Thanks to the persistence of social entrepreneurs across the country, every day we see strategies that are working and delivering results in a rapidly changing world. This Evidence in Action blog series highlights the voices of the more than 70 social innovation organizations that make up the America Forward Coalition, the results-driven solutions our community has for our country’s most pressing social problems, and the evidence-based federal programs that are critical to scaling the impact of this work. Today we will hear from Jumpstart about its evidence-based model and the impact Jumpstart has on both its volunteers and the children they serve.
When A.J. was growing up in Lowell, Massachusetts as the oldest of eight children, he had to learn quickly to be independent. “I can see the same thing in the preschool children that I serve with Jumpstart at the beginning of each year,” says A.J. “I’ll find them sitting in the book corner, flipping through the pages of a book and carefully examining the pictures – ready for someone to unlock the words and the story for them.”
Children from low-income communities start kindergarten 60% behind their peers from more affluent communities. These children are often the most in need of high-quality early education, and yet are least likely to get it. And when children start behind, they tend to stay behind–a child not reading at grade level by the end of 3rd grade is four times more likely to drop out of high school.
A.J. is a Corps Member at Jumpstart, a nonprofit organization working to ensure that every child enters kindergarten prepared to succeed. Jumpstart partners with local universities, such as University of Massachusetts – Lowell, and organizations to train college students and community members to serve in preschool classrooms in low-income communities across the country. In exchange for their service, these volunteers receive tuition assistance or small stipends from AmeriCorps or Senior Corps, in addition to valuable teaching experience. Through this unique service model, Jumpstart is able to lower the adult-to-child ratio in preschool classrooms to 3:1, enabling volunteers to provide personalized attention to children, serve as mentors and strong adult role models, and focus on the early language, literacy, and social-emotional skills that children need to thrive in school and beyond.
“Being from Lowell and being able to serve the children in my own community makes everything that I do with Jumpstart so much more meaningful,” says A.J. “The kids we serve are growing up in the same circumstances that I did, but through Jumpstart I am able to make a difference in their lives.”
Jumpstart’s model works at a small fraction of the cost of comparable programs thanks to the cost-effective reliance on an army of nearly 4,000 volunteers, who in turn are supported by a mix of private and public funding. Jumpstart children make 1.5x the gains compared to those who don’t receive the program, at a cost of just $1,100 per participant — 87% less than the estimated cost per child of a high-quality early education program. In addition, every dollar from AmeriCorps and Senior Corps is matched with at least one more dollar from private donors and foundations.
Grants from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the agency that oversees AmeriCorps and Senior Corps, are highly competitive and require progress and innovation. As an AmeriCorps recipient, Jumpstart uses National Performance Measures as part of a comprehensive strategy that encourages programs to look inward and focus on both performance and evaluation data. In addition, as a program receiving over $500,000, Jumpstart is required by CNCS to conduct “rigorous” evaluations by external evaluators every 3 years. These external evaluations must contain comparison (control) groups of comparable children who are not enrolled in Jumpstart classrooms, in order to ensure that a) Jumpstart works, and b) it works better than the standard preschool curriculum.
In addition to these external evaluations, Jumpstart carries out its own internal evaluations each program year. Routine evaluations ensure that our program is effective, and also spurs innovation by encouraging Jumpstart to continuously reevaluate, improve, and enhance our programs.
But CNCS does more than just require evaluations—they also encourage the sharing of best practices through an online Evidence Exchange, where “through learning from available evidence … we all can not only ‘improve lives, strengthen communities, and foster civic engagement’ but do better each and every day.” Jumpstart’s evaluation of our California programs was recently highlighted on the Evidence Exchange for its research methodology and strong level of evidence.
Jumpstart evaluations also demonstrate that programs like AmeriCorps and Senior Corps have a dual impact—on both the volunteers and the children they serve:
- Nearly half of Jumpstart AmeriCorps members are first-generation college students, often coming from the very communities in which they now serve. The AmeriCorps Segal Education Award allows these students to serve during college while also helping to offset the costs of their education. Jumpstart’s AmeriCorps alumni also report that their service gives them invaluable professional experience, increases their leadership skills, and motivates them to stay civically engaged long after their service ends.
- Jumpstart’s Community Corps program trains low-income adults, age 55+, to serve in their communities through the Senior Corps Foster Grandparents program. These older adults serve in Jumpstart classrooms and implement the same programs as our college student volunteers, yielding great benefits for the children while providing meaningful relationships and important physical and mental engagement for the adults, in addition to small stipends.
Like so many Corps Members, A.J.’s future has been deeply impacted by his time serving with Jumpstart, “This has not only shaped me into a better community member but has also helped me to figure out my own path and goals for the future,” says A.J. “I came to UMass Lowell as a criminal justice major, wanting to be a criminal profiler, but Jumpstart has helped me realize that I want to become a child psychiatrist and continue to help children like the ones in my Jumpstart classrooms.”
Jumpstart’s vision is to break the cycle of poverty by helping young children succeed through inspiring college students and older adults in the community to serve. A.J. and his 3,800 fellow Jumpstart volunteers gave over 1,000,000 hours of service last year alone. CNCS enables Jumpstart, and hundreds of other programs like it, to serve the most vulnerable communities in the U.S. through evidence-based, cost-effective programs that benefit everyone involved. The proposed cuts to CNCS by the Trump administration’s budget would be a devastating blow to the young children we currently serve, and to the thousands of volunteers—future educators and leaders—currently serving with Jumpstart. Now is the time to invest in proven, research-based programs like Jumpstart and provide all children with the learning opportunities they deserve.
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