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Dominican Jumpstart Students Help Kids Leap Into Literacy
by Ambrell Gambrell
Jumpstart in Spencer Elementary
A child born on the west side of Chicago in the Austin community will start kindergarten 60 percent behind a child born just a few miles down the road in the River Forest community, according to the Jumpstart website.

Dominican University students aspiring to become ethically responsible global citizens couldn’t fathom turning a blind eye to such an injustice happening so close to their campus.

Dominican is partnering with Jumpstart, a national early education organization, to advance the university’s mission to create a more just and humane world.

Jumpstart recruits and trains college students and community volunteers, known as Corps members, to serve preschool children in low-income neighborhoods. A branch of AmeriCorps, Jumpstart has a distinct mission to ensure that every child in America enters kindergarten prepared to succeed.

In January, a group of students introduced Jumpstart’s supplemental Language and Literacy curriculum to a preschool class at Spencer Elementary Technology Academy in the Austin area. Dedicated to making lasting impacts on children’s lives, the Dominican team of students has completed more than 240 hours of service at Spencer.

Lucy Fulgencio, a Dominican senior and Volunteer Coordinator of Jumpstart, aims to inspire a love of learning and literacy.

“Working with Spencer inspired me to start a similar program, Book Buddies, at my job at Northlake Public Library District,” Fulgencio said.

Children from low-income neighborhoods are woefully unprepared to compete academically with their peers from affluent communities.

The Austin community, where Spencer is located, is not only Chicago’s largest but also its deadliest. Austin had the most homicides in the city last year.

Ninety-nine percent of the students at Spencer are African-American, and more than 96 percent of the students come from low-income families.

A pre-school teacher at Spencer wrote on a feedback form, “the [Dominican] Corps members were patient and caring with all the children, and the children will really miss them.”

Inspired by his time spent at Spencer, Branden Holtzman, one of the Dominican Corps members, wrote an essay, “Funding Education: The Growing Gap Between the Rich and the Poor,” which received an honorable mention in Dominican’s O’Hanlon Essay Contest in Social Justice and Diversity

-->Click here for a PDF copy of Holtzman's essay.

Named after Sister Mary Ellen O'Hanlon, a scientist and pioneer in working for racial equality, the contest awards a $500 prize for an excellent undergraduate essay on the topic of social justice and diversity.

In his essay, Holtzman used the education system to explore the idea of the American Dream and its perpetuated mentality that it doesn’t matter where or what you come from—but that if you work hard enough your chances of success are the same as anyone else’s. However, Holtzman found that while the rich are inherently advantaged, the poor are inherently disadvantaged from achieving the American Dream by a great disparity in school district funding, particularly in Illinois.

“As an eyewitness to the process of income-based segregation and its effect on educational funding, it disturbs me to realize that these children that I work with are so much more at-risk than their neighbors in River Forest simply because they were born several blocks down the road,” Holtzman wrote in his essay.

Jumpstart at Dominican University aims to alleviate the disadvantages faced by children in under-resourced communities.

“As someone with all the resources I would ever need to succeed, I have that much more responsibility to ensure that those without the same resources are prioritized not punitively stigmatized and hidden in our society,” Holtzman wrote.

For more information about how to get involved with Jumpstart, please contact Ben Mueller, the Jumpstart Site Manager at Dominican, at bmueller@dom.edu. ​
Contact: Ben Mueller - bmueller@dom.edu
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