The University of Arkansas at Fort Smith will jumpstart early childhood learning for some at-risk children beginning in January.
UAFS will support nearly 40 students who volunteer with the AmeriCorps Jumpstart program with the help of a $103,414 grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS)’s AmeriCorps program. UAFS will be the first university in the state to offer Jumpstart, a national program that has trained more than 50,000 college students and community volunteers to transform the lives of over 123,000 preschool children since 1993, a media release from the university said.
UAFS’s program, Jumpstart Arkansas, will serve 3- to 5-year-olds enrolled at Arkansas Better Chance preschools, which provide early education and interventions for at-risk populations of students who are low income (defined as below 200% of the federal poverty line) and are in critical need of support from trained educators and volunteers. Volunteers will begin serving as teams the week of Jan. 13.
“Jumpstart Arkansas members will deliver innovative early learning instruction to local preschool learners with a focus on language, literacy, and social-emotional skills. In return, the program offers professional development, monetary incentives, and scholarships for those who volunteer,” the release said.
According to research conducted in 2003 at the University of Kansas, children in poverty experience 30 million fewer words by the age of 3 than those in higher socioeconomic brackets. Children without strong languages skills entering kindergarten are at a disadvantage and are negatively impacted throughout their school careers, the study showed.
The 2018 ACT Aspire English Language Arts assessment showed 65 percent of third-grade students in Fort Smith Public Schools were below grade-level proficiency, according to the Arkansas Department of Education.
“So this effort meets a need that we know is shared across the country, but that hits especially hard in the River Valley. Early interventions through the Jumpstart Arkansas program will increase the potential for success of children throughout their educational journeys,” said Dr. Monica Riley, executive director of the UAFS School of Education. “This program serves the River Valley’s increased need for volunteers and meets the needs of its youngest learners. Providing support in pre-school classrooms impacts future learning of the children we reach.”
But the Jumpstart program will not just benefit Fort Smith’s younger population.
“It is a service outlet we can provide for our students who have a heart to serve. We have students who come from a background of poverty. They understand the need of one-on-one intervention and know the impact it has on a child’s education and life,” said Kimberly Taylor, Jumpstart Arkansas coordinator.
Taylor said the program should help raise the standardized test scores and help students get throughout their school careers. The Jumpstart Arkansas program at UAFS will also provide supplemental literacy-focused classroom materials and resources to each classroom the program serves and will engage in the Jumpstart Read for the Record Campaign, which is generally in the fall and enlists readers from all walks of life to read to children.
“Having trained AmeriCorps members in the preschools in the region will provide a better opportunity for children from low-income homes to be ready for kindergarten, and this program will support classroom teachers by providing research-based literacy interventions and providing opportunities for the children involved to experience early reading success,” Taylor said.
All AmeriCorps members will receive at least 40 hours of training, ongoing support and coaching, as well as time each week planning and preparing for work in the classrooms. Teams of five to seven AmeriCorps members will be assigned to each classroom, where they will support teacher-led activities and provide individualized support to children. Through the Jumpstart program, UAFS will be able to alleviate the adult-to-child ratio in each classroom from 2:20 to 1:3, the release said.
In addition to service to their community, students who volunteer with the program will receive a monthly living allowance of $100 per month for up to six months, and those who complete 300 hours of service within a year may be eligible for a Segal Educational Award of up to $1,200.
The Jumpstart program is open to all UAFS students, no matter their major. Also, area residents who are 18 or older and have a high school diploma, who are not enrolled at UAFS, may join the team, receiving the same monthly living allowances and earning the same educational awards for future use toward a certificate, bachelor’s or master’s degree program. Volunteers who are over 55 can pass their educational award on to a child, step-child, grandchild, step-grandchild or foster child.
“Students of all majors will be able to supplement their education with training, professional development, and hands-on experience,” Taylor said. “Through their Jumpstart service, many members’ interest in becoming early childhood educators increases along with the number of highly informed advocates of early education, bringing young children higher quality early learning experiences and more school success.”
Link here for more information about the program.