Jumpstarting education


More than 100 Pitt students gathered on Martin Luther King Jr. Day to give back to the… More than 100 Pitt students gathered on Martin Luther King Jr. Day to give back to the community by providing low-income families with school materials to help children learn.

The students worked on projects ranging from literacy games to pre-made lessons in planting grass seeds to creating noisemakers. The finished projects targeted 3- to 5-year-olds to promote learning and literacy in the Pittsburgh area.

Stephanie Gundry, the site manager for Jumpstart Pittsburgh at Pitt, cited the gathering as evidence that students help make a difference in the community.

“I think that Jumpstart is living, breathing proof that college students do care about the community they are a part of,” Gundry said. Pitt students in Jumpstart commit 12 hours each week, and 300 hours each school year, to community service.

Junior Selena Holtz listed her reasons for joining Jumpstart as she worked on creating a songbook that children and teachers could use in the classroom.

“I love working with kids because kids bring out the fun side in me,” Holtz said. “It’s fun pretending to be a kid again, while making a difference one child at a time.”

Jonquil Boston, a junior and team leader for Jumpstart, was busy making an activities chart to allow children to choose which projects they wanted to try. The charts always contain literacy projects, along with arts and crafts.

“You want for kids to enter school being comfortable and able to read and interact with their friends,” Boston said. One literacy project students were working on was “Robot Readers,” which would have children pair the letters on a robot with the objects that began with those letters.

Junior Rebecca Mrljak and freshman Matt Showman worked on a literacy project called “Carrot Corner,” in which children could match a lettered carrot with the object that began with that letter.

“We are really happy to be here on Martin Luther King Day and honor him by doing community service,” Mrljak said.

“It’s the people in the community serving the community together,” Showman added.

Other students worked on projects for families to try together, such as planting grass seeds and making “Ooblek.” Ooblek — from Dr. Suess’ children’s story “Bartholomew and the Ooblek” — describes a mixture that feels like both a solid and a liquid.

Rebecca Alderiso was busy making noisemaker kits for children when she offered to sum up one of Jumpstart’s main tenets.

“You want to make it fun for them. Jumpstart is really big on kids making stuff on their own,” Alderiso said. “Almost to have them learning when they don’t know they are learning.”

Angela Gordon, the program director for Jumpstart Pittsburgh at Pitt, believes that the activity packets will help children recognize letters, improve speech and make good choices.

Gordon said she appreciates the work students have done to provide materials for classrooms and families. She has received “overwhelmingly positive feedback” from both parents and teachers who do not have time to create the materials themselves.

“It’s another element to add to the classroom. For the kids, it’s a fun way to learn,” Gordon said.

The materials will be given to low-income schools and families in areas like Homewood, Swissvale and Mt. Washington.