Ed Major Gives Preschoolers a Jumpstart into Kindergarten
UAFS junior Karina Gonzales became a member of Jumpstart because she wanted to help educate young minds, but what she learned is as important as what she taught.
“One of the most important things I learned from my journey with Jumpstart has been how to communicate with adults and have patience with myself and with those around me,” she said in an email. “I have also learned very important life-lasting skills: how to manage my time and how to always be prepared for the next step and not to be afraid.”
Karina is an elementary education major scheduled to graduate in December 2024.
Kimberly Taylor is the director of Jumpstart Arkansas, an EngageAR AmeriCorps program. Taylor is one of Karina’s biggest fans.
“She was Jumpstart Arkansas’s first member to complete the maximum of four terms of service … for a total of 1,200 hours of service to preschool children in only two years,” Taylor said. “After completing her first school-year term, she chose to participate in the summer term where she served children from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday throughout the summer.”
Jumpstart Arkansas, an AmeriCorps national service program on campus, puts UAFS students from any major in preschool classrooms in under-served communities in Fort Smith. Service partners are Tilles, Morrison, Spradling, Sutton, and Pike schools; Lincoln Child Care Center; and Dallas Street Head Start.
Thanks to a $220,000 grant from EngageAR, Jumpstart Arkansas will expand to include students from NorthWest Arkansas Community College.
Bilingual students like Karina are especially valuable to Jumpstart.
“She helped bridge the gap for many second-language learners between their home languages and English spoken in the classroom,” Taylor said.
Helping to bridge that gap mattered to Karina, too.
“As a second-language-speaking student, I know how hard it is to be able to communicate with adults, so I thought this was the perfect opportunity to be able to help children not only with their language skills but also with their literacy and social-emotional skills,” she said.
While some students serve just one term as members, Karina served the maximum.
“I decided to serve with Jumpstart for four terms because one of my main goals in life has always been to help educate small minds and help those small children struggling with their language development,” she said.
Through her early terms, Karina was a member, but she had the skills and drive to become a team leader in her third and fourth terms, Taylor said.
Since 2019, 39 Jumpstart members have served 175 students. During the 2021-2022 school year, children demonstrated gains of an average of 20 points on the Test of Preschool Early Literacy, which far exceeds typical growth for a school year. Second-language learners have made the greatest gains through the assistance of bilingual service members.
The culmination of her Jumpstart service occurred when Karina represented UAFS in the LeaderCorps program with EngageAR, the grantor of AmeriCorps funding in Arkansas.
“Karina’s Jumpstart story could have ended at the end of her service, but it didn’t,” Taylor said.
After completing four terms, Karina now works in the Jumpstart office as the member coordinator, supporting new members.
Jumpstart members can be from any major, not just education students. Members commit to 300 hours of service, usually on two days a week. Jumpstart members are actively involved in campus and community outreach through national days of service; diversity, equity, and inclusion opportunities; service projects; and special events.
Members earn a $1,374 scholarship and a $225 monthly living allowance in exchange for their service. Karina qualifies for federal work-study payments for her work in the Jumpstart office. She is grateful for all the help.
“Coming into college with no scholarships and little financial help was difficult, so Jumpstart has been a lifesaver to me by helping me pay for my education, as well as officially helping me decide that education is where I belong.”