Jumpstarting DC’s Future: AU Volunteers Teach Preschool Students


AU Jumpstart volunteers

Alex Mazzarisi

A classroom of children giggled and mimicked their instructors, in the lighthearted mantra of circle time. “I have ten little fingers and they all belong to me. I can make them do things, would you like to see?” they sang. Although the exercise may seem not seem to have educational value, the children learned vocabulary and phonetic skills.

They unknowingly put emphasis on rhyming words as they sang. “I can shut them up tight. I can open them up wide…Or I can make them all hide,” the preschoolers chanted.

The students then played another educational game—naming letters, choosing words that rhyme and reciting vocabulary words. Each time a child selected the right letter or word, the instructors erupted into enthusiastic applause.

These instructors are American University students who volunteer at Jumpstart, a nationwide program dedicated to closing “the achievement gap”— in which children from low-income families fall behind those from more affluent homes over the course of their education.

Jumpstart aims to stop this problem before it starts. It gives children from low-income areas a “jumpstart” into education by helping them develop language and literacy skills before they start school.

Kevin Felisme, an American University senior, said he benefits from his work with Jumpstart. “I believe that every single child deserves the best education regardless of socioeconomic status,” Felisme said. He said it is “critical that we educate our youth and provide them with abundant resources.”

American University students volunteer with Jumpstart two sessions per week that last about two hours each. Not only do they sing songs and quiz their preschool buddies on vocabulary, but they also play dress up, paint, piece together puzzles and explain science. Each activity helps the children develop as critical thinkers.

Since Jumpstart was founded in 1993, its volunteers have completed over one million hours of service in public and charter preschools nationwide and have helped 50,000 children.

American University has 70 Jumpstart volunteers this year, up from 45 last year. They serve in three schools: Two are in Anacostia, and one is in Kingman Park. Students from American University are broken up into teams of six and then are assigned to work at a school.

Stacia Jackson, the site manager for American University’s Jumpstart program, said that not all AU volunteers are education majors. “A lot [of AU volunteers] are just very passionate about education, and they use this program as an outlet for that passion,” she said.

From the enthusiastic smiles on the corps members faces when a child picks the correct rhyming word, to giving a group of underprivileged children the confidence and skills they need to succeed, Jumpstart shows that a few silly songs and dedicated members can change the outcome of a child’s future.