Building on Success, Jumpstart Expands Its Reach

UM-based program focused on training students to teach preschoolers expanding to Jackson, Meridian

Hope Gladney (top), a Mississippi University for Women student and Jumpstart member, signs the ‘5 Little Ducks’ to build children’s phonological awareness. Jumpstart, an organization based at the University of Mississippi that trains college students to teach preschool children from resource-challenged families, is broadening its efforts to ensure the state’s children are prepared for kindergarten. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – Jumpstart, a University of Mississippi-based organization that trains college students to teach preschool children from resource-challenged families, is broadening its efforts to ensure the state’s children are well-prepared for kindergarten. 

Jumpstart is expanding into Jackson and Meridian as Mississippi fourth-graders posted the nation’s best reading scores in 2019, and all grades were at least the national average, according to the National Assessment and Educational Progress, or NAEP, scores. The ranking is often called “The Nation’s Report Card.”

Jumpstart is part of the UM School of Education‘s Center for Excellence in Literacy Instruction, or CELI. Its mission is to provide exemplary instruction, relevant research and effective service through collaboration with schools, businesses, community organizations and the public at large.

Getting to the state’s future students early is important, said Angela Rutherford, CELI director and a professor of teacher education. Jumpstart has been doing that in Mississippi since its creation in 2012. 

“We know that in Mississippi, we have about 3,000 children served with public, state dollars in pre-K programs,” Rutherford said. “Jumpstart helps support that early intervention effort in communities across the state, so we are excited to spread to other locations in our state.”

Besides UM, Jumpstart also serves the state through locations at Mississippi University for Women and the University of Southern Mississippi. With the most recent expansion, the program operates from Mississippi State University’s Meridian campus and Tougaloo College in Jackson, giving it a foothold to serve those areas of the state. 

Ikeyreiah Harris (top) a Jumpstart member at Mississippi University for Women, helps children create family portraits to build their writing skills and creative thinking. Submitted photo

At UM, Jumpstart is part of a larger organization, College Corps. About 30 Ole Miss students serve within the program as minimum-time AmeriCorps members who each pledge to serve 300 hours with Jumpstart over the course of a school year. At the completion of their service hours, they receive a Segal education award.

The benefits for College Corps are strong, which has helped recruitment, said Olivia Morgan, UM director of the Mississippi Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.

“In partnership with Volunteer Mississippi, our College Corps program has a grant that allows our students to be minimum-time AmeriCorps members,” Morgan said. “The members complete a 300-hour service term and then are eligible for an education award, which they can use on educational expenses, so it’s very beneficial for them.” 

The experience is valuable for the College Corps members, but they also in turn provide great value to families they serve.

“They go into classrooms that have children from under-resourced families and provide them with supplemental language and literacy support,” she said. “Our members follow a curriculum provided by the national Jumpstart organization that outlines books to read and activities to implement so that we know we are providing quality instruction.” 

The program’s success is encouraging, but the more Mississippi educators reach children at age 4, the better the state’s educational attainment will be overall, Rutherford said. She hopes Jumpstart will continue to expand.

“The sooner we intervene and provide those language and literacy skills, those foundations are set, so then they can hit the ground running in kindergarten to become successful readers and writers,” Rutherford said. “We’ve seen great success, but the more we can back that intervention up into when they’re 4, the more success we will see.

“These session plans are what we know 4-year-olds need to be prepared for kindergarten.”

Re’Kia D. Fairley, a senior allied health studies major from Southaven, is volunteering with Pontotoc Head Start through Jumpstart. She’s enjoying the role of mentoring children to help them get the tools they need to be successful. 

“I’m helping children understand the fundamentals of reading while also making sure that they are enjoying it at the same time,” Fairley said. “I also help with enhancing their vocabulary, which I believe is so important to do when teaching a child.”

Children participating in the Jumpstart program at Mississippi University for Women build LEGO people with feelings to enhance their social emotional development. Submitted photo

Despite challenges of teaching during a pandemic, Fairley said the experience has been rewarding. 

“It’s a great learning experience for me,” Fairley said. “Having that one-on-one with a child is something that I hold dear to my heart because I really do have a passion for teaching children. Helping them learn new things is just something that I love to do.”

Caitlyn Yochum earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from UM in 2020. The native of Rochelle, Illinois, is in her first year as a third-grade teacher in the Marshall County School District. 

She first graduated from UM in 2018 with a degree in communication sciences and disorders, just as she was realizing she wanted to teach. Yochum began volunteering with Jumpstart in her junior year and hasn’t looked back. 

“When I began to volunteer with Jumpstart, I immediately began to see the impact this program has in the classroom,” Yochum said. “Not only does this program allow college students to gain valuable classroom experience, but it also gives preschool students a chance to learn in an environment that aims to meet each of their individual needs.”

Yochum credits her experience with Jumpstart as the catalyst for her decision to teach. 

“I saw how the curriculum was designed to put preschool students first and give college students an opportunity to be involved in something that will make a lasting impact long after they graduate,” she said.

She’s forever grateful for the experience she had with Jumpstart.

“I still talk about Jumpstart with peers and coworkers,” Yochum said. “If I know anyone that will be attending Ole Miss in the future, I tell them about Jumpstart. The program had such a lasting impact on me, so I cannot recommend it enough.

“I really think Jumpstart helped shape the educator I am today. “