We Are Lawrence

Making the Grade: Jumpstart

The nonprofit aims to help kids in low-income neighborhoods prepare for kindergarten.

Tuesday, Dec 2, 2014 • Updated at 10:51 PM EST

When he's not attending his own colleges classes, Luis Disla and other student volunteers spend several hours per week in a Lawrence, Massachusetts, preschool teaching kids language skills - and learning so much about themselves in return.

"Every time I step in here, it's great," he said.

Luis volunteers with an organization called Jumpstart, a national early education organization working towards the day that every child in America is prepared when they arrive in kindergarten.

In a Jumpstart classroom, every week a team of six to eight volunteers engage children with a range of activities designed to develop their language, literacy and social-emotional skills.

Jumpstart services kids in low income neighborhoods across the country. In New England alone, that equates to thousands of young children in over 90 preschool centers.

"What we have found over the years is that typically in a low income neighborhood, over the course of years, reading scores tend to be the lowest in low income neighborhoods," Mark Reilly, Jumpstart's regional vice president, said. "In Massachusetts for example, we actually evaluate through the MCAS, the reading proficiency scores of our children here at the third grade level. So we know and we target at Jumpstart those communities that those reading proficiency scores are the lowest."

According to Reilly, by the age of 4, the average child in a professional family hears about 35 million more words than children in low-income families. In addition, they are likely to stay behind and never catch up.

But with the help from Jumpstart, preschool students on average attain one developmental level of improvement by the end of the program, improvements Luis says he's witnessed time and time again.

"One day I remember coming into the classroom and he has this smile that just lit up and I was like, 'Alright, there's something up with him.' So once we sat down, he just like, right off the bat, just told me all his letters in his name, he was saying it backwards, and I was so impressed," Luis said. "I felt like this is why I'm here." 

 

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