University of Rochester

Currents--University of Rochester newspaper

Literacy program continues to grow

As a Jumpstart volunteer, Gina Hoyt '06 works individually with preschooler Kurticee Sullivan, helping him develop literacy skills.

By Stephanie Lund '05

Preschoolers at Carlson MetroCenter YMCA of Greater Rochester are greeted each morning by an underwater paradise--complete with tropical fish, bright coral, and swaying seaweed--thanks to a group of artistic University students. They created the mural last year as volunteers for Jumpstart, a national early literacy organization that recruits and trains college students to work individually with preschool children from low-income backgrounds.

This year, more than 40 Rochester undergraduates--twice the number that volunteered last year--are continuing the work those students began, helping preschoolers enhance literacy, language, and social skills.

Known as corps members, participants dedicate at least 10 hours a week to attend team meetings and work one-on-one with a specific child. The students and children are matched according to personality as well as a participant's specific strengths that may fit well with an individual child's educational and emotional needs.

"When we first started working with the children at the beginning of the year, we all spent time together playing and getting to know one another," says team leader Lisa Richards '06, a returning Jumpstart volunteer, "but after just a few sessions, corps members were paired with an individual child. Now the kids seem very attached to their Jumpstart mentor. It's great to see how excited they are when we first arrive; there are lots of smiles and hugs."

During both literacy and play-oriented activities, corps members encourage the children to explore creatively, interactively, and independently. Volunteers keep journals, recording observations of the children's overall classroom performance.

Michelle Werth, the University's site manager for Jumpstart, says participants represent a wide variety of academic interests, ranging from education to medicine. "Of the group working this year, a number of them are psychology majors or are considering careers in education. Others are premed students who want to get more experience working with children in a nonmedical setting."

Through food drives and service projects, volunteers hope to increase awareness about the program. In January, a Martin Luther King Jr. Day service project involved cleaning and painting the playground at the Jumpstart site. The group is currently planning other events for the spring.

Jumpstart partners with 66 higher education institutions at nearly 200 Head Start and other early learning centers across the country. Of the 66 participating institutions in the United States, the University is the only participating school within the greater Rochester area. In addition to serving the community, students also earn a work-study stipend and expand career opportunities following graduation.

To learn more about Jumpstart, contact Werth at x5-2366 or e-mail her at

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