Emory Report
March 30, 2009
Volume 61, Number 25

Interested student volunteers may apply for summer opportunities with Jumpstart at www.jstart.org/apply. Faculty and staff can call Elise Albrecht at 404-727-2854 for information on volunteer opportunities.



Emory Report homepage  

March 30
, 2009
Giving youth a Jumpstart

By Elizabeth Elkins

Emory Jumpstart Site Manager Elise Albrecht knew exactly when she wanted to dedicate her life to community service for young children. While at Denison University in Ohio, Albrecht had two early education work experiences: first, volunteering with America Reads at an elementary school and, during the summer, working at a local preschool every day.

“At the preschool, I was working 14-plus hour days, but I never got tired of it,” she says. And when the elementary school would shut down every year in the winter because of the flu, Albrecht soon saw it was because there wasn’t enough money for soap in the bathrooms. “It made me realize I wanted to work with the disadvantaged,” she says, “because I could make a difference.”

Albrecht was hired last year to manage Emory’s foray into the national Jumpstart program. Jumpstart pairs University students (known as “Corps members”) with underprivileged preschool aged children from two local pre-kindergarten programs. The goal is to build the social, emotional and literacy skills of preschoolers from low-income families while giving back in great dividends to the mentors.

“Jumpstart gives Emory students the skills to develop relationships with all kinds of people,” Albrecht says. “It also teaches that service is an obligation for members of a community. Our Corps members go outside of campus and experience a whole new set of challenges and issues they can use later in life.”

For Albrecht, the decision to come to Emory seemed preordained. After two years as a Jumpstart site manager at Boston’s Wheelock College (an environment she calls “challenging”), Albrecht made the decision to move South. One week after making that decision, Emory listed a job posting for a site manager position.

“In Boston, I became interested in the different models of Jumpstart used across the country,” she says. “Emory set up their model as a full classroom pilot, where three to four children are assigned to a Corps member. I have been long attracted to that model as opposed to a one-on-one set-up because it allows our Corps members to build a relationship with the teachers. This is very important for Corps members who may go into teaching.”

At Emory, Albrecht spends most of her day on-site observing and coaching Corps members. She also develops and revises training methods and brings the preschool teachers together to discuss each child’s progress.

Albrecht believes the most rewarding part of Jumpstart is watching children learn. Among her favorite memories from the program this year:

“We had a child from Somalia who spoke very little English at the beginning of the year. For both the teachers and our Corps members’ level of training, his developing language skills were a real challenge. He’s a very happy child. Just recently when I sat down with him he began slithering his pencil across his desk and saying ‘snake’ in his native tongue over and over. I said ‘snake’ in English and he smiled and shouted ‘yes! snake! snake!’,” she recalls. “It is amazing how much language he has picked up this year.”

A certified high school English teacher, Albrecht briefly considered teaching before she found her niche. She says the challenge of working with both college-age students and 4-year-olds is perfect for her.

“There is a perception that teaching preschool is easy because the kids are so young,” she says. “But that’s so not true. Reading is not innate. You need scaffolding and support to teach that letters connect to sound. It’s fascinating to watch that happen with these children and to see them use those tools with others.”

The concept of letters connecting to sound is dear to Albrecht. Active in the Atlanta Writer’s Club, she is an avid poet and poetry reader. William Blake’s ode to childhood innocence, “The Chimney Sweeper,” hangs in her office.

Her love of words also translates into music. “I’ve discovered there is so much more going on in the music scene in Atlanta than I ever expected,” she smiles. She has a rich palate of musical tastes as well.

“But in the end,” she confesses, “service is really my main life passion. This first year of Jumpstart at Emory has been so successful that we have even had teachers ask for the same Corps members back next year. We also have some students who will have worked more than 350 hours by the end of the semester. I really believe Emory can support growing this program, and I’m incredibly excited.”