The wheels on the bus go round and round. round and round. round and round. The wheels on the bus go round and round, all through the town!

Hope GillespieThese lyrics of this song flow from the pre-kindergarten classroom at West Lowndes Elementary School. On this particular day, the class is being led by 21-year-old Hope Gillespie, a junior elementary education major at Mississippi University for Women, who is assisted by four more W students. The 20 children rotate to various centers in the classroom, where they sing songs, read books and learn new vocabulary words all under the watchful eye of their pre-kindergarten teacher April Vowell.

“Class, can you tell me what this word is?” asks Gillespie. All 20 hands eagerly go up.

It was just five months ago that Jumpstart, a national program that helps children develop language and literacy skills, was introduced to the local area.

The W is home to the state’s second Jumpstart chapter, which was made possible through a partnership with the University of Mississippi, where Jumpstart got its start in Mississippi.

Coordinated through UM’s Center for Excellence in Literary Instruction, the program will be going into its fifth year of operation in Oxford.

Rose Ford (’04), site manager for The W’s Jumpstart program, said, “Jumpstart is in full swing now. We have seven Corps Members at our First Assembly of God Childcare Center serving 28 children within the program. The sessions at First Assembly are Mondays and Wednesdays from 2:30- 4:30 p.m.

“At West Lowndes Elementary School, the five Corps Members are serving 20 children within the Jumpstart program,” Ford said. The sessions at that site are on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 12:30-2:30 p.m.

She added, “These sessions are very purposeful and designed for lots of rich conversation, adult-child interaction, small group reading and small and large group learning activities.”

Vowell agrees. “You can do so much more when you have more hands and eyes in the classrooms. The kids really like it, and they look forward to the Jumpstart volunteers coming.”

April Vowell“I like to float around the room. I become a kid with them,” she said. “I enjoy being on the outside looking in.” In addition to getting extra attention in areas where they may have fallen behind, Vowell said the children in her classroom are building relationships with each other and the college students who assist them.

“They are establishing relationships and are seeing that learning can be fun,” she added.

The partnership between The W and West Lowndes Elementary School came about after Ford approached the principal.

Robert Sanders, principal of Pre-K through sixth grade, said they jumped at the opportunity.

“We believe it takes a village to raise a child and so far the partnership has been great. The volunteers have been consistent and professional in dealing with the kids.

“We couldn’t have asked for a better partnership,” Sanders added. “We have seen the growth in the children academically and they have been exposed to new experiences in the classroom.”

At First Assembly, the students recently used the storybook, “One Dark Night,” to explore wind and water using observations and experiments, explained Ford.

“They are not only developing comprehension of these storybooks that are read to them but use them to develop understanding of related content knowledge and rich vocabulary,” she said.

Children’s songs such as “The Eensy Weensy Spider” and “Five Little Ducks” and games such as “Guess What Word I’m Saying” and “Alphabet Clue” help to build language and literacy skills before the children enter kindergarten.

According to statistics provided by the national organization, children in low-income neighborhoods typically start kindergarten 60 percent behind their peers in more affluent communities.

Statistics also say children who start school behind tend to stay behind in later grade levels. Jumpstart’s mission is to help close this Kindergarten Readiness Gap within the Columbus community to ensure all children are prepared and equipped with the literacy skills needed for success. Nationally, more than 11,000 children have been served by more than 4,300 Corps Members in 2014 through the Jumpstart program.

Eshé Collins, field program and community director for Jumpstart, is based out of Atlanta and oversees eight sites in the region.

She was pleased with her visit to Mississippi, as well as The W. “We know the importance of early education here in the state.”

Collins said, “The W has a great program. I can see that the students are trained well and supported well.”

She will work with The W’s program on growth and next steps as well as provide data so the program can compare how well it is doing to programs in the state as well as others in the region.

Dr. Martin Hatton ('88), interim dean of the College of Education and Human Sciences, said, “We will be doing a lot of planning this summer. We want to do what is most competitive and most attractive to students and work this into a central piece of our conversation in education.

“A lot of students who come into the program are already employed. We want this program to serve as a recruitment piece,” he added.

The W’s Jumpstart program is open to all students; however, the university has targeted education majors as volunteers.

Education students, who are also members of The W’s College Corps, must commit to at least 300 hours of service. If participants complete the requirements, they are eligible to earn a $1,200 education award.

Jumpstart volunteers have to go through 30 hours of intensive training before entering the classroom. They work in teams, led by a team leader, at the chosen sites and meet with their team leader for reflection and planning on a weekly basis.

“The team leaders meet with me weekly for updates, get Jumpstart Session plans and materials for the upcoming week and lead the team during weekly planning meetings that they have,” Ford said. “We have some very dedicated MUW students who have made me proud within this program. They are serving an average of 12 hours a week in the Jumpstart program.”

Gillespie, who transferred to The W from Itawamba Community College in Fulton, chose a career in teaching because she wants to make a difference in students’ lives. “It’s not about getting the recognition of being labeled as a teacher,” she said. “It is about making sure your students are successful and gain knowledge.”

The Shannon resident said getting involved with Jumpstart has been a blessing.

“I have learned from students that they all are unique, amazing and very energetic,” she said. “Students prove to me daily that being a teacher is challenging and also worth the ride.

“The most rewarding part is that they get so attached to me and they love to ask questions,” Gillespie added. “I am thankful for the opportunity and proud to be a member of Jumpstart.”


Regional Stewardship