By: Michelle Lee, UCSC Communications Intern
Sitting around a table, a woman reads aloud from a colorful storybook to a group of eager students. These aren’t kindergarten or elementary school kids, however—these are college students.
Lucy Hall helps train college students for Jumpstart, a program in which volunteers teach early education in low-income neighborhoods. A recent graduate of the University of Chicago, AB '10, she has been involved with UCSC since her first year, starting out as a Summer Links participant, graduating to become a Program Coordinator, and now, working for Jumpstart as part of the Neighborhood Schools Program (NSP).
In many ways, UCSC helped Hall determine her career path. “Prior to Summer Links, I wasn’t somebody who knew what a non-profit was or what a grant was or knew a lot about community issues,” Hall said. However, the 11-week program gave her a basic introduction of the city that led her to become more involved in community issues and eventually defined her professional interests.
Hall not only interned at the South Chicago Art Center, but also got to visit different parts of the city, meeting with families, community members, and other volunteers. “There’s this idea that if you want to learn about abstract issues, one of the best ways to do it is talk to experts and victims,” she said. “Having those different perspectives [produced] an interesting view of those issues.” Ultimately, her Summer Links experience allowed her to examine Chicago in a different light.
After the program, Hall went on to volunteer for Latinos Progresando, which she learned about through Summer Links, helping the organization with fundraising and administrative work. “[It was a] really new side for me, because I hadn’t done a lot of administrative work before,” she said. “It made me aware of [the] more invisible strategy that’s at work at non-profits.” Even more, she realized the importance of the development process, as well as its difficulties and challenges, which funds the types of programs she runs.
During her time as an undergraduate student, Hall also taught kindergarten students through NSP and worked for the Radiation Oncology Department, Smart Museum, High School Literacy Program, and more. Hall maintained an active role in the community and on campus.
Most recently, Hall helped launch the UChicago chapter of Jumpstart. Jumpstart “[connects college] students with preschool classrooms,” targeting low-income neighborhoods that lack the necessary resources to help children develop language and literacy skills. College students help fill that gap by working with preschool children directly.
As stated on its website, “Jumpstart sessions take place two days per week, for two hours each time. Each session revolves around a core storybook…[and is] organized [around] six unit themes—Family, Friends, Wind and Water, The World of Color, Shadows and Reflections, Things That Grow.”
The program was first established in 1993, when two Yale students realized the importance of early childhood and development. After Jumpstart approached the University of Chicago and several community groups about forming a partnership, the program hired Hall in 2011 to spearhead the initiative.
“[I had] worked with kids in a lot of different settings…and wanted a systematic way to explain the [disparity I found between kids],” she said. “Jumpstart does a good job talking about those issues.”
College students have to go through several weeks of training before being assigned to a preschool classroom. Once assigned, they are responsible for teaching, organizing lesson plans, and managing students. They are given an opportunity to gain real-life teaching experience, while the full-time teachers are given an opportunity to observe and evaluate the progress of their students.
Currently, there are 45 volunteers in the UChicago chapter working with 9 classrooms in 5 schools. Six other universities in the Chicago area work with Jumpstart as well, with UChicago focusing on Woodlawn schools.
One of Hall’s favorite parts of the program is interacting with the kids and gaining new perspectives. “The children are very blunt,” she said, “[so you get] very weird blunt conversations you don’t expect,” pointing out how on several occasions she’s had to take apart the logic to basic concepts, such as the difference between a closet at home and a closet at school.
“You get a sense of what is really fresh and unexpected to them,” she said. “[It’s also] really fun to hear college students’ reactions.”
More than that, the schools provide a tight-knit community for college students who are considering pursuing the education field. “The teachers are always really appreciative and are a good source of advice,” Hall said. “When you're part of a school, you're part of a strange institution, one that's intimately connected to families, politics, and neighborhoods. It's fascinating.”
To learn more about Jumpstart, please visit http://www.jstart.org/.