Learning and Literacy for Life

Kelsey Howe, A15, at Read for the Record

As a Jumpstart corps member, Kelsey Howe, A15, connects Tufts students with children in local community preschools to develop critical language, literacy, and social skills.  A national organization focused on childhood literacy,  Jumpstart at  Tufts is hosted by Tisch College.

“Visiting classrooms two afternoons each week, Jumpstart corps members use a focused lesson plan to help preschoolers develop literacy,” explained Howe. “Corps members read to the kids, and then organize structured activities like art and science projects, that tie-in and get the preschoolers using vocabulary from the book.”

“Every corps member is matched with a small number of kids to work with more closely,” Howe continued.  “Each preschooler gets one-on-one time to develop a more supportive relationship.”

Tufts corps members receive 60 hours of training to ensure they are prepared for their service, and to benefit their own learning and growth.

“There’s a huge emphasis on the education of corps members,” said Howe.  “The primary focus is always the preschoolers, but they are committed to developing and supporting us, through skills training, and helping to build resumes.  I’ve seen the benefits of being held to standards in a professional environment.”

“Part of that education is spending time on the big issues of poverty,” she continued.  “Training focuses especially on children growing up in poverty, and how to deal with issues of domestic violence, abuse, and the consequences of poverty.  It builds a heightened awareness.”

Jumpstart at Tufts partners with four schools in Somerville, and recently added a fifth partner site in Boston’s Chinatown.  Five corps members and three additional volunteer readers are working with students at the Wang YMCA, and the program will expand in the spring.  Serving as volunteer coordinator, Howe helps to recruit and train the volunteers who complement the work of the corps members.  Last year, 84 volunteers served over 220 hours during 12 different events.

A political science and peace and justice studies double major, Howe is particularly interested in systemic issues.

“My love is domestic policy and social issues,” she said.  “Education has such an important role in shaping the country, and the workings of democracy.  I think Jumpstart is crucial for the next generation, and the success of America.  I love working with kids in the classroom, but the lens into policy and the politics of education is so instructive.”

Howe recently got to explore the advocacy piece of Jumpstart’s work, serving as a key organizer for the local portion of Jumpstart’s national Read for the Record campaign. Held on October 4 this year, this annual event unites students across the country, and recruits political leaders to participate and raise awareness about childhood literacy.

Students from the Chinatown site attended an event at the Boston Public Library in Copley Square, where Massachusetts first lady Diane Patrick read to hundreds.  Organized by Howe, kids from Somerville came to the Open Center for Children, next to the Tufts campus, where state senator Pat Jehlen read.

Kelsey Howe, A15, helps a student with an art project at Read for the Record.
Kelsey Howe, A15, helps a student with an art project at Read for the Record.

“Read for the Record gets kids across the country all reading the same book at the same time,” said Howe.  “After the reading, our kids got a craft bag and all did an activity, based on this year’s book, ‘Ladybug Girl and the Bug Squad.’”

In addition to organizing public events, Howe provides support to corps members and the schools.

“It’s about asking partner sites ‘What do you need?’ and trying to meet that,” she said.  “We’ve done clothing drives, especially for winter gear like jackets and boots.  Tufts a cappella and dance groups have done shows and worked with the kids.  Athletics teams and other Tufts groups come for service projects, like repainting.”

A newer program pairs Jumpstart members with students in the elementary grades at Somerville’s Arthur D. Healy School, located near the Mystic River Housing Development.

“A lot of the kids from the preschools we serve go on to Healy,” said Howe.  “This is a way to keep up those relationships.  Tufts students work one-on-one with a child and take turns reading back and forth.”

Now in her second year with Jumpstart, Howe says her experiences have given her a nuanced understanding of active citizenship.

“I think there are different levels of involvement,” she said.  “Most broadly, I think active citizenship means being aware of the needs of people besides yourself, and being committed to addressing those needs.  It’s putting in the effort to understand issues and solutions, being willing to apply knowledge, really communicate, and build the kinds of organizations that have lasting effects.”

Originally published November 2012