CSUDH Jumpstart Site Manager Jessica Ramirez has been named the inaugural winner of their national Site Manager of the Year Award. The award recognizes Ramirez’ work in guiding the office at CSUDH in their partnerships with local schools, providing language, literacy, and social-emotional programming for preschool children in the local community.
Jumpstart is a national early education organization with branches in 15 states and Washington, DC. The CSUDH office partners with Compton Headstart, offering assistance and programming in eight classrooms in three local preschools.
“We bring in language and literacy development tools, curriculum, and activities that we work with or provide to the preschoolers,” says Ramirez. “We work on social-emotional development, as well. That’s been something the kids really needed during the pandemic. We also recently started putting together at-home literacy kits. We call them ‘Jumpstart To Go,’ and they have activities for the families to do at home with the children.”
Each year, Ramirez guides and leads a cohort of forty Jumpstart Corps student workers. “I oversee them for a whole academic year,” she says. “From September until June, I monitor and help them with their work in the preschools, in training, and in all the other activities we do in between.”
Ramirez is a proud Toro alumna, having attained both a BA in child development and an MA in multicultural education at CSUDH. Her connection to the program goes back to her undergraduate days on campus—she was a Jumpstart Corps worker herself for several years as a student. After graduating, she had been working for three years as a preschool teacher when she saw a job posting for the site manager position.
She jumped at the chance to return to CSUDH. “I grew up here,” she says. “I fell in love with the campus and the community. Everybody knows each other here, because it’s a fairly small campus. Everybody says good morning. It feels almost like family.”
Ramirez believes that her years as an undergraduate Jumpstart worker make her a more effective manager. “I’ve been in our students’ shoes, which I think is a key. I know what they’re going through. I know they will struggle sometimes. It allows me to be more understanding of what they’re going through. And maybe I know the tools they need, because I was once in the same place.”
This is the first time that Jumpstart has recognized a national Site Manager of the Year. Ramirez was nominated for the award by her colleagues Cheryl McKnight and Miami Gatpandan, the director and coordinator of CSUDH’s Service Learning, Internships and Civic Engagement (SLICE), respectively.
“Jessica is so humble that few people know about the amazing work she does,” says McKnight. “She exemplifies the university’s ‘Culture of Care’ by validating each and every one of our students who are lucky enough to work with her. Jessica’s recruitment and retention of our students has become legendary.”
Ramirez’ accomplishments as site manager include initiating a workforce program to provide employment opportunities for CSUDH Jumpstart Corps members upon graduation—a program that was picked up by Jumpstart’s national corporate office. Jumpstart has enlisted Jessica to provide presentations to new Jumpstart site managers across the nation on strategies to improve recruitment and retention at their sites.
Her creativity in pivoting to virtual mentoring for Compton preschoolers included having Corps members develop interactive learning webpages for the children and constructing the aforementioned ‘Jumpstart at Home’ kits. Other universities have emulated Ramirez’ innovations at their Jumpstart sites.
“Jessica personifies the colleague and leader we all want to be,” says Gatpandan. “She is doing amazing things with Jumpstart and she does it with great care, joy, humility, and fun. Through her leadership in Jumpstart, we are nurturing our students into competent, compassionate educators and professionals.”
Winning the award was a complete surprise to Ramirez, who didn’t even know she had been nominated. “It means a lot,” she says. “It represents the spirit of service at DH and all the hard work our Toros are doing. We are not stopping here, either—this is a new opportunity to enrich and do new things in the communities we serve.”
Ramirez adds, “I enjoy what I do, helping Toro students and others in the community as well. I love giving children that extra Jumpstart!”