They say it takes a village to raise a child. Jumpstart, an AmeriCorps program that places volunteer college students in local preschools, embodies that spirit. Last August, Chris Hernández joined the Tufts chapter of Jumpstart, housed within the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life, as its new site manager and has since enacted changes to the program that have propelled its success and enlarged its presence on campus this year.
Hernández explained that Jumpstart specifically focuses on serving students from under-resourced communities, such as those in Head Start programs, to promote language, literacy and social-emotional development.
“Our mission statement is to make sure that every child in America is prepared to succeed and enter kindergarten successfully,” he said.
Hernández shared that Tufts students currently work in six different preschool classrooms. Each classroom has different needs; for instance, one classroom is largely comprised of dual-language learners, while another consists of mostly Latinx students.
Jumpstart volunteer coordinator Ailish Dougherty said that she has witnessed significant growth in many of the program’s young beneficiaries.
“From personal experience, I’ve seen really great improvements in the kids that I’ve worked with, such as being more engaged in the classroom. We form really strong bonds with the kids, which I think is really important,” Dougherty, a junior, said.
Hernández added that Jumpstart is just one piece of the puzzle in providing quality, child-centered education from a young age.
“In working with children in general everyone has a part in their development, so when Jumpstart goes in, we are part of a community of other teachers and other community activists. We work with the parents and we work to host different community events within the schools,” he said.
Since becoming site manager, Hernández has strove to build greater partnerships with other organizations on and off campus, such as with ATO of Massachusetts, which provided donations for their Thanksgiving food drive and hosted a Milk and Bookies book drive for the local community.
“The biggest change this year is really reaching out to the Tufts community at large. You can’t get work done by yourself, and this is a huge mission,” he said.
To that end, Hernández has set himself a challenge to recruit at least 100 other Tufts volunteers outside of Jumpstart for their events this academic year. He has also worked to recruit volunteers from a diverse array of majors, beyond just education or child study and human development.
“Our kiddos need to see other disciplines. They need to see other people because as long as you can show that you have a heart to really work with kids — [especially] the kids of this particular community — then I want you on the team,” he said.
Dougherty said that a passion for civic engagement and a love for working with kids are factors that draw students to the program. She applauded Hernández for his recruitment efforts thus far.
“Chris [Hernández] has been a really big part of recruitment. In the past, the program has gone down a little bit in participation for sure, but it’s definitely gone up,” Dougherty said.
She added that remuneration opportunities do attract new volunteers to Jumpstart. In addition to being eligible for work-study payments, Jumpstart volunteers also qualify for the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award if they complete 300 hours of service in a year.
From having about 11 students who fulfilled a 300-hour commitment last spring, the chapter has now grown to have about 39 core volunteers who are on track to complete 300 hours of service, according to Hernández.
In addition to helping grow the program at Tufts, Hernández’s enthusiasm has brought a noticeable change to the group.
“There’s definitely a lot more energy. You can tell he is extremely passionate about what Jumpstart stands for and he is super excited to see how the team has grown. He’s very supportive,” Alex DeBellis, a sophomore and Jumpstart volunteer, said.
Sherri Sklarwitz, the associate director of student programs for Tisch College, noted that Hernández has created a welcoming atmosphere in the community at Tufts and beyond.
“Chris is just an incredible asset to Tisch College, to Tufts and to the communities that we work with. He’s outgoing, friendly and warm. It’s clear that the students that he works with feel very connected to him,” Sklarwitz said.
Hernández also brought considerable experience with Jumpstart to the chapter at Tufts.
“I was a social worker for a number of years, then I was an early care teacher and trainer … for quite a while. This all started because I was a [Jumpstart] member for four years back in Texas,” Hernández said. “I’ve been a team leader and now I have this really cool job where I get to be a site supervisor.”
Sklarwitz credits Hernández for several new initiatives that have elevated the quality and visibility of the Tufts chapter.
“He’s made a great effort to provide trainings to students that go above and beyond normal Jumpstart protocols. He provides access to community events and he’s really involved the Tufts community in a way that hasn’t been done before, which is very special,” Sklarwitz said.
Nationwide, 84 percent of Jumpstart children scored average or above average scores at the end of the year, out of 12,182 children served last year, according to Jumpstart‘s website. Hernández explained that the Tufts chapter has a history of effectiveness as well.
“This year, we’re projected to do really well again just because of the sheer expansion of our program,” Hernández said.
Hernández shared that his favorite part of the job is acting as a “coach” to students and providing on-site feedback. He also expressed his appreciation for the invaluable contributions of everyone in the program, especially the student volunteers.
“I value each of our students that take on this mission, because for a college student with a full course load signing up for 300 hours of service, that’s a big deal,” Hernández said. “But we get it done, and I think [it] really comes down to their dedication, their passion and their integrity to complete this successfully for the kids.”
DeBellis concurred with this sentiment and encouraged other students to devote time and energy toward helping children through Jumpstart.
“Do Jumpstart. It’s actually super amazing. Even if you don’t think you like kids that much, as soon as you meet a bunch of anxious preschoolers, it makes your life so much better,” DeBellis said.