Editor’s Note: Interviews for this article took place in late 2019.
It’s 9 a.m. on a school day, but Paola Gonzalez isn’t in a lecture hall. She’s leading a rapt circle of four-year-olds in a rousing rendition of “Slippery Fish” at the YWCA preschool in Compton. “Slippery fish, slippery fish, gulp gulp gulp,” she sings, wriggling her hands as the children squeal with delight.
Gonzalez, a fourth-year theatre arts major at CSUDH, is well experienced in putting on a show. As a team leader for Jumpstart, she has ample opportunity to put those creative skills to good use. Each week, Gonzalez and her team of fellow Jumpstart volunteers plan and deliver an engaging curriculum for local preschool children.
Jumpstart, a nationwide program, pairs college students with preschools in underserved communities to improve children’s language and literacy skills. College students make a one-year commitment to serve at least 300 hours in their designated preschool, working with on-site teachers to better prepare the preschoolers for kindergarten.
“Jumpstart changes children’s lives,” Gonzalez said. “Preschool is the beginning of their road to success, and we get to give children the boost they need.”
Gonzalez is just one of hundreds of students who have made an impact through the CSUDH Jumpstart program. Since the program’s inception in 2009, CSUDH Jumpstart members have completed more than 108,000 hours of service, helping transform the lives of more than 1,000 children in low-income communities.
“Jumpstart at CSUDH is a legacy of service,” said Jessica Ramirez, site manager for the program. “Its impact is immense, on both our college students and our preschool children being served.”
Ramirez says hands-on experience, leadership skills, and long-lasting relationships are among the many benefits reaped by the Jumpstart members.
“Students learn to take ownership of their actions, and realize they play a key role in making a difference in our communities that need it the most,” Ramirez said.
While Gonzalez leads her group in song, human services major and Jumpstart volunteer Rosita Sary reads a story with one of the preschoolers. Most of the children at the school are dual language learners, and do not speak English at home – a situation Sary understands well.
“I moved to the U.S. at the age of nine, and I didn’t speak any English,” Sary said. “Growing up, I had a hard time learning. In Jumpstart, I work with the children one-on-one, because I know that speaking in a group can be intimidating.”
By focusing on building the children’s confidence, Sary says she sees huge progress in her students over the course of a year.
“At first they’re really shy, and they won’t talk to other kids,” she said. “But then you see them raising their hands and participating. I enjoy seeing the growth in the children.”
That joy of teaching is a highlight for many of the Jumpstart volunteers. In the case of Areli Lopez, it led directly to her current job. Lopez, who graduated from CSUDH with a degree in child development, had volunteered at the Compton YWCA preschool as an undergraduate. Her dedication and passion were so impressive that the school offered her a full-time teaching position upon her graduation in 2019.
Now, as a teacher, Lopez says she has an even deeper appreciation of CSUDH students’ efforts to lift up others.
“Dominguez Hills reaches out and helps the community in many different ways,” Lopez said. “I see the change in the children and how meaningful it is for them.”