DePaul Jumpstart raising funds after budget cuts

A DePaul student works with a preschooler as part of the university’s Jumpstart program. (Photo courtesy of LAUREN KOLACK)

Preschoolers in low-income communities and the DePaul students who serve them will be the latest to see the effects of budget cuts when federal funding for the Jumpstart program is slashed for the 2015-16 academic year.

The non-profit employs and trains college students around the country to teach early-literacy skills to pre-school students in under-resourced communities. The DePaul program has sites in North Lawndale, Rogers Park and partners with another preschool in West Town while employing more than 70 college students who spend three days a week in the classroom.

“It’s a really great program because not only are children in these communities benefiting, but the college students get a lot of high quality training, not just how to be professional and how to make relationships with people that are very different from you in different communities, but also for some of our students who want to go into teaching or go into psychology, it really great actual real world experience. So we really don’t want to see it go away,” said Lauren Kolack, a DePaul graduate who was recently the graduate assistant for the program.

At issue is a $3 million federal grant that was not renewed for the upcoming year, leading to programs around the country to seek alternative sources of funding. According to Kolack, the DePaul program has a yearly budget of about $100,000, which goes towards the salaries of the two site managers, supplies and materials, uniforms, recruiting and training and any other costs that may arise.

Many DePaul students, especially those looking to go into education or psychology, have been a part of the program and testified to its impact on them and the communities they serve.

“The reason I was drawn to the program is because the main focus of it as closing the achievement gap, which is where under resourced students are far more behind in school than their more affluent peers and that’s like what the goal of school counseling is,” said Hallie Gilmore, a graduate assistant with the program. “So I was like ‘oh, this makes sense.’”

Many politicians, from President Barack Obama down to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, have championed the importance of preschool in the development of children and ensuring they do not fall behind.

“Studies show that children who don’t have a high quality preschool program and who don’t enter kindergarten ready to succeed have a higher rate of dropping out in eighth grade and a higher rate of dropping out of high school, and are much less likely to go to college,” Kolack said.

Kolack added that assessments undertaken to measure the program’s success have shown that children in Jumpstart classrooms made many more gains than the control group did.

But DePaul junior Shontell Burch, it did not take a measurement to see the impact the program has had.

“Living in the community that I currently serve in, I can see firsthand the change that constantly happens.”

Burch said the program also partners with other community organizations for the betterment of the community and helps encourage the parents of the children to get a better education for themselves.

The program has also served as a helpful experience for DePaul students to get involved with the community and decide what they want to do after graduation.

“I did not really feel connected to DePaul until I started with Jumpstart,” Gilmore said. “I would come to my class at night, go home, and not really do anything. Now, I’m more involved.”

More than 70 DePaul students are currently a part of the Jumpstart program.
More than 70 DePaul students are currently a part of the Jumpstart program. (Photo courtesy of LAUREN KOLACK)

Junior Maddie Tenance likened it to “creating a community in the classroom.” The students would be with the kids three days a week, giving the preschoolers more one on one attention.

Kolack said the program really fits well at DePaul given the university’s commitment to social justice.

“Even though you don’t get credit for being in Jumpstart, it really compliments any major because you learn so much about social issues and social justice, and community activism,” she said. “It’s not just education and psychology.”

A crowdfunding effort is underway to save the program from the chopping block. A little over $3,500 has been raised thus far with the goal of reaching $15,000 in the next 13 days. Those who would like to help can contribute by clicking here.