Jumpstart at Emerson College: Reflections

Jumpstart Corps member at a family night event.

Samm Leska, Blue Team, Team Leader

Kaliese. There are so many things I can say about this little fireball. At three years old, she may stand only three feet tall, but she can give you a run for your money.

Samm Leska '12 reading with a group of Jumpstart students.

Samm Leska '12 reading with a group of Jumpstart students.

As a second year Corps member, I thought that my year of Jumpstart would be easier the second time around with all the classroom experience I had. However, the child I worked with during my first year with Jumpstart was five and mature, and she rarely gave me any issues. I was in for a rude awakening when I went into Jumpstart the first day of my second year to a group of three children who wanted absolutely nothing to do with me. One cried for the entire session, one took the opportunity to run away from me, and the other managed to tuck herself away in a corner as though I was a giant towering over her ready to invade her space.

In time, I managed to get two of my children on my side. I managed to brush up on my Bruins stats to win over James, and read extra books one-on-one with Molly during classroom assistance time (CAT).

Kaliese wasn’t as easy.

I liked Kaliese because she was sassy, and she liked me because I would listen to all her stories. However, when it came time to go to session together, her defiance came out. Kaliese liked to do things on her own terms, so if she didn’t want to read that day, then she would do anything and everything in her power to avoid reading that day.

Some days Kaliese would take this time to roll around on the rug, and other days she would hit James, or Molly, or me in order to direct the attention from the book back to her. And on some days when I would go to her classroom to pick her up and bring her to session she would plant herself under a two-foot-high table refusing to ever come out.

A Jumpstart child browses books during a family night event at Dorchester Place Preschool.

A Jumpstart child browses books during a family night event at Dorchester Place Preschool.

After a few weeks of telling her to sit criss-cross-applesauce, reestablishing the rules that we are “safe with our bodies in Jumpstart,” and laying sprawled out on a dirty linoleum floor trying to coax her out from under a table, I was about to break. That night as I walked home from session with my team leader, Yelana, I almost began to cry as I told her that I didn’t know what else I could do to get Kaliese invested in reading. Yelana tried to refocus my energy, telling me that she knows that Kaliese looks up to me, that she knows I will be able to get through this rough patch, and that she knows that Kaliese’s behavior is not a reflection of the amount of hard work I put into Jumpstart.

With Yelana’s words of wisdom, I decided to take a new approach to Kaliese. I had won over James with the Bruins, and I had won over Molly through reading, and now what I had to do was figure out how to win over Kaliese in a way that would draw her back into reading. Then it hit me: Kaliese loved anything and everything that had to do with the color pink. Before the next session I grabbed some pink construction paper, cut it into seven small square pieces and wrote K-A-L-I-E-S-E in pink magic marker on every square.

The next session I went in and Kaliese was rolling around on the floor as usual. “Kaliese I have something special to show you,” I said to her as she looked back at me. “It’s pink”
“Pink,” she said as she looked back at me inquisitively. She crawled over to the pink letters and me, and for the first time in a month and a half Kaliese talked about her name with me. From that session on, Kaliese read with the three of us. I never thought that something as simple as some pink letters could make such a big impact.

Olivia Martiniello '14 colors with a Jumpstart Child at the family night event.

Olivia Martiniello '14 colors with a Jumpstart Child at the family night event.

Over the summer, I took a trip to Castle Island in South Boston with my friend Paige. On our walk out of the park, I did a double take as a saw a small little girl all dressed in pink with a big poof of hair on top of her head walking toward me. It was Kaliese. My instinctive reaction was to end all conversation with my friend Paige and run towards Kaliese yelling, “Kallliieeesee!!!”

I saw this little thing looking up at me confused. Then her mom said, “Kaliese, it’s Samm go say hi!” Then a ball of pink energy came running towards me, and jumped up into my arms. She proceeded to tell me about her day and how she was going to the park to visit her giant castle (Fort Independence). In that moment I realized the impact I had on her and in return the even bigger one she had on me.

It is relationships like this that I’ve established with my Jumpstart children that have lead me to pursue a future in teaching after college. I have come to the realization that when I establish personal relationships with kids and become someone they look up to, then the things I can teach them are endless. After Jumpstart, I couldn’t imagine leaving college without continuing to put into practice the values that Jumpstart has instilled in me. As a Jumpstart alumna, I cannot wait to meet my future Kaliese. She might not be three feet tall, or wear pink, or hide until tables, but I imagine she will be just as sassy and defiant as my Kaliese, and I cannot wait to have another child like her in my life again.

Andrew Cutone, Yellow Team, Corps Member

I became a celebrity overnight. There were no cameras, no one asked for my autograph, I wasn’t in the tabloids, and I didn’t go on tour. In fact, I really had only one fan. But she was my greatest inspiration. Her name was Ella. And she was four years old.

Andrew Cutone '15 with Jumpstart students  during circle time.

Andrew Cutone '15 with Jumpstart students during circle time.

I had no idea that I was making in impact in anyone’s life, although I knew that I must have been. But the day I met Ella’s grandmother was the day I finally knew my purpose, and fully understood what it meant to make a difference in someone’s life.

Being a part of Jumpstart has made me appreciate my own potential and abilities as a teacher. I used to worry that my existence was insignificant. I struggled with a lack of self-worth, and it bordered on self-loathing. When I found out how much I was really giving to this little girl, though, I began to see the world differently. I would enter the preschool with high spirits and excitement. I loved what I was doing, and I was more than glad it was being recognized. All it took was one small conversation with Ella’s mother. “She talks about you all the time,” she said. And that was the moment I realized that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life: make a difference in children’s lives.

Every time I see Ella smile, I know that there is nothing else I would rather be doing. Jumpstart taught me that I really do matter, and that the greatest gift in life is making children smile and learn. Without Jumpstart, I don’t know where I would be now. I will be forever grateful for the opportunity I was given to be a positive influence on kids like Ella.

I became a celebrity overnight. But Ella, and all the other children in Jumpstart, are the real stars.

Want to Join Jumpstart?

Great, because Jumpstart is recruiting Corps members for the 2012-2013 academic year. Applications are available online atwww.jstart.org/apply.

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