November 22, 2011
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Cassie Cook (Class of 2009) ended up pursuing a career working with children. During her years at Rollins, the psychology major and Cornell Scholar spent countless hours at the Child Development Center (CDC) studying how parenting practices impact children’s social behavior in the preschool classroom, eventually producing an honors thesis on the topic.
After graduation, Cook completed an AmeriCorps VISTA year of service at Jumpstart’s national headquarters in Boston, working in development on a fundraising and awareness building campaign called Jumpstart’s Read for the Record. “Jumpstart is a non-profit organization that focuses on early education by partnering with colleges across the country to recruit and train college students to serve in preschools in under-resourced neighborhoods,” Cook explained. “College students serve for an entire school year in the classroom providing targeted and individualized support to these children to ensure they are prepared for kindergarten.”
It’s a program that Cook was wildly passionate about. As a result, a year later when she was offered a position as site manager for Jumpstart at Boston College, she gave an emphatic “yes.” “This position has afforded me the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of more than 100 children and their families living in low-income neighborhoods in the Boston area,” said Cook. “It is such exciting and rewarding work. I feel like every day I am empowering young people to make change in communities and in the lives of the children and families we serve.”
What is Jumpstart’s primary purpose?
Jumpstart teams across the country are working toward the day when every child in America enters school prepared to succeed. We believe in the potential of all young children, but unfortunately statistics tell us that children from underserved communities are at a much greater risk of school failure than those who are born into higher income communities. We are working to close this achievement gap.
The program is in its fourth year at Boston College, where there is a huge service culture on campus. Despite being one of Jumpstart’s newer programs, there is tremendous interest amongst students on campus, and the program has been extremely successful in the short time since its establishment.
How does it differ from traditional mentoring programs?
As compared to most mentoring programs that support children in elementary school through the middle and high school years, Jumpstart believes in intervening early. In that sense, we are very unique in working specifically with preschoolers. This allows us to help close the achievement gap before it even begins, since we know that once a child starts school behind, they often stay behind.
What is your role in the program?
As the site manager, I manage all aspects of the program on campus, from recruiting students, to training them to be prepared for their time in the classroom, to establishing and maintaining relationships with the preschool partners where we serve, to ensuring that Jumpstart’s program is being implemented at a high level of quality by the Corps members.
What have been some of the program’s success stories?
We have the opportunity to work one-on-one with the children we serve, and the gains they make over the course of the year are incredible. It’s an amazing experience when children are able to write their name for the very first time, or begin to use vocabulary they may have never encountered, or start to develop a love of reading that will hopefully remain with them throughout their academic careers and lives.
On top of the inspiring amount of growth and learning we see in children, for me personally, I think some of the most meaningful success stories happen with the college students who serve with Jumpstart. Their lives are changed after this incredible and intensive year of service—they become engaged citizens, future educators and advocates for children. I’ve seen so many students whose eyes are opened to a new and surprising passion they never knew they had before their time with Jumpstart, and will go on to continue to support children in a variety of contexts after they graduate.
What do you hope Rollins students learn from your experience?
In looking back at my four years at Rollins, I think that my time outside the classroom taught me just as much, if not more, than my academic work. I would encourage current students to become engaged and take advantage of as many experiences as possible. Participating in service-learning courses, stepping into leadership positions in student organizations, studying abroad, completing research with faculty and getting involved in many of the incredible opportunities offered can help students to gain hands-on experience that is crucial to success after graduation. I know my work with the Office of Community Engagement and the Office of Student Involvement and Leadership inspired me to lead a life of service and helped provide me with the intellectual and experiential tools I needed to be successful in my career thus far.
Think strategically about what you want to do and work to find opportunities on campus that can help build valuable skills and experiences to help get you there.