Columbus area.

Until now, UM has been home to the state’s only Jumpstart chapter. The program, in its fourth year at Ole Miss, is coordinated through the university’s Center for Excellence in Literacy Instruction.

“Jumpstart brings awareness to the importance of early childhood education and allows children to engage in language experiences with trained adults,” said Angela Rutherford, CELI director. “We are happy to help expand Jumpstart to benefit Mississippi children in partnership with faculty and staff at MUW.”

UM has CELI staff and 25 undergraduate Jumpstart volunteers from a variety of academic majors working in four pre-K classrooms in Oxford and Okolona. The initial goal is to have up to 12 volunteers working at centers near MUW. Such a partnership would expand Mississippi Jumpstart programs by nearly a third.

“The education department at MUW values collaboration with and among faculty, students, P-12 educational facilities and between universities,” said Monica Riley, chair of education at MUW. “This is a great opportunity for our students to be involved in the local community while making a difference in the lives of the children. Further, the opportunity to implement the literacy lessons will provide valuable learning for our students.”

Mississippi does not offer universal public pre-kindergarten education and data suggests a huge need in this area. A 2014 assessment by the Mississippi Department of Education found that more than 65 percent of Mississippi children do not possess the literacy skills needed for entering kindergarten. Literacy research suggests that children who enter kindergarten having experienced quality pre-K instruction are much more likely to be proficient readers by third grade, Rutherford said.

“Jumpstart provides an organized workforce that can benefit pre-K students at both public and private centers,” said Olivia Morgan, Jumpstart site manager for CELI. “It also reduces the adult-to-child ratio in classrooms, allowing for more individualized instruction.”

Each Jumpstart volunteer makes a commitment of at least 300 volunteer hours in an academic year, which includes training, lesson preparation and professional evaluation. As part of Jumpstart training, volunteers complete 30 hours of preparation before entering the classroom, including early learning knowledge assessments.

“It’s wonderful to volunteer with children because you can literally have an impact on their future,” said Nicole Johnson, a sophomore hospitality management major and Jumpstart volunteer from Rockwall, Texas. “Having someone to help you learn to read is a huge privilege that helps shape the people in our community. I think being part of this program will help me be a better parent one day and a better community member.”

In four years, Jumpstart has proven to be beneficial to multiple educational facilities working with UM’s chapter.

“Jumpstart has made a huge difference here,” said Jane Prater, a pre-K teacher at ABC Learning Center in Oxford. “In just four years, I would say we have gone from just being a day care facility to being an academic center that supports literacy development.”

The new Jumpstart chapter at MUW should be operating by year’s end with support from CELI staff. CELI’s long-term goal is to identify partner institutions to continue to grow the program throughout the state.

For more information about Jumpstart, visit

About Andrew Mark Abernathy